Letters to the Observer



Because she is a historian, I would have expected Eileen Welsome to be more open and creative in researching her article “Eminent Disaster” (May 4) about El Paso’s downtown redevelopment project. Instead, Welsome treated readers to some good old-fashioned point-&-shoot journalism. She came to El Paso with a preconceived narrative, she cherry-picked her sources, interviewees and ideas, and she wrote her piece. It was a quick study. Time was not wasted. Soon she was back in Austin, rubbing elbows with all the young people who have fled El Paso in search of good-paying jobs and a happening city.

Yet lost beneath the patina of Welsome’s treatment is a thorny and important debate. The redevelopment project opened up a sore in our psyche. Especially among the intellectual, activist and progressive communities. This sudden schism, I think, is the real story that Welsome missed. People are calling each other names, vandals are breaking into offices or tearing down political signs, non-profits in Segundo Barrio are battling over turf, husbands and wives argue in their bedrooms, and friends quit talking to each other. And they are all asking the same question: What’s going to happen to our city?

What we needed from Welsome was a different perspective, some of that “blink” stuff that Malcolm Gladwell made famous, a way to step to the side and look around our particular biases.


On the Mexican side of the river are the more than 1,700,000 citizens of Juárez, a city that must operate with a budget 1/8th the size per capita of El Paso’s (650,000). Juárez, its own downtown crumbling away like a desert riverbank, is home to one of the largest drug cartels in the world, and the drug money and lack of a judicial infrastructure have wrought a lawlessness that makes murder, including the infamous murders of hundreds of women, a common event.


El Paso is enduring its own “surge” of armed troops and military hardware. The combined forces of “Homeland Security” (Border Patrol, the DEA, and Customs) have grown dramatically in the last 15 years, and now the Pentagon is sending 25,000 more troops to Fort Bliss. Stupid U.S. immigration and drug laws, combined with national hysteria and paranoia, will continue to exacerbate this military presence here for years to come, and no doubt this military surge will have a huge and detrimental impact on the political, intellectual, and cultural life of El Paso.


In the midst of these forces is the heart of the city, El Paso’s historic downtown and its equally historic barrios. It’s a wonderful place. Yet the area is suffering from decay: One by one buildings are being destroyed from neglect or greed; the poverty and unemployment in the barrios ranks with the worst in the country; minimum wage is the norm when jobs are available; landowners are fighting to keep the appraisal of their properties (and therefore their taxes) low; and the citizens are leaving for elsewhere.


The downtown needs an influx of capital, and it needs a flexible plan that will allow it to evolve into a healthy player-culturally and economically-in the future of the city and region. Otherwise, downtown El Paso, with its unique culture and history, will wilt away. The proponents of the redevelopment project (I am one of those, wary and alert, but ready to proceed) believe the downtown plan does provide the money and flexibility to inject life into El Paso’s downtown. The anti-plan forces vehemently disagree.

That’s simple enough.

And it should be the starting point for a positive dialect. There’s plenty of elbow room to make good choices.

But the debate has accelerated way beyond the intellectual and imaginative realms and is now stuck in the confusion of anger and name-calling. That’s why I was so disappointed in Welsome’s article. Instead of bringing a fresh point of view, she was content to take the easy route and take sides. In doing so she ignored some facts, she twisted others but got some right. She did some name-calling of her own and then went home to Austin, but not without first throwing a little more gasoline on the fire.

But no blink.

“Ni modo,” my friend says.

“Yeah,” I reply. “Ni modo.”

Bobby Byrd is a poet, writer and sometimes contributor to the Texas Observer. With his wife Lee he is co-publisher of Cinco Puntos Press with its office in downtown El Paso. They are the parents of El Paso City Councilor Susie Byrd.


Jeez, where have you guys been? Our Supreme Court has not issued a significant ruling for a little guy against a corporation in several years, if not a decade. (“Hitting the Bottlers,” May 4) You should touch base with the good mayor of San Antonio, who wrote a bar review article on the Supreme Court’s court-created procedures to limit a trial by jury, and its blatant disregard of jury verdicts with which the court seems to disagree only if a regular person wins money against a corporation.

Steve Spurgin Presidio County


Andrew Papke is my son. (“I Know Why the Caged Bird Screams,” May 4) I am a prison mom. I didn’t raise him to become a convict. I never even considered it could happen. Didn’t even care about convicts until I found myself right in the middle of this “prison culture.” The pain for convicts and their families is too great for most people to even fathom.

Prison destroys families of inmates just like the crime of the inmate destroys the families of the victims. It’s a multi-fold travesty that’s growing exponentially. We have to do something, but I have no clue what anymore. After fighting this dragon for over 10 years, I have become old and weary. This article, very well written, hardly touches the surface when it comes to the pain and the depression 24/7 of knowing your child is growing up in this environment, knowing he will never become a productive citizen who can cut the Thanksgiving turkey and put the angel on the top of the Christmas tree. Working to get his first parole, I heard so many promises that “Andy will be fine.” “He has a good chance.” After all, he still had 10 years to serve for the second death before coming up for parole again. What good did his two-year setoff serve? It was only two years to parole officials. I guess they had a statistic to keep. But it was 12 years for Andy and his family! This is only the tip of the iceberg for Andy’s story. Prison causes madness on the inside and the outside.

Jan May Via e-mail