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FEATURE The Border According to Guerra BY KAREN OLSSON Wow. Wow. I’m shocked.” Maria Eugenia Guerra hopped out of her truck and said “wow” again as she surveyed a small graveyard north of Laredo, which seven months earlier had lain half-submerged in overgrowth, construction trash, and old tires. Guerra, who five years ago co-founded the monthly paper LareDOS, has a distinctive speaking voice: gentle and a little bit scratchy, at once girlish and wise. When she talks, very slight shifts in tone seem to signify strong currents of feeling. “This was really filthy,” she said, surprised and also quietly pleased. “Somebody cleaned this up.” She then hoisted her camera and set about taking pictures. Guerra had photographed this place once before, last April, and published one of the pictures on the cover of LareDOS \(of which nying article, beneath the headline “R.I.P. in the Rubble,” she described the former ranch graveyard’s small, worn crosses, some of them fallen, many decorated with plastic flowers left by recent visitors. She also catalogued, in words and photographs, the trash that had been dumped in their midst the heaps of demolition waste, the cracked swimming pool tiles, the boxes of rancid lard, the paint cans and oil cans and mattresses and cable spools. She had driven us here at my request, in the enormous bronze truck she uses to go back and forth between Laredo and her ranch thirty miles south near San Ygnacio. The original article had struck me as a telling illustration of what Guerra often writes about: the neglect of environment and history in a NAFTA boomtown, and the partial vision or willingness to look the other way of many of its citizens. The graveyard seemed a fitting emblem of what goes ignored, located as it is right behind the Laredo Country Club and a newish subdivision called The Plantation; to get here we’d driven down a dirt road along the putting green, then past a few run-down houses outside the subdivision’s hedges; finally we’d arrived at this tract of prickly pear and mesquite, where the occasional surveyor’s orange flag in a tree heralded the onward march of Progress. But there was no longer much trash: the photographs had called attention to the graveyard, at last, and someone had anonymously cleared out most of the garbage. Laredo is not without its surprises which maybe accounts for a different strain in Guerra’s writing, and in LareDOS as a whole: humor. Satire and gossip are staples of the paper, and the word “irony” crops up often. “I love the irony of our town, but I hate the disparities of it,” she wrote in the introduction to a commemorative “Best of LareDOS” issue last December, “the plenty and the zero of it, the natural beauty and the disregard for it … the haves and the have-nots, the nouveau NAFTA riche who owe their fortunes to geography, suerte, asphalt, and diesel exhaust; the wannabes; and the nunca-bes.” Driving back from the graveyard, Guerra echoed that statement: “This town is so full of little ironies,” she said. “You’ll get whiplash from the ironies, and by ironies I also mean the disparities.” Editors as a group are not know for their calm, but there is some A Maria Eugenia Guerra Tom Moore thing Buddha-like in Guerra’s deliberative, watchful manner. She is short and plump, lightly freckled from the weekends she spends outdoors, and partial to untucked chambray shirts and cotton pants. She readily admits she wanted to be a cowboy when she was a girl, and says she used to accompany her mother to the grocery store dressed as Davy Crockett. But she also wanted to be a journalist from an early age; her parents gave her a block printing kit one Christmas, which she used to publish her first newspaper, enlisting the help of a friend to distribute it around the neighborhood. She is both of Laredo and not of it. Her border roots go back to 1750, when some of her ancestors settled in Guerrero Viejo; she grew up in Laredo, the second of five children. Her father owned a downtown hardware store, which she said “was at the center of our lives.” After high school Guerra left for the University of Dallas, where she promptly flunked out, and ended up in Austin, attending U.T. briefly before being “interrupted by the revolution” and devoting herself to the antiwar movement. She stayed in the Austin area for the next twenty years, eventually finishing her journalism degree at Southwest Texas State. She married, had a son, and ran a plant nursery. By 1988 Guerra was divorced, living in the Hill Country town of 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER FEBRUARY 18, 2000