Category: Hidden Texas

Businesses Struggle to Survive on The Drag

 

By Nancy Huang

Following the leave of Pizzeria Vetri from Urban Outfitter’s Space24 Twenty in January, Symon’s Burger Joint on Guadalupe has closed, leaving new space for other local vendors to open up shop.

Nathan Smith, a commercial real estate agent for Austin Tenant Advisors, said the In-N-Out hamburger chain, which opened last year, might have contributed to Burger Joint’s closing.

“Areas with high business traffic like Guad don’t do well with restaurant repetition,” Smith said. “It doesn’t work when there are two burger joints sitting that close to each other.”

Smith said the rent was already rising when In-N-Out Burger opened on Guad. With Symon’s Burger Joint closing, other restaurants have the opportunity to move into these spaces.

Husband and wife business partners Courtney and Ron Lunan are moving their mobile coffee shop, Lucky Lab Coffee, into the vacated space in September. This new move signifies a big change; the coffee truck company is opening its first brick-and-mortar location.

Along with Lucky Lab Coffee, hot dog spot Frank will open up a location in Symon’s Burger Joint’s counter space. This will be Frank’s second Austin location and third overall. Other Frank locations include the original on West 4th Street and one in San Antonio.

Rachel Albright, creative director for Urban Outfitters, said pop-ups are what keeps these spaces exciting.

“[Urban Outfitters is] always keeping things fresh with different vendors,” Albright said. “For a space like this that’s so close to students, we have a kind of access to campus life that no one else has. We want to make the best of it.”

Urban Outfitters properties like Space24 Twenty have opened up in cities like LA and Williamsburg. Austin is the third city where a communal entertainment and eatery space has been built.

“We chose Austin because the culture of this town grants us a lot of permission to have fun,” Albright said. “We’re trying to stay relevant by really listening to the students on campus. We want them to like our space.”

Fourth year Plan II and History major Thanh Bui said she likes Space24 Twenty, but all the closings and moving businesses are a turnoff.

“Every time a new business comes in, it’s like a new thing and of course people are interested,” Bui said. “But then, after the restaurant’s been there for a while and it’s even established a relationship with students and the campus, it leaves and we’re left with a new one. Personally I don’t think that kind of thing will attract more customers.”

Bui said all the recent closings on Guadalupe and other parts of Austin are indicative of a wider issue.

“So many things are changing on Guad,” Bui said. “It’s hard to tell if this place even has a culture anymore.”

Increase in Rabies Cases in Austin Over the Summer

 

A bat at Austin Bat Refuge. Photo by Kelsey Machala

A bat at Austin Bat Refuge. Photo by Kelsey Machala

 

By Nancy Huang

Let’s say you walk into your living room and, lo and behold, you see a bat in the rafters of your ceiling. Or maybe it’s dozing on the floor. You’re not completely sure what to do–bats aren’t a common animal. Believe it or not, there is a proper way to handle of bats in residential areas, and it will minimize harm for both yourself and the animal.

According to Kelly Carnes from Bat Conservation International, there are approximately 1.5 billion bats in Austin.

“Austin has one of the largest urban bat populations in the country,” Carnes said. “It’s not unlikely that Austinites will find a bat taking shelter in their homes.

Bat being fed a worm at Austin Bat Refuge.

Bat being fed a worm at Austin Bat Refuge. Photo by Kelsey Machala

Bat season in Austin is between March and November, according to the Travis County Health Department website, and comes with a rising risk of rabies cases.

During the summer months Austin’s Mexican free-tailed bats roost in high and dry places, including some houses and residential buildings. Proper removal of the bats should ensure no exposure, but people who aren’t aware are putting themselves in danger.

Rabies is a disease that affects mammals. It is fatal, and usually passed from animal to animal.

According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, rabies exposure occurs only when “a person is bitten or scratched by a potentially rabid animal, or when abrasions, open wounds, or mucous membranes are contaminated with the saliva, brain, or nervous system tissue of a potentially rabid animal.”

Merely touching such an animal, or contact with its urine or feces does not constitute exposure.

Cleaning a bat at Austin Bat Refuge.

Cleaning a bat at Austin Bat Refuge. Photo by Kelsey Machala

According to the Austin Texas Government website, when bats are found in residential homes owners should stay calm and do the following: Isolate the area and close the door, and open a window in the room. There is a high chance that the bat will free itself if left alone.

This strategy works for the entire summer except during the months of June and July–inexperienced young bats may be trapped inside during this time period, and unable to escape.

Carnes said the risk of rabies is lower than people think.

“This time last year, there were only 4 percent of tested bats that had rabies,” Carnes said. “It’s unlikely, but health organizations take precautions because rabies is so contagious.”

Always wear gloves when handling bats.

Always wear gloves when handling bats. Photo by Kelsey Machala

 

Texas Parks and Wildlife makes it  clear that nobody under any circumstances should touch a bat, alive or dead, with their bare hands.

If the bat is resting in someone’s home, then putting a container over them and then sliding a cardboard sheet under it, all while wearing rubber gloves, is the best way to remove a bat.

If anyone is bitten by a bat, people are instructed to call the Austin Animal Center at 3-1-1, or the Austin/Travis County’s Disease Surveillance Unit at (512) 872-5555.

 

Texas Chili Queens

Texas Chili Queens: Adding Flare to Stand Out in Austin’s Crowded Food Truck Scene

By: Ross Milvenan

Austin now has the fastest-growing food truck industry in the United States, with over a 600% growth in food trucks since 2010, according to a report from the Economist.

With nearly 4 food trucks per 100,000 people in Austin, the novelty of these mobile eateries seems to be vanishing. With this abundance of food trucks in Austin, food truck owners like Ed Hambleton of Texas Chili Queens are bringing a unique spin to their businesses as they try and stand out in a saturated Austin market.

Ed Hambleton is the owner of Texas Chili Queens food truck, but his drag queen persona Edie Eclat runs the day-to-day operations. This involves interacting with customers, cooking the food, and serving up innuendos.

Edie Eclat working in the truck. By: David Lopez

Edie Eclat working in the truck. By: David Lopez

“I am not attacking anyone, I am not making fun of anyone, the drag queen does not harass you, but just lightly plays with you,” Ed said. “It just allows people to spice up their day, both figuratively and literally.”

Ed said he incorporates this twist into his food truck because it is good for business. He believes a key to success in this market is to get people excited about more than just the food.

“This makes it more memorable and generates buzz, traction and interest,” Ed said. “People will remember you based on the experience they had, and we definitely give people a memorable experience.”

Ed chose to serve a food that he believed was “lacking in the culinary landscape of Austin.”

“A lot of the food trucks in Austin have forgotten we are in Texas,” Ed said. “I get it, Austin loves to be healthy, but we need to go back to Texas roots.”

Ed also believes serving exclusively chili gives his food truck an advantage over others in Austin.

“It is the perfect food for a food truck,” Ed said. “One of the geniuses of it is that the chili is already made, and wait times are super low.”

Ed wants to eventually grow out of his food truck and enter into a brick and mortar establishment. He also believes that his restaurant could expand to other places as well.

“Since Texas is such a culturally distinct thing in the U.S. and the world, this could have global appeal,” Ed said. “You may see a Texas Chili Queens restaurant in Berlin, Tokyo, or Tel Aviv.”

While Ed believes the uniqueness of food trucks may be fading, he does not believe the era of food trucks coming into Austin is over.

“The glory days are over and the novelty of the food trucks are starting to wane,” Ed said.

“I think food trucks will continue to roll into town,” Ed said. “But they won’t have the same cachet as they once had.”

Chili Dishes available at Texas Chili Queens. Photo: Texas Chili Queens/Facebook

Chili Dishes available at Texas Chili Queens.
Photo: Texas Chili Queens/Facebook

In 2016, 61 Austin restaurants, bars, and food trucks closed their doors, according to Eater Austin. While many food trucks in Austin have been forced to shut down, others have been able to sustain their success despite the increased competition.

UT alumni Edward Sumner and his lifelong friend Bernard Goal opened The Don Japanese food truck in the summer of 2015.

Despite struggling at the beginning, Don’s became very popular among UT students and frequently had a lengthy line and would run out of food. Last April, due to the restaurant’s popularity, the restaurant upgraded to a brick and mortar facility.

Co-owner Bernard Goal does not believe that a twist is necessary for food trucks in Austin to be successful. He believes the key to success in the food truck business depends on three important principles: product, service, and economics.

“You must have a good product, provide good service to your customers, and do so at a price that appeals to them and at a cost that is sustainable for you,” Goal said.

“Excelling in all of these will help a food truck stand out from the others in Austin.”

 

The Texas Chili Queens food truck offers five menu items. All inspired by these 5 cities in the state of Texas.

The Texas Chili Queens food truck offers five menu items. All inspired by these 5 cities in the state of Texas.

 

NEW STUDY SHEDS LIGHT ON SEXUAL ASSAULT AT UT

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 Find the full story here: https://texasnonosvamos.squarespace.com/

 

After Zoë was raped by her coworker, she went home to her empty apartment and cried for hours.

She felt confused. She didn’t think of the incident as rape until weeks later. She still doesn’t like to say the word aloud.

“It just sounds, like, so horrible,” Zoë, now 22, said. “I can’t bring myself to say even though I know that’s what it is.”

In the weeks following the incident, Zoë, who at the time was enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, found herself calling UT’s crisis hotline.

I think I remember being like my room in my apartment and having a panic attack,”  Zoë said. “They were trying to talk to me, trying to calm me down and give me resources.”

With the hotline’s help, she scheduled an emergency meeting for the next day at UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center.

 

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Third year neuroscience major Jackie Roth was friends with Haruka Weiser prior to Weiser’s disappearance and death in April of 2016. Weiser’s murder shocked the UT community and jump started discussions about campus safety. Jackie says that Weiser’s death was not a reflection of holes in the UT’s safety policies, but rather a rare event that is a result of wider systemic issues facing the community.

 

 

The counseling center is one of many small pieces that make up a great puzzle of prevention programs, counseling, advocacy services and reporting options at UT. In addition to asking why students often choose not to report incidents of sexual assault or rape, our reporting team set out to make sense of this puzzle and ask whether these programs are effective.

Sexual assault and rape are not rare incidents among college students. In March, UT released a survey showing that 15 percent of undergraduate women at the university say they have been raped. The survey of 280,000 students found that 18 percent of students said they experienced “unwanted touching,” and 12 percent said they experienced attempted rape.

The lead researcher of the survey and many of the people interviewed for this article have stated the statistics provided by the report are unfortunately unsurprising. They are reflective of national data, both on college campuses and of the general population.

“UT is a microcosm of what’s happening around country, the world,” said Katy Redd, the associate director for prevention and outreach at the CMHC. “Gender based violence is all too common.”

The survey also says very few victims — 6 percent — disclosed incidents to someone involved with the university. Of the 32 percent of victims who said they told someone about the incident prior to taking the survey, 4 percent reported to the CMHC. Just one percent reported to the University of Texas at Austin Police Department.

“I think there’s a whole host of reasons [for non-reporting],” Redd said.

Breall Baccus is a Title IX prevention coordinator and confidential advocate at UT. She said students may feel hesitant to come forward “because they don’t know what the next steps would be.”

“They might also not realize what happened to them was assault,” Baccus said.

 

 

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The university hired Baccus in January to fill a gap in the Title IX office. By law, the university must comply with Title IX, which “prohibits sex discrimination in education,” according to UT’s Title IX information page. Unlike other members of UT’s compliance team, Baccus is not required by law to open incidents for investigation. When students come to her to disclose an incident, Baccus can explain their options, which could include filing an official report depending on how the student chooses to go forward.

The university amped up security and sexual assault prevention efforts following the on-campus sexual assault and killing of freshman Haruka Weiser last spring. In addition to increasing police presence, the university’s Be Safe campaign has used social media and student art to promote safety messages such as walking in well lit areas and not walking alone.

“It’s just a softer way of addressing things that are going on in campus and the way to increase their safety,” said UTPD Sgt. Samantha Stanford.

Stanford’s hire, like Baccus’s, was in part to address issues of interpersonal violence on campus. As a detective, she has received specialized training to help victims of sexual assault or rape. UTPD also offers free self-defense courses for women upon request, and Stanford said the department is looking into holding separate self-defense classes for men.

UTPD’s jurisdiction ends beyond the campus borders, and Stanford said that incidents in a private residence or in West Campus might be transferred to the Austin Police Department. Stanford also said sometimes the legal definition of sexual harassment or sexual assault differs from what the university or community may use. Despite these limitations, Stanford said she is available to meet with students to answer questions or explain the legal process.

“We’re trying to… brainstorm on how we can make the process a little bit easier for victims of sexual assault to come forward and feel comfortable with reporting to us,” Stanford said.

“I think that every student should have a right to feel safe and get the education that they want to get,” Breall said, “and not have a traumatic experience get in the way of that.”

 

 

Meet One of the Only Feminist Bookstores in the U.S.

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BookWoman owner Susan Post looks through her cell phone behind the check out desk of the feminist bookstore. In 1975 Book Woman opened its doors in Dobie Mall, and 40 years later is one of just 13 feminist bookstores in the world.

 

By Sarah Jasmine Montgomery, Vedant Peris, Kris Seavers and Sunny Sone

 See the full story here.

The day after the presidential election, the first customer to walk into BookWoman recounted an emotional morning to owner Susan Post.

“She said, ‘We got up this morning and my daughter had been watching the election and she saw my expression and she said, ‘Mom, what happened?’ and she said, ‘We lost,’” Post said.

The woman got her daughter to school and then headed straight for the comforts of the quaint bookstore, which sits under a purple banner on North Lamar Boulevard.

“The first thing she wanted to do was come here because she knew she’d feel better,” Post said. “She ended up picking up a book for her daughter. She said, ‘I’m going bring her a book about a strong women. We didn’t lose. We’re just more aware now of what we are up against.’”

 

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BookWoman is not limited to solely feminist texts – the store sells materials related to the LGBTQ rights movement and, above, t-shirts supporting a local author.

 

 

BookWoman is one of only 13 bookstores left in the United States that self-identifies as a feminist bookstore. It’s also one of 18 independent bookstores in the greater Austin area, where, like the rest of the country, there is an all time high number of bookstores. It seems that people are now interested more than ever in buying books locally, even with the successes of national chain retailers and declining numbers of book sales.

BookWoman in particular has situated itself from the beginning as a political and activist space, and Post said the community’s need for her books is just as important now as it was when the store opened in the 1970s. In the months since the presidential election, Post said she has seen an increase in her sales and an interest in activism — not only in rallies and protests, but within the space of her store.

“People are still continuing to gather and to work and to protest,” Post said. “Instead of just signing a petition, people are showing up and expressing how they feel about the political climate.”

One recent BookWoman event featured two black women poets, Sequoia Maner and Sheree Renée Thomas, as part of an ongoing series in partnership with Torch Literary Arts, a nonprofit with the mission to “support the work of black women and girls through creative writing.” More than 15 people crowded between the shelves to hear the open mic and feature poets, who touched on subjects including #BlackLivesMatter, sexual assault and LGBT issues.

Ray, a woman who attended the poetry event and preferred not to share her last name, said BookWoman serves an important need for a space that people can find representations of their beliefs — as well as opposing views.

“I think that’s really important, especially now with so many people not being sure how to become politicized,” Ray said.

A book published last year by Kristen Hogan, the education coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin’s Gender and Sexuality Center, features BookWoman and other surviving feminist bookstores to explore how the stores have historically countered racism and created networks of diverse feminists. The book, titled “The Feminist Bookstore Movement: Lesbian Antiracism & Feminist Accountability,” explores the radical history of feminist bookstores, and how modern journalists seem to gloss over these histories.

“Feminist bookstores have been not simply spaces to gather but sites of complex conversations among staff and collectives and, in turn, with readers about feminist accountability,” Hogan writes in the book.

 

BookWoman itself began as a passion project of the Common Woman Collective, a group of Austin women who dedicated themselves to ordering books and finding a place to host a storefront. Post helped DeeDee Spontak, a carpenter, and other members of the collective fix up three donated rooms at the corner of 21st and Guadalupe streets. In 1975, the store opened its doors with a red and yellow hand sewn sign that said “Common Woman Bookstore.”

Post said business boomed from the early to mid ‘70s, when customers flocked to the store to buy books they literally couldn’t find elsewhere.

“There weren’t a lot of books published by women, or publishers were turning down more radical things because there might be nudity or their might be lesbianism or there might be activism,” Post said.

 

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Witches Are Among Us

Story by Selah Maya Zighelboim
Photos by Elise Cardenas and Yelitza Mandujano
Video by Elise Cardenas
Audio by Julie Gomez

“You can’t throw a rune without hitting a witch in Austin”

Kristi Lewis’s first forays into witchcraft began with dead animals. When she found pieces of bone or other animal remains on hikes, she would wrap the animal in wire the to preserve it and honor its characteristics.

“I was just drawn to the idea of rebirth in a way, that death isn’t the final end-all,” Lewis said.

In November, she started selling jewelry inspired by her pagan beliefs full-time through Etsy and pop-up shops. One day when she was vending her jewelry at Independence Brewery, a woman saw her and pulled her children away, warning them to stay away from witches. Another woman and witch herself, Jessica Beauvoir, approached Lewis and invited her to join Austin Witches Circle, a creative collective for “witches, pagans & magical folk.”


“[Austin Witches Circle] is an opportunity for local witchy folks who make things to try and make a living selling or supplement their livelihood doing something they love,” Beauvoir said. “It also helps bring people together. We are always interacting with each other and being inspired by each other.”

Three to five times a month, Austin Witches Circle puts on markets where witches and non-witches can sell goods such as potions, amulets and jewelry. They also host occasional workshops and spiritual events like Sabbats, festivals that mark dates of seasonal or agricultural importance.

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Austin Witches Circle allows dark-art vendors to sell their crafts without judgement or skepticism they would receive at other art markets around town. When Beauvoir began selling teas and herbs around Austin, she faced some difficulties finding the right place to sell them. She founded Austin Witches Circle to bring together people with similar interests in witchcraft and art.

Though there is no requirement to be a witch to vend at Austin Witches Circle’s markets, Beauvoir says the vendors’ crafts share underlying themes, such as alternative spirituality and reverence for nature. According to Beauvoir, no specific belief or practice makes a person a witch.

“I think what makes a witch is when they identify with that word and figure out what it means to them,” she said. “I wouldn’t say there is any one characteristic that all witches share.”

Beauvoir uses herbalism to practice her witchcraft.  She identifies a secular chaos witch, meaning she uses her belief itself as a tool. Beauvoir says believing in something is what gives it power, so her beliefs can adapt depending on her needs. If she wanted to cast a spell that required belief in a particular deity, she would believe in that deity for the duration of that spell.

According to Cedar Stevens, another member of Austin Witches Circle, Austin has a large witch and pagan community, and though most witches are women, though there are some men as well. Many witches are quite discreet. 

“You can’t throw a rune without hitting a witch in Austin,” Stevens said.

Stevens, a former atheist and scientist, now identifies as a witch and as “Wicca-ish.” She followed a trail of books from native plant landscaping and gardening, to agriculture, to herbal medicine and eventually to magical herbalism. Stevens was skeptical about magical herbalism at first, but found it to be her calling and soon started selling oils and incenses based on plant magic through her store, Natural Magick Shop.

Witchcraft is a practice, not necessarily a belief. Witches create from materials provided by the earth. They can choose to believe in pagan spirits or gods, something else or nothing at all.

According to Chris Godwin, acting clergy at a pagan congregation, Hearthstone Grove, witchcraft is the practice of pagan beliefs.

Godwin’s congregation practices Druidism, the second largest pagan religion in the United States after Wicca. Godwin’s Druid congregation focuses on traditional Irish gods and practices. They recite prayers in Gaelic, and rituals feature fires where congregants place offerings such as alcohol. Their community practices a kind of witchcraft that focuses on herbalism. Godwin says he’s skeptical of the efficacy of witchcraft, so he doesn’t practice it often.

“[Witchcraft] is kind of like prayer,” Godwin said. “It’s for when you have no agency left, and you must find some form of agency, some way to express and get out of the psychological state of being in need or being frustrated.”

Outsider Fest Showcases LGBT Art

Story by Selah Maya Zighelboim
Photos by Yelitza Mandujano and Selah Maya Zighelboim

Amber Bemak and Nadia Granados, two artists from the United States and Columbia, explored political and personal themes in a performance called “American Spectral History” during the third annual Outsider Fest. Using video and performance art, they presented images of aggression from North America against Latin America, violence against women and queer people and lesbian lovers.

“One thing that people said a lot to us after the show is that it made them feel turned on and disgusted at themselves for being turned on but also at what we were showing,” Bemak said. “I think that’s a good descriptor of our work, and we want people to have that visceral experience at the same time because so much of what we talk about politically has to do with sexuality and gender and sex.”

 Amber Bemak performing “American Spectral History”.

Like many other performances at Outsider Fest, “American Spectral History” touches on topics of queerness and intersectionality. Outsider Fest, an LGBT art festival that ran from Thursday, Feb. 16 to Sunday, Feb. 19, featured spoken word, concerts, films and theatrical performances. According to Curran Nault, the festival’s founder and organizer, the goal of Outsider Fest is to facilitate conversations between different groups of people — between artists and academics, different kinds of artists and different races, ethnicities and classes.

“What’s kind of important to me is the name ‘Outsider’ itself,” Nault said. “It’s meant to evoke, obviously, sexuality, as being out, being queer, but also all of the different ways that people can feel marginalized, outside of the norm, outside of power.”

Use this interactive map to explore the different venues used during (Out)sider
Map and captions by Julie Gomez

This year’s theme was ‘Into the Wild,’ which Nault said is meant to express the idea of reconnecting with nature to solidify community and re-emerge, ready to fight. According to Nault, one show that touched on this theme was “Promised Land” by Rudy Ramirez. In the show, Ramirez goes on a personal journey to find self-acceptance, at one point traveling and camping in the woods.

Ramirez said he created his show, “Promised Land,” with a specific kind of audience member in mind, a young queer Latino who needed confirmation that his feelings and experiences were legitimate. Ramirez wanted “Promised Land” to be the validation he needed when he was younger.

“I was queer in my head before, but when I saw this world, I was queer in my heart after that,” he said. “It was a feeling that this world is possible, we can get there. It’s not something that’s just imaginary. It can be real, and it makes it so much more worth fighting for.”

Lilia Rosas (left), Irene Lara Silva (center left), Paige Schilt (center right), and Trystan Cotton (right) during “Conference on the Couch”.

Besides art shows like “American Spectral History” and “Promised Land,” Outsider Fest also included panels. Most days of the festival began with a Conference on the Couch, where attendees could gather in Nault’s living room with a panel of academics, who sat on couches and chairs with attendees to discuss their work. These panels covered art activism, transgenderism and queer publishing.

For Nault, who is radio-television-film lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, taking academia from its “ivory tower” and bringing it to the community is an important aspect of the festival.

“The fact that we’re literally welcoming you into our living room sets a tone for what the festival is really about, that is that there’s no separation,” Nault said. “There’s no separation between the people making the festival and attending the festival. We’re all together in this family setting.”

According to Nault, art’s emotional resonance makes it unique as a tool for community-building and activism. This resonance allows it to stay with its audience in a way that something like a pamphlet, which only hits on an intellectual level, cannot.  

“Art creates new worlds,” he said. “There’s something that points to a utopian impulse or an imaginary impulse. It creates new visions beyond our current state. It creates a yearning for something different.”

Video by Elise Cardenas, Selah Maya Zighelboim, and Yelitza Mandujano

Local Coalition Provides Legal Aid to Austin’s Immigrant Community

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A sanctuary built by one of the residents sits outside Casa Marianella, a homeless shelter for immigrants and refugees in Austin. Casa Marianella is one of about a dozen organizations that help comprise Texas Here to Stay, a coalition of legal and community organizations that work to provide education and legal aid to Austin immigrants through free workshops and clinics.

 

 

Bells chimed at the San Jose Catholic Church. Signs announcing “Taller & Consulta Gratis de Inmigración” — which translates to “Free Immigration Workshop and Consultation” — adorned the building’s exterior. A crowd gathered, and though it was Sunday, the group did not consist of the usual congregation.

 

It was Jan. 29, nine days after President Donald Trump was sworn in, four days after he announced plans for a border wall and two days after he barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. This crowd of immigrants and their loved ones was there to find out what could happen to them in the future — and what they could do about it.

 

Find the rest of the story here: https://texasnonosvamos.squarespace.com/?r=24593503

Cultures Dance their way into Austin

 By: Nick Castillo, Sara Eunice Martinez, Kaylee Nemec

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Bright dresses and choreographed dance moves captured the stage at the Austin Earth Day Festival on Saturday.  

The Mueller Lake Park event highlighted multiple social dance styles, including flamenco, ballet folklórico, square dancing and tango.

Oaxaca: Arte en Movimiento, was one of the dance groups at the event. It presented a traditional Mexican dance from Oaxaca. Edgar Yepez dance instructor at Oaxaca, said the dance represents Mexican heritage.

“It’s a Mexican tradition,” Yepez said. “It’s a Mexican folklore.”

Arte en Movimento’s goal is to be a growing space for culture and art, while promoting diversity, opportunity and cultural expression. Yepez said they’ve been around for a year and have seen their program grow tremendously from four participants to 40. He credits the growth to style of dance.

“The main difference in the style of dance is Guelaguetza,” Yepez said. “No one is doing Guelaguetza in Austin. That’s the main difference between other kinds of dance.”

Oaxaca showcases the vibrant social dance culture in the city.

But Austin isn’t always as kind to professional dance. Austin’s professional dance culture has the same issues as other major cities. According to Caroline Clark, who is working on her Ph.D. about Austin dance, said the only dancers who make a salary are ballet dancers. There’s also limited space. But she added that “that’s true everywhere.”

While professional dance has its troubles in the city, Clark said the most important thing about Austin’s dance culture is its growth.

 

Origins of Dance Cultures

Infographic Created By: Kaylee Nemec 

 

“The most important thing to know about Austin dance is that as Austin’s population grows, the diversity of dance forms that one can do here increases,” Clark said. “There are many kinds of dance here, from African forms to Hispanic forms to European folk forms to Asian forms. And, don’t forget the big Native American powwow that takes place every November. And, the very influential Texas dance hall tradition.”

Some of the biggest reasons for social dance’s popularity in Austin is it’s fun atmosphere. Mickey Jacobs, a senior tango instructor at Esquina Tango Cultural Society of Austin, said people attend tango classes at Esquina for the relaxed environment.

“We laugh a lot,” Jacobs said. “It’s a very open, and welcoming community. That’s really what esquina is known for and that’s what brings people back. It’s not intimidating … We make it easy to take that first step.”

Jacobs said Esquina offers a wide variety of classes. The main focus is Argentine tango, which places emphasis on the dance partners’ connection. Jacob’s performed a tango routine with fellow instructor Orazzio Loayza at Saturday’s festival, which displayed the dance’s heavy reliance on a duo’s embrace, and it additionally showed the technical side of the dance.

“It’s a couples dance first and foremost so learning to have the conversation, if you will, between the follower and the leader, but instead of a verbal conversation, it’s a conversation with your body,” Jacobs said. “It’s a very sensual dance. It’s all about responding to each other’s body movement … It all goes back to an embrace. The dance position is called the abrazo, which means embrace, and that’s where everything originates.”

Jacobs added that Esquina isn’t the only place in Austin teaching tango. She said the tango culture in Austin, much like the city’s overall dance community, is alive and well.

“There’s a very vibrant community,” Jacobs said. “There are a few 100 people, who regularly dance tango. There are definitely people around town, who are great, that serve people all around Austin … There are good teachers throughout the city, and a very vibrant active community.”

 

 

Meanings of Bharata Natyam Hand Gestures

Photos and Cutlines By: Kaylee Nemec

 

 

Photos and Cutlines By: Nick Castillo

 

Videos filmed and produced by: Sara Eunice Martinez

The Dirty Truth: Bar Closures on “Dirty Sixth” During Texas Relays

By: Samantha Grasso, Kristen Hubby, Ashley Lopez and Ashlyn Warblow

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Sixth Street

History of discrimination repeats itself at Texas Relays

Story by Samantha Grasso

Texas Relays weekend is an annual three-day-long track and field competition that hosts meets for high schools, colleges, and invitational participants. Beginning in 1925, Relays has become a large community spring event that attracts 80,000 people each year, an attendance on par with events such as Mardi Gras weekend, Republic of Texas motorcycle rally, Halloween weekend, and others.

On the night of Saturday, April 2 during the 2016 Texas Relays weekend, Kyle Clark was standing alone in a 6th street bar, behind a setup of tables, wires, and a DJ turntable. Looking intently at the screen of his Macbook Pro, Clark was working the crowd as “DJ Motivate,” throwing down hip-hop and Top 40 hits as the night went on.

Getting closer to midnight, the bar became packed with people laughing, dancing along, and sipping on drinks. Despite the electric, welcoming atmosphere Clark was creating, just down the street other bars were completely dead, lights off and doors locked.

“Even though it was Texas Relays weekend, I saw people representing many different races at the place that I was DJ-ing,” Clark said. “People spent money at the bar… I think if it’s a revenue-generating opportunity, why not be open?”

Earlier that evening around 9pm, Ben Carrington, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, took the 20 minute stroll from his downtown apartment to survey the scene. He knew establishments on 6th street closed every year during Texas Relays, and since he was in town, he wanted to check the area out for himself.

Carrington’s prediction was right. As he walked along the street affectionately called “Dirty Sixth,” Carrington snapped pictures of the closed bars: The Blind Pig Pub, Shakespeare’s Pub, Dirty Dog, Palm Door on Sixth, The Four Horseman, and Iron Cactus.

Later posting his findings to Twitter, Carrington posed an observation that the bar closures were an act of racial discrimination and refusal to serve black visitors: “Texas Relays = More Black Folks in Austin = Racist Bars on 6th Street Closing for the Weekend #KeepAustinWhite?”

 

 

While Carrington’s tweets received substantial attention in hundreds of likes and retweets, major news organizations in Austin failed to report on the closures. It wasn’t until the following week that Texas Monthly writer Dan Solomon tackled the issue in a blog post that questioned why all these bars chose to close during a weekend that historically brings in $8 million in revenue each year.

Bars gave different reasons for why they were closed. For example, Palm Door is a rental venue that is not open to the public in general. Dirty Dog manager Ben Davis told Texas Monthly the bar was originally scheduled closed for floor renovations. The vendor cancelled on them last minute, but Dirty Dog remained closed since the employees had already made vacation plans for the anticipated closure.

The Blind Pig Pub claimed to be closed for South by Southwest “recovery” for the staff, while Shakespeare’s Pub offered no explanation.

Some people speculated that bars closed to avoid underage drinking fine, as the weekend attracts many young competitors and spectators. Others said they closed because Texas Relays attendees congregate on Sixth Street, but do not go inside the bars and spend money.

In reply to the Texas Monthly article, one reader who claimed to work at Iron Cactus commented that the restaurant is rented out to a private Texas Relays event each year, denying any claim of racial discrimination.

Owners of the Blind Pig Pub, Shakespeare’s Pub, and the Four Horseman did not reply to requests for comment.

“I think [those reasons for closing] are highly dubious, if not just outright lies,” Carrington said.

Where the Shift Began

Over the 91 years Relays has operated in Austin, the event has attracted a largely African-American crowd, from participating athletes, to family members, and even patrons who come to attend events that have sprouted out of the popular weekend, such as car shows and the Austin Urban Music Festival.

But despite the massive successes and positive economic impacts brought by annual events including the South by Southwest Conference, Austin City Limits Music Festival, and Republic of Texas rally, Texas Relays weekend is one of the few events that bring an onslaught of bar, mall, and highway closures.

In 2009, Highland Mall closed early during Texas Relays weekend, and the city of Austin decided to shut down downtown exit ramps on IH-35 in an effort to alleviate traffic.

In 2011, bars owned by self-proclaimed “Mayor of Sixth Street” Bob Woody The Blind Pig and Shakespeare’s Pub notoriously boarded up for the weekend. The same two bars closed for the weekend in 2012.

Brenda Burt, who has spent 28 years at the University of Texas at Austin, is an adjunct assistant professor for African and African Diaspora Studies and an advisor for the Big XII Council on Black Student Government. Burt recalls when the city’s general reaction to Texas Relays began changing, saying she remembers discussions about revenue that the weekend generates, and the closures at Highland Mall.

“I began to realize that we [the black community] was congregating at Highland Mall as well, but also, [myself] raising a teenage son [back then] he and his friends…were out at all those malls [in Round Rock],” Burt said. “I just remember a difference in the way people were beginning to be treated, and it was like, ‘C’mon Austin, what is this?’”

The seemingly racially-motivated reactions to black attendees at festivals is not isolated to Texas Relays. In early April, Austin Chronicle writer Kevin Curtin anonymously quoted a reaction by a “local businessman who co-owns multiple bars on Sixth” to the crowds at South by Southwest. “Too many n******,” the businessman replied, not knowing Curtin was a reporter. The bar owner then threatened to sue Curtin if he was quoted.

According to the Texas Bar & Nightclub Alliance, five of the TBNA board members own two or more bars in Austin, Houston, and College Station. One of them is Blind Pig and Shakespeare’s owner Bob Woody, who also owns The Ranch, Buckshot, Pecan St. Café, and Micheladas. None of the other listed board members own any of the bars that Carrington found closed during this year’s Texas Relays.

Burt states that though UT Austin attracts many successful black students, Austin’s negative reaction to Texas Relays audiences is one of the many turnoffs that cause graduating students to leave the city.

While many students enact change at the university, Burt argued that the treatment of the black community in East Austin, compounded with tangible closures seen during Texas Relays and similar micro-aggressions toward black students at UT Austin, cause students to take their talents and passions for resolving social issues elsewhere.

“Austin is losing a reputation, and the black community, in particular… It doesn’t bid well,” Burt said. “You [students] are leaving because of things like this, or the community not providing cultural outlets for people of color.”

Looking toward the finish line

Carrington said he feels the general lack of reaction to the bar closures and the racial slur thrown around by the local businessman in Austin Chronicle is indicative of Austin’s general feelings toward the black population as a whole. However, he hopes he has helped to shed light on the issue.

“Part of the reason why I went was because there hadn’t been any discussion [about Austin’s attitude toward Texas Relays],” Carrington said. “If I hadn’t done those Tweets… then you wouldn’t be speaking to me right now. I think now at least there’s a chance we can organize… and put the spotlight back on an issue.”

Despite the general lack of mobilization, the city may be able to look forward to increased accountability and transparency over Texas Relays bar closures in the future. In reply to a request for comment on Mayor Steve Adler’s reaction to these closures, Jason Stanford, communications director for Adler’s office, released this statement:

“The Texas Relays are an important event on Austin’s calendar, and we love having them here and want the participants and visitors who come here for the relays to feel welcome,” Adler said. “Reports that bars are closing during the Texas Relays are troubling, and we’re looking into it.”

 

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