Jose Rodriguez, the District 29 Texas senator, was recently embroiled in a controversy for using the term “gringolandia” to refer to the ongoing controversy involving the proposed El Paso sports arena and the destruction of the Duranguito neighborhood. There is no doubt that Rodriguez has been helpful, some would argue instrumental, in keeping the Duranguito fight going.
For most newcomer political observers, Jose Rodriguez represents the interests of those wanting to preserve the Mexican culture in El Paso. But is this nothing more than Rodriguez wrapping himself around the mantle of defender of the El Paso Mexicans for his political career?
Is he really the defender of “the people,” or better known as “la gente” del barrio? Before we jump into Rodriguez’ history of protecting the people of El Paso, let’s take a quick look at what the “gringolandia” controversy is about.
The battle for saving Duranguito was covered by Texas Monthly in its October 2017 issue. The article looked at the controversy between keeping Duranguito intact or building a sports arena in its place. Rodriguez was quoted at the end of the article as stating that there are people in El Paso that want El Paso “to be like Gringolandia.” Many people criticized him for using the term, while others applauded him for it. In context, Rodriguez was referring to what I have been writing about for some time now, the city’s attempt to eradicate Mexicanisms from El Paso.
The word “gringo” was first recorded in the official Spanish dictionary of 1787. The word was used to describe a foreigner, predominantly an English speaker by the Spanish. Gringo has been used in most of Latin America, including Brazil, for many years. In México, the word is used to refer to someone from the United States.
The word “landia” means the “land of,” or the “place of”. For example, the slang fotolandia, can be translated as the place of photographs. Thus, “gringolandia” signifies the land of U.S. citizens. At least, that is how it is used by Mexicans – as in Mexican citizens.
Jose Rodriguez struck a raw nerve on the issue by his use of the slang. His stature among the defenders of Duranguito also raised as a result. Some of those advocating protecting Durangutio are asking that El Paso not become like other cities – devoid of the local cultural identity. But does Jose Rodriguez deserve the accolades for protecting “la gente”? Let’s look at his political record.
Jose Rodriguez was elected to the Texas Senate in 2010. Prior to being elected, Rodriguez was the county attorney for El Paso County from 1993 until he left to run for the Senate.
In 1994, Jose Rodriguez joined Ray Caballero and Eliot Shapleigh to sue the State of Texas over the lack of equitable state funding for El Paso. From that lawsuit, Rodriguez cemented the idea that he was against the oligarchs in Texas, including the Anglo elites of the city.
But in December of 2001, when Ray Caballero declared Mexican neighborhoods as Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts, to make way for a medical complex, Rodriguez was silent. As a matter of fact, Carmen Rodriguez, who is married to Jose Rodriguez and has been also championed as a savior of “la gente” was Caballero’s campaign manager for his election. Both the Rodriguezes were mostly mum when it came to Caballero’s TIF districts. The TIF district issue was the first manifestation of the city’s redevelopment through cultural eradication that is being played out in Duranguito today. This cultural displacement is articulated through the 2006 Glass Beach study that argued that El Paso was better off by getting rid of its Mexican cultural identity.
After Caballero failed to remove people from their neighborhoods to make way for a medical complex through the TIF districts, the project to reinvent El Paso, as an Anglo-centric city, morphed into downtown redevelopment led by a shadowy group known as the Paso del Norte Group (PDNG). The Glass Beach study and the attack of the Duranguito neighborhood are all the continuation of the El Paso Plan, downtown revitalization as the community’s economic engine. The Paso del Norte Group is comprised of El Paso’s oligarchy and their stooges, including many Hispanics. But, what is not discussed today is how downtown rehabilitation, through displacing cultural neighborhoods, came to be.
On September 25, 2006, the El Paso Inc. published “Q&A with Paso del Norte Group: not just a Downtown plan”, by Dan Huff. The question and answer article offered responses from Sandra Sanchez Almanzan, Jack Cardwell and Gilberto Moreno about the controversies involving the PDNG.
When Gilberto Moreno was asked if he was one of the founders of the PDNG, he responded, “Ray [Caballero], when he was mayor, got me involved with Jack [Cardwell] and Myrna Deckert” to start looking at downtown redevelopment as an economic development engine. Cardwell offered that Deckert facilitated a meeting between him and Caballero for improving the downtown area of El Paso.
Eventually, the project created by Ray Caballero was morphed into the PDNG by combining Woody Hunt’s government project with Cardwell, Deckert and the others who had met with Caballero.
Through the various controversies surrounding the PDNG over many years to include an attempt to displace the Segundo Barrio neighborhoods and the Glass Beach report, Jose Rodriguez was mostly silent on the different issues. Rodriguez did not publicly argue to defend the people targeted by the Caballero TIF districts nor the Segundo Barrio neighborhood targeted by the PDNG.
Surely, some would argue that Jose Rodriguez, as the county attorney, was busy protecting the interests of the Barrio people? Right?
In 2004, one of the largest public corruption cases made its way into the El Paso consciousness. For the first time, many politicos, who everyone knew were corrupt, were paraded on their way to jail. Many of the public corruption cases started at around the same time that Jose Rodriguez became county attorney. As county attorney, Jose Rodriguez oversaw much of the business that went on at the county.
Under Rodriguez’ vigilant eyes, two county judges, Dolores Briones and Anthony Cobos, a former county judge, Luther Jones and two county commissioners were convicted of crimes. One county commissioner, Willie Gandara, was arrested and convicted of drug related charges. In all, over 40 people were charged with public corruption with most of the crimes committed at the County. Not once, did Jose Rodriguez charge or refer for criminal prosecution any of the elected officials with any crimes while serving as the county attorney. As the county attorney, Rodriguez’ office over saw the county projects that resulted in the prosecutions of many public corruption charges.
For years, Jose Rodriguez ignored public corruption in the building in which he worked in at a taxpayer-funded office. Not once did Rodriguez use his authority to end the rampant public corruption right under his nose. All the public corruption cases benefited the so-called oligarchs of the city one way or another. These are the same people intent on eradicating Duranguito. The corruption also hurt many of the Duranguito’s supporters and many of the Mexican-American people through higher taxes and an inability to compete for government business equally and fairly.
During the controversies over the displacement of the minority, all Mexican-American, communities to first make way for the medical plaza, then for downtown redevelopment and the battles over the ballpark, Jose Rodriguez did not intervene one way or another. Both Rodriguezes have said that Caballero is a close friend of theirs. This is the same Caballero that created the idea that El Paso would be better off without the Mexican culture by his support of the eradication of lower-income communities in the city.
Now, suddenly, Jose Rodriguez is championing the protection of Duranguito.
Jose Rodriguez made a name for himself at the state level by joining Ray Caballero and Eliot Shapleigh in suing the State of Texas over funding inequality. After that, Rodriguez quietly toiled as the county attorney while public corruption was rampant in his building.
Is Duranguito, Jose Rodriguez’ new ploy to get national recognition for a new public office? Or, does Jose Rodriguez really care about the Duranguito community? It’s an important question that demands an answer.