On the heels of El Paso's yearly embarrassment at the hands of guest football teams with twitter loving players, the El Paso Times decides to add insult to injury. A "self-inflicted wound," if you will. I'm in utter shock at exactly how out of it the El Paso Times and some of El Paso's elected officials are. What am I talking about?
"LITTLE MEXICO" read about it HERE.
You have to be kidding me. Did I sleep until April 1, 2013? Seriously - somebody tell me there's a punchline to be published in the next issue of the newspaper. I mean, there's no way that there are that many stupid people at the El PasoTimes and in local government. At some point you'd have to think at least one person would say "hey guys - this is stupid and people are going to make fun of you and this entire city if you say this out loud. " Nope - it appears the chain of stupid is long and unbroken in El Paso.
Now, I read Max Powers' piece on this idea a few days ago. Without any background I figured it was just County Commissioner Sergio Lewis being his goofy self. I've heard his commercials for his body shop and you'd expect something this weird and uninformed to come out of his mouth. What I did not know is that this is an actual "thing" that more than one person is contemplating in El Paso. This disturbs me greatly. There's no way that all of you are so uninformed that you think this is even worth joking about. Seriously - one of you has to email me and say "this is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of and I'm embarrassed for the entire city that the local newspaper actually printed a single word about it." If no one emails me... then I fear you have all been lost to the land of the stupid and can not be saved.
Let's examine this absurd idea....
First of all - kudos to the Rosenbaums who fought to keep the city from using eminent domain to take away private property in the name of "downtown revitalization." The Rosenbaums have done more to enhance downtown than their foes since 2006. It's fitting that they did what they said they'd do and the PDNG hasn't. So, good for them. They're good people whose word you can count on.
I'm guessing nobody in El Paso has any idea how Chinatown and Little Italy came to be in New York and in other cities. It's not a pretty story of "American exceptionalism" by any means. Racism, a distaste for different cultures and institutionally driven division of ethnicities are how the Chinatowns and Little Italys were first formed in these cities.
Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Italians, Persians, Catholics, Irish and many others were not welcome most any place they sought to live in the United States. They were forced to the edges of cities or into the least desirable neighborhoods. Outside of their neighborhoods they experienced the harsh reality of early America's dislike of everything non-WASP.
In response to being shunned from the WASPs, each group retreated to the comfort of their culture and fervently promoted it within the confines of their ghettos. Opportunities for success in these ghettos lay mostly in one's ability to provide for the cultural needs of his neighbors. Providing your ethnically similar neighbors with the goods and services best known to them is how a person made a living. This practice added to the isolation from WASP society and further intensified their cultural identity far away from where that identity was born.
It would be more than a century (literally) before the American way of life started blurring the lines of these ghettos and that people of different cultures and ethnicities could venture out and survive in WASP territory. There are a whole list of laws that made this possible with the Fair Housing Act of 1968 coming to mind immediately. And yes - that reads 1968. My parents were in high school when you could still legally deny someone's rent application because they were Latino.
The cultural centers didn't disappear once things got a little better for them. In fact, many cities in the United States still have parts of town divided by ethnicity or race. El Paso is one of the very rare places where everyone is pretty much intermixed. It is something you should be very proud of, not trying to tear apart.
Some areas of town became more popular with outsiders and took on the role as place where a visitor could get a glimpse at what it was like to eat or shop in a far away place. Obviously some cultures attract more than others - Chinatown and Little Italy for example. The kosher delis of the Lower East Side in New York City didn't offer the culinary delights of Little Italy or Chinatown and never gained such notoriety. WASP culture went full circle and found that the ethnic ghettos their forefathers created now made for fun "cultural experiences." It's both sad and ironic.
The key to these ethnic enclaves that have survived for so long was not urban planning. Progressive local politicians did eventually establish specific zoning laws to preserve these neighborhoods, but that was way after they were organically formed due what amounts to racism. Having a local government declare a part of the city "Little Italy" won't automatically make it a clone of a Little Italy in New York.
I'm done with the history lesson here - let's get to the failure in logic here.
Would you go to Chinatown in Beijing? No. It would be pointless. The key to the Chinatowns in San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C. is that they are far away from China. The idea being that you get to see some Chinese culture without having to travel 40 hours by plane. Nobody needs a Chinatown when they are either in China or very close to China. The culture is all around you already.
The proposed "Little Mexico" in El Paso is laughable given that it pretty much already looks exactly like Mexico. At least the "Mexico" the gringos all see in the movies. The open air markets with junk for sale by people who are brown and will haggle on the price with you. Everybody I've taken to the where Rosenbaums' market is - thinks they are in Mexico. Nobody needs to slap a sign on the place to get the feeling like Mexican culture is on parade in the area. I dare you tell me that the Mercado in Juarez is all that much different - you're lying if you do. In fact, my in-laws, who frequent border towns in South Texas, thought Paisano was more like Progreso than Juarez'sMercado. Juarez for them was way too sophisticated and didn't seem to them like the sleepy little border town Hollywood likes to portray the entire country of Mexico as. If you're not understanding what I'm saying here, I'll make it simple - My in-laws indicated that South Paisano out-Mexicoed, Mexico.
And why would anyone visit "Little Mexico" when they are five blocks from "Big Mexico?" It makes no sense. It's like saying "here's our interpretation of Mexico while your guests are looking at Mexico." It's the dumbest thing I've ever heard of in my entire life.
And let's not forget - El Paso is seen as "Little Mexico" by every single person in Texas not living in El Paso. You don't need enhance El Paso's Mexican influence - it's quite prevalent. You might have noticed that there are a couple of places in town to get Mexican food - just a couple. When you get off of a plane in El Paso, there's a 90 percent chance there will be Mariachis playing in the lobby. Again, you can't add more Mexico to El Paso without literally moving the border to Anthony Gap. Mexico is everywhere in El Paso - good or bad - it's there. You don't need to slap a sign on it.
What are we really talking about here? The Rosenbaums are just providing a rain proof edition of what was already there. Naming it "Little Mexico" is just an insult to the people who try to do business there. The presence of a Taco Bell in the proposed "Little Mexico" is an insult to Mexico. Ditto for the Church's Chicken, McDonald's and the Burger King. The whole thing is about the dumbest idea I've ever heard of and I'm truly shocked it didn't come out of Alex Lozano's mouth.
Two steps forward and a century back - that's the El Paso way.
It's been a while but - Keep El Paso Backward