Texas Oil Boom Leaving Behind Hispanic Underclass


From p. A1 of the New York Times:

Boom Meets Bust in Texas: Atop Sea of Oil, Poverty Digs In

By MANNY FERNANDEZ and CLIFFORD KRAUSS

JUNE 29, 2014

GARDENDALE, Tex. — From the window of her tin-roofed trailer, Judy Vargas can glimpse a miraculous world. It is as close as the dust kicked up by the trucks barreling by but seems as distant as Mars.

As you walk out of her front yard — where the chewed-off leg of an animal, probably a feral hog caught by a prowling bobcat, rots outside — a towering natural gas flare peeks over the southerly view. Across the railroad tracks and Interstate 35, a newly reopened railroad interchange stores acres of pipe and receives shipments of sand from Wisconsin to be used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Next to the terminal is an expanding natural gas processing plant that lies in the heart of the Eagle Ford, a giant shale oil field that here in La Salle County alone produces more than $15 million worth of oil a day, or about one out of every 55 barrels produced in the United States.

This rural patch of thick mesquite in the brush country south of San Antonio had been known for something else. Five miles from here in Cotulla, Lyndon B. Johnson at the age of 20 saw hardship so searing that it would help inspire his war on poverty.

Now, it is the scene of one of the greatest oil booms the country has ever seen. But poverty endures in makeshift, barely governed communities called colonias, such as the one where Ms. Vargas shares her trailer with an ever-shifting assemblage of relatives.

Decades after Johnson took a teaching job here in 1928, the area, like the country, is a startling and incongruous mix of cascading wealth and crushing hardship. And though the boom has helped produce fortunes for some and comfortable lives for many, for others it exists within a rural landscape of unpaved streets without garbage pickup, where few dare to drink the tap water because it tastes and smells like chlorine.

Early one evening in May, Ms. Vargas, 28, cooked spaghetti for her three children and her grandmother. Ms. Vargas, a high school dropout, had just arrived home from her job as a restaurant cook. She and her grandmother, who works as a maid at a motel, make a total of roughly $1,500 a month, far below the federal poverty level of $2,325 for a family of five. Above their dining table, there was a portrait of the Last Supper and, tucked in a corner of the frame, a picture of Ms. Vargas’s uncle, unsmiling in a white uniform and one of at least three incarcerated relatives. The family ate and swatted at flies as trucks roared by.

It is a different kind of poverty than it was in 1928, this time surrounded by a buzz of industrial activity, not empty stretches of scrub grass. But it feels as entrenched as ever, reinforced by bad luck, bad choices, a lack of education and the isolation that allows the poor to remain invisible and adrift in lonely, distant orbits.

Of course, a quick Ctrl-F shows that the I-word — immigration — never comes up in this lengthy article on Hispanic poverty amidst economic boom.

That raises the question of the immigration status of the various Vargases, working, relaxing, or incarcerated, in the article. If they are recent immigrants, that raises obvious questions about immigrants.

But if they’ve been in America for generations, that raises other obvious questions about Hispanics, immigrants, and assimilation. Being eligible for government programs, are they assimilating toward black underclass norms? Will hardworking current illegal aliens have legal children and grandchildren like the Vargases?

It’s a difficult conundrum. Fortunately, you own the megaphones (or Carlos Slim does in sizable part). So, whatever you do, don’t mention the I-word!