Commentary by Emma Guevara, Member of South Texas Environmental Justice Network
Commentary by Emma Guevara, Member of South Texas Environmental Justice Network
I have a Google Alert set up to receive emails with any articles containing the phrases “SpaceX” or “SpaceX Boca Chica.” I have also read about the issues and progression around this project, and the different angles for discussing it, finding that the majority of journalists paint an unrealistic and unfamiliar picture of our home. It is clear that they are not from here nor have taken the time to talk to locals. As a multi-generational lifelong resident of Brownsville, Texas that has been following and organizing around this issue I am here to clarify so journalists can stop being so problematic when discussing our home.
First and foremost, the geography and names of this area get confused purposely, whether it be the journalistic biases, or SpaceX’s own public relations team. There has been a very strategic effort on SpaceX’s, and more specifically Elon Musk’s behalf, to ignore or erase the fact that SpaceX is incredibly close to a community of hundreds of thousands of people. The SpaceX facility is not on another planet; it’s in the middle of major wildlife habitat, on the shores of our beach, and in our community.
While Boca Chica Beach is technically unincorporated Cameron County, the majority of Brownsville residents see Boca Chica Beach as Brownsville’s beach the same way its sister beach across the mouth of the river, Playa Bagdad is Matamoros’s beach. The main road that leads to the beach, Boca Chica Boulevard (also known as Highway 4), cuts through a large portion of Brownsville. There is no “City of Boca Chica, TX,” as many reporters have falsely named. To push the erasure even further, Elon Musk wants to incorporate Boca Chica Beach and create his own city called “Starbase,” even though this land already has a name and ties to our local culture.
Community members have had issues with pro-SpaceX journalists and reporters insinuating that they actually have no claim to the beach because they live in Brownsville and not in Boca Chica. This is ridiculous, quite frankly, as Boca Chica beach is about a 20 minute drive from the main parts of Brownsville with various local mom and pop shops, restaurants, and businesses along the way. This is an example of how faulty media coverage around this issue actively contributes to our erasure so that a billionaire can lay claim to the land and use it to blow up rockets and pollute the beach.
Brownsville is not the only community in close proximity to this SpaceX facility, there is the famous Boca Chica Village that had most of its residents paid off to move out, with few remaining. It’s easy to know which houses still belong to locals and which ones have been taken over by SpaceX because they are painted a gentrified gray color and have a Tesla car parked in the driveway.
The entire Laguna Madre area and cities of Port Isabel and South Padre Island, respectively, all lie less than 10 miles away from the facility and have already begun to experience the negative effects of having an inconsiderate neighbor. People have reported finding debris from fiery rocket explosions at the Isla Blanca jetties, in their front yard, having their windows shake and even shatter during said explosions, and also have to live with the knowledge that they are in the blast zone of a very dangerous facility that could cause a chain reaction explosion with its proximity to other oil and gas sites. Disregarding the fact that so many people live near this site and have to deal with the knowledge of very real dangers that could threaten our environment or even our lives is violence.
Unfortunately, the community is dealing with double erasure. Not only do journalists refuse to acknowledge that the city near Boca Chica is Brownsville and that many people live nearby, but in a Columbus-like move Elon Musk seems hellbent on renaming the entire area “Starbase”. This is disrespectful to our community, our culture, and our home. Participating in this farce of a city that revolves around serving the richest person in the world, who profited off of apartheid, tax evasion, and union-busting, is colonialism and capiltalist violence.
Another detail that journalists are keen on ignoring is the fact that this region is majority-minority, primarily low-income, primarily Spanish speaking, with very mixed citizenship statuses. It is imperative to recognize the kind of exploitation and gentrification that come along with a major corporation setting up shop in a historically neglected community.
With all of this in mind it is troubling that the majority of people interviewed around SpaceX are white. Interviewing the leftover residents at Boca Chica Village is one thing but the majority of news sources find the few white people in the area and center their voices and opinions over local residents who for the most part, are not white. Why haven’t any shrimpers or fishers been interviewed? Why do journalists choose to only interview the white members of environmental defense or wildlife conservation groups? There are plenty of Latine and Indigenous naturists with ancestral and spiritual ties to this land who have known its needs and history for generations. Journalists refusing to get the story from those who are going to be affected long term is just another way that the failures in reporting on this issue contribute to the erasure and desecration of our home and our beach.
We wish journalists understood that this cuts deeply for locals. Some journalists have done a good job showing both sides, but no one will specifically side with the community. Especially so for those reporting from a space news or tech news angle. Journalists need to understand that this isn’t just a beach to us or some locals trying to give a billionaire a hard time. We’re fighting tooth and nail to preserve Boca Chica as a sacred site to our culture, to The Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe population, and to our identities.
Many of SpaceX’s supporters have expressed during public comment periods that it’s our duty to make sacrifices like this for the greater good so Mars can be colonized, but why is that our duty to take on? Mars isn’t going anywhere and our Earth desperately needs attention and mobilization around climate change.
The answer to climate change isn’t rich people leaving us here to die while they colonize Mars or even more militarization. Journalists need to center community concerns when discussing SpaceX Boca Chica. We are watching our home be gentrified and exploited in real-time — rent is increasing, and housing is becoming scarce– along with accepting the very real environmental dangers that threaten our health, and in some cases, ultimately our lives.
Journalists should make more of an effort to center Indigenous voices and write in support of “land back.” For more context, “land back” is a campaign that’s working to return political and economic control to Indigenous people in the United States and Canada over land that historically belonged to them prior to colonization. The media should recognize that there is a moral obligation to make sure that the concerns that Indigenous people have for their sacred sites and ancestral lands should always be taken seriously and centered.
Finally, journalists need to make the distinction between elected officials’ opinions on this matter and our own as locals. Local elected officials, more specifically our mayor, city commission, county commissioners, and former State Rep Rene Oliveria have taken upon themselves to act like they are SpaceX influencers. They have continually refused to genuinely listen to community concerns, and other elected officials are not much different.
We are marginalized to the point where the ability to vote new people in doesn’t do much when the only people that can actually afford to run are the wealthy. Then they refuse to listen, roll their eyes during city meetings, call community members “ridiculous” to the press, “lose”submitted written comments, and refuse to have town halls to discuss the community’s concerns. This is because they share class interests with the billionaire next door and not with their constituents. They act like this land was just empty with no ties to anyone. Like Elon Musk is doing us all a favor by developing it when that could not be further from the truth. The community voices are continually suppressed in our local government. We don’t have a voice in our local government so at the very least we need the media to stop serving as an aide to white supremacy and tell the public a full and accurate story told by those who are directly impacted, not those who directly benefit financially from selling out our community.
It’s important that journalists report on this issue accurately because we need an accurate account of what is happening here and how a lot of our predictions about this facility have unfortunately come true. We need our story to be told accurately and we need the public to have access to it so they can fully understand that it’s not just cool rocket launches happening here. People need to understand that our community is in danger. People need to understand that Elon Musk is trying to erase our cities, erase our culture, erase our beach.
When journalists choose to shine a light on the premature advances being made in space flight, they are aiding Elon Musk in erasing us.
A lot of people that are unaware of what is actually happening here have the misconception that what SpaceX is doing is environmentally friendly and that the area they are testing does not have multiple communities mere miles away. We need to paint a clear picture here of what the land looks like, who and what will be affected short term and long term, and what promises are made and never kept.
To the outside world, this facility’s existence is awe inspiring and futuristic, making fantasies of space travel more than just a TV show or a movie. That could not be further from the truth to the people who live here. This is very quickly turning into a nightmare in more ways than one for us. Our air and our beach are being polluted, our animals are dying, we’re losing access to the beach more and more each day, debris litters once pristine sand dunes, we’re being priced out of our own city to cater to wealthy white men, our elected officials roll their eyes at us and call us ridiculous when raise these concerns that threaten their bank accounts, and frankly, it is getting incredibly exhausting and increasingly worse.
The public deserves to know what is actually going on here because their megalomaniacal, apartheid-emerald inheriting, union-busting, never actually invented anything himself CEO has sold them all a lie. In fact, from the emails that were leaked recently, it’s clear that SpaceX is already failing to be a profitable project, so there really aren’t any benefits at all. He is lying to all of us and journalists are helping him when they report inaccurate or incomplete information about this issue.