Antonio Williams

Antonio Williams

The topic of Duranguito – a name for the Union Plaza neighborhood where residents were displaced to make room for a multi-purpose arena – continues to bring out opposing views. The ordeal was highlighted in a recent article by Texas Monthly, where Texas state Senator Jose Rodriguez was quoted saying that many locals want El Paso to be more like “Gringolandia, like all the other homogenized American cities.”

His use of the word ‘Gringolandia,’ which is loosely defined as a predominantly white population, was met with much criticism by city officials. Read the official statement from El Paso’s mayor and several city representatives at WhatsUpPub.com.

The following is what immigration attorney Antonio Williams, who recently ran for District 3, had to say about the backlash Sen. Rodriguez received. You can comment on this column on our website.

There was a time when people of color in El Paso – indeed throughout Texas – were not allowed to live in certain neighborhoods, were told to use separate public facilities – such as public pools, schools and water fountains – because they were black or brown.

The people who grew up in El Segundo Barrio remember those times. For many of us who attended schools located in those areas, we remember the racism we suffered. As a member of the Jefferson High School band in the late ’90s, I still remember the parents and children who threw tortillas at us when we played at schools like Coronado and the protocol we followed in ducking under our bus seats after each game because people would throw rocks at us.

The senator’s comment regarding ‘Gringolandia’ summons a very painful era to the minds of all of us who have and continue to survive racism and bigotry. His comments are more complicated than the racist brush his colleagues have attempted to shame him with. I believe the senator was attempting to unmask the inherit racism encrypted in this entire debate against the poor and working class people who lived or still live in Duranguito. The policies that assert that people don’t have a right to complain if they don’t own their own homes or don’t live in more affluent communities.

Duranguito represents the history of our struggle – the Southwest as people of color. The literal margin of society our ancestors were pushed into to live in and a testament to how we broke free and reclaimed our rights to be treated as equals. The senator doesn’t owe anyone an apology for stating the obvious: there is a powerful contingent of wealthy people in El Paso who do not respect or value the history of people of color, as found in El Segundo Barrio and Duranguito.

I don’t always agree with the senator. We have been on separate sides of many issues, but our senator is not a racist and he doesn’t need to apologize for interrogating the present with his own experiences as a Chicano lawyer from El Paso who survived poverty, racism and oppression and still devoted his life to public service and civil rights for all.

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