Bilingual workers a plus but not a necessity in Spanish-speaking Imperial Valley

IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif.– The second most common language in the United States, Spanish, is the primary language spoken at home by more than 35.5 million Americans aged 5 or older. Businesses all over the nation are looking for bilingual applicants to help turn these people into new customers. But how important is it in the workplace? Being only minutes away from the U.S.- Mexican border, it would seem local businesses are favoring bilingual applicants in order to provide better service to a wider range of customers. “It is very helpful because a lot of our customers come from across the border,” said Alfonso Ruiz, store manager of the Imperial Valley College bookstore.

Teen authors of the California border pave their way through self-publishing

IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif.–Teenagers all over the world are anticipating the June 30 movie release of “Eclipse,” the third installment in the phenomenal “Twilight” saga, to see how the romantic fantasy about a teenage girl and her intense love affair with a vampire continues to play out. The “Twilight” books, written by Stephanie Meyer, inspired the movie series and a cult following of both readers and movie-goers around the globe.  But during the last decade, that inspiration was not limited to just reading or watching the mythical and unorthodox teen romance stories; inspiration bled over into the minds of young writers, including those in the Imperial Valley. Often seen as culturally dry as the desert it occupies, the Imperial Valley is home to several young authors who have crafted their own fantasies in the pages of books that are sold on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, at the local bookstore, and can be found in local libraries.  These youthful writers have not experienced the notoriety of Meyer – at least not yet. Angela Ly, 16, is writing her second novel.  “The book is going to be about a different dimension, but in this world,” Ly said.  “There will be action and adventure, somewhat like Twilight.”  The Brawley High School junior self-published her first book, “Birds to Fly Me to You” in 2009. Fantasy adventures like “The Way to Fairyleland” and “The Collusion Series” have sprung from the minds of local teen authors prolifically in recent years.  Publishing house Wandering Sage Books recently released a commemorative edition of “The Way to Fairyleland,” by Belén Ramos, and a third young writer, Alexandra Lopez, is penning her third and fourth books.

Slab City artists play their music free and easy

NILAND, Calif.–In a small secluded area on the outskirts of this desert town, a mish-mash of trailers and tents surround a big stage that unites the people of Slab City in a very unique way and brings their musical talents to life every Saturday night. Slab City is a tiny “town” where there are no bills to pay, no running water or electricity, and when nature calls, you choose your bush.  And yet there are about 50 people who live here year round, even in the harsh summer months when temperatures can reach 118 degrees and “residents” spend a lot of time cooling off in nearby irrigation canals. “Most of the people who live out here in Slab City have lost their home, money, and family, so they have nowhere else to go,” said Sean Paul, a U.S. Army combat veteran. “I can eat out of a can. I am used to this, but a suburban American might find living here a challenge.”

Paul said he arrived in Slab City about 13 years ago and he chose to stay because life at the Slabs is free.

Welders and fabricators move beyond industrial work and into art

EL CENTRO, Calif.–From a typical viewpoint, it’s hard to see the field of welding and fabrication as an art,  because the conventional idea focuses on the production of industrial parts. “Most people see it as an industry, and it is,” says Scott Baker, a welder and fabrication foreman for EW Corp. in El Centro.  “Even for me it’s hard to see it as a craft sometimes.”

The industrial side of the welding and fabrication business has long overshadowed any notion of welding as an art. When a typical bystander walks into a fab shop, there isn’t much in the way of traditional art—drab pieces of metal, drills, and complicated machinery take up most of the space.  Those in the fabrication world are usually not the type that are into the arts.  In fact,  West Coast Choppers CEO Jesse James, one of welding’s most famous faces, is known as a tough-talking bad boy. But the guys wielding those fiery torches on sheet metal

at shipyards and auto body shops are not just a bunch of gearheads–they are artists with a passion and creativity as ancient as metal working itself.

Facing a Decaying Mural and Fading Message, the Calexico-Mexicali Camaraderie Struggles to Survive

CALEXICO, Calif.–This bustling border town in Southern California’s Imperial Valley was quite different in the 1960s than it is today. People filing through the international port of entry merely had to state where they were born in order to enter the U.S.  Port vehicle traffic flowed in just two lanes rather than snaking through the 12 they have today.  The friendship between Calexico and its sister city, Mexicali, on the Mexican side was so casual, kids in both countries could share what could be called a bi-national game of baseball. But, more than a decade ago a solid brown metal fence was erected as part of Operation Gatekeeper, President Clinton’s answer to stem the tide of illegal immigration from Mexico into the U.S. between California and Texas. “When this fence went up, the ability to perceive and to sense this community, this trans-border community all of a sudden became harder because you couldn’t see across the fence anymore, and so both sides of the border expressed outrage,” Herrera said. Herrera, a history professor at the San Diego State University Calexico campus, was among a small group of citizens who felt saddled by the offending fence, but did not feel they had to settle on its appearance, so they set to work on making it more aesthetically appealing.

Diversity in the Imperial Valley Promotes Cultural Understanding

EL CENTRO, Calif. – The cash registers sit patiently, like Venus flytraps eager to be fed. Employees begin to prepare themselves mentally. Suddenly, a mob, a stampede, a crowd, a giant mosh of consumers makes its way through the doors of the Imperial Valley Mall. Lines form at almost every store.

Brawley Cattle Call Rodeo

BRAWLEY, Calif. – Heart beating wildly, crowd cheering madly, Trevor Smith climbed over the bucking chute and carefully balanced his weight on a two-ton, half-crazed-bull. His gloved hands quickly worked the bull rope that would allow him to maintain balance. As his name was announced over the loud speakers, Smith, like any bull rider, was focused on an adrenaline rush to get him through the next eight seconds. The chute flew open and the two-ton bull bolted straight out the gate.

The Desert of Inspiration

IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif. — The U.S. Department of Education in 2003 called the Imperial Valley the most illiterate county in California. Despite that bad rap, however, this desert valley next to Mexico is home to an artistically literate community of young and old poets who say this area gives them uniquely positive and negative inspirations. “The negative is that the valley is boring, isolated and full of mean people,” said Mark Garcia, 42, a poet from Calexico, “while the positive is that it’s peaceful, slow-paced, and there are some nice people as well.  This is what I call my desert of inspiration.”

Poet Sandra Hernandez, 38, of Calexico writes, “I had precious moments, I had terrible heart breaks, I had arrogance thrown at me… In this deserted paradise I call my home”. The valley people, rather than the vast, lonely desert inspire local poets.

“Obscured Eye” Art Show Opening

The opening featured four artists —Alexandra Balestrieri, Jennifer Cuellar, Elizabeth Lopez, and curator Kyle Herrera— in an exhibit that comprehensively explores, “perception, cognition, and the obstacles imposed on them,” through the mediums of photography, painting, drawing, and interactive mixed media.