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Latinx Files: Floods bring tragedy to Pajaro

Hands underneath water with a strawberry and $100 bill floating above
Floodwaters submerged the north Monterey County town of Pajaro after a levee broke due to the heavy downpours brought by California’s latest atmospheric river storm.
(Diana Ramirez Santacruz / Los Angeles Times; Getty)
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If you want a reminder that the most vulnerable among us often bear the brunt of catastrophe, all you have to do is look at what happened in Pajaro, Calif.

The small town flooded Friday night after a levee containing the Pajaro River broke due to the heavy downpours brought by California’s latest atmospheric river storm, stranding its residents, many of whom are migrant farmworkers. A second levee breeched Monday.

The tragedy here is that officials had known for decades that the levee could be breached but chose not to do anything about it.

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“It was pretty much recognized by the early ’60s that the levees were probably not adequate for the water that that system gets,” Stu Townsley, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ deputy district engineer for project management for the San Francisco region, told my colleague Susanne Rust.

“It’s a low-income area. It’s largely farmworkers that live in the town of Pajaro,” Townsley said. “Therefore, you get basically Bay Area construction costs, but the value of property isn’t all that high.”

In other words, the math didn’t make sense. But this is people we’re talking about, not numbers.

“We feel abandoned sometimes,” Pajaro resident Karla Loreto told the Times.

It was a sentiment shared by her neighbor, Dora Alvarez.

“The counties are willing to let this part of town get flooded,” she said.

Alvarez said she stayed behind because her husband has liver cancer. Given his health, she didn’t want to expose him to COVID-19 at a shelter. Alvarez also said many Pajaro residents chose to stay because many of their homes had been broken into when they evacuated in January.

Others, like Florencia Rios and her husband Enrique Olvera, chose to stay because they couldn’t afford to leave their homes. The couple had no money saved up after paying their March rent. To make matters worse, the flooding has jeopardized crops grown in the surrounding area, which means that many residents have no way to make a living.

“We don’t even know where to seek help,” Olvera said. “We just need a little help, some food and water at the very least.”

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The silver lining, if you can even call it that, is that there are efforts underway to help this beleaguered community. Already the helpers, as Mr. Rogers liked to call them, have stepped up. Even Mexican stars like Maná and Alejandro Fernandez are chipping in.

But this is just a Band-Aid, and it does nothing to cover the wound caused by systemic injustice. Pajaro flooded because the land where the people who feed us live wasn’t worth investing in. Unless we find the political will to address the effects of climate change in an equitable way, it’s only a matter of time before another catastrophe like this happens.

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Te amo, World Béisbol Classic

Why do I love the World Baseball Classic? Let me count the ways.

I love it because it’s more of a world series than the actual World Series. The quadrennial tournament features teams from countries like Great Britain (did they think it was cricket?), Italy, Israel, Japan and Australia. With the notable exception of Africa, every major continent is represented.

I love it because it gives us games like Venezuela vs. the Dominican Republic, or Puerto Rico vs. Venezuela, or the Dominican Republic vs. Venezuela. Those three rosters combined are a who’s who of future Hall of Famers.

I love it because of players like Randy Arozarena. Born in Cuba, Arozarena defected to Mexico when he was 25 and started his path to the majors in the Mexican league. El Randiberto — that’s his Mexican name — has quite an affinity for his adopted country that it was the subject of this very good 2020 New York Times profile, in which he said it would be an honor to represent it in international play. Arozarena is proof that Mexicans are born wherever one damn well pleases, and Cubans can make themselves at home wherever they land.

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I love it because it makes it very clear that baseball might be America’s pastime, but it’s a passion for large portions of Latin America and its diasporas. There’s no room for those who insist that baseball be played the right way. In the World Béisbol Classic, having a pulse is encouraged, along with bat flips, swag, mariachi hats and pitchers with unbuttoned jerseys.

I love it because even though the United States invented and exported the sport, Team USA is not the clear favorite — oddsmakers say it‘s Japan. Team USA is not even the home team! Though Pool C was played in Phoenix, it was Mexico that had home field advantage. And as the tournament moves to Miami, it’ll be teams like Cuba and Venezuela that will pack the most fans inside LoanDepot Park. The 305, after all, is home to the biggest population of Cubans and Venezuelans outside of their respective countries.

As a side note, can you imagine how wild and fun the semifinal game between Cuba and the winner of Venezuela vs. USA is going to be? If this doesn’t make you love béisbol, I don’t know what will.

You can find our complete World Baseball Classic coverage here.

Things we read this week that we think you should read

— Gloria Molina, who became the first Latina elected to the California state Assembly, the Los Angeles City Council and the county Board of Supervisors, announced on Tuesday that she has terminal cancer. In his latest column, Gustavo Arellano pays tribute to Molina and her political legacy.

— Despite accounting for more than 40% of California’s population, Latinx only make up 3.7% of director boards in the 505 largest publicly-traded companies in California. But sure, corporations care about diversity, equity and inclusion. Story by Margot Roosevelt.

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— Move over “Citizen Kane.” Step aside, “The Godfather.” Make way, “The Tax Collector,” for there is a new contender for the greatest movie ever made. I am, of course, talking about “Flamin’ Hot,” the feature film directed by Eva Longoria that tells the maybe not so true story of Richard Montañez and his invention of the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto. The movie premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival on Saturday, and will begin streaming on Hulu on June 9. My colleague Mark Olsen spoke to Longoria ahead of the film’s SXSW screening.

— Lisa Boone profiled Rosa Valdes, whose brand and merch line Educated Chola aims to bring awareness to mental health issues within the Latinx community.

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