The Pokey Finger of God

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The Only Oasis Around

January 14th, 2008 · No Comments · culture, intentional communities

“It hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be,” Barron said. “I really wasn’t for beer. `Course, we had the country club here and I didn’t like that either.”source

Lamesa to Lubbock

Highway 87 drains out of Lubbock through Dawson County and past the happy little town of Lamesa. Like most of West Texas, Dawson County fortunes still rise and fall with the oil and cattle industries; it has more churches than stoplights, and, with the exception of a private club or three, is completely dry — as are the surrounding counties.

Dawson County grocery, circa 1943

Los Ybanez, an unusual city located just miles from the Lamesa city limits, is wet. In 1980, Israel and Mary Ybanez bought the land for $85K and voted themselves a wet citysource. But that’s not the most interesting thing.

Lamesa and Los Ybanez
Starting in 1937, the FSA began to create federally administered migrant labor camps in various parts of the countrysource. Migrant workers were the backbone of American agriculture from 1910 until about 1965, and most of these lived in slum camps on the edges of town. Periodically, towns would go out and patch these places up, but once the feds offered to foot the bill, more towns followed suit. The good people of Lamesa voted to allow the FSA to build such a camp near their town.

Southwest corner of Los YbanezIn 1942, the first family was housed in the community near Lamesa. Twenty-five clapboard farmhouses and twenty-five quad-plex “shelters” were built around an oval green, a community center and a rudimentary mercantile was established — all on a rectangular, 50-acres. However, the FSA was absorbed into another department in 1946 and the communities it established were left to their own devices. The community near Lamesa evidently remained into the sixties. As of 1983, the Lamesa Farm Workers community was the best remaining example of all of nine FSA communities built in Texas. The government auctioned off the land in 1980.

Israel YbanezIn the 1970’s, Israel and Mary Ybanez had attempted to get a local ordinance on the ballot in Lamesa, allowing the sale of packaged alcoholic beverages within city limits. When this failed, they bought the old Farm Workers community and moved 300 of their friends and some local farm workers into their town. The new city of Los Ybanez held an election and voted itself its own package law ordinance and thus became the closest place in 44 miles to buy a six-pack.source Population growth has not been a problem for Los Ybanez. With the only economy in town still the drive-through beer store, after 25 years, less than thirty people remain.

Which isn’t to say that Israel hasn’t tried to provide. In 1988, he filed a patent for a beer can so cleverly constructed that a drinker would not need lift their head to drink therefrom. I’ve no word on whether you can purchase any beer using Israel’s patented beer can. He also owns the local radio station, KBXJ 98.5 (Real Rock) source which can cover up to 80% of the Odessa market. Guess who the big advertiser is on that station? source

Neighboring farmstead Neighboring farmstead Neighboring farmstead
Here’s what I think is interesting. I’ve found some aggie neighbors of Los Ybanez — rural farmsteads in their natural setting. The image on the left: this is a few neighbors — unusually close (perhaps they’re family) — take a look at each “footprint”. In the center, another neighbor, this one with a dandy orchard. Note the unreal green lawn. On the right, the trailers represent more square footage than the house.

The point is that the typical rural family setting is a fairly big parcel of property, set some distance from everyone else. The Farm Workers Community as built as a collective, to reinforce the collective, and to educate the collective. It had economic relevance; it had a sense of center; it had a means to build future generations and could shelter up to a thousand men, women, and children — as a utopian community, it left a lot of excellent examples.

Overview of Los Ybanez

The camp, planned in tradition of the New Deal era reform, was unique because it provided a level of facilities and services that were more accommodating to migrant workers than other camps. These services included a recreational center that held classes on home management skills, nursery facilities and kindergarten instruction, and outdoor playground equipment. A gate house accommodated administrative functions as well as a medical clinic that welcomed all farm workers. The camp also created an atmosphere that supported the workers’ “biculturation.” Social life included traditional Mexican entertainment; observance of special days, both religious and patriotic; and celebrations honoring both Mexican and American holidays.source

As opposed to Ybanez, who built his city on the drive-through beer store. In doing so, he failed to provide economic relevance for anyone else. Consequently, the only people now living in Los Ybanez are the people who work in the store or the radio station, and their dependents. Granted, migrant farm work is a very different beast today than it was in the ’40s, and the cotton fields of Dawson county aren’t generally hospitable to any but mechanical pickers. It’s doubtful that many of the old houses or shelter or much habitable anymore. But if there is a lesson in any of it, it’s in how a community needs a long-term, harvested resource in order to gain a permanent footing.