U.S. Catholic Bishops to Minister to Children in Border Detention Centers

WASHINGTON POST / JULY 2, 2018

“The bishops are visiting here with us to understand better what an immigrant lives—a mother, a child, a family. And then to respond,” said Bishop Daniel Flores, of the local Brownsville diocese, which adjoins the Mexican border. “As a church, we have to be the ones who say ‘there’s always a human face, and the human face always points to Christ in whatever suffering there is.’ If we don’t stand up and say this, who is going say it?”

Rural Reinvention

THE NEW TERRITORY / SUMMER 2018
A journey across America’s heartland to find the future of small towns

We had long joked about a quasi-mythical Town X, some forward-looking, diverse community within easy driving distance of our parents. Both of us liked the idea (in theory) of living in a small town—but we also couldn’t imagine living in the same homogenous small towns we grew up in. After more than fifteen years away, we had ample worries: Where would we work? Would we fit in? What might our kids experience in school?

Riding the Tornado

OXFORD AMERICAN / SUMMER 2018
Documenting migrant workers’ cross-country journey.

My bus in Houston was more than three hours late when, in quick succession, eight buses appeared in single file all at once, electronic signs above the windshields flashing the names of the routes’ final destinations: PLANT CITY, FLORIDA; NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE; WILSON, NORTH CAROLINA. In choreographed harmony, the buses turned into their designated lanes. Bags were loaded, and passengers climbed on board. “Bienvenidos, damas y caballeros,” the redheaded bus driver intoned, welcoming us as he pulled swiftly out of the berth. Looking back in the direction of an enormous neon TORNADO sign, I saw that the entire station below it was empty, save the silver-haired woman in her blue company shirt, waving goodbye. Once the buses arrived, the whole maneuver took less than fifteen minutes, and every one of the hundreds of passengers waiting there had disappeared.

Forget FEMA Trailers: How to House People in a Hurry

Yes! / JUNE 4, 2018
“We don’t need to wait for a hurricane to hit. We can get started with the recovery right now.”

When Hurricane Dolly hit Brownsville, Texas, in 2008, Esperanza Avalos was at the home she shared with her daughter, three grandchildren, and her dying husband. Like most homeowners in the rural Luz del Cielo colonia, less than a half-mile from the U.S.-Mexico border, the Avaloses had built the house themselves, adding new bedrooms to accommodate their multigenerational family as money allowed.

Swan Song

TEXAS OBSERVER / FEBRUARY 2018
You won’t find it on a highway map, but a 250-year-old village on the Rio Grande is internationally famous among birders. Will it survive Trump’s wall?

The Salineño Preserve is one of many wildlife sanctuaries — including better-known destinations like the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the National Butterfly Center and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park — at grave risk if Trump’s wall is built as planned. The preserve’s tiny size and its location sandwiched between the river and the village mean that it could literally be wiped out. If the wall is built, it would at the very least cut off access to the riverside preserve. Potentially, it could be bulldozed entirely as part of a planned 150-foot enforcement zone.

The Day Shift

TEXAS OBSERVER / DECEMBER 2018
Adult day cares in the Rio Grande Valley are a cultural phenomenon. What can they teach us about health and wellness in an aging world?

Adult day cares like those in the Valley can offer a kind of middle way between round-the-clock care by family caregivers — who frequently burn out and experience physical and mental problems themselves — and expensive, sometimes impersonal nursing home care. As more seniors opt to “age in place” by living at home longer, such facilities are growing in number outside the Valley as well. Nationally, the number of adult day care participants has increased 63 percent since 2002, even as nursing home occupancy has flatlined. If this trend continues, the Valley today may offer a glimpse at what health care for older Americans will look like in the future.

Dance Without Borders

TEXAS OBSERVER / DECEMBER 8, 2017
Ballet Nepantla erases boundaries between dance forms and explores what it means to be from the borderlands — both as a geographical place and a state of mind.

The interplay between traditional and contemporary dance is at the heart of Ballet Nepantla, a fusion dance company formed early this year by Rio Grande Valley native Andrea Guajardo. The company’s name — taken from an Aztec word that translates to “in-between-spaces” — is a fitting description of its inaugural show, Sin Fronteras, which in November completed a three-city Texas tour with a performance in Guajardo’s hometown of Edinburg.

High-Wire Act

TEXAS OBSERVER / APRIL 2017
Laughter, fear, and Trump at the Spanish-language circus.

This ceremonial opening marked 20 years since Circo Hermanos Vazquez, the nation’s only touring Spanish-language circus, came to the United States. What began as a tiny spinoff from a popular Mexican circus now encompasses 100 vehicles, 200 employees and what the Vazquez brothers say is the largest traveling circus tent in the Americas. But while it has grown exponentially, the circus also faces unprecedented challenges. Like all circuses, it must reckon with the imminent closing, in May, of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, “The Greatest Show on Earth” for 146 years. Unique to this circus, though, is a second challenge: widespread fear, among many members of its core audience, inspired by the election.

Inside the Nation’s First Bilingual University

TEXAS OBSERVER / FEBRUARY 2017
The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley looks to become the first ‘bilingual, bicultural, biliterate’ campus in the country.

The bilingual course I visited is a pilot for an initiative known around campus as B3 — “bilingual, bicultural, biliterate” — that aims to transform the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) into the United States’ first comprehensively bilingual public university. The project’s goals, proponents say, are far-reaching: to not only produce the bilingual professionals in high demand along the Texas-Mexico border, but also to begin to redress a historical legacy of what queer Chicana theorist Gloria Anzaldúa, a Valley native, calls “linguistic terrorism” against border Spanish speakers denied the legitimacy of their native tongue.

¡Viva la Huelga!

OXFORD AMERICAN / FALL 2016

The fiftieth anniversary ceremony began with the singing of a corrido. As the guests of honor found their seats on the stage of the octagonal-roofed Kiosk on the first day of June, Daria Vera shuffled to the mic, gripping an official program with the lyrics on the back cover. The guitarist and accordionist struck up the first chord. Her deep, gravel-lined, distinctive contralto struggled to carry over the rumble of the cross-border freight trucks hemming us in on parallel one-way arteries of Highway 83 through downtown Rio Grande City, Texas.