Shopkeepers in the Segundo Barrio photo by Eileen Welsome El Paso, continued from page 10 Wilson, who worked for the cities of Richmond, Virginia; Yuma, Arizona; and Arlington, Virginia, is an intimidating figure with far more managerial experience than the five of the eight council members, who are in their mid-30s or younger and newcomers to elected office. Wilson has her hands full. In a city that is 80 percent Hispanic, charges of economic racism have arisen. And in a city where many people speak two languages, language has become a potent weapon. “The status quo losers that live in Segundo are up in fucking arms because their hood is going to go from old and busted to new hotness,” a pro-plan blogger wrote in a screed posted on the Paso del Sur Web site. “Maybe a little kick in the nuts of motivation in the form of tearing their shitholes down will get them to do something with their lives.” On that same Web site, O’Rourke, whose council district includes the Segundo Barrio, has been called a “little puto,” a “punk-ass bitch;’ a liar, a thief, and a sellout. Business and government elites have been labeled as “neo-conquistadors:’ Wilson has been characterized as an “anti-Mexican scold?’ In conversations elsewhere, defenders of the barrio have been tagged as “nostalgists,” “sentimentalists,” and “blight preservationists?’ One document the city’s Hispanic community found most offensive was the GlassBeach study, a $100,000, city-funded research effort aimed at rebranding El Paso. Riddled with typos and grammatical errors, the consultants compared present-day El Paso to a Chevy truck \(“old, reliable, dirty, not Paso should be an Infiniti SUV \(“new, reliable, practical, style/exciting, not In their report, the consultants included a picture of an old cowboy. Next to him were the words, “male, 50-60 years old, gritty, dirty, lazy, speak Spanish and uneducated.” The photo was juxtaposed against images of Penelope Cruz and Matthew McConaughey, suggesting the wealthy and beautiful couples who would live in the new El Paso. Language has also been used to redefine the areas targeted for redevelopment and to spread propaganda. Suddenly, the U-shaped shopping district that includes El Paso and Stanton streets is the “golden horseshoe;’ and the Segundo Barrio, which has never been considered “downtown;’ is part of downtown. Concerned by the way the plan was being perceived, City Manager Wilson dashed off a hurried memo to a PDNG leader, outlining a counterattack that included figuring out ways to engage and neutralize the losers, disseminating graphic photos of blighted buildings, and attempting to recast the debate in more favorable terms. “Provide photos of conditions and make it graphic;’ she suggested. “Again, focus on the new vision but desanitize it so we don’t get into the chain stores taking out the locals?’ She also advised that the proposed convention center-arena be “downplayed” because it was “probably the lightning rod for tax increases for folks.” Wilson’s propaganda may have worked on people who live away from downtown, but those who live and work there weren’t fooled. “They keep showing buildings that are infested with rats and cockroaches. How come they don’t show the nice buildings? That’s what gets me mad;’ says Martha Cruz, who owns the little apartment building where Henry Flipper and Teresa Urrea once lived. Her office is whitewashed and cool, with a small bed tucked in the corner for a grandchild. Cruz rents out apartments for $260 to $375. Small and clean, they bear little resemblance to the “slums” and “Calcutta Hiltons” that an El Paso Times editorial writer called housing in the barrio. In fact, the apartments could be worth a lot of money. Cruz says an investor recently offered her mother $1.5 million for a family-owned store a couple of blocks away. City officials are quick to point out that the shops along El Paso and Stanton 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 4, 2007
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