This episode of the “Best Thing, Worst Thing” project has it all: drama. Suspense. My wife’s grandmother. Not only do we visit this far southern city, but we walk down an empty Main Street, ride into the mountains, and catch ourselves running through the desert in a panic.
For an explanation of the project, check out the page here. If you’re ready to hear a group of folks talk about the best and worst things about where they live–and what adventures I got into along the way–head over to the City Council Chronicles podcast to download the latest episode. Or you can play it below.
Episode 7: Las Cruces, New Mexico
Las Cruces is just one hour north of El Paso and the Mexican border in the hot desert of Doña Ana County, New Mexico. The population is 57 percent Latino. In this episode, we will watch a dust storm roll through the city, go on a nature hike in the Organ Mountains, and even get caught up in a medical emergency. We hear from a city councilor, a union president, a Belgian sailor, a classroom of college students, and my grandmother-in-law (who, by the way, makes a special request at the end of the episode).
If you felt any of those things, you probably grabbed your pitchfork and headed down to the Chino City Council meeting. Mayor Dennis Yates was hot under the collar because some big-shot Malibu lawyer is suing. It seems that Chino, which is 53% Latino, has a council that is 100% gringo.
“They’re suing Highland, Rancho Cucamonga, and Upland,” seethed City Attorney Jimmy Gutierrez. “He’s alleging that it has been number of years that there have been no Latino council members.”
Technically, Mr. Malibu is right on the money here. Chino hasn’t had a new council member since 2001, when fresh-faced Tom Haughey became White Person #5.
But that’s not the point. Thanks to this out-of-town ambulance chaser, the council has to carve up their beloved city like a Christmas ham into four or–stop it, you’re killing them!–six districts.
“That really bothers me because I love this city and I’ve lived here for a long time,” white citizen Toni thundered. “And I take pride in the fact that we are one community, not pockets.”
And lest you think she was anti-Latino people, she’ll have you know that she has two Latino friends.
“I know of two Latinos who were planning on running for council. Neither of them will be able to run based on this new system,” she revealed…until 2018, which, I mean is soooo far away. How many of us will even live that long, you know?
Toni tagged out to Jeff, who happened to be her husband. And what a surprise: Jeff, too, was a ball of fury.
He went back to their hypothetical Hispanic acquaintances, who you wouldn’t know because they go to a different school. “If these people were able to run…wouldn’t that eliminate this whole thing if one of them got elected?”
It’s not supposed to about race but it is,” the mayor sighed.
“It is a BS law,” Jeff sighed.
“Well, we all agree.”
Well, funny story. Not everyone agreed.
“My family came to Chino in the early 1900s. Both of my grandparents were migrants…they lived in tents,”said clearly-Latino citizen Jesus Rodriguez.
“I think it’s a good idea to have diversity in this city. No offense to anyone here, but I see that it hasn’t happened in a while,” he told the pale faces staring him down.
The final speaker was Paul Rodriguez, who wandered through a trippy defense of the new council districts.
“Let’s think of ourselves as a chain of pearls. Each pearl on that chain is actually part of the whole….Okay, we landed on the moon. Now we’re gonna move to Mars….If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?”
Yeah, okay, Dr. Frankenstein. Let’s just shelve that dilemma for the next city council meeting. Mayor?
“Change is good. But to be forced to do something that doesn’t make sense…it’s aggravating and it’s upsetting.” Almost as upsetting as a body made out of eyes.
Final thoughts: A classic David and Goliath story! Little city versus big lawyer. Four districts versus six. Hearing versus sight. I give this meeting 2 out of 2 imaginary Latino neighbors.