Beto on the Border: An Old Face on an Old Problem

My thoughts on: Thoughts on:

The campaign bells are ringing. Politicians are coming out of the woodwork to polish off their rhetoric and don their walking shoes.

Beto O’Rourke, darling of the borderland, is no exception.

Scores of people joined Beto for a Downtown rally at DeadBeach Brewery in El Paso, TX as he began his gubernatorial campaign against Greg Abbott. As when he ran for the Senate seat against Ted Cruz, O’Rourke towed his quasi-progressive line advocating for “well-paying jobs, improving public schools and expanding Medicaid.”

However, the progressive stance his platform proclaims is tarnished by Beto’s own voting history as an El Paso City Council member. Though Beto says he supports working-class people, his record on voting in local elections skews towards the economic aspirations of El Paso’s oligarchy.

Beto will be sure to garner much support from locals, but it is no secret that there are various groups and coalitions that continue to advocate against O’Rourke. In an interview for the Texas Tribune, Cynthia Renteria rejects the premise that Beto is the borderlands savior. Very accurately, she states “El Paso and Texas deserve better than a white-privileged male making decisions for our communities.” Moreover, locals groups such as El Paso del Sur openly run campaigns against Beto in an attempt to educate the general public as to Beto’s local voting record and previous political affiliations.

As Beto continues his campaign, and as he picks up almost-certain momentum, it is important to contextualize his run with the history of his politics as well as within his opponents own political shortcomings. Abbott poorly handled the Texas energy crisis in the winter of 2020, and he has also mismanaged the COVID situation in Texas. Both of these situations are salient running points for Beto to harp on, and I assume he will. However, Texas constituents must not be assuaged by Beto simply being better-than-the-alternative.

These sort of political pain points for Abbott will be crucial for Beto to win voters in rural Texas who may have been drastically impacted by the energy crisis or COVID. The ongoing COVID situation will surely consecrate most voters that are slightly left of center for Beto. But for him to swing the state, Beto needs progressives, especially as the state goes through redistricting due to a recent boom in population.

At the rally, Beto was incredibly vocal of Governor Abbott’s handling of the COVID situation in Texas, specifically in our borderland. O’Rourke announced that the border was a political pawn for Abbott to “prop” and “stoke anxiety, fear or even hatred.” However, borderland residents need more than Beto’s rhetoric, and they certainly need more than his voting record offers.

Beto’s focus on the border and his ability to speak to the most emotional issues that affect the border will deliver the momentum he needs to get his campaign off the ground. Politics, above all, is still very much a rhetorical game, and Beto can play that game decently. This— compounded by Abbotts perceived failures in handling two important moments in Texas history— could be the sort of brew that Beto needs to flip the state.

As a borderland educator and member of the Mexican-American community, my eyes and ears will be tuned to Beto’s message beyond the rhetoric. The problems our communities face right now are not too different than the ones he voted on during his time on the city council. Our neighborhoods are losing while our politicians and oligarchs are winning. To gain the support of this progressive, he will need to provide specific stances against the conservative and economic forces of Texas and the border. He will need to present a new face to an ever lasting problem—can he side with the people against the implacable draw of the political economy?

By how much exactly will he increase the minimum wage in the state? What are his plans to remediate the learning gaps in our borderland schools post-COVID? What kind of funding will he provide for districts in desperate need of infrastructure upgrades? Does he have a plan to help the homeless population across the state? Will he modernize and extend current public transportation in major cities?

Will the trajectory of his politics bend towards relieving the conditions of those most in need, in the places most in need, or will he again cast his vote against the people?


Nishi Ramen on San Antonio Street

I. An explosion of expansion has taken over these once dead streets.
Only they never died
Rather were pushed back
beaten with poverty and destitution
Beaten with regulation
70 hour work weeks
Standing in line for sustenance
I know those conversations well
I’ve stood in those lines.

There is a petition going around
To save their homes.
I didn’t sign it because I don’t always
See as clearly as this.

My brother understands
The pain of people
Better than I,
Objectivity has made me sterile.

II. I arrived about a half hour early
and parked, incorrectly
(I would later find out)
and decided to walk around Durango street
trying to understand a bit of the history
that would soon be lost.
Objectivity has made me sterile
And I sought to find within the buildings
A hint of the audacity
of a people
daring to hope.
(The hope of course being not to lose their home through no action of their own.)

Red stone buildings made to be dirty
Through their perseverance
Since 1881 reads the El Paso Times.
Red stone that runs from the ground to the sky
boils over to the next building
And the one after that.
(I didn’t need to leave my own city
to find brick roads.)

Union Plaza and all the night clubs
Empty on an early Friday night.
The buildings form a wide alley
Benches and street lights along the sides.
Here I Love You and I begin to think
Of how long I have been walking
My attention to the dull pulls of hunger
And the thought of you still not arriving.

I have to bring myself back, I’ve
Been trying to understand precisely
Where in this history I belong
Observer or agitator, worker or worked
Around the corner another bar
In front a man sits alone
His bag hanging open over the seat
Muttering to himself or me
To no one at all.
I don’t bring myself to walk past him
There is a bridge just beyond
Old dreams
Soot and the immeasurable silence of an underpass.

Above us a stadium
I haven’t been inside
it is not a history I want to inhabit.
A path alongside the bridge
colored with baseball lingo and ancestral figures.
I sit on the steps of the stadium.
In front of me
Two nations and a firmament strewn across the ground.
There is heaven in those homes
Gods inside every head
Keeping this city aflame.

I am between a mountain and a valley
On the banks of the Rio Grande
On the street below people shuffle
Carrying grocery bags
I can hear the train from union depot,
Machinations of the night.

Now I am observer
A thousand universes
And I am not more than the night between the stars.

III. As if I had been asking for a sign
or had hung my tongue out dry
looking to lap up new dew or old puddles
the city spoke to me,
a fountain of inspiration.

The fountain says
“we are truest in our repose”
Like water, it qualifies.
Only, the fountain was empty and I
An impostor.

I struggle to collect my tongue
Too big for my mouth
Too many tongues to count
I’ve forgotten what water looks like.
I turn to leave and step in dog shit
Luckily my soles have no depth
And cling to nothing
But the memory.

I am thirstier than ever now
And the city has misplaced my puddles.
The alley ways have brick roads.
In autumn or spring the leaves
never match the red of brick
or the green of the bay window
This is the street
Where the bulldozer tore down
A building
Shot its load too early
collapsed bricks
a chunk of history
tiny universes
scattered forever.
I rush past it all
I have so much to write.

Today I am tired, Genevieve

Today I am tired, Genevieve,
The dregs of the day have found me
Battered, broken and gasping for a word.

The prism of morning rose
To bloom, as it does, to
Languish its light and
Break the truce of night
Stain the peace of sleep and
It rose to rouse and
Lease a new life, to remind
of eager machinations
That teem with
the threat of our tendencies, but
Today I am tired, Genevieve.

I looked for you in the shadows, Genevieve.
I wanted to take your life.
I needed to take your energy, Genevieve,
I needed to steal your light.

I found you, Genevieve,
In the pages of our book.
In the creases of memory
and bright Ink,
I found you, Genevieve,
gasping for a place
And a chance at the word,
I found you speaking, Genevieve.

I saw your tongue, Genevieve,
Move itself, as it does,
And rise to a new stake,
held up in a new light,
the double symbol of fear and power,
I saw you moving your tongue, Genevieve,
Blooming like a bird out of
Your mouth, I felt your tongue
Move between my lips, between my fingers,
I looked for a word there, Genevieve,
But today I am tired.

All the times
You moved your tongue
To move mine, and hers, and his, and
Theirs, and all the times your tongue was cut out,
And made to rise, as it does,
To hang on to new stakes,
And grant us new tendencies,
has made me tired.

So, today, I am tired Genevieve,
but, I will look for the word
since your tongue seeks mine,
since your seek my tongue, too.

A passing through

Even now
a passing is stressed.
To be moved unto certainty is not
as they say, warranted, but
a passing is stressed.

And so
we move like we can,
to where we are able,
to figure our own fetters,
test our own limits,
draw ourselves out over
time and place and narrative,
into systems that
Fashion us of
recycled forms
and then, even then,
the passing is stressed.

Having been formed,
we move through meanings,
pass through moments.

To move from a place to another
is to make meaning:
displacement gives perspective
and perspective is romantic, makes
a shadow to romance
distance to nostalgia,
space to reflection.

We rise through all history
when we rise, but we
move through our own
frictions when we move,
and in this, the
passing is stressed.


A tenor struck is
made to toll, brought
to tendency and is driven,
taut and tense, it tends.
Unobstructed, it looms,
Resolves itself into atmosphere.

A tenor
holds its toll,
holds its tendency
to be driven
out and made to tense
before resolving to atmosphere if
it is left to loom,
undulate in its own language.

A tenor that moves
to toll is struck and
is left to loom. A
tenor to be taught
is struck and is left
to linger, undulate
in its own failures,
resolve in its own toll.

Given the dust

And the droughts, the flames
and the failures of vortex,
Given the dust and the floods,
and the blasphemies of hunger,
Given the dust and the poverty,
and the failures of economic titration,
Given the dust and the violence,
and the oppression of humanity
all ground down to dust,
And given this dust,
we will mote and mound, and
be reclaimed.

Let us

Let us end the
sudden urge, the sudden
travesty of hopelessness,
to be beat down in tedium,
to once be dust, once part now parcel, now urgent
now beat down in tedium
Let us be bent
and able, broke and able
Let us be nothing
more than dust, to drown
in our parts, to be down
and able, all part, all
broken and made up and able
and let us form
from our own fragments.
Let us be built
from our own foundations
Let us find our own fictions
Let us grow from our own
frames and frame our own
forms, and Let us function
with our own faculties.
Let us be built
from each other, Let us
be built in each other,
Let us build ourselves
without tearing down
an other.

A bell breaks

A bell, and
the break, and a bell, and
the break. A bell and the
straight at it, rect and able
stand and deliver, why don’t you
and the break, a toll first felt,
then out, in breaks,
a break and a bell,
the toll breaks out
in rooms, all along like pavement
breaks, and is broken.
A bell, and the break
and the toll that breaks is broken,
like pavement, all along, the bell
brings us along, the toll
breaks us out.

All drowned in some sadness

Of quiet stutter, sprung out
all breath, all murmur like doubt
all stutter, now silent, drawn out
like rain, now silent, now drawn
out on faces now silent
all ashamed and drawn out.

Of silence and stuttering, now
murmuring, all down in silence
now down, murmuring now
like rain, like drowning
in rain, torrent like, pouring
in silence, torrent like, all
ashamed and drowned out.

Of torrents now, pouring in
all sadness drawn out
all stuttering, all murmuring
like rain, drowned out
all ashamed and silent now
pouring in, all silent now
all drowned out, all stuttering
all ashamed and silent now.

Dear professor

I am writing to let you know

I am no longer moved to write for you.
Though you hold symbols with such precision
(How you do this, I will never know)
The cold calculus of your theory has sterilized them.
In your effort to legitimize yourself
You have delegitimized art itself,
Pushed us further away from its center.

I learned too late there was no ivory tower,
there were no steps to climb,
No secret magic formula to your inculcations.
No, I learned too late that your eruditions are tautologies
That your tautologies are totems
That your totems are stakes
And that your stakes are entrenched in white supremacy
(This is true of most things)

Dear professor,
I am writing to let you know
That your Kingdom of Knowledge is Konsidered an affront to us.
That your theory is teeming with bigotry
That your laurels are dying
That your skin is showing
That your novels don’t hold up
That despite all the history you can muster
You’re forced to confront that above all:
You are guilty of the most primal sin.

Your kingdom rests on the primitive accumulation of knowledge.
Your kingdom forms the greatest real estate of curriculum.
Your kingdom shakes on a foundation of exclusivity.
Your kingdom teeters in its veracity to maintain itself.
Your kingdom creates the very scholars that will come for you.
Your erudition has shown me something you did not intend:
The fragility of your kingdom is in its figure,
It’s fettered by its own form.