We spent the weekend in Crystal City, the most Democratic area in Texas. And one of the poorest. The population here is just over 8000. It's 98 percent Hispanic and Kerry got 75 percent of the vote. On Saturday, we stopped at a flea market and interviewed a number of women who believe Democrats have always been for the underdog and the party of the poor. One woman works 64 hours a week at three jobs and makes under $6/hour.
We then passed a huge Viva La Bush sign and decided to stop. I knocked on the front door and said I'm a journalist from California who is traveling the country talking to people about politics and current events. The family welcomed me with open arms and offered me pastries from a local bakery. I stayed for a few hours and interviewed them about why they switched over from Democrat to Republican: 9/11. "You cannot change a President during war." They all voted for Clinton, but believe he ignored Osama bin Laden because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. They also believe Democrats allow too many people to rely on welfare, especially in this town where the unemployment rate is 14 percent. They call themselves poor Republicans.
The next day, we went to the Church of the Almighty (we're planning to go to church every Sunday to get a feel for the area and interview pastors about whether they mix politics and religion) and were surrounded by children. Every woman in church had at least two kids. Yesterday's service was dedicated to Mother's Day. The pastor recognized the mom with the youngest child and the oldest mom in the room. He then recognized the mom with the most children: five. And...the youngest mom in the room! I interviewed the pastor after the service and asked him if it's a good idea to celebrate the youngest mom in the room considering this town clearly has a teen pregnancy problem. He said he realized it was a mistake after he did it, but had an extra gift and has known the youngest mom since she was 12. This particularly pastor refuses to bring politics into his church.
So far, everyone has been incredibly hospitable. At least a dozen people greeted us with handshakes and hugs at church.
As far as the town goes, Crystal City is basically two long roads. This town clearly had a larger past than present. The movie theater in town shows one film a few times a day: The House of Wax for $4. The shops nearby are empty and dilapidated. Pizza Hut and the Dairy Queen are the only chains in town, but are localized. We drove by a pinata party at Pizza Hut and saw a sign for a Rancheros Plate at the Dairy Queen.
Del Monte is the largest employer in town, but only pays $5.35 an hour, according to the locals. They used to employ 700 people; today, they employ 200.
I'm shocked at the high cost of everything, including groceries, restaurants and hotels. It's really no different from the Bay Area. We recently found our first gas station with a $1.98/gallon sign. It's been just over $2 thus far. Considering jobs are scarce and most of the people I've met make minimum wage, I don't know how they make ends meet.