Governor Rick Perry is unquestionably the governor of a border state … but he’s no fronterizo.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy could fly across the Atlantic and, at a Berlin Wall ceremony, could in solidarity declare to the cheers of the German masses, “Ich bin ein Berliner!” (“I am a citizen of Berlin”). In contrast, in 2010, Governor Perry could never travel four hours south on I-35 and declare with credibility or solidarity that he was a fronterizo … a Texan who resides on the Texas-Mexico border. Unsurprisingly, the voices of fronterizos continue to go unheeded by the well-groomed third-term governor.
The Texas-Mexico border constitutes 65 percent of the entire US-Mexico border. From the El Paso metro area to Lower Rio Grande Valley and Brownsville, millions of Texans suffer neglect from both Austin and Washington. As the fastest-growing region with the lowest per-capita income in not only Texas but also the entire United States, the borderlands have endured the rejection of not being a fully legitimate part of the country with a voice that is respected outside the checkpoints.
As a fronterizo, I have watched Perry not only neglect but also exploit the borderlands for his own political gain. In his bid for reelection in 2006, he vilified the border. His campaign videos showed him standing on the banks of the Rio Grande with a couple of border sheriffs, who were eager to receive desperately needed funding from him, pledging that he was the leader who could protect the border.
What Perry wouldn’t do was listen to the millions of Texan fronterizos, those who really understand the border, those who are truly the first line of defense. The same Perry vilification of the border occurred during his 2010 bid for reelections. The strategy sure seems to work — north of the checkpoints. As far as he is concerned, he understands the border better than the border citizens, along with their mayors, judges, or state and federal legislators.
While Perry expends Texas resources traveling around the country building his national image, he claims that the federal government should back off and yield to “states’ rights.” He doesn’t like big (federal) government’s influence in Texas’ issues, especially environmentally. Yet, on November 8, Perry made a charming appearance on comedic Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. Seven and a half minutes into the interview, Perry accused the Feds of not doing enough to protect the Texas-Mexico border. “I’ve asked two administrations to put the boots on the ground and secure that border,” Perry complained.
He went on to say that the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (Janet Napolitano) told him, “Listen Perry, if you want National Guard troops on the border, send them yourself and pay for them.” “That’s irresponsible,” Perry whined to Stewart. Yet, that’s exactly what Perry did back in 2006. In his three-week “Operation Del Rio,” he sent 1,000 law enforcement and military personnel, including Texas Army National Guard, to the Del Rio area. At the time, the Del Rio sector was the safest region along the border. After the three-week operation concluded, Perry declared a 76-percent reduction in murder and rape over the same time the previous year. Interestingly, there were no incidents of murder and rape in the same period the previous year, a fact he refused to retract or found convenient not to, yet the “76-percent reduction” made Perry’s leadership and border strategies look good in state and national news.
Perry’s comments belie his Tea Party mindset … and expose his disconnect with Texan fronterizos. Most fronterizos feel betrayed by Perry. Most would readily complain that there are already too many boots on the ground. Yet, federal boots are omnipresent, even in our neighborhoods. We who live “inside the checkpoints” already feel like a militarized, “occupied” America, a lesser America — a “de-constitutionalized zone,” where 36 Congressional Acts and have been waived to construct the border wall. A region controlled by the military-industrial “for-profit” prison complex now making billions of dollars while the borderlands suffer economically. Just to leave the borderlands to visit, say, San Antonio, we repeatedly need to prove that we are U.S. citizens.
So, who really understands the Texas-Mexico border? Washington? Governor Perry? Or the millions of fronterizos who call the border home? Washington thinks it does. Perry thinks he does. The Texans living on the border think otherwise. •