Melissa Sattley

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Beverly's Lives!

BY MELISSA DEL BOSQUE • PHOTOS BY ALAN POGUE

utside, the blinking marquee is simple and direct: “Beer.” Inside, the bass notes of Jimi Hendrix’s “Highway Chile” mark the tempo for two women decked out in leather chaps as they do a bump and grind in front of the jukebox. Smoke-encrusted photographs of bikers—some dearly departed, others still marauding the highways—line the tilting walls. Christmas lights lend a festive touch and biker graffiti on the ceiling proclaims the ultimate biker insult: “Tony rides a Jap bike.” Welcome to Beverly’s, the kind of place where guys with names like Big Bear and Terrible Terry wear leather vests emblazoned with names of biker clubs like the Bandidos, or Latin Steel. They swoop in like Vikings on their thundering hogs pockmarked with bumper stickers. (“My money and my kids go to the Texas Correctional Institution.”) For 25 years the Austin biker bar has been flouting the law. But sooner or later even a tough old bird like Beverly’s has to confront the city’s explosive growth and the law of money. Early this year the word was out that the venerable bar on South Congress was slated to become another PetsMart or Wal-Mart. “The landlord’s getting old; he’s got children,” said Beverly Ray, the proprietor who lent her name and personality to the bar for a quarter century. “If they get a good price they’ll sell it,” she told me when we spoke last February. “I hate to leave. But it’s a tough business. You come and you go. You should know it when you get into this business.” After hearing that still another bit of Austin history was about to fade away forever, I decided to check out Beverly’s and see what the fuss was all about. “It’s mystical in its own way,” a wiry-framed guy named Warren told me. Warren, who sports a ZZ Top beard and rides with the Bandidos, was the part-time bartender and bouncer. “People know right away if they belong here,” he said. “Others don’t come back. If you don’t start any shit, you won’t get any shit.” Then he added, “But some people are goofy. If they come looking for trouble, they’ll find it.” uilt around World War I, the old stone building on Congress Avenue and a stone’s throw from Slaughter Lane has long been a refuge for outlaws and those who prefer life on the outskirts of polite society. A notorious whorehouse named Hattie’s was once located just down the road. The infamous bank robbers, the Newton Boys, used to stop by for a cold beer in the days when cowboys tied their horses up front and cattle grazed where I-35 now stands. As land was gobbled up for development, the old-time cowboys slowly drifted away and the bikers came thundering down Congress, inspiring mythic tales of ass-kicking, hog-riding, and beer-guzzling. In the mid-1980s a battle between a group of carnies and a gang of bikers earned Beverly’s a mention in The New York Times (“The Toughest Bar in Texas”). One old-timer by the name of Pappy remembers the mythical battle like this: “We were playing dominoes and one of the carnies pinched a biker’s old lady in the bottom. The whole bar went to pieces like a bar brawl in an ol’ West Town. Everybody was fighting except for Old Man Charlie. “He had a good hand of dominoes, so he just stood up back against the wall with his hands full of dominoes. Didn’t mean shit though, since the rest of those dominoes had been scattered to hell.” As the memories began to flow, spurred on by the beer, the regulars insisted that bulldozers and dump trucks would have to bury them before the bar turned into another strip mall. “We’d be lost without it,” said Warren, visibly angered. “Hell, we don’t need another Wal-Mart, but we do need a Beverly’s.” Another regular named Ronnie became defiant when contemplating the bar’s demise. “They ain’t ever going to get rid of this place,” he insisted. “It’s one of those places where people say, ‘Don’t go in there because they’ll kick your ass’… You either love this place or you hate it at first sight.” On the day that I visited, Beverly was celebrating her daughter’s 42nd birthday. Bikers swaggered around the bar holding pieces of birthday cake on paper plates. As they did, Beverly waxed nostalgic. “I’d like to make it to the 50th anniversary,” she said, her voice trailing off as she began to envision the bar decked out in gold. “You don’t realize what a good time you’ve had until it’s gone.” After my visit, I began receiving e-mails from a friend and longtime patron of Beverly’s. He was depressed about the imminent demise of his favorite bar. In March, he sobbed in a message that what he had long feared had finally come to pass: Beverly’s had closed its doors for good. But that’s not really the way this story ends. Earlier this month, the bar was given still another reprieve. Austin’s explosive growth and the law of money are still at the door, of course. But Beverly’s lives again, thanks to the kindness of a Nigerian car salesman who is storing his cars in the large lot behind the bar—yet another chapter in Austin history and the history of “the toughest bar in Texas.” Melissa Del Bosque is a writer in Austin.

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Miguel Coyula, 27, comes from a generation of emerging Cuban filmmakers who are working outside of the state-run film industry in Cuba and embracing the low-budget banner of independent filmmaking. The fact that Coyula can work on a meager budget with a digital camera has allowed him to indulge his penchant for surreal backdrops and science fiction narratives, a mere dream in the mainstream world of film in Latin America because of limited financial resources. “You make up for your lack of money with time,†says Coyula, who spent a year filming his latest release, Red Cockroaches, and another year alone editing the film in his apartment. Altogether, it cost a mere $2,000 to produce. The film, which had its U.S. premiere in Austin at the Cine Las Americas film festival this spring, portrays an alienated world where people stay indoors for fear of acid rain and relationships are twisted by genetic manipulation. Shot in a mini DV format, it occasionally suffers from an overly ambitious narrative, but overall is a testament to Coyula’s artistic vision, which has produced a poetic montage of imagery that is captivating and never boring. After the film’s premiere, Coyula sat down with the Texas Observer to talk about the trials of making low-budget movies and the state of cinema today in Cuba. Unfortunately, he may be one of the last Cuban artists to visit the United States for some time since the United States is no longer granting visas for cultural exchange.

Texas Observer: How did you end up in New York making Red Cockroaches?

Miguel Coyula: I was invited to show one of my films at the Providence Latino Film Festival, after that I went to visit a friend in New York where I met Anna Strasberg of the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. She invited me to a party at her house, which turned out to be a birthday party for the actor Al Pacino. I actually didn’t recognize him because people look different on the screen. I shook his hand and then realized a few minutes later that it was him. Pacino was interested in Cuba’s film industry and how films were distributed there. I always carry a copy of my film, you never know… So I screened my tape right there and Anna Strasberg ended up offering me a scholarship which resulted in the making of Red Cockroaches.

The plot about the brother and sister was based on a real story that I heard in Havana, so when I came to New York I adapted it to New York. I think it’s a story that can be told in any country in any culture. I spiced it up with science fiction, surreal elements.

TO: The film was shot on a very low budget. Can you talk about how you accomplished so much with so little?

MC: Well, I think growing up in Cuba is definitely good training. I mean, I had the camera already (an old Canon GL-1) so you only need to spend the money to buy tapes (for the mini DV) and a couple of lights and that’s it. If you have good friends that will lend you the locations and actors willing to work for free, you can basically do anything, because afterwards in the computer you can create anything you wantâ€"backgrounds, effects, et cetera. Overall was less than two thousand dollars because I shot the film myself and I edited it myself, so I didn’t have a crew. I was a one-man crew, I was doing the sound also myself and I did the music as well. We were shooting mostly on weekends depending on the availability of the actors, because they had paid jobs during the weekdays so usually on the weekends, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. What I realized here is that making the film is not the problem, but the amount of money you have to put in afterwards, that’s the real budget: Festival, submission fees, transfers, blow-up to 35mm, sound-mix to Dolby, publicists. It’s crazy.

TO: Red Cockroaches has a strange unsettling atmosphere to it. How did you create the mood in the film?

MC: Well, I did a lot of color correction to achieve the right mood in each scene. Also, with the soundtrack I did a lot of subtle sound design to achieve a mood where you don’t know exactly what is going on. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s my goal. To be escalating, little by little, to the climax at the end. Since I was a kid I have been obsessed by science fiction, and Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky is my favorite film. In the editing, I didn’t want to cut back to a shot I used before because it gives it a bit of a TV-like feel. Every time I would make a cut, I wanted it to be a new shot. I also alternated sequences that were very short, very fast shots and then sequences that had very long shots. So, in theory it’s a mix between Sergei Eisenstein and Tarkovsky.

TO: Is the science fiction genre in film growing in Latin America?

MC: No, there is no great movement for science fiction film in Latin America. There have been some cases where somebody does an independent film here or there, but there’s not a movement of science fiction. When you are a filmmaker from Cuba or Latin America people expect it to be a political film, not a science fiction film. Somebody asked me the other day whether Red Cockroaches had something to do with Communism because they are red and I am from Cuba (laughs). I put them in there just because I liked red cockroaches.

TO: What is the state of filmmaking these days in Cuba?

MC: Well, the ICAIC (Instituto Cubano de Artes e Industría Cinematográficos) which is the film industry, unfortunately is not making a lot of films now because there is no money. They release two or three features a year. And the problem that they have after Strawberry and Chocolate, (released in 1994) is that wants this kind of comedy that sort of shows the reality in Cuba, the problems, but in a funny way. But there have been some good films like Suite Habana lately. It’s an amazing film and it’s very sincere and honest. There’s also a film, Nada, by Juan Carlos Cremata, . He’s from a new generation of filmmakers, and he has a whole new approach to filmmaking.

TO: Does the government play any part in what you can and cannot show in your films?

MC: No, as long as it’s not political. You don’t have any kind of trouble. I’m not interested in politics, so I’m fine.

TO: What about the distribution of films in Cuba? Do your films get shown in many of the theaters there?

MC: Well, I do work that is non-political, but is, like I say, weird science fiction. It gets exhibited. It’s not like 20 years ago when anything that was a little weird would be censored. Red Cockroaches was shown in Cuba in February and then from theater to theater every week, which is great because the people can go see it. I don’t get a penny from itâ€"I do commercials for a livingâ€"but it’s great. What I wanted to do was to share it with an audience. What I’ve seen here is that if you don’t make a film that has some kind of commercial appeal, you just don’t exist as an artist because the film doesn’t get exhibited except in a few film festivals that sort of promote that kind of work. Doing films in Cuba, maybe I don’t get a penny from that, but at least they get shown in major theaters, and most of them on TV as well.

TO: I understand that Red Cockroaches will be part of a trilogy?

MC: Well, I have this dream project that is called Ocean. It’s a novel that I wrote three years ago and Red Cockroaches serves as a prequel to that. It’s a drama that takes place in the future. Or you might call it an alternative reality where there are some elements that are kind of disjointed. Basically you can say it is a love story, a very dark triangle, which will doom the protagonist. I like to create a film that has many layers so that people can build up their own interpretation in their own way.

TO: I hear you plan to go back to Cuba this summer to begin working on a big film project?

MC: Yes, I’m working now on a screenplay for Memories of Development, which is the sequel to Memories of Underdevelopment (1968), a classic Cuban film. I’m working with the writer, Edmundo Desnoes. It’s a big project. Yeah, it’s kind of scary, but I have to do it because I’m not going to miss this opportunity. The writer just finished the novel, and we get along very well so we’re going to go all the way throughâ€"even though critics and fans of the first movie will come after us like sharks. Memories of Development takes place both in Cuba and the U.S. and it’s the same character that comes to the U.S., which is a little bit like what happened to me. I can relate and I always loved the first film. I plan to shoot independently as well. I want to have freedom to shoot what I want, cause it’s such a big film. Memories of Underdevelopmentâ€"it’s Cuba’s best film, and I think that the Cuban film industry will be a little protective of that. But I want to have freedom and Edmundo Desnoes is also aware of that, so we want to have total control of the final product. We don’t want to make concessions of any kind.

TO: So you plan to take a hiatus from science fiction on this project?

MC: Yes, (laughs) well, I plan to sneak in some surreal elements. We’ll see how it goes.

Melissa Sattley frequently writes about Latin American culture. She lives in Austin.

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Come on, girls. You’re late!†yells manager Abraham Quintanilla, attempting to move the five women of La Conquista, an up-and-coming cumbia pop group, out of the tour bus and onto the stage at Austin’s Auditorium Shores. The young women plead for one more minute as they solidify their stage personas with hair spray and mascara.

La Conquista is here to play at South by Southwest (SXSW), opening for one of Mexico’s biggest rock acts, El Tri. The lineup is unorthodox, to say the least, featuring the twenty-something women of La Conquista, the vintage rockers of El Tri, and the stylish musicians of a Norteño band called Los Terribles del Norte, who are resplendent in tight, purple satin Western suits and black cowboy hats. The bands have nothing in common, other than the fact that they all call Mexico home.

As La Conquista takes the stage, a crowd of women and young girls moves to the front. (A notable exception is the slightly tipsy man who thrusts a turkey leg in the air in time to the catchy cumbia beat when the women launch into their first song.)

La Conquista was formed in 1997 by two sisters from Monterrey, Mexicoâ€"Marcela “Machy†and Monica de la Garzaâ€"along with bassist Cecilia “Cecy†Treviño. They have since been joined by Diandra Flores on backup vocals and Cynthia Rangel on keyboards.

On their first two albums, the women of La Conquista fought to convey an edgy street look. But misguided record execs dressed them in hokey Western outfits in an effort to market them as a Norteño band. “They didn’t get what we were all about,†says Monica, the band’s accordion player. “Urban cumbia is what we like and what we identify with.â€

Urban cumbia, a combination of up-tempo accordion-driven melodies mixed with reggae and hip-hop backbeats, is growing in popularity in Monterrey. Fans of the music are sometimes called colombianos in homage to the country of origin of cumbia music. The women of La Conquista have fully embraced a decidedly urban aesthetic with flaming hair colors, piercings, and showy hip-hop inspired gear. On stage at SXSW, the group breaks into a funky hip hop and cumbia single, “La Chica Conquista,†that has been heavily rotating on Latin MTV and radio stations on both sides of the border. In the song written by the de la Garza sisters and bassist Treviño, Machy appropriates the bragging machismo of rap music:

When I go to a club I don’t have to wait in line/When I hit the dance floor I don’t ever stop/my friends ask me what they have to do to become a conquista girl/so everybody will watch them too.

As the women of La Conquista tear up the stage with their girl-power anthem, the men in back of the audience start to push their way to the front to check out the group. Monica sings and plays the accordion while Machy breaks into a guitar solo and Cecy lays down a solid bass rhythm.

“We have been underestimated many times before,†says Monica de la Garza. “People think we don’t play our instruments but we play very well.†There are a good number of female musical acts in Latin America, but Monica insists that La Conquista is the only cumbia group she knows of where all of the women play their own instruments. “Right now we are in a very male territory but we hope to open the door for other women to start cumbia bands,†she says. “We have a lot of young girls who come to our shows and we want to be an example to them.â€

The group’s manager has big plans for them. If the name “Abraham Quintanilla†sounds familiar, it should. Quintanilla, who signed La Conquista with his Q-Productions last year, is the father of Selena, the famous Tejano singer who was killed by her fan club founder in 1995. La Conquista recorded their most recent CD, Venciendo, in his Corpus Christi studio (where son AB Quintanilla of the award-winning Kumbia Kings, also records). Venciendo has a little bit of something for everybody from Tejano ballads (a la Selena) to hip-hop cumbia. The finest tracks are the ones written by the bandâ€"“La Chica Conquista†and “Yo Se,â€â€"songs that allow the band to play with attitude.

The women of La Conquista are currently working on the singles for their next CD with Q-Productions. “We have to do the work to make it happen,†says Quintanilla. “We want the top for them, what every group wants, what Selena had.†Quintantilla is back in a familiar role; he displays a stern, and distinctly fatherly pride in the group’s growing success. He wants them to first concentrate on becoming big in the United States, then on taking their music to Mexico and the rest of Latin Americaâ€"much as Selena did in the 1990s. Just before playing at SXSW in Austin, the group played in Miami, to thousands of fans at the huge Calle Ocho street festival. “They received a huge write up with their picture in the Miami Herald,†Quintanilla boasts.

On their next album, says Machy, the group wants to take their music further out on an edge, with more hip hop and reggae. She’d also like to sport dreadlocks, but explains that Quintanilla would never allow it. “Yo quiero!†(I want to!) she shouts with mock indignation, then becomes more serious.

“We want to have music in our lives as long as we can,†she says. “We want to go all the way to the top.â€

Melissa Sattley is a writer in Austin.

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Also: Mary Kelly on Mexico's Water Deficit following article

While the federal government focuses on the war in Afghanistan and bioterrorism threats at home, a feud is reaching boiling point on the South Texas border over Mexico's refusal to release a portion of its 1.4 million acre-foot water debt to the U.S—water that could rescue South Texas' parched farming industry.

Farmers in the Rio Grande Valley say they have been going thirsty for years. According to a 1944 U.S./Mexico water treaty, Mexico must deliver 350,000 acre-feet of water to U.S. reservoirs annually to feed the Rio Grande, while the United States is required to deliver 1.5 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River to Mexico every year. But since 1992, Mexico officials say they have been unable to make the yearly water releases because of extreme drought. South Texas farmers have disputed that claim. Last February, President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox struck an agreement requiring Mexico to provide 600,000 acre-feet of water to the lower Rio Grande Valley, which yielded 311,000 acre-feet last spring for South Texas. But since then, not a drop has been released from reservoirs in Mexico and farmers in the Valley are estimating that next year's planting season will be one of the worst in history.

Jo Jo White, an irrigation district manager for the city of Mercedes, said that the water supply in his district is down to just 15 percent of capacity, and that at least seven other districts are likewise close to empty. "I've got farmers in my office just about every morning and they are panicky about the situation," said White. "They are worried about their livelihoods."

"We are at an all-time low," he said. "Right now, there's not enough water for next year's planting season." For months White, along with other irrigation district managers and farmers, hoped that negotiations between the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC)—which works along with its Mexican sister agency the Comision Internacional de Limites y Aguas (CILA) to track binational water issues—and Mexican officials would yield enough water to salvage the upcoming planting season, which begins in January. But in two meetings in October, farmers learned that Mexico will not be able to honor the February agreement, Minute Order 307, because of political conflicts between Mexican border governors and Fox, and because Mexican officials claim the country is suffering from extreme drought.

White and other Valley water stakeholders contend, however, that Mexico is using U.S. water to bolster its growing agricultural industry, which competes directly with U.S. industry. "It seems like we are being sacrificed for Mexico's economy," said Gordon Hill, Bayview irrigation district manager. "They are holding our water and growing their fruits and vegetables (with it) to sell to us." Since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, fruit and vegetable imports from Mexico have nearly doubled to 2 billion pounds through South Texas ports of entry, said Hill.

Increasingly, south Texas farmers are pointing the finger at the State of Chihuahua, where they say important water stores are being hoarded in the Rio Conchos basin instead of being released to honor Mexico's water debt. In what White called a "very heated" October 18 meeting in Austin with Mexican diplomat Alberto Szekely, Valley water users accused Mexico of hoarding water at the expense of Texas farmers. "He told us Mexico didn't have the water," said White, recounting his version of the meeting. "And we showed him that one state did have water, and it was hoarding it—now was his government willing to go in and force Chihua-hua to comply?" Szekely remained silent on the question, said White.

In a phone interview from his Mexico City office, Szekely, who is an adviser to Mexico's Foreign Ministry, said that water was a federal issue and that border governors had no jurisdiction over the water. "They cannot decide to release or not release water," he said. He would not confirm whether Fox was having political conflicts with the border governors. Szekely went to the Austin meeting, he said, to reassure Valley water users that Mexico would honor the 1944 U.S./Mexico Water Treaty. "No matter how many times we say we are committed to honoring the treaty, we are misrepresented," he said. Mexican reservoirs had lost 83 percent of their capacity and it would be impossible to pay back a portion of the water debt until Mexico received significant rainfall, he said. "When we have rain, we'll honor the treaty," said Szekely.

The IBWC tracks reservoir levels in Mexico and the United States. According to their statistics, in late October the Rio Conchos Basin held 900,000 acre-feet of water, while the whole of Northern Mexico had about 2 million acre-feet of water in its reservoirs. While not much for a vast system that can hold as much as 10 million-acre feet during non-drought years, it is enough to release a portion of water to stave off disaster for South Texas' upcoming planting season, say IBWC officials and Valley water users. "There is sufficient water for release," said IBWC Commissioner Carlos Ramirez at an October 17 meeting in McAllen. "They have enough to meet our needs and theirs."

Ramirez attributed Fox's failure to honor Minute Order 307 to internal political conflicts and a series of lawsuits filed to stop Mexico's payment of the water. "Fox committed to things that the border governors were not in agreement with," he said. Except for the state of Nuevo Leon, all the border governors belong to the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) while Fox is from the PAN (National Action Party). "There are problems between these two parties," Ramirez observed. Ismael Aguilar, an economics professor at the Technological Institute in Monterrey, Mexico, who has written extensively on binational water issues, said that Fox's signing of Minute Order 307 angered the border governors. "They were taken by surprise and very upset," Aguilar said, "because they have enormous pressures on them from their water users, and they felt they were not consulted by Fox."

Compounding the political infighting, agricultural unions representing some of those users—farmers in the Mexican border states of Tamaulipas and Coahuila—have filed lawsuits in federal court to prevent the country from releasing water to the United States. Szekely said that the federal government was anxious to resolve the lawsuits, but he could not say when that would happen. "It depends on the judges," he said. "But we have asked them to make a decision as soon as possible."

The news Szekely delivered in Austin, that water payments would be suspended for an indefinite period of time, did little to reassure Valley farmers, who say they are on the brink of financial ruin. Brothers Tommy and Jesus Garcia lost $200,000 last year on their citrus groves because of reduced yields and smaller-sized fruit resulting from the lack of water. With dwindling water supplies, they will have to cut back even further the next harvesting season, said Tommy Garcia. "It kills me to drive by one of my groves and see the trees crying out for water, but there's nothing I can do about it," he said.

Third-generation farmers in the Valley, the brothers said they would probably be the last in their family to invest in farming, because it had become too costly and the drought was destroying their already tenuous business. The brothers, who attended the October 18 meeting, had looked to Mexico to ease some of their burdens, in the hopes that the country would at least come up with enough water to carry them through the next harvesting season. But they returned to the Valley disappointed, they said. "We weren't expecting the whole deficit to be paid, just a portion of the water," said Jesus Garcia. "They need to throw a bone to us with a little meat on it."

"He [Szekely] told us that Tamaulipas was having a hard time and the farmers were suing the Mexican government not to release the water," said Jesus Garcia. "But we aren't asking for anything that isn't ours."

Border representatives like U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz are currently considering whether to try to impose sanctions against Mexico for its failure to release the water. In a recent press release, Ortiz said he would suggest that Mexico pay higher tariffs on imports to compensate for profits realized from the use of U.S. water. Gordon Hill, manager of the Bayview Irrigation District, said that an acre-foot of water would be worth $650 to a farmer in the Valley, and that farmers there had already lost $400 million last year.

White and other Valley water stakeholders say that they have lost hope that the IBWC can resolve the treaty conflicts. "It's reached the point that it's evident that this will have to be solved between Fox and Bush," said White. Experts are already projecting that border populations will double in the next 40 years, and that serious long-term negotiations and planning will have to be undertaken to conserve and manage the dwindling Rio Grande water supply. Otherwise, the water issue could seriously damage relations between the United States and Mexico, which Fox and Bush have tried to improve.

"The future does not look promising," said Ismael Aguilar, who recently co-wrote a report on the Rio Grande Basin for the Houston-based Mitchell Center for Sustainable Development. "There is still such a major lack of understanding about water. Even the high-level officials who drafted the 1944 water treaty didn't understand it fully."

"For a long time we were extremely lucky," Aguilar said. "But we can't continue to rely on tropical storms to replace long-term water management strategies."

The good news is that the enduring drought has many officials on both sides of the border thinking seriously for the first time about a binational drought-management and sustainable water management plan. In September, a group of U.S. hydrologists were invited to visit Mexican reservoirs to see how the system was being run and to check reservoir levels. IBWC Commissioner Carlos Ramirez characterized operations there as haphazard. "There is not very much of an accountability or management system," he said. "They open the gates whenever someone needs water."

As a result, Mexico has asked U.S. experts in drought and water management to work with Mexican officials on a long-term water management plan that will take into account the needs of rivers, municipalities, and agriculture as well as the treaty requirements, said Ramirez at the October 17 meeting in McAllen. "I know how serious the problem is here," Ramirez assured farmers and irrigation district managers at the meeting. "But it's also serious on the Mexican side."

While water stakeholders on both sides of the border would like to see a binational conservation and management plan hammered out between the two nations in the future, it does little to alleviate their hardships now. "Conservation and management—that will take time to evolve," said Gordon Hill, manager of an irrigation district that is already down to 10 percent of its capacity. "What will the government do to help the farmers who go out of business now?"

In the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which lies directly across from the Rio Grande Valley, Mexican farmers have suffered even worse losses because of drought. Guadalupe Herebia, a 64-year-old farmer in the border city of Rio Bravo, said that he hasn't been able to irrigate his fields since 1996. Herebia switched from the more lucrative corn and beans to sorghum because it takes less water. And he now relies solely on the rain for his crops.

"Here we live by luck and the rain," said Herebia. No longer able to make a full-time living from farming, Herebia has moved his family into town where he has a part-time business fixing fire extinguishers. "It's a sad thing to see the water in the river and not be able to use any of it," he said. Ciro Torres, who also farms sorghum, and is the secretary for Rio Bravo's agricultural union, said that local farmers are asking for a government subsidy this year to offset their losses from drought. "The governor promised us 1 million and 76 thousand pesos," said Torres. "Because we are fighting just to keep our families alive."

Water stakeholders on both sides said they are counting on Fox and Bush to solve the mounting water crisis—but the federal government has its mind on other issues at the moment. "We are a low priority right now, and rightly so considering what the federal government is facing," said Jo Jo White. "But the President advised that we go back to our normal business after the terrorist attacks. We can't, not unless Mexico meets its commitment."

Melissa Sattley is a reporter at The Monitor in McAllen.

INTERVIEW

Mary Kelly On Mexico's Water Deficit

BY SANDRA SPICHER

In 1944 the U.S. and Mexico signed a treaty divvying up water along their shared border, including the Rio Grande and its tributaries. Much of the Rio Grande's flow, especially below Big Bend, comes from key tributaries on the Mexican side. The treaty obligates Mexico to maintain a minimum level of flow from those tributaries into the Rio Grande, which provides water for use by Texas farmers and municipalities. Due to extreme drought since 1992 in the Mexican state of Chihuahua and other factors, Mexico has fallen behind on its share. Texas farmers in the Rio Grande Valley, suffering from a drought of their own, want Mexico to pay up. But how? On a gray, rainy morning in Austin, T.O. spoke with Mary Kelly, director of the Texas Center for Policy Studies, about the politics of water.

Texas Observer: At the recent U.S.-Mexico Border Summit, you served on a panel called "Border Water and Environmental Challenges and Opportunities." What were some of those challenges and opportunities?

Mary Kelly: I spoke primarily about water management issues. One of the higher profile issues now is the 1944 U.S.-Mexico treaty and the [water] deficit that Mexico is running. It's important to point out that Mexico is not violating the treaty. Mexico can run a deficit when there is an extraordinary drought. Mexico has agreed to pay back that water when it can and is making good-faith efforts to do that. The level of rhetoric that's coming out of the state, and the farmers in particular, accusing Mexico of deliberately violating the treaty, withholding water to hurt Texas farmers, is not helpful. We're going to have to cooperate on water issues for a long time.

TO: How is water allotted–who gets priority–on both sides of the border? Cities, industry, agriculture?

MK: The 1944 treaty gives higher priority to municipal use, as does Texas law. That's pretty standard. The countries agreed to divide equally the waters in the main stem of the Rio Grande below Fort Quitman, and the U.S. has rights to one third of the water from various Mexican tributaries that reach the Rio Grande, with the requirement that Mexico provide a minimum of 350,000 acre-feet a year over a five-year cycle. Mexico wasn't able to provide that minimum over the last five-year cycle, which ended in 1997, and that's why it has a deficit of about a million acre-feet. It's also behind somewhat in this current cycle.

One of the reasons we're concerned that the rhetoric not escalate too much is that, for around forty years, almost since the treaty was signed, Mexico provided four to five times the minimum flow. The river's relatively healthier with that kind of flow. Mexico is not required to ever provide more than the minimum, but it has been. It gets no credit for that under the way the treaty accounting works. There's a conce n from the public interest that the r etoric doesn't escalate such that Mexico says, "Fine, we're never going to provide more than our minimum." That would cause a permanent drought situation for the shared portion of the Rio Grande. That's bad for the river, it's bad for the Valley, and bad for Tamaulipas [the Mexican border state across from the Lower Rio Grande River Valley].

TO: What about conservation in cities and industry?

MK: Industrial water use is actually, proportionately, quite small. Irrigated agriculture still accounts for 80, 85 percent of the water use in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. [The Valley] has, in my mind, done the best job in the entire state in incorporating conservation. Their plan for meeting future water needs is essentially conservation in the agricultural sector, because a lot of that irrigation is inefficient. It's going to require money to help farmers conserve water, but agricultural conservation and really aggressive measures in municipal conservation are primarily how they're going to meet their future water needs. They're also looking at desalination, which is expensive, and then Brownsville has a proposal to construct something called a weir, which is a dam, which is just a silly proposal. But it's included in the water plan because of political pressure, essentially, from Brownsville.

TO: Is it the Brownsville farmers who want the weir?

MK: No. In fact, the farmers have never been enthusiastic. It's the city. They want to show they have excess water to attract big-time industrial development to the Port of Brownsville.

TO: So you don't think NAFTA and the border maquiladoras have had much effect?

MK: I think they have had an effect, but it has been more indirect than anything else. Attracting workers and increasing population on both sides of the border has increased municipal demand for water. This river basin has been managed for years for irrigated agriculture. That's why we developed these reservoirs, to foster irrigation in the basin. While agriculture is–I really want to emphasize this–a very important part of the economy, and it's important to quality of life that we not destroy our farms, we're going to have to rethink the way we manage this basin because we have a lot of different needs out there, and we can't manage for agriculture alone.

TO: In Klamath Falls, Oregon, farmers have been opening irrigation gates illegally, to protest the policy of reserving enough water for endangered salmon and suckerfish. Has anything of that nature gone on around the Rio Grande?

MK: We don't have the same kind of endangered species issues that you have on the Klamath. But the Klamath is in a bad situation because people ignored it for a long time and didn't work out reasonable sustainable water management plans for the basin. What we've been saying is, now is the time to work out these plans. It's probably a little late, but let's hope it's not too late.

TO: Mexico is requesting an emergency loan of water, rather than considering repayment. What do you make of that?

MK: It's saying to the U.S., we don't have the water to pay you back. The water they do have is stored way up in La Boquilla. It takes water to move water, and they'd waste so much trying to move it down. They need water to meet minimum needs, and it's not raining in Chihuahua right now. It's raining everywhere else, but it's not raining in Chihuahua.

TO: In your view, what would be the best possible solution to these problems?

MK: That we develop a drought management plan, a sustainable water management plan. The drought management plan would ensure that drought triggers are recognized early on and we start taking action to avoid the kind of situation we have now, where Mexico has a big deficit. A sustainable water management plan would provide incentives encouraging Mexico to let as much water go down the river as possible so we keep a healthy river system, which is going to benefit both countries in the end. We need to involve a lot of different interests in the basin to come up with that plan. We need to make information available on the status of reservoirs and river flows so anybody can go to the Internet and see it. It builds trust.

TO: And what is the most likely outcome? Do you see that as a possibility?

MK: I'll be optimistic, because we're tied together by the decisions we make on how to manage this river. And it's an interesting geographic setup, because you have Chihuahua controlling the watersheds that provide a lot of the water flow to the Rio Grande, but downstream we have another Mexican state, Tamaulipas, so you can't really have Chihuahua cutting off water too much without hurting Tamaulipas. You have the factors lined up to contribute to a reasonable solution. But it is going to require rhetoric that is less dogmatic than what's been coming out.

TO intern Sandra Spicher is an MFA candidate at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas-Austin.

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San Benito-Austin-based documentary filmmaker Hector Galan couldn't have picked a better backdrop than the historic La Villita dancehall and the Rio Grande Valley-birthplace of conjunto music-to present Accordion Dreams, his latest documentary. The film traces the arc of conjunto's history from the early legends of the 1930s to the innovative young musicians who are keeping the art form alive today. In its heyday, from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s, La Villita was the heart of conjunto music in the Rio Grande Valley, the place to hear squeezebox super-stars Valerio Longoria, Narciso Martinez ("El Huracan del Valle"), and Santiago Jimenez. In the late '70s the dancehall closed because of dwindling audiences and economic decline in the neighborhood. Now city officials want to rehab the building and turn it into a conjunto museum. But on the night of the Valley premier, La Villita's deceased owner, Don Fernando Sanchez, seemed to be playing a practical joke. An hour before the film was supposed to begin, the power went out in half of San Benito, including La Villita. "Don Fernando turned the power off because the dance floor is too small," an elderly audience member confided to her friend.

City officials quickly pulled out their cell phones. Gal?n and his wife, Evy Ledesma, lit luminarias on the sidewalk to prove to hundreds of conjunto fans-many of whom had driven from as far away as Houston and Dallas-that the show would go on. Across the street, cantina regulars carried their drinks out to the sidewalk and wondered aloud about all of the commotion at the old dancehall. Out front, conjunto fans in their sixties and seventies waxed nostalgic about La Villita and the days when they could hear hits like Valerio Longoria's "El Rosalito" from blocks away, long before they reached the dancehall. San Benito native Manuel Gonzalez, 65, had driven about 300 miles, all the way from Buda, to witness La Villita's brief revival. "This brings back so many memories," he said, recalling his days at La Villita in the 1950s. "You would work all week and on the weekends this place was it-you couldn't believe the musicians you could see here."

In little less than a half hour, the city's fire department provided a generator for the film projector and emergency lights to illuminate the dance floor. Even more miraculously, the film started on time at 8:00 p.m.-unusual even in normal circumstances for the Valley.

The documentary film, second in a planned trilogy on the history of Tejano music, follows the travels of the three-row button accordion from its arrival in central Texas with German and Czech immigrants in the early 19th century. The catchy polkas caught the ear of Texas Mexicans, or Tejanos, in the Rio Grande Valley. They adapted the polka into conjunto-the Tejano's working man blues-a blending of accordion, bajo sexto (12-string guitar), and drums.

Accordion Dreams intermixes the biographies of legendary performers such as Narciso Martinez and Flaco Jimenez (probably the most familiar crossover performer to those not well versed in the music), with footage of live performances by present-day favorites such as Benny Layton and Ruben Vela. Gal?n then takes a detour to the small, central Texas town of New Braunfels, where Texans of German descent still play the traditional polkas and waltzes that intrigued Tejanos in the last century. But traditional accordion music is slowly dying out among people of German descent in Texas, and now is only occasionally played in retirement communities and at church parties. "Accordion music is being lost throughout the United States and Europe," Gal?n explained before the film's premiere. "There are only small pockets where the traditional music is surviving in places like Louisiana and Texas."

Austin singer-songwriter Tish Hinojosa narrates the hour-long documentary and Kathy Ragland, a New York-based ethnomusicologist, provides a historical perspective. Conjunto historians, including Amadeo Flores, 68, an accordionist who played with legendary players like Valerio Longoria and Tony de la Rosa, add personal perspectives on the music's social and cultural roles in the Mexican-American community. From the opening scene, Gal?n emphasizes that conjunto is still very much alive among music fans. The film begins with 17-year-old Jesse Turner of the small Valley town of Santa Rosa, playing at a high school dance with his band, Estilo. Now 23, Turner is just one of many young accordionists who have taken conjunto, added some rock 'n' roll twists and slick dance moves, and made the music more accessible to a younger audience. At the high school dance in Accordion Dreams, the young girls go wild at Turner's pelvic thrusts and skittering feet. Suddenly the accordion is sexy, and conjunto is no longer just your grandparents' music-something to be shunned at all costs.

"When I was a kid accordion music was embarrassing," Ledesma, a Harlingen native, told me. "I'm 41. I grew up in the '70s and we were into rock 'n' roll music in English and trying to fit into the larger culture. Now these kids are into conjunto and they've found a way to be true to their own culture and still be Americans." In the film, older conjunto musicians like Amadeo Flores are pleased that the younger generation has taken an interest in the music. "We teach them and they teach us," says Flores, of the new conjunto players. "In the old days we played, stopped then sang. Now they do everything all at once."

Refreshingly, Galan also focuses on the struggle of women pioneers in conjunto music. Eva Ibarra, now in her late '50s, rips it up in an impromptu performance, as Hinojosa narrates the difficulties Ibarra faced when she was the only woman in a macho musical world. Ibarra started playing conjunto accordion at six; her father would book her in dancehalls around South Texas as a novelty act. As she grew older, however, she was often criticized for playing conjunto accordion, which was viewed as being strictly for men. The bars and nightclubs where she played were considered unseemly for a woman, but Ibarra ignored the naysayers and continued to make records and perform. Today she plays and tours with Hinojosa in the all-woman group, Las Super Tejanas. In Accordion Dreams, musicians Cecilia Saenz, 17, and Victoria Galvan, 15, show that attitudes have progressed greatly since Ibarra was their age, and that conjunto has finally opened up as a viable avenue for young women performers.

Hector Galan is a San Angelo native who has deep roots in the Rio Grande Valley. For decades, he's focused his lens on the Texas-Mexico border. The first film in his music documentary trilogy, Songs of the Homeland, which won the Top Juror Award at CineFestival in San Antonio in 1995, also focused on the border. Another documentary, The Forgotten Americans, which aired on PBS last fall, portrayed the plight of poverty-stricken families along the border. (Accordion Dreams will also be picked up by PBS, and is slated to air in September.) At first it can be difficult to explain the importance of conjunto to people outside of the border region, says Galan. "People in Washington, D.C. and New York are like, 'What's conjunto?'" he says wryly. "It's the cultural legacy of this region and a significant contribution to American music-even if it is in Spanish."

At the Valley premier it was obvious that conjunto meant so much more to the audience. The event had an intimate family feel, and there were murmurs of recognition as black-and-white photos of musicians from yesteryear appeared on screen. Older audience members laughed at old dancehall photos and at the outfits and hairstyles that seemed hopelessly outdated. After the premier, several musicians featured in the film performed on La Villita's stage-the same stage where accordionist Amadeo Flores performed more than 50 years ago. "Back then the dancehall didn't have a roof," he recalled. "I remember one night it rained and everyone kept dancing; they didn't care." (The roof was added in the late '60s to make La Villita more comfortable for receptions and weddings, much to the dismay of Flores, who thinks it affects the quality of the sound.)

For Jesse Turner, playing there at the Valley premier with some of the legends of conjunto music was an opportunity to pay homage to his heroes and to his father, a lifelong conjunto fan. But once again, Don Fernando seemed to be playing tricks. The night of the premier Turner had a bad cold and said he wouldn't sing. But as he launched into his second song and couples began to hit the dance floor, he was carried away by the evening and changed his mind. "I couldn't help it," he later explained. "It's an honor to be here."

Melissa Sattley is a reporter at The Monitor in McAllen. Flaco Jimenez, Ruben Vela and other accordion wizards can also be heard at the Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio, May 9-13.

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Beverly's Lives!

BY MELISSA DEL BOSQUE • PHOTOS BY ALAN POGUE

utside, the blinking marquee is simple and direct: “Beer.” Inside, the bass notes of Jimi Hendrix’s “Highway Chile” mark the tempo for two women decked out in leather chaps as they do a bump and grind in front of the jukebox. Smoke-encrusted photographs of bikers—some dearly departed, others still marauding the highways—line the tilting walls. Christmas lights lend a festive touch and biker graffiti on the ceiling proclaims the ultimate biker insult: “Tony rides a Jap bike.” Welcome to Beverly’s, the kind of place where guys with names like Big Bear and Terrible Terry wear leather vests emblazoned with names of biker clubs like the Bandidos, or Latin Steel. They swoop in like Vikings on their thundering hogs pockmarked with bumper stickers. (“My money and my kids go to the Texas Correctional Institution.”) For 25 years the Austin biker bar has been flouting the law. But sooner or later even a tough old bird like Beverly’s has to confront the city’s explosive growth and the law of money. Early this year the word was out that the venerable bar on South Congress was slated to become another PetsMart or Wal-Mart. “The landlord’s getting old; he’s got children,” said Beverly Ray, the proprietor who lent her name and personality to the bar for a quarter century. “If they get a good price they’ll sell it,” she told me when we spoke last February. “I hate to leave. But it’s a tough business. You come and you go. You should know it when you get into this business.” After hearing that still another bit of Austin history was about to fade away forever, I decided to check out Beverly’s and see what the fuss was all about. “It’s mystical in its own way,” a wiry-framed guy named Warren told me. Warren, who sports a ZZ Top beard and rides with the Bandidos, was the part-time bartender and bouncer. “People know right away if they belong here,” he said. “Others don’t come back. If you don’t start any shit, you won’t get any shit.” Then he added, “But some people are goofy. If they come looking for trouble, they’ll find it.” uilt around World War I, the old stone building on Congress Avenue and a stone’s throw from Slaughter Lane has long been a refuge for outlaws and those who prefer life on the outskirts of polite society. A notorious whorehouse named Hattie’s was once located just down the road. The infamous bank robbers, the Newton Boys, used to stop by for a cold beer in the days when cowboys tied their horses up front and cattle grazed where I-35 now stands. As land was gobbled up for development, the old-time cowboys slowly drifted away and the bikers came thundering down Congress, inspiring mythic tales of ass-kicking, hog-riding, and beer-guzzling. In the mid-1980s a battle between a group of carnies and a gang of bikers earned Beverly’s a mention in The New York Times (“The Toughest Bar in Texas”). One old-timer by the name of Pappy remembers the mythical battle like this: “We were playing dominoes and one of the carnies pinched a biker’s old lady in the bottom. The whole bar went to pieces like a bar brawl in an ol’ West Town. Everybody was fighting except for Old Man Charlie. “He had a good hand of dominoes, so he just stood up back against the wall with his hands full of dominoes. Didn’t mean shit though, since the rest of those dominoes had been scattered to hell.” As the memories began to flow, spurred on by the beer, the regulars insisted that bulldozers and dump trucks would have to bury them before the bar turned into another strip mall. “We’d be lost without it,” said Warren, visibly angered. “Hell, we don’t need another Wal-Mart, but we do need a Beverly’s.” Another regular named Ronnie became defiant when contemplating the bar’s demise. “They ain’t ever going to get rid of this place,” he insisted. “It’s one of those places where people say, ‘Don’t go in there because they’ll kick your ass’… You either love this place or you hate it at first sight.” On the day that I visited, Beverly was celebrating her daughter’s 42nd birthday. Bikers swaggered around the bar holding pieces of birthday cake on paper plates. As they did, Beverly waxed nostalgic. “I’d like to make it to the 50th anniversary,” she said, her voice trailing off as she began to envision the bar decked out in gold. “You don’t realize what a good time you’ve had until it’s gone.” After my visit, I began receiving e-mails from a friend and longtime patron of Beverly’s. He was depressed about the imminent demise of his favorite bar. In March, he sobbed in a message that what he had long feared had finally come to pass: Beverly’s had closed its doors for good. But that’s not really the way this story ends. Earlier this month, the bar was given still another reprieve. Austin’s explosive growth and the law of money are still at the door, of course. But Beverly’s lives again, thanks to the kindness of a Nigerian car salesman who is storing his cars in the large lot behind the bar—yet another chapter in Austin history and the history of “the toughest bar in Texas.” Melissa Del Bosque is a writer in Austin.

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  • Afterword

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