Thursday, February 5, 2015

Cortney Niland Announces Re-Election, Flexes Street Cred

City Representative Cortney Niland announced her re-election bid on social media recently and I thought there was something that was particularly noteworthy about it.

The first people to jump up and support her were not the people many in El Paso would expect to see support Niland, South and South Central El Paso.


Because homegirl has street cred. In fact, she has more barrio street cred than City Rep Lily Limon. Why? Because street cred is about getting stuff done for the barrio, not just having Little Joe in a radio commercial.

Cortney Niland's district is by far the most economically polarized in the city, perhaps one of the most economically polarized in the country. I still have no idea how in the hell Segundo Barrio, Chamizal, and Chihuahuita are considered communities of interest with The Willows, but they are in the same district. Yes, one of the poorest zip codes in America is in the same district as The Willows.

I've block walked both areas and for the life of me I can't figure it out. The areas couldn't be more different.

The Facebook account thats in the screen shot belongs to Cruz Morales. He's the Head Vato in Charge of the Chamizal Neighborhood Association. You know, donde esta La Bowie. He is also president of El Barrio Sports Club.

Tuesday night she was honored by the Southside Neighborhood Association for her advocacy for that community. Southside Neighborhood Association is in Segundo Barrio.

Let me back up for a moment to give you some context on why I think this is important. You hear a lot of noise from the crazies, most particularly the Florida Crazy Martin Paredes (when he's not working on crappy photoshop jobs to make people look their absolute worst because he thinks it underscores the point that one of the voices in his head is trying to make or not birthing another crazy conspiracy theory) about Niland.

I myself was EXTREMELY skeptical of Niland when she first took office. I probably called her an elitist, but I know for sure that I had zero faith in her advocating for the poor barrio areas of her district. And I had good reason to be concerned. Chamizal, Segundo Barrio, and Chihuahuita areas don't vote. Many residents are not eligible and very few actually vote. From that stand point, they have zero influence. Any one who represents the area could easily be justified in ignoring the area especially when there are probably plenty of retired folk in the more affluent areas of district 8 that have nothing better to do than call the city and complain about their hoighty toighty neighborhood not being hoighty toighty enough.

And also, truth be told, I didn't think a rich gringa would care.

I've been called by many of my ever-growing number of critics, a militant Chicano. I know they mean that as an insult, but its a title I wear proudly. Damn right I'm a militant Chicano. I was raised in the barrio and come from an activist family so I'm not ashamed of that one bit. Segundo Barrio, Chamizal, and Chihuahuita are the heart of the barrio in El Paso. Some of the most impoverished areas but also more culturally rich than anywhere on the westside. So yeah, those areas are important to me and a lot of Chicanos in El Paso.

Niland holding plaque from Southside Neighborhood Association
I didn't think a rich gringa could, or would, advocate for those communities. Not only because of the political realities of impoverished communities with low voter participation traditionally having zero influence but also because I didn't think rich gringas cared or understood the barrio. She's from Houston and lives in the Willows, what does she know about what its like for families with lots of kids, very little English, few opportunities, but an abundance of heart and culture?

I've written previously about how surprised I was that she even campaigned in Segundo Barrio in the first place.

And yet, she's built a stronger track record for advocating for the barrio of El Paso than any member of council sitting on the dais right now. She's brought movies in the park to two areas in her district, none of which are on the westside. She had them in Segundo and Chamizal.

She got $400,000 for Armijo Park in the heart of Segundo Barrio. She made sure the trolley route didn't just stop at Paisano like originally planned and will service Segundo and Chihuahuita. Poor people ride mass transit more than rich folk. Don't believe me? Get on a city bus.

She ensured that there will be minimal intrusion to Chihuahita by the Border Highway extension. Have you seen any of my militant Chicano brethren fighting to protect the integrity of that neighborhood from the extension?


So its pretty significant that she's used her office to advocate so tirelessly for those who don't have a voice. There will no-doubt be people who will throw rocks at her and find fault with something having to do with her efforts in those areas. Hell Martin Paredes is probably hatching a conspiracy theory and firing up his photoshop as we speak.

But it says something when the people who actually live in those areas recognize her for her work and are the first to support her re-election. Not all rich gringos are bad (I know, I had to say it several times before I believed it myself). Some of them believe it or not, do stuff because they are good people. Despite being rich gringos.

That is just the stuff she does in an official capacity. But she does other stuff most of you will ever know about. One is particularly important to me. She pays for uniforms for kids in the Bowie area that play city league ball that can't afford it out of discretionary funds.

I mention that one, and there are plenty more things she does, because I know what its like to be a poor kid who just wants to play sports. There is probably no bigger point of pride for a young boy playing sports than putting on that uniform and lacing up your sneakers or cleats. Makes a kid feel good. Having crappy or no uniform hurts a kid's pride. Especially when they play against richer teams. I know what that feeling is like. Paying for uniforms for kids is probably an expense that doesn't have the slightest impact on her office budget, but it means the world to the kid that has the uniform. He doesn't stand out as the kid thats left out. It helps him feel like he belongs.

Representative Niland doesn't speak Spanish. Many of her southside peeps don't speak English. Yet the work gets done and the constituents are pleased. There are policy positions Niland has taken that I don't support or agree with her on. But one thing I, nor any other militant Chicano who knows the facts, can't say is that she doesn't advocate for the barrio.

Because the barrio says she does.


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