Tuesday afternoon, the parents and community of Bowie High School gathered to send a message to El Paso Independent School District (EPISD): “Education Yes, Contamination No.”
I spoke with Hilda Villegas and Maria Luisa Amaya, both women are part of ‘Familias Unidas de Chamizal’ and are also concerned parents. Hilda explained to me that the parents and the community are outraged.
For the last 3 years they have been fighting the El Paso Independent School District as they continue to move forward with their plans to tear down the Bowie baseball field and build a transportation hub that would house 124 school buses.
Along with the buses, comes contamination to the quality of air and water for the surrounding area. Segundo Barrio has already been struggling for years to get help from the city in regards to traffic from the international bridge just next door, which has elevated smog and toxins in the air.
“Our kids are the ones suffering, we have seen asthma and other conditions associated to bad air quality, on the rise in the area. Bringing 124 buses, 300 employees and their vehicles, would destroy the breathing air we have left. They are not interested in the betterment of our kids or investing in their education, they are here for their own profit,” Villegas told me.
The community has even had a specialist out to the area that did indeed find cause for concern with the air quality. (see report here)
The women explained to me that no one consulted families in the area prior to this passing within EPISD, they caught wind of what was happening sometime around 2015 and began to organize in the neighborhood, they have submitted signed petitions and are working with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid to fight for their community.
“They tax us for everything, they tax us for being part of the Chamizal, they tell us we have to pay for this and that because these are historic lands, yet the people are constantly being ignored” Amaya stated.
As Hilda Villegas spoke to the crowd, they reminded us that this issue goes deeper than the surface.
This is a a piece of Texas history, yet it is often ignored and not given the importance it deserves.
In 1949 the Bowie Bears and their legendary coach William Carson (Nemo) Herrera, made sports history as the first Champions, of the first Texas State High School Baseball Tournament ever held. They won against all the odds.
Racism in 1940’s meant that the team made up of Mexican Americans, could not eat at restaurants like other teams, if they found an establishment to serve them they set up chairs in the kitchen for the team, they were not allowed in the main dining area. As they continued winning games across Texas, their road to victory was not paved with support like other teams.
Often the young men were turned away from hotels, like in Austin during their quarter finals the boys slept in Army cots underneath Memorial Stadium.
In the final game it would be the no.1 seed, Stephen F. Austin High School who had been undefeated all season and had left all other teams in the dust scoring 10 or more runs to nothing in previous games, but they proved no match to El Paso’s own Bowie High School. The game would go down as one of the greats, with the Bowie Bears pulling the lead of 3 runs to an empty Austin scorecard and eventually winning the Championship Bowie 3 – Austin 2.
‘La Bowie’ has been historic in more ways than one. Coach Nemo Herrera was coach (and Bowie was home) to future NCAA legendary coach himself, Nolan Richardson. Herrera is the only Texas high school coach to have won multiple state titles in two sports, baseball and basketball yet there are only 3 things in Texas that honor his name, Bowie baseball field is one of them.
One of the ’49 Bowie baseball team members, Andy Morales, would go on to also become a coach and pass on Nemo’s teachings to a whole new generation. One young man that Morales coached was Chris Forbes, who would grow up to coach and lead the 2009 Socorro Bulldogs Baseball team to a State Championship, the second title for El Paso area, 60 years after the Bowie Bears.
In a ceremony, a long overdue moment was finally granted when the 2009 Socorro team presented the surviving members of the 1949 Bowie Baseball team with their own championship rings as well.
I agree with Villegas when she says this is deeper than the surface. This is also about not desecrating the memory of those young men and Coach Nemo and recognizing Mexican American history, how they beat the segregated times of the 40’s and brought pride to the South Side.
It is about how this same area is now living through segregation again. For the last decade or so they have been segregated from the rest of the city and the people discarded.
As “projects” like the Bus Hub, continue to spring up in downtown, the smog and smoke continue to be blown in the faces of the people that live here and corporations continue to sit on the chest of the community, squeezing out the last gasp of air; yet no one seems to be concerned with the families that are living here and their quality of life, not to mention that there eventually will be nothing left of this beautiful historic land, that is part of the Chamizal.
Would this ever even be a suggestion at a school in let’s say the Westside of El Paso, to demolish their historic state championship team’s field, an open natural space, in order to house 124 buses?
I saw a couple of students at the protest as well, Katherine Villegas was the one who heard the news first and quickly shared with her friends David Gallardo and Emmanuel Marquez. As David said, they are highly concerned about what this will mean to future generations.
Katherine told me that one of the corporations that has starting construction on the field had actually hit a oil pipeline that runs next to the water pipeline that goes directly into the school. They have attempted to get answers from officials about looking into the water, only to be ignored.
Emmanuel began to notice the change in his health when he moved to Bowie, almost immediately asthma began, more doctors appointments, etc… I asked them how this has motivated them, they said they care about their future and what to help make Bowie Better, not bulldoze it.
They have created a group for students ‘Bowie Community Awareness Association’ they meet every Friday at lunch to discuss what is happening and what they can do. They are undeterred, they are ready to continue to organize and rally the student body in order to protect Bowie.
If we have learned anything from the next generation – as they organize for gun reform across the nation – is that they will not be silenced by the status quo, so we should heed their rising voices.