Chamizal Speaks is a series of interpretive talks given by park rangers to public audiences. Our park rangers give talks on a variety of subjects that pertain to the Chamizal National Memorial mission of exploring peace and understanding through cultural diversity and education.
Ranger JR gives a stirring talk during concert intermission. June is nationally known as LGTB Pride Month and is observed by the US Government, the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and Chamizal National Memorial. The video is very quiet at first, but at minute 1.21 the sound quality improves
>> Ranger JR: The Chamizal story serves as a historical example of a disagreement being solved with understanding and cultural respect. Sometimes, because we are a peace park, because we celebrate cultural awareness, because we encourage the respect of different perspectives, it is worth it to us to look at the boundaries that separate us as a society today. These lines of separation can run along the lines of ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, or sexual orientation. The way the turbulent murky waters of the untamed shifting Rio Grande led to confusion and hostility in the aftermath of the big flood, the lines we draw on the ground between us and others today often leads to distrust, antagonism, and discrimination. On June 28th 1969, the Stonewall Riots took place in Greenwich Village, in New York City. These were a series of violent demonstrations in response to the police raid of the Stonewall Inn. It is considered the first time in US history that gay Americans stood up to government sanctioned harassment and persecution of sexual minorities. This was the tipping point that initiated the Gay Rights Movement around the country and across the world. Any progress we have made as a society in ensuring equal rights for LGTB citizens has been made possible by the marginalized patrons of a New York City gay bar in 1969 standing up and saying “Enough is enough!” when it came to lawful oppression. That is why the month of June is designated by this country as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. To quote a memorandum by the US Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, during this period “We celebrate the contribution that LGTB Americans have made to our great nation and reflect on the challenges of ensuring full equality for all Americans .” As stated in the 2012 Presidential Proclamation “LGTB Americans and their allies have achieved what once seemed inconceivable. This month reflect on our enduring legacy, celebrate the movement that has made progress possible, and recommit to securing the fullest blessings of freedom for all Americans.” The President, the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and Chamizal National Memorial stands in support of LGTB citizens. Here in El Paso, our borderland community should do the same. Some might ask “why have a month for gay pride? There is no straight pride month.” I would counter that EVERY month is straight pride month, meaning that for many gay people, many aspects of society still impose shame and guilt. Earlier this month, Brandon Elizares, a 16 year old sophomore at Andress High School could no longer bear being taunted and bullied at school for being gay. He internalized the cruelty and hatred that were delivered to him as jokes by his classmates. Brandon saw no way out. As a community, we should ask ourselves if we could do more to help kids like Brandon. We should encourage our children, our elders, and each other, to be tolerate and accepting of others in spite of differences in nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion. Chamizal National Memorial believes that when we share and appreciate each other’s culture and perspective, we learn more about the world and are inclined to live cooperatively and peacefully. This is even more relevant when we as individuals decide to stand in solidarity with our gay brothers and sisters. Thank you! And with that, I just want to point out that Chamizal National Memorial also stands in solidarity with the other 397 national park sites in remembering Nick Hall, who died on Thursday night in Mount Rainier in the line of duty, which is why you’ll notice our flag is flying half-mast. Thank you.
The land that Chamizal National Memorial resides on was once part of Mexico and called Cordova Island. Guest Speaker Pete Flores, a local author, speaks of his childhood playing on Cordova Island, from sneaking over the border to pick fruit or play baseball to watching whiskey smugglers walk north into El Paso.
“The area of, ah, the irrigation ditch was a beautiful area. There was huge cottonwood trees there. They were lined with cottonwood trees in plots of 4 or 5, then a space, and then another 6 or 7. These were huge trees. The trunks were bigger than this desk, and at the same time they were maybe, I don’t know, maybe 3 or 4 stories high. To tell you how close they were, and how big they were, we used to climb one and get off at the 3rd or 4th, going branch to branch all the way down. Those were our playgrounds; that’s where we used to go for fun. And ah, [unintelligible]… As I recall, and I don’t know if [unintelligible] confirm that, as I recall there was two homes, two families that were living here. There were two adobe homes; one in the area where the, almost where the bridge is right now, where the Avenida Americas is; and the other one, which is a Chinaman’s home, right up where we are now, a little further back probably, no more than 100 yards from the border and Cypress Street, at the end of Cypress Street. This Chinaman that lived there, [unintelligible], there were many fruit trees in the area, a lot of fruit trees, there were apple trees, pear trees, quinces, and some grapevines over along the area. We used to just pick ‘em in good will and the beauty and peaceful tranquil nature of this area, it was a thing of beauty to us. Affording us not only the joy of growing up in the wilderness but dealing in vegetables, fruits, that were there for the taking. We used to get a burlap bag and cross the border and pick up all kinds of vegetables and stuff and then take them home. Later on my mother would get the vegetables and make chicken soup probably, out of it. That’s before I catch the chicken. They used to send me out to the yard, I’d say ok. Grab one of them chickens and bring it home for dinner. I used to go out, go to the garden and follow that from one end to the other, until I’d corner it and grab it. Those were [unintelligible] getting the chicken. In 1943, we were over playing baseball in our sandlot out there where the bridge is now. If you were playing 3rd base or 4th base, it was one of those twin-tail 38s, I’m unfamiliar with the model, it had two tails, two motors, and a cut on the center. The circle that we were playing at was 4 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon, we were playing baseball in this circle, and he crashed right into the only house that was up there in the area. He crashed right in front of the house and tore himself up. Incidentally, just to give you an idea, this gentleman right here and myself and a bunch of others were running to the [unintelligible] on right, they climb aboard that plane and it started on fire and they helped pull the pilot out of the cockpit. Of course somebody had to take him to the hospital. I don’t know what happened at that point but it was an amazing thing because we’d never seen [unintelligible] before. By all accounts this area was really a beautiful area. But things changed at night. It was an entirely different matter at night. This area was a smugglers paradise. I mean, there was a lot of smuggling here in this area. A few of us remember, if you recall, the fertile land, No Man’s Land as we call it, during Prohibition [unintelligible] they make their way through the bushes, loaded with gallons of whiskey going to market in the United States. That house was the drop point. I’ll tell you a little story. History repeats itself. The same house was used back in the 30s and early 40s [unintelligible]. The two prints are in the sand, just covered by cement probably, but they’re still there. We had no shoes at the time anyway, we were all barefoot. Consequently after we played, we left our footprints there. During Prohibition, started early in the late 29s and of course all the 30s and part of 40 even, mule trains coming in from the interior of Mexico, coming in loaded with 4, 5 gallon drums of liquor called “latas”. They were square drums that the mules had. The Chinaman’s place was the drop point for the mule trains. Later, as the Border Patrol were out of sight, another man would put them in there, one lata at a time, and run across the border. [unintelligible]as these guys would strap a 5-gallon drum on their backs and wait for the Border Patrol to clear the area and then they’d jump right across. And there were so many other drop points, I’m sure, but the main ones I recall, the home that had an elevated porch and there was a space, oh about 2 ½ to 3 feet in there, under the area and they’d hide the cans there. And I remember, specifically, also across the street [unintelligible] was also a drop point. And I’m sure there were many other drop points in the area. Then again, [unintelligible] simply because we were just children at the time. Later on is a two-legged mules that would make a drug run, into the United States and El Paso, other people carry them in their bags, all the way north of Copia to the intersection of what is called Montana and Copia. There’s a shopping center there now, I believe there’s a Lowe’s, Big 8 store, something. That area used to be called White Oaks. I think there’s still a street called White Oaks. There was a wooded area, there’s a lot of brush, a lot of trees there. That was another drop point. I was kind of young at the time but I recall that.“
Ranger Kristi gives a Music Under the Stars talk about our park's official seal. Learn about the Bald Eagle of the United States and the Golden Eagle of Mexico and how they contribute to our shared cultural diversity.
Good evening everyone. How are ya’ll doing? Are ya’ll enjoying the band?
I have 2 quick announcements before I give my talk. The first announcement is that we would like to say Happy Birthday to Greg Lawson, our Senior Sound Technician, back there in the middle. The second announcement is that the Chief Ranger wants to remind everybody to keep the middle aisle clear. Its ok for what you are doing right now; walking. But we don’t want anybody to park their bikes, or sit down in a chair, or stand in the aisle. Because that is our Emergency Exit aisle.
What we wanted to talk to you guys about tonight is Cultural Diversity. One of the things that Chamizal is here for is to provide you with cultural opportunities, like tonight we have Tropicalissimo Apache, next week we will have a Motown band. We also have events in our theater inside and all of these things are to allow people to expand their cultural knowledge.
If you look at our park seal here, that my two lovely assistants are holding, you will see some signs of our cultural diversity. On the top we have the American eagle, the Bald Eagle, and on the bottom we have the Mexican eagle, and then in the middle we have a river running down the middle. What river might that be? (crowd murmurs)
Yes, the Rio Grande. So basically our seal is reminding us that we are the United States. Right now we are on United States land but less than 50 years ago we were on Mexican land, and it all revolved around a river that ran down the middle of it.
So now how did we get these two emblems, these two eagles as our national emblems of the United States and Mexico? If you look at the top eagle, that is the Bald Eagle. It represents freedom and it was picked because the bald eagles soars to the tops of the highest mountains, it lives in the tops of the tallest trees and it flies where ever it wants to fly. It is very free.
How did we choose this bald eagle? Back in 1782, when the United States was very new, a country for just a few years, they were looking for a seal. They were looking for something that inspires spirit, and they decided to go with the bald eagle because it did represent that freedom. They said it had majestic looks, and strength and its ability to evoke a feeling of supreme power and authority. Everything you want in a new country.
The US seal, if you look at one, you’ll see a bald eagle holding in one hand he holds a bundle of arrows and in the other hand he holds an olive branch. That represents peace and war.
There is a widely believed rumor, nobody can decide if its true or not, that Benjamin Franklin was not in favor of the bald eagle being our national emblem. Does anybody know what bird Benjamin Franklin wanted as our national bird? (crowd murmurs) I hear the turkey and I hear one very emphatic chicken. The answer is the turkey. Benjamin Franklin, we think, he said that he did not want the bald eagle because the bald eagle was dishonest. It watched other birds get the fish out of the lake and it would fly after them, knocking the bird and catch the fish as it dropped the fish. It was stealing fish from other birds. So he said that he wanted the turkey because it was humble. It stayed on the ground, it didn’t fly, and it stood up to its opponents so it had courage. Whether that’s true or not, we went with the bald eagle.
If we go to the Mexican eagle, down at the bottom, the Mexican eagle isn’t a bald eagle. What eagle is the national emblem of Mexico? It’s a Golden Eagle, that’s its official name. The Golden Eagle was picked because the Mexican seal with the Golden Eagle reminds us of the founding of Mexico City. Once upon a time, as legend goes, the Aztec people were told by their Sun God to go in search of a new home. They needed to find a place of their own. They were to look for an eagle standing on a cactus, holding a snake in its hand and in its mouth. When they found this, that would mark where they were to make their new home. So the priests wandered around and finally, in the middle of a swamp, they found an eagle flying around in the sky. Right before them, he swooped down, caught a snake, and landed on a prickly pear next to the priests, and they knew that was where they needed to make their new home. So they made a home called Tenochtitlan, which later thrived and became what is Mexico City today. So if you see pictures of Mexico City, imagine it as a swamp.
Now both the Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle are represented on our seal here to remind us that we strive for friendship between the two nations of Mexico and the United States. We also strive for friendship between all nations, but we mainly focus on Mexico and the US because we were Mexico about 50 years ago. We are coming up on our 50th anniversary.
So just as the shifting Rio Grande does not identify the boundary between the United States and Mexico, eagles don’t either. Eagles will fly wherever they want to fly. Here in the United States, the government protects both Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles with the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1962. What the protection act says is that people won’t take down their nests, they will not take their feathers or any other of their parts, they will not steal their eggs. They will basically leave them alone to be free and undisturbed and fly wherever they want.
Now add to that the National Park Service, which we are a part of here at Chamizal. We also protect all animals. If there are any animals inside the boundary of this park, they are protected. They are supposed to be able to live out their lives undisturbed and unaltered. You can go to places like Grand Canyon National Park, stand on the rim of the canyon and watch Golden Eagles fly before you. You can fly up to Minnesota and go to Voyageurs on the lakes and watch the Bald Eagles fish and live their lives out in the tall tall pines. They will always be protected.
These eagles, like all national symbols, they represent the founding ideas of freedom and independence that are shared by people on both sides of the border. United States and Mexico. Thank you very much. If you want to see our seal up close, you can come visit us over there at the red tent. And Thank you to my volunteers for helping.
Did You Know?
Depending on the time of year you visit Chamizal National Memorial, you may see up to four different species of hummingbirds. These include the Broadtailed (pictured), Rufous, Black-Chinned, and Anna’s hummingbirds.