How the city of Martindale–which has been largely ignored by the media and offered little organized help after the Memorial Day floods– struggles to pick up the pieces alone, even two months later.
By Anna Ali, Alayna Alvarez and Jaclyn Guzman
Vivian Gonzalez still remembers the first day she opened her beauty shop in Martindale, Texas.
Having grown tired of traveling to work in San Marcos for three long years, she decided it was time to build a few extra rooms and, finally, bring her hair salon home.
That was nearly 44 years ago.
Today, due to the Memorial Day floods– said by Governor Abbott to be “the highest flood we’ve ever had recorded in the history of the state of Texas–” Vivian’s house and hair shop stand in ruin, hardly recognizable.
“I had all the customers from Martindale,” said Vivian with a soft, nostalgic smile. Now, she says, “my customers are without a beauty shop.”
And Vivian–who has lived at the same address for more than 50 years and watched all of her grandchildren grow up there– is now without a home.
Approximately 50 houses within Martindale city limits were struck by the flood, many of which were more than 50 percent destroyed.
Vivian had been through this before, back in 1998. Heavy rains caused the San Marcos River to rise ruthlessly, and her house and hair shop stood in its way.
She not only remembers the great expense it was to repair and rebuild, but also how she was able to fix it and make it “really nice.”
“This flood,” however, “was different,” she said.
Unlike in ‘98, when the river water caused most of the damage directly, the destruction of her home in the 2015 floods resulted almost entirely from her nephew’s camping trailer, which was parked in the backyard when the water rose. The strength of the current was so immense, that it swiftly swept up the trailer and smashed it through the wall of Vivian’s back room, knocking it out completely.
“I think if that trailer hadn’t hit it, the house would have been okay,” she said. “The rest of the house was fine.”
Vivian–now 80 years old–knows well the challenges that lie ahead, but she believes they may just be too much to take on this time around.
“This time, I wasn’t sure I wanted to fix it again because it was too much of an expense,” she said. “And, now, since we have to raise the houses up, I can’t fix my shop.”
It had been just two weeks before the floods began when Mayor Randy Bunker was sworn into office.
Although a former floodplain administrator for the city, those close to the mayor said, still, “It wasn’t something he was prepared for.”
Mayor Bunker was likely also unprepared for the reaction he would receive from city council back in July, when he proposed the use of emergency funds to waive fees for affected families needing residential building permits, which are required to obtain before rebuilding.
In an interview with KXAN, Mayor Bunker said these permit fees are particularly expensive in Martindale and, in some cases, exceed three times what someone would pay for the same permit in San Marcos, a city that has stepped up to help its flood victims by waiving the permit fees.
“We have to raise the houses ourselves because we are in the flood zone,” said Vivian. “That costs money having to tear the house down and build it back up– and I’m sure it has to come out of our pocket.”
Unsure it could absorb the cost any better, Martindale City Council voted against the mayor’s proposition and, instead, is now depending on the help of FEMA. If the agency does not help out, however, council says it will review on a case-by-case basis.
Hope Across the River
Tanya Thornhill just wanted to help.
Not even a resident of Martindale (living across the San Marcos River in Guadalupe County), she went out early the morning following the flood–after being tired, worried and up all night–to see if everyone was okay, if there was anything she could do.
Flash forward two months later, and Tanya is still working tirelessly to help others in need– without much help of her own.
Almost single-handedly, she must lead the restoration efforts because there is no organized reception center, such as in Wimberley or San Marcos.
She also takes care of the areas outside Martindale city limits.
“They’re not getting a whole lot of representation, so they’re kind of out on their own,” she said.
“I’ve been going out there, going door to door, bringing sandwiches.” She says she also takes flyers with resources and information, such as where to access fresh water or find financial assistance.
“There’s so much to learn as far as working with the government, like the FEMA organization,” said Tanya.
“I’m still going door to door because some people haven’t even filed or applied yet with FEMA,” she said. They don’t understand that they should, that there’s help for them.”
Still, she says that even folks that do get money from FEMA don’t receive enough. Nevertheless, she encourages flood victims to file, as the agency can help the city record the data it needs to better prepare for natural disasters in the future.
Glimmers in the Water
Despite the turbulent two-month journey, Tanya says “things are looking up–” even outside of Martindale.
Take McKinney Falls State Park in Austin, for instance.
“We have been breaking records here in terms of the amount of people that have been visiting,” said Jenn Menge, a ranger for Texas Parks and Wildlife. “The water has been so much higher, so we’ve seen a lot more people here for swimming and for fishing.”
The park has even noted a few fish species unseen for some time that likely made their way down in higher flood waters.
“We’re really excited when we see people, especially families and young people, come out to enjoy their Texas state park,” she said. “That means a lot for the health and the future of Texas state parks.”
And the good news doesn’t stop there.
The heavy rains and flooding in May and June not only ended the drought and raised both lakes and reservoirs to extraordinary levels, but also provided TPWD freshwater fish hatcheries with a better-than-expected production year, allowing them to stock more lakes and the number of fish in them.
Because reservoir levels have remained low for several years, vegetation grew across the dry lake bottom. When levels rise, however, the flooded vegetation gives small fish a place to hide from predators and, as it decays, releases essential nutrients into the lake–ultimately jumpstarting the food chain.
With the rising water levels benefiting all species of fish, fishing– a $90 billion industry– is expected to see significant improvement in the coming years, as predator species like bass, striped bass and hybrid bass grow quickly with plenty to eat.
Picking Up the Pieces
With little to no media attention, Tanya says there are still countless people, including her own colleagues, who remain unaware Martindale was ever flooded. Combining this with a recent drop-off of volunteers can be, in one word: “disheartening.”
But only a little, she said.
Despite their infrequencies, she nevertheless receives donations that she believes come “from heaven above.” For instance, a group in Pleasanton, Texas recently held a fundraiser and unexpectedly called Tanya asking the square footage of one of her adopted family’s houses. A few days later, the family had all the materials they needed and could begin rebuilding.
Another example is Mattress Firm, which currently offers a $700 voucher to anyone affected by the flood. Residents can sign up for the program through Aug. 31, and vouchers will be redeemable through Dec. 31.
“Everyone lost their mattress, everyone lost their water heater, everyone lost things that you need everyday,” Tanya said.
Because all contractors in the area are “booked to their eyeballs” and unable to offer any more help until late September, residents of Martindale are still in need of labor.
“We’re relying on family or friends or anybody who knows anything about painting or hanging a light bulb,” she said. “We desperately need materials and skilled labor.”
As for Vivian’s home and beauty shop, she says, “We might have to use it as a shed, or maybe a little summer house where the kids can come and stay a couple days.”
Vivian is sure about one thing, though:
“All my grandkids grew up here, so I want to be here,” she said strongly with a smile as resilient as the river.
“It’s just pure love.”
Austin-based birth, breastfeeding and boudoir photographer Sabrena Rexing lights up as she describes the moment a mother nurses her child through breastfeeding. “I think that comes across in breastfeeding photography; not just making a statement about doing it in public but showing the love between a mother and a child.”
As a birth photographer, Rexing documents moments of early parenthood, ranging from the birth of an infant to the everyday, intimate experiences breastfeeding mothers have with their children.
“Some of our society views breastfeeding as something that should be done in private. It’s something that should only be done in the home or to be done with a cover,” Rexing said. “Women should be able to breastfeed wherever and whenever their child needs it.”
Rexing began photographing breastfeeding mothers six years ago when a mom took a break from a family photo session to nurse her child. Moved by the intimacy of the moment, she asked the mother if she could snap her photo. The mother agreed, giving Rexing the confidence to ask the same question to every mother she shot during a family photo session.
“If they said no, I wouldn’t have done it.” Rexing said. “But no one ever said no.”
One Austin mother who has participated in one of Rexing’s breastfeeding photo sessions, Jenny Dorsey, vouches for for her and the rest of the birth photography community’s work.
“I think that often times we forget that [breastfeeding] is an important bonding experience and we don’t always capture it. And then later on down the road looking back we don’t have anything to remind us of those times,” Dorsey said. “Nursing my baby should be just like feeding my baby a bottle. I think that it’s good to bring those pictures to the public for awareness.”
Dorsey is an example of someone who benefits from community efforts, such as the Public Breastfeeding Awareness project, an initiative that began in 2013 dedicated to normalizing public breastfeeding through photography.
Rexing, one of the 75 photographers around the globe who make up the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project, organized Austin’s Breastfeeding Law Awareness Day, where approximately 30 nursing moms, nurslings and members who support the breastfeeding community were photographed in a portrait in front of the Capitol on Aug. 10.
While the event intended to celebrate Texas’ breastfeeding laws, Austin mothers in attendance echoed the sentiment to work against women’s feelings of insecurity and experiences with rejection while breastfeeding, stemming from society’s collective discomfort with seeing women do so in public.
“This is what babies need and we shouldn’t have to be ashamed of it or feel embarrassed or somebody’s going to look down on us.”
“It’s just such a healthy, natural way to feed and nourish your child. One of the most instinctual things a mother can do and so there shouldn’t have to be a stigma on it.”
“I don’t go up to people that are formula feeding or breastfeeding and tell them that what they do is wrong. I feel that everybody should do what works for them and I don’t think that people should be so mean. I mean, we’re all just trying to do what’s best for our kids.”
“I just want to not have to worry about what other people are going to think when I’m nursing.”
“We have to come to a place where can accept that women are going to feed their babies. The more it happens in public, the more people will feel comfortable for it and it will become more normal.”‘
Austin is one of 10 capital cities that formally organized a group portrait of breastfeeding mothers and supporting members of the community in front of their state capitols. Other participating states included New York, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Hawaii, California, Washington D.C. ,Washington State, Michigan and Connecticut. Each of these states, including Texas, has varying degrees of protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed in public.
Sunayana Weber, outreach coordinator of the Central Texas Breastfeeding Coalition, says these kinds of public demonstrations are necessary because they work to inform the public about breastfeeding laws that have existed for years. These demonstrations heighten in August, which is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, to remind the public of these laws.
“Many businesses and individuals do not realize that a mother is permitted by law to breastfeed anywhere she’s allowed to be,” Weber said. “This can lead to a breastfeeding mother being harassed and humiliated for feeding her child in public.”
Even though Texas has a 20-year-old law protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed her child anywhere, the Central Texas Breastfeeding Coalition has been working on an enforcement provision since 2007.
“Countless number of women are still being told that they cannot “do that” here,” Central Texas Breastfeeding Coalition president Janet Jones said. “They are being told that they are going to have to leave, or go to the bathroom, or go to the alley.”
Despite the challenges facing the breastfeeding community, the most recent Texas breastfeeding law states that public employers, including school districts, will be legally required to provide employees with a time and place to express breastmilk beginning Sept. 1.
While the breastfeeding community has had some success in the legislature, Kim Updegrove, executive director of Mother’s Milk Bank at Austin, says she works with women who routinely talk about the hoops they go through to breastfeed their infants.
“The sexualization of breasts in this country has worked against women’s ability to breastfeed in public because it’s seen as a sexual act by some and seen as a disgusting act by others despite the fact that the mother is protecting her own health and her infant’s health by doing so.”
A pair of wizened eyes observe in silence. August and unchanging, they take in the wisps of incense and gentle stirrings of people at ease. Candlelight toys with the gold leaf of its irises, as it does with the rest of the ornate statue of Guru Rinpoche.
The statue is one of only 26 of its kind in the world. This one finds its home in Palri Pema Od Ling, a Tibbetan Buddhist temple nestled between duplexes on 45th Street. It celebrates the sage who brought Buddhism to Tibet in the 700s.
The value of the 13-foot-tall figure? Priceless, in the eyes of Palri’s resident lama, or teacher.
“He is my guru,” Lama Lobtsul said without affect, embodying the dharma that has been passed down from the revered master for over twelve hundred years.
The guru instilled in his 8th century students an appreciation for balance, self-knowing and compassion for “all sentient beings.” He is so respected that followers call him Buddha, the “enlightened one.”
And to the Buddhist way of thinking, enlightenment knows no bounds.
As a universal well-wishing, the Austin statue’s 25 counterparts are scattered across the globe, grounded in Spain, Australia, and Bhutan, among other countries. They are part of the Padma Global Project for World Peace, an Indian teacher’s endeavor to scatter concord through the earth via Rinpoche statues.
“Whoever has faith in [Guru Rinpoche] should do their utmost to create and spread images of him,” said Khenpo Namdrol, the founder of the project.
The point is to have a positive impact by helping to bring about universal peace.
The impact is seen in the intimacy of Palri, where the noble statue oversees everyday people pursuing the Buddhist lifestyle. From his lofty vantage point, it might appear that:
The world slows down as worshippers enter the space, barefoot and composed. Smiling, they settle onto cushions laid out in rows.
Sunlight casts rainbows on the stone floor as it shines through glass window ornaments, and candles wink up at tapestries thick with colored thread.
A gong sounds.
Blue eyes flash from behind a swath of purple fabric as Kimberly Patterson, a local acupuncturist, takes a cue from Lama Lobstul and fans incense through the temple.
“Buddhism is like medicine,” she says. “Your life is your practice.”
In a row further back, Sheila Yeo, a Central Austin resident, sings the lilting mantras chosen by Lama. Her tone is dulcet and has a way of sweetening the air around her.
“The goal of all this meditation is to have a changeless mind. Then everything is just a blessing.”
All the while, Lama Lobtsul patters cymbals against each other from his elevated place in front of the worshippers, carrying on the practices he learned in person from the Dalai Lama.
Thought not fluent in English, his Tibetan chants are as rippleless and throaty as the deepest of wind instruments.
“Guru Rinpoche says, ‘Follow me.’ Rich or poor, I follow,” he later said from his small kitchen beneath the shrine room.
Actually, his modest residence is set right beneath the guru’s statue on the upper floor. It seems that the gold figure is a compass for his living, every detail pointed toward the age-old teachings of the Chinese instructor.
And above the kitchen table, there is a secret weight, a heavier burden than just a gold-leafed statue; within the golden body are hidden bone relics, gems, and recovered writings gathered from throughout the centuries. A wealth of tradition, knowledge, and compassion.
So behind the statue’s eyes, a heavy burden is contained, and before his eyes, the burden is lived out:
DZAM LING CHI DANG YUL KHAM DI DAG TU
At this very instant, for all the people and nations of Earth,
NED MUG TSHON SOK DUG NGAL MING MI DRAG
Let not even the words “disease,” ‘famine,” “war” and “suffering” be heard,
CHÖ DAN SO NAM PAL JOR GONG DU PHEL
But may virtue, merit, wealth and plenty increase
TAG TU TASHI DE LEG PHUN TSHOG SHOG
And auspiciousness and well-being ever abound.
Learning to Live with Overwhelming Exhaustion Takes a lot of Effort
By: Mikaela Casas, Grace Rogers, Mary Hart
It is just before noon on a Wednesday morning. The sun is bright, high in the sky and there are no clouds in sight. You get the feeling that it is going to be a very hot day. For most people in Texas, it is just a typical summer’s day, but for someone with chronic fatigue, this spells trouble. Even in mild weather, it is difficult to stave off the exhaustion and fatigue that comes in waves. But on a hot day in August, the struggle is just beginning.
As we walk into the Northwest YMCA, we are greeted by a welcome blast of air conditioning and smiling faces as we check in to attend a cancer rehab class. Ashely Gordon, a student at UT, who is recovering from breast cancer, leads the way into the exercise room.
The room is brightly lit, with sun streaming through the windows and the members of the class are getting into position to begin warm-up exercises. The class is made up of about twenty participants and throughout the room, next to each person, are the things they will need for today’s exercises.
A chair. A bottle of water. Elastic bands for stretching. Hand-held weights. I immediately get the feeling that everyone here is serious, not playing around and determined to get well- at any cost.
Most members of the class are wearing tennis or running shoes, and almost everyone is in some sort of loose-fitting t-shirt, often with a recognizable cancer charity emblazoned on the back. Some are in leggings, some in shorts.
There are a few men in the class, but most are women, and most are over middle-age. Ashely is the youngest person in the group, dressed in black leggings, a light pink t-shirt, with the words, “Ride or Die Chick” printed in white on the back, and is barefoot. She takes her place at the front, near the instructor, Evelyn and is ready to begin. In fact, everyone seems not only ready to begin class, but determined to finish and finish well.
The class begins with warm-up exercises that consist of raising your arms and legs in tandem. Then, bringing the arms up over the head, parallel to your body, then back down. After that come more exercises, with twenty iterations on each arm. It’s getting intense. Watching everyone work through the often painful and difficult exercises, I’m feeling tired. I’m feeling achy. And I’m not even participating.
By the middle of the class, I’m crying. I’m having a hard time seeing my notes. I’m overcome with inspiration for the people in this room. Some who have battled cancer and won, and some who are still fighting that battle. No one is complaining. No one is sad. No one is crying.
I’m imagining myself doing these exercises. It reminds me of physical therapy exercises I used to do. Looking around the class, I realize it would be very difficult for me to do the exercises that they are doing. I haven’t worked out in more than a year. I feel like I should be doing more to improve my health.
I have chronic fatigue as well. I was diagnosed towards the beginning of my college career, and have struggled to continue with school while also maintaining my health. Going back to school after taking a break for health reasons seemed daunting. Graduation seemed unattainable.
Ashely has a similar story.
Ashely began her college career when she was 18 and has struggled with health issues since she was 13 years old. When her father died, it was very difficult for her to cope and she had to move home. When she returned to UT, she began again, with a new major- sociology, and began focusing on Spanish as well.
In June 2014, Ashely was diagnosed with breast cancer and began treatment shortly after, in the fall. After rigorous radiation treatment, she began to have bouts of overwhelming fatigue, which her oncology doctors mentioned she might develop as a result of radiation.
It wasn’t until after radiation treatment that she realized the fatigue was markedly worse than during treatment and was continuing months after she was finished. She talked to her doctors and they diagnosed her with chronic fatigue last fall.
“It comes in waves,” says Ashely. “Depending on the day. And also the weather plays a huge factor in how fatigued I feel. Two weeks ago, I had an episode where I stayed in the house the whole week.”
Extreme heat, like that of the day we accompanied Ashely to rehab, can pose a huge problem for someone struggling with chronic fatigue.
The heat already makes a healthy person feel tired, but can make someone with CFS struggle to the point of total exhaustion, requiring the person to need to lie down immediately for rest. However, even after long periods of sleep, one does not feel completely rested.
Caroline Burdulis of Big Sky Acupuncture, knows this feeling well. She was diagnosed with chronic fatigue while in college at Stanford University. At that time she was cycling over 100 miles a week, all while studying for a degree in medicine. She began to feel tired, achy and fatigued, and within a few months, “I couldn’t walk a block down the street without having to take a nap for two to three hours,” says Burdulis.
To address her health issues, she began to study Eastern medicine. Through her study and practice of modalities including acupuncture, understanding the importance of the body’s yin and yang energy and the importance of a structured diet, she has recovered spectacularly well.
Burdulis, with her husband, now leads meet-up groups in which she imparts her knowledge of Chronic Fatigue (CFS) and Fibromyalgia to men and women who are struggling with these illnesses and looking for answers and help.
It is apparent, with a multitude of illnesses, how vital support is to the person with a health issue. Friends and family are the usual ones people rely on, but the support of others going through the same thing you’re experiencing is incomparable.
You get that feeling in the rehab class at the YMCA. Evelyn, the instructor of the class, is constantly encouraging but also quite serious and focused, never condescending or pandering. “Keep knees nice and soft. Here we go!” Evelyn says with a smile. “Everybody smile! This is fun, right?”
The men and women in the room sometimes respond to Evelyn’s instructions with gentle sarcasm, “Oh yeah, this is great!” but it is all said with a smile and no one complains, even when Evelyn accidentally messes up the count of the reps, unintentionally adding more. Everyone continues through the exercise regardless and powers through to the end of class.
At the end of class, Ashely takes a long breath and exhales slowly. She wipes her brow and collects her things. I ask her how she feels and she responds with a smile, “I feel energized. I got a rush of adrenaline during class that helped a lot. I’m very happy I got to come today.”
Ashely is an inspiration to anyone with or without health issues, with or without breast cancer and with or without Chronic Fatigue. As someone who struggles with CFS myself, I am inspired by Ashely’s story, her journey, and her epic strength. Through knowing her and learning her story, I realize even more that I’m not alone and am inspired to continue moving forward to better health.
56-year-old Austin taxidermy business is a time capsule on South Lamar
AUSTIN – A Hooter’s sticker, saws, assorted child-sized shoes, some knives, action figures, super glue, a princess cup… Along with an array of in progress animal pelts and height marks of all their children on the door, the workroom of Martinez Brothers Taxidermy clearly belongs to a family. Step inside, and the lack of technology and fingerprint of all things handmade is a blast from the past.
The family’s patriarch, Alejandro Martinez Senior, has been doing taxidermy work for 56 years. Being that the man himself has been around for 71 years, that makes him just 15 when he started. After doing a two-year hitch in the Marine Corps, he came back to taxidermy and never left.
Stints in the armed forces are a common theme for many men of his age, but taxidermy? Though it may not be one’s first assumption about a taxidermist, Martinez said that typically those who do this work were first hunters and anglers.
“I’m a Native Indian so our heritage goes back thousands of years. A lot of the things we do just come naturally. I loved to hunt and fish as a kid so I was very interested in taxidermy,” said Martinez. “This is the kind of job that doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy it. I’m lucky to get paid for it.”
He certainly does get paid for it, having done work for Lyndon B. Johnson, the Kennedys, McNamara and assorted other politicians. He additionally makes mounts for museums such as the Smithsonian. Though he has made quite literally large contributions, namely one rare Antiquus bison, Martinez said he often is in the dark as to where his works end up, finding out when others recognize it.
To be displayed in a museum is just one reminder that taxidermy is seen as an art form. In fact, the word “stuff” that many people use to describe taxidermy is a derogatory term in the industry given that it likens the technique to stuffing teddy bears or dolls. The proper term is “mount” according to Martinez, and in reality the mounts’ insides are mannequins sculpted with potter’s clay.
Though Martinez learned the ins and outs of terminology at a young age, it takes quite some time to develop the degree of skill he has. He learned much of his technique during the time in which he apprenticed with one of the top taxidermists of the time, W.D. Pascal. He apprenticed until he was 21, learning the craft from the building right down the street from his current shop, which he bought from Pascal after 18 years of working together.
Even though Pascal taught Martinez the same way he learned, and Martinez has done the same, change in the industry is inevitable. It seems even though art changes over the years, that taxidermy would not, considering the fact that these animals look the same over many generations. Unavoidably, even such an old vocation cannot be shielded from the effects of time.
“It’s just like the pony express, it’s kind of a dying art, a dying field,” Martinez said. “At one time in Texas, I could tell you who the taxidermists were. Not anymore. There are hundreds in the state of Texas.”
Furthermore, those potter’s clay mannequins inside Martinez’ mounts are few and far between these days in other taxidermists’ work, Martinez estimating that maybe only one in a hundred actually sculpt their mannequins anymore. Nowadays there are taxidermy supply companies and one could even learn on YouTube or from a DVD.
“Things are done in a hurry now. To find a shop like us is hard,” said Martinez. “In the olden days if you used somebody else’s mannequin that was his work, his sculpt, his job. You were stealing his skills. Today, many mounts all basically look the same.”
This doesn’t mean that Martinez has stopped passing on his method of sculpting. He has taken many apprentices over the years, stating that anyone who learns from him can get a job anywhere. Unfortunately, his apprentices often find the job so difficult that they quit. Martinez touches back on the art aspect, noting that not everybody can paint or draw or sculpt.
One such person who can is his son. Alejandro Martinez II is 33 years old and is the day-to-day operator, manager and owner of Martinez Brothers Taxidermy. Though there are three other siblings that frequent the shop and do their own work from time to time, he followed the closest in his father’s footsteps. He too was 15 years old when he decided to become a taxidermist. And just like his father, he believes in the old method of sculpting a mannequin yourself.
“I think the taxidermist loses their style and technique in that mount when they use polyurethane prefab mannequins versus building one themselves by hand and making the mold,” said Martinez II.
“You don’t have to have as much talent these days,” he added, saying that the industry used to be so secretive that no one could go back into the workshops to see how the taxidermist made his mounts. Though he has such strong beliefs, Martinez II has a more fluid view on the change.
“I can say that I’ve seen the change. I’m part of the change. I’ve had to adapt and change some of the traditional techniques that we used to do on a day to day basis that I was taught, that my father was taught, that a master taxidermist taught him,” said Martinez. “I think with life and any kind of business there’s always change and you have to learn to change with the way of life.”
Taxidermy is a large part of the Martinez family’s way of life, and there is a lot of pride in what they do. The family does not view what they do with morbidity, but as a way to make these animals look as alive as possible and preserve their liveliness forever. Martinez Senior said “the challenge of being able to take something Mother Earth did, something that comes from nature, and to be able to replicate it and make it look as alive as possible… that’s my pride.”
The pride he has was undoubtedly handed down to his son. Martinez II described their occupation as something with charm and beauty, that he can go into the next room and admire a deer mount that he has memories of from when he was six years old, sweeping up after his father. He said that the traditional way he was taught compared to something mass produced is the main reason why their mounts are so special. “They are all different, truly unique and one of a kind.”
The Martinez father/son duo evolves in their own way as the industry itself does. Martinez Senior admitted that it took him longer and longer to craft mounts because the better he got, the more particular he became. Martinez II said “your heart, your soul, your sweat, your blood goes into manufacturing these mounts traditionally.”
The family’s heart and soul is scattered throughout their shop. Though there is clutter, not a thing is out of place, neglected or unused. Change is inescapable, but the Martinez family holds onto the one thing that will never become irrelevant—family ties.
When you walk into the Arabic Bazaar on Duval Street, you are greeted by golden glimmers of light dancing off elaborate mirrors and mosaics. Sunbeams spill into the small space and flicker off the handcrafted jewelry resting on glass shelves. It’s as if you’ve traveled 7,000 miles to “the soup,” or flea market, to store owner Zein Al-Jundi’s hometown of Damascus, Syria.
Al-Jundi, a Syrian architect gone radio show host gone belly dancing teacher gone music producer gone internationally renowned singer, is just as eclectic as the shop itself.
“The goal of the store, the goal of the classes, the goal of the shows has always been about bringing to the Austin community a part of a culture that’s really been very underrepresented,” says Al-Jundi. “I take great pride in really being able to take credit for a lot of that happening in Austin.”
Al-Jundi put on the first Arabic music show at a regular nightclub and bar in Austin, formerly La Zona Rosa. She was also the first Arabic artist to perform at a state-owned property in the city. She brought belly dancing to venues as big as the Long Center and as prestigious as Paramount Theater.
These achievements, however, were born out of tragic circumstances.
Al-Jundi’s original dream of becoming an architect came to a screeching halt after a car accident rendered her incapable of using her hands to do her meticulous sketch work in 1988. She was finishing her masters in Urban Studies at the University of Texas at Austin at the time.
“Being in a lot of pain and seeing life kind of changing, you’re unable to do the things you planned on doing.” Al-Jundi said. “I was kind of digging deeper and deeper into depression, and to keep myself busy to defocus from the treatment and the injury and all of that, I started doing a program on KOOP Radio.”
The architect turned radio host dug into her singing and dancing roots as a child and teenager and began hosting a world music show. She began to plant the seeds of Arabic culture into Austin’s mainstream music and art scene.
Her new radio job pushed her to hop from local world music shows, ranging from African to Latin genres, where she interviewed each performer, eventually rekindling the passion for music performance she once had in her youth.
“After the car accident, I started dabbling with the idea of singing again,” Al-Jundi says. “I realized I’m happiest when that part of me exists.”
Inspired by the music she surrounded herself with, Al-Jundi went on to release two Arabic music albums and was the sole producer of her second one.
Although the musician has since put that part of her life on pause due to its demanding schedule, Al-Jundi has shifted her focus to the Arabic Bazaar and her dance studio.
Customers, like Kelly Samuels, credit the shop with fighting stereotypes.
“The name ‘bazaar’ always conjures in my mind a little of the bargain bazaar of my youth with purse knockoffs and cheap silver,” first-time bazaar customer Kelly Samuels said. “Now it will evoke in a brightly colored shop, jingling bangles, elaborate lighting, bejeweled costumes – essentially a shop full of the mystery and beauty of the Arab world.”
Al-Jundi’s shop of Arabic “treasures,” as she calls them, opened in 1999 and later added a belly-dancing studio space where she teaches classes three times a week.
“She understands the music so intimately,” said two-year belly dancing student Geraldine Mongold. “I’ve never had another instructor do this. She’s instructing you to understand the music and really hear the music in a way I’ve never really had a teacher emphasize.”
Al-Jundi never intended on becoming a belly-dancing teacher. Almost 20 years ago, she was teaching a World Music Dance fitness class when a young Egyptian woman’s persistent requests to be taught how to belly dance finally convinced her to give it a shot.
Since then, the belly-dancing scene in Austin has grown considerably, shrinking her class size. She says there were three or four belly dancing teachers in Austin when she began teaching and now there are as many as 30 instructors in the city, including some of her former students.
Al-Jundi’s diverse body of work demonstrates her continued persistence to expose Austin to Arabic culture.
“I continue to bring on continuous spaces for Arab culture, or part of it, to anyone who is willing to receive,” Al-Jundi says. “I’m still in business because I’m very stubborn about wanting to do that.”
By Anna Ali, Alayna Alvarez and Jaclyn Guzman
As the evening grew cooler with the setting sun, yoga mats of every tint and tone rolled out by the hundreds upon a soft, grassy field facing the entrance of Barton Springs Pool.
Summer at the Springs, a free yoga class hosted by Wanderlust YOGA, takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Monday evenings during the months of June and July and offers a free swim at the springs for yogis of every age, shape and size to cool down after working up a sweat.
Recently, however, there’s been a change of plans.
“[The event] was extended because of the phenomenal turnout,” says Callie Ogden, a Wanderlust yoga instructor who helped organize the event. “Just feels too good to cut short.”
Ogden says the goal of this inaugural event is to promote connection for the Austin community through yoga and other special events. “Hosting this event allows people to gather over a healthy activity and then dive into Barton Springs,” she said.
Because of its success, drawing in nearly 300 people, Ogden says the event will happen again next year.
The high rates of yoga may, in part, be due to a growing body of research indicating mind and body practices can help manage pain and reduce stress. Another factor that has likely influenced the popularity of yoga is the increased access of the practice. For example, industry reports show that the number of yoga studios in the U.S. has dramatically increased in recent years.
The complementary health questionnaire was developed by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. It is administered every five years as part of the National Health Interview Survey, an annual study that interviews tens of thousands of Americans about their health-and illness-related experiences.
To identify trends in American’s use of yoga, 2012 survey data were compared with the versions of the survey fielded in 2002 and 2007.
Most notably, the 2012 survey reveals that the increase in yoga has occurred across all age, racial and ethnic groups.
Benefits of Yoga
As a practitioner and instructor of yoga, Ogden is no stranger to the beneficial effects yoga can have on people– specifically, the benefits yoga can have on mental health.
“Yoga helps calm your mind and heart rate,” says Ogden. “It offers a toolbox to anyone who practices, and those tools are especially useful to those with mental health disorders.”
According to the National Health Interview Survey, yoga is one of the top 10 complementary and integrative health approaches used among adults in the U.S. And, as studies show, more Americans of all ages are rolling out their yoga mats in an effort to improve their health.
“[Yoga] reminds us to stay focused on the present moment, to adjust your sails based on what you’re needing, and to get up after you fall,” says Ogden. “It all around helps you to take your life to the next level–it helps you flourish as a human being.”
One cartoon shows a skeletal likeness of Mickey Mouse tramping through a city Godzilla-style. Another shows a black mother embracing her child, fretting over what could happen during his walk to the grocery store.
Though cartoons, they are weighty in meaning.
Lalo Alcaraz, the name behind the pen, is a 21st century king of ethnic cartoons. Hailing from Los Angeles, he continues the tradition of mid-1900s artists like Gus Arriola, whose sepia comic strips served as an outcry of the Chicano community.
Influenced by Arriola’s work, Lalo, too, has risen up to represent. He has laid hold of the baton and continues the fight for the comedic Chicano voice.
“[Alcaraz] has always embraced the word pocho,” Ruth Samuelson wrote in a Columbia Journalism Review article, referencing the term for an American-reared Mexican.
As such, Lalo has a foot in both worlds.
The first nationally-syndicated pocho cartoonist with his strip, “La Cucaracha,” and a FOX network show on the way, his sphere of influence is vast – starting with an objective approach.
Clearing the Throat
“A good comic strip has a lot of characters, so you can spread personality traits among them,” Lalo said during a Q&A in Austin, Texas.
And he indeed has a sundry array. Part of his method is to have a multifarious lineup of personas to carry the weight of his message – like the roach, taco vendor, and slew of timeworn señors out of “La Cucaracha.”
“I like to think that my work pulls people in and makes them think about the issues of the day,” he said. “Stuff we’re not discussing, but should be.”
Lalo also spreads his characters across a varied cluster of mediums and forms. He is encyclopedic in his approach: print, online content, satire, political cartoons, and even network television, with “Bordertown” premiering in January.
In the current event realm, he takes trendy news and gives it his own touch, making a meme or a quick scribble out of political flare-ups.
For example, Lalo’s portrayal of the Charlie Hebdo attack bulleted across the web – an attacker pursued by the angry ink pens of united cartoonists.
“If I see something super viral, I’ll jump on it,” he said. “That’s what cartoonists do; we follow.”
Bobbie Moore, retired professor and illustrator at The Village Voice in New York, defined what an effective cartoonist looks like:
“As a successful illustrator, bring your point of view as strongly as possible – with humor – to whoever wants to see it.”
Through his myriad of channels, Lalo does just that, putting an imaginative twist on hard news.
The Build Up
Though Lalo’s speech bubbles are rife with political content, his artistic style also conveys a message.
“My philosophy for comics is that if you can explain it visually, that’s your best goal. I put thought into how my characters look and why they look that way.”
Bobbie gave modern ‘toonists a good poke in the eyeball, commenting that she often sees dissonance between comic-speech and the drawings they’re paired with.
“A lot of times, the style doesn’t fit the message. Meaning has been torn away from the visual content,” she said.
But Lalo’s illustrations are bug-eyed and colorful with simple aesthetics. And the backgrounds of his strips are busy with houses and street scenes. These two elements make sense for heavy implications imparted by jokey characters.
As a contrast, Charles Schulz of “Peanuts” is minimalistic, with fewer characters in each frame, and a mostly empty background.
Bill Watterson of “Calvin and Hobbes” is wordy and philosophical, with planets and dinosaurs jutting in at strange angles.
In his essay, “The Theory of Comics and Sequential Art,” Will Eisner made a pithy statement: “Comics communicate in a ‘language’ that relies on a visual experience common to both creator and audience.”
Lalo works out the linkage between words and pictures, and also between himself and readers.
The joining ligament? An engaging social and political context.
The Punch Line
Flashback to the 40s, Arriola was cartooning when the flood of Mexican immigrants came to labor in American wartime industries. According to the Library of Congress, the country was developing its attitude and policies towards Chicanos during that era.
In light of recent events, it would appear that in some ways, the U.S. is still determining its reaction.
Nicholas Gonzalez, the voice actor for Ernesto, one of the main “Borderland” characters, articulated the situation that Chicanos are navigating in the 21st century:
“It’s something I deal with constantly: racism. Assumptions about me.”
So in both his network cartoon and newspaper strips, Alcaraz is cartooning his way through El Chapo, illegal immigration, and quips from Donald Trump. Like his predecessor, he is scribbling his way through a social context.
“I think art should be about important things,” he said.
It’s like the takeaway from Ernst Fischer, Austrian journalist: “In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay.”
But even decay-laden art can affect others in a positive light.
The Ensuing Laughter
Lalo is emphatic when he states his purpose: to draw attention to the Chicano situation, but in a way that eases the audience.
“I hope that people would loosen up about ethnic humor,” he said. “That they’d engage in racial humor not just for the sake of it, but to have a point. So that it’s worth something.”
Gonzalez hopes that the audience would be exposed.
“When you laugh at something, it shows who you are. That’s why people bristle.”
Bobbie, devoted college professor for 20 years, is pro-illustrative education.
“I know there are gaps in everybody’s context or thought. We need to bring some new perspective.”
For all these reasons, Lalo’s work fits in with the rich lineage of political cartoonists and social artists coming before him. Having snatched the baton from Gus Arriola, he is rounding the bend, running the race for freedom of speech, social awareness, and a hearty guffaw.
Austin Pet Expo 2015 brings to light niche causes determined to spread
AUSTIN – Getting sniffed or licked by a dog or ten is just another day in the life of any Austinite. Those who can’t handle the slobber might have to get out of the city. However, just because every dog has its day doesn’t mean that other pets can’t, too.
Debatably one of the happiest events that takes place at the Palmer Events Center, the 5th Annual Austin Pets Expo barked, purred, hissed and chirped its way through town this past weekend. Put on by traveling company Amazing Pet Expos, the Austin stop ended up breaking attendance records after it added an extra day in 2015.
Based in St. Louis, the company has held over 100 Pet Expos in 33 different cities with over 1.2 million attendees since 2009. Vice President of Event Management Ethan Barnett said Austin now impressively averages 13 to 15 thousand attendees per year.
Yes, the expo has entertaining events such as pet talent shows, costume contests and musical chairs, but a large part of the expo’s focus is on pet care, adoption and therapy dogs.
In terms of pet care, some passionate groomers say that the general public has some widely accepted misconceptions about grooming and pet products. It may come as a surprise that both industries are completely unregulated. There are no certifications or background checks required in order to call oneself a groomer. Furthermore, in the opinions of said passionate pet groomers, deceptive marketing is the M.O. of the pet product industry. Fortunately, just as in any industry, there are activists.
University of Texas alumna Jordan Muzquiz founded Pure Paws at the age of 12 or 13 with her mother, a company that provides pet products with high quality standards. The company spent 10 to 15 years in the show industry and though they have only been in the pet industry for eight months, they’ve faced difficulties.
“I know that we’re not going to be the company for everybody. There will always be a bracket of economical products. Even still, we don’t just belong in this niche market,” said Muzquiz.
Their attempts to break out of the niche show industry market revolve around their belief that the more people learn about Pure Paws, the more transparent the industry becomes, and the better their company does. They themselves benefit from education. If groomers are being commended, it’s not in the general public. Unfortunately, Muzquiz said that all other organizations helping regulate groomers are highly centralized, making them difficult and expensive to access.
To aid in the decentralization of grooming education, the company has started Pure Paws Academy. As of now, groomers complete four seminars to become a consultant, and once they’re able to present all four of them to the company, they are able to become an educator. The company plans to open an Academy in Austin but is attempting to gauge how passionate Austin groomers would be about the program.
“If the average person isn’t going to the groomer asking, ‘Are you certified?’ why does the groomer feel the need to invest thousand of dollars to get certified and use high end products?” said Muzquiz.
In order to influence groomers to find value in certification, Pure Paws wants to humanize the dog industry. Muzquiz pointed out that this generation is putting off having children, so people treat their dogs as children, which has led to people demanding better care for their pets. She hopes this fact will help the company’s cause gain traction, and calls their dream of a regulated grooming and pet product industry “The Pet Revolution.”
An unconventional way that Pure Paws attracts attention is a phenomenon called “Creative Grooming,” where trained groomers use non-toxic beeswax-based coloring to transform pets’ coats with rainbow colors. The process also usually involves unique shaven designs.
At first glance the eye-catching display seems simply for fun, but it serves a much higher purpose. Creative Grooming attracts people to the booth, and if the dog is up for adoption it works wonders. Muzquiz added that it can even make pet owners fall in love with their pet all over again. Lastly, it helps to raise awareness about the grooming and pet products industry.
“A lot of products smell good, have some good ingredients and are touted by these big companies, but they don’t work because they’re not regulated. They’re using words like organic, hypoallergenic, natural, chemical free, etc. Organic doesn’t regulate shampoos, hypoallergenic only means less allergic than, than arsenic, than what?”
Clearly, Pure Paws is not just a catchy name. Given that education helps the company sell products, the company is hoping to turn the Pure Paws program into a volunteer opportunity, perhaps with big events with volunteers in angel wings and adoptable pets creatively groomed.
As important as the products that go on their bodies and the type of people that wield scissors around them, it must also be recognized that some pets have day jobs that consume (and enrich) their lives.
San Marcos resident Katy McMillan raises Great Danes for therapy and service dogs. They’re perfect for the job considering the fact that their height makes it so that people don’t have to bend down to pet them. It’s a plus that their eye level is above a hospital bed. Sir Skittlebears, Lady Godiva are the two therapy dogs she has chosen to accompany her to the Expo, as well as therapy dog in training, the Duchess Wimberly.
McMillan said that she loves to use her job to share information with people in smaller areas since the therapy dog community is such a great place for people to come and find resources.
As for using the dogs for therapy, McMillan said the most rewarding aspects are the little things, like going to the hospital and seeing people who haven’t been able to communicate and all of a sudden open up, or when these dogs help people get over fears they didn’t realize.
“I love when people go, ‘I’m so scared of dogs,’ and they just keep petting it, ‘Really, I’m so scared,” said McMillan.
A human having a fear of dogs is one thing, but a dog having a fear of humans (and just about everything) is a different issue. Some pet owners wish that the abovementioned subjects were all that their dogs have to deal with.
Jackie Pinson of Dallas works with Canine Pawsitive Touch and Greyhound Adoption League of Texas. Additionally, she learned canine massage from Dr. Sue Furman. Canine holistic medicine is her specialty. The sad part is why these dogs need it.
It is not a widely known fact that if a Greyhound is born and can’t race, it is sent out to be a coyote hunter, and if it doesn’t come back at the end of the night, it’s left out in the woods. Pinson has an eight-year-old foster dog that had 94 races and has never been inside a home. Pinson said that even at reputable kennels the dogs still end up spending the majority of their day in a crate. Many of these dogs have never experienced houses or stairs or soft beds.
“I’ve had foster dogs for several months who didn’t know what a stuffy was or what a chewy was. When one of my fosters finally picked one up and it squeaked, it scared her so bad she knocked over the furniture. She practically wrecked the living room and then scared herself some more.”
Sometimes something beautiful can come from a painful past. Pinson said that the reason why dogs like this work so well with veterans and trauma victims is because they are having to overcome PTSD, too. The fact that these people can relate to the dogs in that way is incredibly therapeutic.
Certainly these dogs needed their own therapy as well. Holistic medicine such as chiropractic medicine, acupuncture and acupressure have proven to have high success rates in terms of canine rehabilitation. Pinson said that holistic medicine is wonderful for animals because when humans take a pill we’re able to verbalize its effect on us, while animals are not. However, she asserted that holistic medicine is only to be used to complement veterinary medicine.
“It’s incredibly humbling to know that I’m able to bring some comfort, and to watch them grow and blossom and show their personality,” Pinson said, adding that working with the dogs reminds her how many good people there are in this world.
With so much passion about pet care, grooming, therapy and service dogs as well as rehabilitating the dogs themselves, it is abundantly clear that there’s just something about pets that takes human nature to a special place. There is much to be said about this extraordinary relationship.
“We are animals too, but these animals are smarter emotionally than we give them credit for, which is why they are used to rehabilitate. They can be a complete therapy because they understand you and love you unconditionally. For me they’re a lifeline,” said Jordan Muzquiz.
Muzquiz is one of countless people who feel this way. Ethan Barnett looked out over the buzzing festival and extrapolated about the way we love our pets.
“Pets are companions. We used to say it was dog-owner or pet-owner, but that vernacular has really changed to reflect the relationships that we have with our pets,” said Barnett. “There’s an incredible bond there, unlike any other relationship out there. I think what pets teach us is to be kind, be positive, be happy. They really are family.”