by Greg Bloom
(This article is the second in a series of articles dedicated to alternative building along the US-Mexico border.)
Old tires sitting in fields: they probably scar most communities throughout the US and Mexico but their numbers are a particular problem along the poor US-Mexico border. Not only are the tires ugly but they are also a health threat as they partially fill with water during summer rains and can become the breading grounds for encephalitis-carrying mosquitos.
While in Ciudad Juárez the used-tire unions have gone out and collected many old radials and retreads from empty lots and fields, in Anthony, New Mexico, a poor community just miles from the border, the Women’s Intercultural Center has been dealing with the problem of excess tires in its own unique way: it’s filling tires with 300 pounds of dirt and using them to form the walls of a new community center.
Building with used tires was not the Center’s first idea as it looked around for alternative, earth-friendly construction materials, according to Dolores Jimison, a program assistant at the Center. It was actually the last idea the Center came to in its search. Before going to Taos to look at the tire-walled, utilities-independent Earthships (http://www.earthship.org), staff from the center attended adobe (mud brick) building workshops and helped out in the construction of hay-bale homes in the nearby Tierra Madre community .
The decision to build with tires was made for a number of reasons besides the obvious desire to clean up the community and get free construction material. Anthony is a poor town says Jimison and tire building is an easy technology for people to learn where the primary expense is time spent on labor, not money spent on costly wood or bricks.
To help residents gain needed experience with this earth-friendly technology, a crew of approximately twenty people was formed from the community. While the resultant labor costs were more than the Center had anticipated, Jimison states that the Center is glad that the extra money went to community members rather than an outside, professional construction company.
Why a New Center?
With help from three Sisters of Mercy from the Catholic church, the Women’s Intercultural Center began in 1993 as a place where local women could learn or improve their English and take classes in subjects like sewing, cooking, hair cutting, and more. To house the Center, an old two-car garage was transformed into a meeting area and a few offices. Two women’s cooperatives sprang up there, one for sewing and one for carpentry that made futon frames.
Over the intervening years the carpentry co-op has folded because it could not find enough of a market. The sewing cooperative has fared better but is down from its original eleven members. “There are two of us left now,” says Hilda Jaquez who is in the middle of finishing an order for an Albuquerque group that wants 800 hand-made bags to give out as gifts at a conference.
Jaquez says the sewing cooperative has fallen in size because some of its members have found more regular employment elsewhere. However, work space is another issue. The room in which the women sew is only about 200 square feet in area. The new center, while divided into various rooms, will have 7,000 square feet of space.
Part of the reason for building the new center is to give the sewing cooperative and other Center businesses more room to grow, says Jimison. Jaquez affirms this by saying that the sewing initiative will expand once there is space for more women to join the co-op.
Building for Growth
While the Women’s Intercultural Center now survives partly on financial donations, it plans to be self-sufficient in the future. Some of the Center’s new independence will be gained from a percentage of the sewing co-ops revenue and other money will come in through rent from the hosting of classes and people that provide alternative medical treatments that are popular in the area.
Other funding will come from a day-care area, art classes which will result in women selling their artistic creations, the sale of food and the renting out of a meeting area. A commercial kitchen on the premises will also allow women to cater events held at the Center and to sell food that they make there.
Border Awareness Groups
Another source of income for the Women’s Intercultural Center, and something that links it to the rest of the binational region, are the Border Awareness Groups that come through 10 to 11 times per year. Organized by the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, the program brings people from all over the US to the border. While in Southern New Mexico, the program participants meet with area organizations like the Border Patrol and Casa Vides which deals with asylum issues. Later, the groups go and stay in the Centro de Esperanza y Fe, a Ciudad Juárez women’s center, where they experience life in that community.
Once finished, the new, expanded building will more easily accommodate the Border Awareness Groups and the Center’s other programs. The building’s completion date is still not quite certain according to Jimison but the roof will be finished by July, 2002. On August 18, the Center is scheduling a concert at the construction site to let the public see the advances that have been made on the structure up until that point. A final celebration of the building’s completion will be scheduled when the finish date is in sight.
The Women’s Intercultural Center can be contacted at email@example.com or 505-882-5556.
(Frontera NorteSur, http://frontera.nmsu.edu, is an outreach program of the Center for Latin American and Border Studies , New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico.)