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February 07, 2004

note received february 7, 2004


January 20, 2004

I am now cut off from my daily reading of international news especially in the Guardian and New York Times but also the Google News headlines and of course the mother of all news sources, The Onion.

I have a cell phone from Virgin Mobile, mainly to stay in touch with my family. The phone was $100 and the top-up card was $50. The instruction book is 142 pages long, and some of the guidelines are not clear. It is meant to sell other services they think the target market (young MTV fans) will pay for besides calls at 25 cents a minute. I feel a reluctance to use the phone because of the high initial cost, but I don’t think I would have needed one enough to justify a monthly contract. All the contracts were very hard to parse and to see if they made sense for someone on the road a lot and out of the local calling area. Virgin Mobile does because you know how much it will cost and where it is supposed to work (along all most of the Interstates at least).

I drove to Los Angeles to stay with my son Erik at UCLA. On the way I stopped in to visit Tia Chucha’s Cafe Cultural in Sylmar, a distant suburb of Los Angeles. The population is heavily Latino. It was co-founded by author Luis Rodriguez, his wife, and another person. Computers are not central to this place, but they do have several and will be expanding. This is a for-profit cultural center. There are books for sale, poetry readings, movies, coffee and snacks, and what happens in the center is determined by the people in the area. Trini Rodriguez said that people did not know what to make of the place at first, but now they help decide programs and activities for kids, adult women, mixed groups and the general public. She said a lot of the Latino people in the area could not afford a computer, and that was probably one reason why they were not online, but they are offering classes for those who want to learn.


Santa Monica, January 21

In 1987 Santa Monica Public Electronic Network was started by Ken Phillips in the municipal IT department. The library was the place where the public terminals were located, and it attracted a lot of new traffic using the computer conferencing system. There were stories about how the homeless made use of them to press their demands for showers and lockers (which they now have).

I went to the library to see what had changed since the PEN system is not operating any more and how the library was serving the public, including the homeless. The old main library was torn down and as the new one is constructed, there is a temporary one a couple of blocks away in a small building. Reference is on floor one, and the Internet room is above. I went to see how much activity there was. A line of people snaked out of the door to the Internet room that housed a number of computers. Everyone had a chit, good for one hour per day. There were a couple of bag ladies (and the bags were from 7-11 and 99 Cents Stores, not high priced stores on the 3rd Street Promenade).

I spoke with Pat in reference who remembered PEN but suggested I talk with the principal librarian. She was not around so Susan Annett, head of public services, met with me. As with other libraries, they don’t segment their users/consumers the way a market research firm would do, so they don’t know exactly what trends affect their homeless population. As a beach community they get a lot of tourists and people may dress as if they are homeless but are not, so even the bag ladies I saw might have an apartment and not be living out of a shopping cart or the back of their car (as I am). People with any California library card can get one for Santa Monica and then get an Internet card which allows them to use it for one hour a day. They have had special program after hours for young people: a LAN party--a term I recently learned and was surprised she was familiar with it. She reminded me that SMPL had been offering online reference services “24/7” for fifteen years. (I wonder why people don’t day ‘round the clock’ any more instead of 24/7). Back in the late 1980's I wrote about the difficulties of online reference in my now defunct newsletter, "Connect: Libraries & Telecommunications."

The library is constrained by space, not budget in what they provide. The new library will have a training room as well as an Internet room for the public. They can’t provide one-one instruction, so if a person gets to the Internet room and can’t make sense of the software they can’t get much help.

I spoke again with Pat and asked him if someone came up and asked him to do a Google search, would he do that or direct them to an Internet station. He replied that he would, and people who did not want to wait in line for a quick search might ask him for a Mapquest search. He would print out the map and give it to them. Good service!

January 26

Sister Carol Nolan and Jose Perez. Mecca, California

Someone reading the CTCNet mailing list forwarded my plans for a trip around the country to Sisters of Providence nun Carol Nolan. She invited me to stop by Mecca as I headed south.

Mecca is an unincorporated town in the Imperial Valley with a mix of new houses and a lot of old ones. Most of the people are Spanish-speaking and many have been here for generations. Others are migrants. Everyone in the post office spoke Spanish and the peso-dollar conversion rate was posted near the electronic money order sign. Across the street is the Toro Loco market. I suppose this is not much different from small towns on the other side of the U.S. Mexico border.

Sister Carol and I met up in a large ARCO gas station and store outside of Mecca. She had some lunch while I finished up my hummus and smoked pork sandwich. Originally from Galesburg, Illinois, she decided at 18 to become a nun. Two of her sisters had made the same decision, and initially she felt that after her older sister entered the order, she would not have to! She is a music teacher, probably in her late fifties, and has worked or lived in Texas (where she learned Spanish) and India. Now she lives with two other nuns in Cherry Valley, some distance away from the people she is working with in this farming area north of the Mexican border.

I asked her how she could get involved in the life of these small rural communities that dot the rural countryside south of Indio. She sat in on meetings and just listened to what was going on. She began to offer classes. At one school she teaches violin and guitar. The school district provided the money for 12 guitars and 12 violins, and she was able to get this much equipment for about $500, the cost of one cheap computer! However, without someone like Carol, the instruments are not going to be used.

She also works with people who live in small informal trailer parks which are far from town. Until 1998, these “parqueaderos” used to number in the hundreds. Typically, they were unpaved, unlit places where a dozen or more trailers could be placed. There had to be septic systems, but above ground the improvements were minimal. Rent was about $300 a month maximum. To the passerby some look quite poor, and this may have provoked the action by Riverside County. In 1998 the county began to close them down, without thinking much about the consequences all these local residents with no place to go. Sometimes they were told to move some of the “units” (trailers) off the land in order to continue serving as a parqueadero. Some complied and were still shut down.

This housing crisis created a need for social organization, and a group called Social Justice formed and eventually filed a lawsuit against the county. At that point the county began to listen. One of the members Carol was working with is Jose Perez. Jose, about 43, was born in the U.S. and his parents split up with his Mom taking Jose back to Mexico City when he was a baby. At a young kid he asked his uncle for a bicycle, and the uncle suggested he write his father in the U.S. His dad replied that he’d buy him a bike if he came to the U.S. so ended up back in California and stayed. His father has about ten acres, and Jose has one.


We drove from the ARCO station down some paved roads and into the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation, past some withering old frame buildings that date from the early 20th century. Just past this was a dirt driveway that led to Jose’s trailer. He was loading sets of tables and chairs into a 40 foot cargo container. One of his side businesses is renting out this furniture for weddings, quincineras, and funerals. He has also taken automotive maintenance courses at the local community college.

He stopped working and invited us inside where we met his mother who offered us some sangria on ice. The walls were decorated with pictures of his daughters, one who has graduated from college and the other who is at UC Riverside.

Jose is a large solid guy with a big mustache and a friendly face. He spoke quite openly, but as an outsider I realized that others had come before me to promise aid and resources but then nothing happened or they never returned. I was taking his story but did not have anything to offer in return, except some of my own experiences. I was not sure that would be an even trade.

Jose does not use the Internet. He bought a computer for his girls but never really learned to use it. He did not buy Nintendo or any games for the girls but did get DirecTV. Now that his daughters are gone, he is canceling that subscription. With an antenna he gets 6 or seven channels, and for him that’s enough. He has a wireline telephone.

With the growth of the Palm Springs area, and the spread of developments toward the Imperial valley, the land outside of Mecca has become much more valuable. Jose reminded me that this is one place in California where Mexicans own a lot of the land. He thinks this is one of the motivations for cracking down on the parqueros that dotted the landscape until 1998. Developers hope they can acquire the land from owners who can't support it through trailer rentals. At that time there were more than 300 trailer parks. When the county closed them, Jose and some others formed the Social Justice group whose members were mainly tenants and some owners like Jose. The won the lawsuit against Riverside County, but the settlement allowed for the county to distribute the funds which were supposed to be used for code-compliant trailer parks. This does not make sense to Juan. So far none have been set up. The new cooperative that Juan has helped formed hopes to have more than a dozen ready for occupants this year.

It was clear that Jose has the trust of a lot of the people. He has helped form cooperative partnerships with the Torres Martinez Indian reservation, and for the first time Latinos are on some of the boards with the Indians to deal with issues like housing.

He approached the construction firm that was building the new parks and asked for something in return for all the funds coming their way. They thought he wanted a bribe or a kickback, but he was looking for a swimming pool or something else that could be used by the residents. What they came up with was the donation of a “unit” an empty doublewide trailer, and the idea is that the residents will determine how it will be used: for day care, for a homework center, a place to use computers (donated already).

It seemed that Jose had a lot of information, and I wondered where he had got it. Partly from the county offices, from contact with other people, and partly through a fellow named Ron who is a member of the Global Church (not a Catholic group) that has been helping the folks and has set up a charter school in Mecca. Ron searched the Internet and found information on banks that will loan to cooperatives. I asked Jose how I might help (considering that I’m offline and on the road for the next few weeks)and he said he needed more information on resources. by that he meant banks and institutions that could provide support to the coop.

I suggested that he might find useful information on the Internet and also hook up with others like him who were working on similar issues around the country. He has attended a migrant network conference in San Antonio, held under auspices of the Catholic Church each year, and he understands the importance of networking. This is one way to begin to alleviate some of the problems in the community which is called “invisible invisible” because so few people at any level are aware of the people or problems here.

Jose is a good example of someone who has been effective through his own skills, perseverance, and yet does not have a strong need for computers or Internet access. However, I think he would benefit if he took a course and tried it at a library or CTC before getting his own account.

January 29

From Douglas, Arizona, just on the border, I took New Mexico 9, a lonely highway that led through gorgous vistas and a few cattle ranches and into the small town of Animas. The telephone cooperative offered Internet classes but was closed for lunch. I went to Animas High School and found the library. Melodie O’Byrne, the library assistant, was very helpful. She explained that technology was emphasized in the school, so the library was well wired and unwired. Besides all the desktop machines on DSL, there was a rack new laptops all connected by 802.11b. A group of students was researching the bios of painters for a report.

Melodie said she had just got DSL at home, mainly for her daughter who is in the 6th grade. The year before she and some friends had won the NM state ThinkQuest award for a web site on “patterns.” She said some residents could not afford Internet access. While the general public could use the school libary, very few did. I asked if many of the students went on to college, and she said that most did. The whole school only had about 110 students, so the graduating class was quite small. I asked if many came back, and she said “very few. There’s not much to do here.” This fit the patterns of towns everywhere, not just in the U.S. If the people get skills they can’t use locally, they leave. Of course, their expectations are raised by what they see and learn online, and that’s hard to meet in a place like Animas, New Mexico.

Further up the road there was a road block with two NM highway patrol cars and one Hidalgo County sheriff’s car. The policeman asked for my license and registration (none yet), walked around the van, and came back to ask what I was doing out there. I explained my project and would have questioned him about his Internet use, but they did not seem to be in the mood for chat. There was no dog with this group, but I suspected this was a drug dragnet. Meth and black tar heroin probably are drugs of choice around here. Or they used to be in the late 90’s.

I got to the Interstate near Lordsburg and saw the NM Tourist Office at an offramp. It advertised Free Internet Service, so I pulled in just as my cell phone rang. As I turned between two tank trucks I tried to answer the phone and became the person I always despised, someone in a van talking on the cell phone when I should be just driving. However, this was my first call, except for one from my wife at home, and it turned out to be the BBC in London. They wanted to do an interview with me a few hours later. We set up a time, and I drove to Deming, about one hour east. At this point on the Interstate there was no signal at all. I checked the Virgin Mobile brochure and it showed no signal there or where the BBC reporter had reached me in Lordsburg! I missed the interview.

In the tourist center I talked with an older employee named Keith. He was rather laconic and offered clipped responses to my questions about the free Internet station near the racks of pamphlets. There is no charge, and many people stopping in do use it, but some ask him to help find information. He has Internet access at home but mainly used it for sports information. He did not sound like it was a big part of his life.

I stopped in the library in Deming, talked to the staff, and then drove south to Columbus. There was another road block for people heading north, this time with a young dog, anxious to check out each vehicle . I did not have to stop going south. I guess nobody smuggles drugs or people into Mexico from the U.S.

Columbus is a very small town, across the border from Palomas. It has the Pancho Villa State Park, built on the ruins of Camp Furlong where General Pershing had his troops who fought with Pancho Villa’s men during their attck in 1916. The Moon guidebook mistakenly says this is the only attck on the mainland, forgetting that the British burned the Library of Congress in the war of 1812. And after Pancho Villa came September 11, 2001.

Kirk Barry, the volunteer guide is a retired Beverly Hills financial officer and stock broker. He has been living in his trailer and working different parks from Farmington south for a number of years. I’ll go back for a full tour and movie on January 30. He does not use the Internet. He has no use for it. His kids are all grown with their families and I guess the phone is enough. However, other visitors at the park come and use the office computer at no charge. Many also go to the city library a few blocks away.

I drove there and some with Maggie Caldron and Linda Werner the new librarian. She and her husband are building a house at the air park which is a combination airport and place for homeowners who like to fly. They came from Pennsylvania earlier this year. Their are four Internet stations near the circulation desk, and others for homework. Young people were using several, and a local adult was on another. then two tourists came in to use one. There are classes in Spanish and English given at the learning center in town, and I was going to visit them on Friday. but nobody was in the office.

January 30, El Paso, Texas

The El Paso Public Library has an excellent southwest collection as well as one labeled Raza. The reference staff helped me find the street address for Cinco Puntos Press (701 Texas Street), first by looking in Reference USA which had no listing, and then in Yahoo which gave two addresses. I went downstairs to the computer room which was jammed and seemed rather confined. There was a notice about the damage of the most recent Microsoft virus, and the computer staff answered my questions easily and rapidly. First, I asked if they knew if El Paso FreeNet was still going. It turned out the name was Rio Grande Free Net, and the founder had died the year before. There were several layers of rules for Internet users. The reference staff did answer questions for those who did not want to look up the infomation by themself.

El Paso had a very different feel to it. Of course, most everyone seemed to be able to speak Spanish or at least Spanglish. The downtown did not look prosperous, but it was busy. I drove a few blocks and found the colorful corner building that housed Cinco Puntos Press. Mrs. Byrd greeted me, and I said I had read Puro Border and wanted to stop by. She brought me over to meet her husband, Bobby, and we hit it off immediately. Bobby, 61, is a poet and publisher, origianlly from Memphis. We talked about my project, the power of radio--and Mr.s Byrd brought over the galleys of a children’s book on Haiti where the kids use the community radio station. Then we talked about the Madrid family in Big Bend, a few hours away, and Bobby encouraged me to visit them. “He’s an intellectual and you’ll need a few hours to listen to his stories. So be prepared to stay.” He recommended I tape the interview, but it sounds like I don’t have enough tape for this guy. Madrid is featured in Puro Border.

Some young guys were sitting on the couch, reading the book of photos entitled "Vatos" and other folks dropped in to talk. One author came in and she said her dad was very interested in Glen Miller music but would not use the Internet, so she had to fetch the society’s newsletter and get other information that interested him. We talked about the role of intermediaries, and her assitance was a good example about people who don’t directly use the net but still benefit from it.

The BBC had called again to set up an interview with me for a few hours later in the afternoon. I guess it was about 11 pm in London, but we chatted for about five minutes. the lead-in was the news that Bill Clinton only sent two emails during his eight years as president. I wonder what Jock Gill thinks of that. Gill helped set up the original whitehouse.gov and handled the email to whitehouse.gov for a while until he saw that print letters got a better response than the email received by the Clinton administration. I got to explain a little bit about my trip and the problem with the digital divide. Not sure if it made sense for the listener.

I drove to an old church in a run down part of town on Myrtle street and looked for the computer class instructor. A woman said he had moved to Washington DC and “the program had changed” which probably meant it was finished. That makes 3 community technology centers that are gone.

Another CTC member in Socorro, a Latino pueblo just south of El Paso, was Bienestar Familiar, housed in a SW style rancho across from The Bookery (note: visit Archer, TX, if you can). Isabel Olague, the coordinator explained all the programs while two young boys played on the computer. They have Tai Chi, massage classes, men’s discussion groups, culture and values sessions as well as computer classes. The director was not there, but I might stop back by on my way from Llano Grande to New Mexico in a few days. Her Engish was not perfect, so we lapsed into Spanish every so often. I would like to hear more about their work because it does seem to reflect the things that the people want to do.

January 31, 2004

Marfa, pop about 2100 Ester Sanchez runs the public library here. From several sources they now have five computers and an ISDN line. She says the e-Rate procedure is too complicated for her to do. From the time they open they are busy with people using the machines, and she even gives curbside service for people returning and looking for books. She is in her 50’s (a grandmother who was also watching her grandkids while her daughter was at work) and was afraid of the computer before there were any in the library. She took no courses and taught herself, though her grand daughter helps her some with the web.


I asked who was not able to use the computer. She frequently helps people who don’t know English. If they have to fill out a state government form online for unemployment, she can do that. Another man in his 60’s asked continually for help, including typing documents. Finally, Ester said he needed to learn to take care of his own searches and word processing. He did and now has a good job at the local chamber of commerce.

Redford, Texas. From Marfa I drove to the Rio Grande, through wide open cattle country and one huge pecan orchard. At first glance, you might think you were in the middle of nowhere, but there was a railroad track, a gas lline, power lines, fences, the highway, and probably a fiber optic cable. The venerable Aeromotor windmills still dot the plains. Aeromotors are probably the most successful and signficant technology with moving parts for these arid lands. In the 19th century the company got feedback from farmers and continually improved the design. I only saw three or four cars in the 70 miles to Presidio, a small town across the river from Ojinaga, Mexico, which is much larger because of the machiladoras that attract poor people in search of jobs from the interior of Mexico. Presidio had several dollar or discount stores, and the main street was full of Saturday shoppers. A tiny store with a dollar sale on clothes was full of men and women in search of a bargain.

From Presidio I drove out of town, past Big Bend State Park headquarters (permits needed to even enter the park), and after 16 miles I reached Redford, a place with about 100 people dotted around either side of the highway. I saw one person getting out of his pickup and asked him in Spanish is he knew the house of Enrique Madrid. He said “Junior” and I said, “About 60 years old” and was directed back across from Escuela Esperanza, a Christian school that had been the public school at one time.

Nobody was home, but a young anglo woman said he drove a big blue Suburban and usually parked in back. I drove up and down the highway before leaving a note for him and just happened to see his car coming down the highway. I followed them back and parked. Barking puppies greeted me, and I introduced myself. We talked for several hours and went to dinner at the home of an architect who worked with adobe, using a mix of US and Egyptian techniques.


February 1, 2004, Sunday

Yesterday was a long day of driving. I woke up about 8 and Enrique came out to invite me in for some huevos rancheros. He offered me fried eggs and I said I preferred scrambled. He called eggs scrambled as you cook, “country scrambled” and when I scrambled mine in the bowl, that was “city scrambled.” They fried some tortillas in lard, topped them with the eggs, then some salsa, and finally grated some cheese and re-heated it a bit in the microwave. It was delicious. Then Ruby made some quesadillas with the asadeero cheese left over from last night. We did not get started with breakfast for a while because he wante to show me more books and expound on theories about the god center in the brain, and he read me some striking quotes from Edmund Wilson saying that, however meaningful a shamans interior experience would be, he would never understand the magnetic spectrum unless he had a basis in physics. It seemed to be a commentary on the way scientists saw the world--more completely--than even holy men or shamans.

Enrique asked me if I knew what a large number of cats was called, as in a gaggle of geese, and when I said I didn’t, he said, “river” because whenever he got out the food, there was a river of cats flowing into the feeding area. They don’t know how many cats they have, but perhaps 20. All are quite silent, but they jumped up on the food counter, so Enrique disinfected it before we ate, and asked me to guard the counter with a fly swatter to keep them from jumping up again. I stood with my back to the counter and kept waving the swatter as they fixed breakfast. I left Ruby the rest of my Kampala coffee I had brought back from Uganda as well as some of our own oranges from San Jose.

After breakfast, he uncovered the computer and I asked him what he wanted to see. He mentioned some mystical philosophy group in San Francisco whose web site had had already marked (on paper), and he showed me that. I explained that many of the documents he might find were Adobe pdf files, so he went to the Adobe site and found a version of the reader that should work on his Windows 98 machine. Because he is on relatively slow dialup, we set the keyboard and mouse away from the cat traffic, and he put two enormouse obsidian book ends to keep the animals from stopping the slow download.

We drove to the area in El Polvo just down the road from his house to see the place where Esequiel Hernandez was shot by the marines on drug patrol in May 1997. The subsequent investigation and hearings that Enrique and others in Redford helped initiate were instrumental is reversing the militarization of the border--at least until September 2001.

I was shocked how small the Rio Grande is. Anyone could wade across the 50 feet of shallow water. It looked more like a creek. Enrique set the stage for how this area is affected by the murder of the boy and by the post September 11 actions. Mainly, families have been cut off because nobody can use the Polvo crossing, though there was nobody on patrol. Instead, you have to drive 17 miles to Presidio to reach Ojinaga. His commentary was like a war reenactment, or like a living history lecture. He described how the boy had come home from school, took the goats out to graze and where he was shot. The marines, wearing ghilli dress, were on another hill. Enrique has all the hearing transcripts as well as a private investigator’s report that includes the autopsy and a citizen’s transcript of the conversation by the soldiers (using unscrambled frequency to talk to the main base of operations). The citizen feared for his life and destroyed the originals, so all that exists is the Xerox. The whole case is worthy of a book. The Puro Border chapter is an interesting start, but Enrique could do a lot more with it. However, he protests that he is too angry and needs to cool off to maintain a historian’s objectivity. Maybe later.

We drove to Polvo the original settlement before Redford was settled, and saw the house of the parents of the murdered kids. It has a bright green new roof which is the only visible expense they have made since they received the $2 million in reparations from the U.S. Government. We drove to the cemetery and saw the grave. A large man with an automatic weapon on an ATV was talking to another man sharpening a chain saw. The ATV rider is married to the sister of the deceased, and he had never seen the autopsy that Enrique showed him. He did not say a word, just listened as Enrique explained in Spanish and English. We stayed a few minutes more and then drove back where we parted ways. It was a memorable trip, and I am not sure how I can help him more.

Enrique is a person who is full of local knowledge, regional history, cooking techniques, as well as ideas and theories about literature, cross cultural issues, globalization, and the future of the border lands. He has done a scholarly translation of "Expedition to La Junta de los Rios 1747=48" a document found in Madrid and Mexico City. He has a huge network of scholars, supporters, and friends who have kept him stimulated, and judging from the books that line the walls in his house, he is always going to be a learner. I'm not sure how much the Internet will help him. A power surge had fried his hard drive, and he was just getting online again. He had not sent any email, but that could be of great benefit to him. At present he relies on the phone, mail, and visits such as mine.

From Redford, I head to see Francisco Guajardo founder of Llano Grande, a non-profit near McAllen, Texas. (http://llanogrande.org).

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