Laredo Little Theater’s Beauty and the Beast Jr.: Be Their Guest

IMG_5575Full disclosure: When the proposition of attending the Laredo Little Theater‘s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast was presented, excitement was not part of the initial reaction. I had known of the theater for decades but had never paid enough attention to consider it a viable entertainment option in Laredo. Honestly, I’ve never thought of Laredo, Texas as a hub for “theatrical” talent. Still, the kids wanted to see it and Dad was going to deliver.

Upon arriving, I was a bit concerned as the lobby, with its mild, stale odor, was hot and humid. Considering the dated look of the structure, I wondered if the air-conditioning/ventilation system was also well past its expiration date. Wrong. The theater area itself smelled fresh and the temperature was very comfortable, enhancing the theater’s nostalgic charm. Once I located our seats, the waiting game began.

The crowd shuffled in and soon, the place was packed with a variety of faces of all ages. From the young to the elderly, there was a growing electricity in the atmosphere and, I must admit, it got me excited. By the time the lights went down and our host hit the stage promptly at 8:00pm, I was ready for the experience.

The performance began and I was quickly captivated. The opening scene was clean, audible and convincingly acted. One by one, the key players came into focus: Princess Belle (Janette Tijerina) quickly showcased her beautiful vocals and the villainous Gaston (Mark Astudillo) was comically brutish with brawny charisma. Cheering and placating Gaston with poise and quick wit was Gaston’s quintessential sidekick Lefou (Ricky Hernandez Jr.). The kid also showcased solid singing prowess. All of the opening performers brought key talents that elevated the story.

The cast introduction continued into the castle scene. The crowd was delighted to see the adaptions of the half-man, half-clock Cogsworth (Mario Rojas), Lumiere (Rogelio Huerta Paz) with his candlestick hands, Mrs. Potts (Richelle Garcia) a tea-offering pot, and her charming son Chip (Ben Garcia), the human cup. The Beast (Alberto Cruz Jr.) was as angry as one would expect him to be, considering his situation.

05cb28c8aec6c908e8a69ff2e8b3355f_9nt9All of the cast members showed great vocal range and competent stage acumen. From my vantage point, the night belonged to Belle, Gaston, Cogsworth and Lumiere. Each of those thespians delivered with comedic timing, vocal grace and fluid movement. Cogsworth and Lumiere were extremely entertaining and kept the plot lively even when the storyline hit low points.

This is not to say that the other actors of this play were lacking brilliance. Mrs. Potts, Beast, the chorus and all of the supporting cast participants delivered dazzling performances. The “wolf” dancers were the epitome of elegance and power wrapped into one. The play kept a solid pace and climaxed at the right time. It was as enchanting as it was surprising.

As the show came to an end and those on the dais took their final bows, I realized that well over an hour had gone by and not once did I feel regret for having been present. The fact is, the only regret that entered my mind that night was that of a person who had been closed-minded by the potential of local acting talent. This is a mistake that has been gladly corrected. Now, I am a fan.

(Note: tickets were sold out last week and may be sold out for the final run of the show ending August 9, 2015.  Still, try to go see it.  Click link for ticket info.)

Decriminalizing Marijuana in Texas: a ‘Divine’ Cause?

While the legalization of marijuana campaign continues to gain steam as multiple states, including Colorado and Washington (having moved past the “medical” portion of the argument and included “recreational use” as part of their revamped laws), many in Texas believed that the Lone Star State would not be considering any form of legalization soon. Texas remains one of the true bastions of far-right traditionalism and has furthered the move to the outer limit of right conservatism under Tea Party rule. Therefore, it was a bit of a shock when House Bill 2165, an act that would completely legalize adult use of marijuana, was proposed and actually gained some traction.

The bill was not the only marijuana decriminalization proposed this legislative session (see House Bill 507), but it was the only one that touted full toleration of “weed” for adults.

The statute was the creation of David Simpson, a Christian conservative Republican out of Longview, Texas, with strong ties to the Tea Party. During an interview with the Texas Observer in May 2015, Simpson rationalized, “Right now, you can’t legally use the plant responsibly to help people with PTSD, epilepsy, cancer or pain.” He added, “We need to change that.”

As is the case with the vast majority of conservative Christian politicians and their supporters, the separation of church and state tends to be a mere suggestion and Simpson’s reasoning for the legislation had a religious foundation. During the same interview, Simpson was quoted as saying, “I don’t believe that when God made marijuana, he made a mistake government needs to fix.”

As bizarre as that may sound to some non-Christian conservative right-wingers, one thing is for sure: according to Simpson, one can now add divinity as a legitimate argument for the decriminalization of marijuana. The masterful blending of church and state, Texas style.

Amen, anyone?

And while the initial justifications are far more accepted and utilized in the fight for marijuana decriminalization, it is likely “pot” pundits will accept any reason they can if it means it will help the cause. Bill 2165 made it out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee by a 5-2 vote but met its end in the House Calendars Committee: a graveyard for bills that lawmakers do not wish to tackle publicly. It’s a failsafe area used by the government to avoid “hot topic” issues deemed not ready for public debate.   Buried alongside 2165 was HB 507 (Sponsor: El Paso Democrat Joe Moody), which would have made possession of less than 1 once of cannabis a civil offense.

Regardless of the outcome of both pieces of legislation, the fact that two Texas bills harvested support to decriminalize marijuana suggests that lawmakers will have to debate this issue in the near future.

What are your thoughts on the legalization of marijuana in Texas?

Consider Residents in Planning

As we continue to experiment with a new site, set it up, take care of business, you will notice activity on both this site and the former Que Fregados website.  With that said…. on to a post.  We’ll be practice posting for the next few weeks as we make changes.

Neighborhood empowerment has always been of interest.  Having been part of the first neighborhood association, not to be confused with a Home Owner Association, in Laredo in many years (if ever there existed one before), I was disheartened by the approach and attitude city government continues to hold over groups united for a common voice.

Movies-Cm Balli2On Thursday, July 30th, a movie night was held at St. Peter’s Plaza.  It was sponsored by the city’s Parks & Leisure along with Councilman Balli, with an opportunity to meet city department staff and talk to your representative.  All around a great program except… why was it not planned along side those that have organized the area and regularly go door-to-door?  The only consistent Neighborhood Association in all of Laredo that is run by the neighbors for the neighbors and it was not taken into account.  The Rio Grande International Study Center was given a space to distribute shopping bags and talk about their program but the St. Peter’s Historic Neighborhood Association was not.  To make the evening worse for having representation and a fair opportunity for those interested in city developments, the final Charrette for the Border to Boulevard project was held around the same time.  The timing was simply awkward.

It could have been an oversight, miscommunication, or simply bad planning – that is not the issue.  It is a pattern that is consistently seen when planning for the city of Laredo.  An ideal community will take input from residents to then formulate goals and plans and ordinances for the better of the municipality.  Unfortunately, what Laredo consistently sees is those in city leadership positions make decisions and expecting the masses to conform – punto.  One excellent example of how resident participation was garnered was in the aforementioned Charrettes that allowed for the general public to attend sessions and give ideas and a glimpse into what is important to them.  Whether the idea of these sessions came from previous pressure to make planning more transparent or whether it is because it was not the city coordinating these sessions but the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in cooperation with the city leaders, either way, the public was part of the process and various architects were involved with coming up with ideas for what to do with the strip of land at the beginning of IH35.  For all we know, the architects did what they pleased but there is no escaping the fact that the public that is not connected with the decision-making, bore witness.  This one brief moment of attempts at civic engagement was refreshing but the question remains… when will we see a more inclusive effort to involve the general public? When will groups that have formed to represent specific part of Laredo be considered partners rather than afterthoughts?  When will we see the transparent government where bottom-up solutions are looked to for some of our city’s top-down problems?

We’ll be listening in on the next city council meeting – ready to hear about issues that truly concern residents and how they are dealt; decisions that range from water treatment plant plans to municipal management districts to other items where varying opinions have been raised by pockets.  I’d show you the agenda items but they are currently unavailable but you can still try for yourself to view both the agenda and supplemental agenda for Monday, August 3, 2015.

An audience question…

If you had subscribed to receiving Que Fregados posts via email, can you comment or just email me to let me know you are still receiving the link in your inbox??  There were more than 1,000 of you so hopefully we didn’t miss this part in the migration.  Si, o si?

Testing again

Sigh… sorry if you subscribe & keep getting my tests.

Mass Migration (from Central America) and our Fed’s Response

June 4th has come and gone.  That was the date that a few of the Honduran women stated as the deadline for a supposed amnesty or program that they believed would allow them to stay in the United States.  I did have a slight battle with technology and my first few interviews and pictures are gone (I was so frustrated!!) but I returned to the downtown Laredo bus station that had housed so many migrants who had been released by ICE on their own recognizance after being detained and processed by Border Patrol.

Those of you on the border know, the mass migration that began to start to trickle and impact the local community started about three weeks ago.  In that time, thousands of migrants from Central America have entered the US.  Normally, we in our border community don’t see much behind the closed doors.  This time, it is different.

As I made mention in my previous post, there were mainly women and children taking up all the seats, some lining up against the wall on the floor.  Because the downtown bus station employees were not as friendly to us distributing items or speaking to people, I was able to interview with three young women from Honduras inside the rest room.  One was breastfeeding so did not speak but the other two shared the following responses to questions:

The chain of events since then has included an interview with Border Patrol Union Local 2455, attending a press conference from the the Laredo Sector Border Patrol which was canceled, writing to Commander Harris for information on how to bridge the agency with local entities, being granted private audience with several Border Patrol officials, Breitbart Texas’ story “Leaked Images Reveal Children Warehoused in Crowded U.S. Cells, Border Patrol Overwhelmed” including photos of the overcrowding, the start of a clothes/toiletries drive and… no significant news of changes about to occur.

The following are some of these interviews:

The Border Patrol Union representative expressed the concerns of the overcrowding situation with relation to the Border Patrol Agents. They have raised a flag of concern because detention centers cannot safely hold those who have been detained. What has surprised me personally, is the silence that has come from the federal government. After sending the following email to Border Patrol:

Thank you, Sara, for letting us know who to contact in DC at this morning’s Border Patrol press conference that resulted in a cancellation. Besides the media, the community was also interested so if you can forward this to Commander Harris, I would be most appreciative. Thank you. VG

Commander Harris,

As someone involved with various non-profits, the concern from the last few days of excess amounts of people released after processing at the local bus stations is still felt. While it seems that the drops at the bus stations are stopping as of today, we imagine that overcrowding still continues. I am asking on behalf of the Holding Institute Community Center, who provided hygiene kits via the Bethany House and offered showers to those interested, how can we best work with families who may have food & basic care needs beyond what Border Patrol is prepared to provide?

In all honesty, the Bethany House soup kitchen was taken by surprise. Pooling resources let some volunteers buy diapers and easy food that can be carried for those waiting hours at the bus station. I understand that it is not the responsibility of Border Patrol to go above and beyond to provide care for detainees about to be released; but, this situation did create a strain on the community’s resources. Any suggestions of how to prepare or updates on the continuation of this unusual migration are most welcome.

Sincerely, (me)

So, the Holding Institute Community Center has begun to collect clothing for children and hygiene products to be given to Border Patrol for detainees being released.  But – let’s think… the resources that are being pooled to assist because of the humanitarian void people are falling into because of the long processing and our federal government’s decisions on how to handle those in detention are going to a massive agency with a multi-billion dollar budget.  Those resources would normally be going to local organizations that we all support – Bethany House, Volunteers Serving the Need, Goodwill, the Salvation Army and many others.  Even though the request has been made via the FACE Coalition, at a Sisters of Mercy discussion on immigration, via Univision & Fox station, etc., the donations collected will be a drop in the bucket of what is needed – most importantly, it will divert the resources needed in Laredo, one of the poorest cities in the US.

When called in response to my email about alerting the community of possible impact, I was given audience at a meeting on June 3, 2014.  I met with Deputy Chief Marcos Garcia, Acting Division Chief of Op Support Enrique Martinez, Division Chief of Operations Mathew Hudak, Acting Patrol Agent in Charge Eugenio Rodriguez, and Acting Special Ops Supervisor of Comms Branch.  The discussion was clear but the expectations from each other were different.  While I made mention of examples of cases like natural disasters where our city has a disaster plan in place for receiving evacuees, they made mention of not knowing who to contact for different services in the community.  I do understand that it is not the responsibility of Border Patrol or ICE to follow anyone being released, there is a humanitarian responsibility to those in their custody; but also, to the community where they work and live along with all of us.  I did state I would pass the word about the immediate needs for children’s clothing, diapers, hygiene items because the overcrowding has brought issues never before anticipated – and I have.

What I still do not understand the stance taken of the agency existing in a bubble, as if it does not affect those in and around them.  One of the questions asked of me is if I would be the point person for efforts; the answer is of course not!  I am simply a community volunteer who is having a hard time with the recent actions in dealing with the Central American mass migration.  Unfortunately, this also points to a deficiency in the Laredo community with our communication amongst nonprofits but at least there are several coalitions where the message about a drive can be disbursed.   Laredo may not have the best leaders, nor the best systems to respond in emergencies but it does have a beautiful community of caring people.  This does not absolve the Department of Homeland Security from the responsibility of communicating with the greater public and its humanitarian responsibility.  When Border Patrol and then ICE decide to release hundreds of people, not everyone had a family member to call to buy their bus ticket to reunite with family.  As the employee at the bus station told us, “I don’t mind selling so many bus tickets since it is good for my employer but our regular schedule means everyone is stuck here until we can find them space on a bus to go.”

The problems are many but unfortunately, it is reluctantly admitted as a problem and only recently because of the push from media and others.

I’m beginning to get a little lengthy here so I close with one final point.  In the several interviews I did, the women with children talked about the end of May, beginning of June deadline for some amnesty program they believed to be going on.  This idea did not come out of everyone but of many.  The question remains, WHAT has caused the sudden mass migration?  Is it a rumor run amok that just became so distorted that people risked life and health and home stability to run to the United States??  If you are conspiracy theorists, maybe you might think it was an idea planted by a nefarious organization meant to intentionally pull Border Patrol resources away from surveillance & deterrent presences to pass more than just human smuggling??  Even now, as I passed by the railroad bridge, only one Border Patrol vehicle was in sight when normally there are three or more.  Maybe, just maybe, it is the mixed messages being sent by our federal government in its decisions for immigration reform that are being twisted and misunderstood and encouraging those on the brink to take the plunge and cross.  What was striking was that those I interviewed did not view their detention & processing as something negative – I honestly believe that some interpreted the action as part of the process to come in to the United States.  As a woman humbly told me, “My kids will automatically be admitted in to the US but I will have to go to court 3 or 4 times before I get my papers to let me stay.  All that we went through will be worth it.”  Strange.  I feel her desire to better her life and know that to make the decision to move from one country to another is not one that is taken lightly; but, I couldn’t say, “You’ve got it wrong” because honestly, I am not so sure she does have it wrong.  I wish her the best and also to the border communities that are impacted by an unprepared system not quite open to working outside of themselves.

Should you want to donate, please drop off any supplies or clothing at the Holding Institute Community Center at 1102 Santa Maria or to any of the Border Patrol Sector offices marked for Processing Center donations.

Crazy overcrowding over at Border Patrol and yet…

I’m tired.  As I sit here wondering when Bluehost will be done with my blog migration, I realize that I am thinking of such a minor insignificant nothing.  So yes, I am tired from the minor worries but I’m also physically tired from having gone out to distribute food last night and out again tonight.

Most importantly, I am tired of our broken systems.  Last night (Wednesday), a frustrated bus station worker called Bethany House (soup kitchen) to report a higher than usual number of people at the station.  She described the the uniform of the driver, the decals on the bus that dropped off about 50 people at the station.  From there, I was called to ask my sources if I knew what was going on because that was highly unusual.  So I called around and was told by one detention center that shouldn’t be happening that the usual release happens at the border for those returning or may happen at a bus station at request for someone OR’d but not a whole bus load.  Everyone  I spoke to when looking for answers said “that sounds strange” or “that is not protocol” or the like.  What was a fact was that now there were about 50 people at a bus station.

My friend, who first went with Bethany House to pass out diapers and some supplies to the one station in the North, remained concerned.  At 11pm, I picked up another friend and went to buy bags of oranges, apples and granola bars – food that could be stored for later consumption.  When we got to the bus station, tired looking people just stared at our bags and pretty soon, the kids were gathered around us.  We spoke with a few who said they had not eaten since sunrise.  Even though we were systematically giving out the food, the fruit went fast.  There is no denying that they were hungry.  The majority seemed to be from Honduras, some San Salvador and a few from Guatemala.  What was most striking was that almost all were women with children.

So, who were they?  Immigrants who had crossed in the Valley of Texas, detained and then brought to Laredo.  Apparently the overcrowding is so severe in detention areas, the subcontractor who holds them, released them with their OR (own recognizance) paperwork.  While it is not uncommon for a few to be released in this way, what is different is how this is now a mass dumping at the bus stations that started this week.  There was no warning – not to the bus stations, not to those who serve the hungry or care about humane treatment.  They were released but had no resources, little (if any) food, little (if any) hygiene products, little (if any) information.

Not only those 50 but in talking to the bus station workers, they said that another busload had been taken to a bus station downtown.  The three of us hopped in and went to buy out the local HEB of their apples, oranges and granola bars.  At the downtown station, we again saw almost all women with many children.  Their destinations were as varied as the first group – Maine, Illinois, Minnesota, Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky.  Again, almost all were from Central American countries.  We heard quite a few thank yous and god will bless you but the core of the problem is not just filling a belly with a one time snack.  What is going on?  Why the mass migration?  Or is it really Border Patrol changing policies or procedures? Or is it the subcontractor?  What has changed and how is our border protection system resolving problems created by those changes?  Local media covered the story from the viewpoint of the Border Patrol Union who is complaining of the overcrowding and inhumane standards it is creating.  LareDOS newspaper (May 2014, page 14), KGNS, KGNS 2, and Univision covered some of the story.

It isn’t just Laredo.  This is a link to a story out of Tucson via the Arizona Daily Star.  In the last two days, they have had the same scenario as Laredo at their bus station.  They state:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona is processing 400 people, mostly families coming from Central America and Mexico who were apprehended in South Texas and flown here over the weekend, officials said. To process the surge of crossers from Texas, the Border Patrol is turning to all available resources at its disposal, said Daniel Tirado , Border Patrol spokesman for the Rio Grande Valley Sector.

Regardless of your political bent, regardless of how you feel about immigration (legal or otherwise), regardless of the manner of entry to the country, people have a right to at least food.  That had been the concern of the bus station worker.  But today was another day.  We thought maybe it was a fluke but Bethany House did a check and again, more people were dropped off by the busload.  At least today, the nonprofit soup kitchen was able to prepare for the extra mouths to feed.  I did a visit around 11:30pm.  I spoke with a few of the women camping out at the bus station.  I do have some audio that I will upload in a follow-up post and some photos of the crowded station.  Normally, at midnight, the station only has a handful of people.  Tonight, there were people lying all over the floors, outside on the benches and, of course, in the seats.  The place was abuzz with activity.  I was able to interview Mari and Velma, two young women from Honduras, about why they decided to come now.  Management did not seem too pleased with my presence.  When my friend and I returned with bags of food for a family who had missed the Bethany House food distribution, my friend was shoved by the security man from the station as he intended to take his camera.  Those spending the night on the floors were willing to talk to us but management had other ideas.  More about the interview tomorrow along with an additional interview from the spokesperson for the Border Patrol Union in Laredo.

People’s lives are fascinating but in that fascination, humanity must come first (according to me).  Border Patrol has scheduled a press conference at 10am to respond to the situation.  I can’t wait to hear some of the solutions.  From the outside, it looks like our borders have become porous in such an unintended way – and could this be one of the causes of the increase in migration?  Or is something beyond the surface picture taking place?  For today, may the families and children get some rest as they wait for the ironically named AMERICANOS buses to take them to their new destinations while they wait for their court dates.  What a system we have.

Undergoing a few changes

Yes, readers (former readers), I am finally going to self-host and am migrating the blog.  A ver como sale.  Wish me luck!

Mayor and Chief walk downtown

I’m posting in an effort to get Keyrose to keep writing at (because I do hope he keeps writing his blog and that today was really not his last day) – it isn’t just that but that this press release just struck me as… well, if you know me, you know how it struck me.  Of course, I’ll be at work so I won’t get a chance to look for them and talk strategy of collaboration between downtowners and LPD participate in this “great photo opportunity.”  

Mayor Salinas, Police Chief Garner to Visit Downtown Laredo Businesses

Meet the owners, customers, assure them that they are both ready to serve and protect

WHO:             City of Laredo Mayor Raul G. Salinas

                       Chief of Police Ray E. Garner

WHAT:          Downtown visit

WHEN &       Wednesday, September 18, 2013      10:45 a.m.

WHERE:       Jarvis Plaza, then will walk to downtown businesses

WHY:             In an effort to reassure the downtown community about the commitment from the Laredo Police Department, as well as to listen to any concerns or issues residents and business owners in Laredo’s downtown may have about security or other infrastructure issues, Mayor Salinas and Chief Garner will be visiting several downtown businesses and senior citizens’ homes.  

                        Great photo opportunity.

Gringo Barrio Debuts Album

This was a neat little surprised that arrived in my inbox.  Gringo Barrio is introduced in the press release with the following:

Gringo Barrio is proud to release their debut album of the same name at the iconic Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in Austin, Texas on August 24th, 2013. With songs that capture the heart and essence of the life on the border, Gringo Barrio, tells the stories of a group of three non-hispanic friends growing up in a predominantly mexican culture. But forget traditional cumbias or corridos, Gringo Barrio, translates these stories to the sounds and folklore that Texans know and love.

Check out their music video about Laredo (Apparently WordPress changed since I last posted and I can’t load in a video but the following is the link):

Maybe they would want to play at the no-budget historic neighborhood street festival in November… hmm…. doesn’t hurt to ask!

Gringo Barrio