By Sister Rose Weidenbenner
In the Rio Grande Valley, which is as far south as one can drive in Texas before reaching Mexico, people have gotten used to waiting in lines, long lines.
When COVID-19 testing was first available, people camped in their cars for hours, often overnight, in hopes of receiving one of the 200 free tests being offered at various sites around the county. Those who could pay $150 for a test also ended up waiting in long lines to register, only to discover they had to wait in another long line to receive the test. Finally, when the number of free tests increased to 5,000 per day, it was common to wait in line for more than four hours and then have to administer the uncomfortable test to oneself!
As the pandemic worsened, local news channels showed disturbing images of residents waiting in long queues to receive hospital care for themselves or family members. As deaths from COVID numbered into the hundreds and then thousands, family members found themselves again enduring long delays as their loved ones were prepared for burial, and then they waited again to bury them. It often took months to process deaths through overburdened funeral homes.
And then the food lines started. Week after week after week, people sat in a queue of cars that stretched for miles; at other times, they stood in lines in heat-laden parking lots to purchase enough food to get them through to the next day.
And now that the vaccine has finally arrived, county officials have required residents to wait yet again. Only this time, they stand for hours, first in one line, and then in a second one. The first queue is just to register and receive a wrist band approving them for the vaccine. With the wrist band, they have the necessary approval to return the following day to wait in the second queue. There, they wait, hoping to get one of the limited number of doses. When the doses run out, the remainder of registered people begin the search for another line to start the process all over again.
In the middle of February, residents were told to prepare for two approaching, potentially devastating, winter storms. Families in houses not built for harsh winters endured record-breaking temperatures. Most of the vegetation and fruit groves so familiar to South Texas and so essential for the local economy were destroyed. Jobs continue to be eliminated as rows of fields and acres of fruit groves stand rotting from the freeze. There are no unemployment lines for farmworkers.
And then the lines began again. Families in need of food went to darkened grocery stores to purchase what they could. Some turned to fast-food chains, because they still had power, but even these soon ran out. After waiting in long lines to place their orders, people found themselves turned away only a short distance from the take-out window. Lines for bottled water also formed as pipes in homes and places of business burst from the cold. When told to let water drip from the faucets to prevent frozen pipes, many found there was no water to drip!
And then the gas lines began. When some gas stations lost power, people waited in their cars, lined up for blocks at the few stations that had working pumps.
Whether they waited in lines for testing, vaccines, food, water, gas, propane—people in Texas have waited in line after line after line. More than 42,000 have died from COVID, and millions have endured a record-breaking freeze. There is a saying here now: “2020 was hell, but in 2021 hell froze over.” Politicians point the finger of blame, owning nothing. They fail to inspire, to get things moving. They fail to acknowledge what led to these disasters and learn from them. Instead, they blame windmills.
One line residents will not have to stand in is the “who’s-to-blame” line. The bureaucratic nightmare of the pandemic, and now the defunct Texas power grid, continue. Perhaps the line of greatest witness is of the tents of asylum seekers waiting at the line drawn between the United States and Mexico.