Quixote of the Rio Grande: Jay J. Johnson-Castro

Houston Chronicle reporter James Pinkerton calls it a “quixotic trek”. We say it’s about time. Here is a collection of clips about J. Jay Johnson-Castro and his walk of conscience from Laredo to Brownsville, along a line that Congress says is to be double-fenced.–gm


Oct. 12, 2006, 10:54PM
Opponent of border wall begins 200-mile protest

Innkeeper feels the viewpoint of South Texans is disregarded, so far

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

LAREDO – “We’re heading out,” said Jay J. Johnson-Castro, speaking to nobody in particular.

As day laborers watched, the stocky South Texas innkeeper strode across the historic San Agustin plaza shortly before 11 a.m. Tuesday, swinging a brass-topped walking stick and trailed by more than a dozen journalists and several friends.

And with little fanfare or planning, Johnson-Castro began a quixotic trek from Laredo to Brownsville. During the next 15 days or so, he’s hoping to rally border residents and topple Washington’s plans to erect a controversial security fence along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“This is my personal expression against an idea that is as ugly as a wall,” said Johnston-Castro, as he walked south on Chihuahua Street toward Laredo’s city limits. “Think of how we rejoiced when the Berlin Wall came down. It separated families.

“And we’re going to do the same thing? We can’t allow it.”

Johnson-Castro, 59, who owns a bed-and-breakfast in Del Rio, says he thinks Washington leaders have ignored the viewpoint of border residents.

“We cannot allow the ruling class to come into our community and divide us,” he said. “My appeal is ‘Walk with me a mile if you oppose the fence.’

” ‘If you’re opposed to the insult to our neighbors across the river, walk a mile.’ ”

As Johnson-Castro headed out of town, few joined his walk. But there were frequent signs of support as passing motorists honked their horns and shouted encouragement.

‘Are you the walker?’

Maria Arce, a Laredo homemaker, pulled her maroon Toyota over to the curb and asked Johnson-Castro “are you the walker?”

Arce then handed him $5, and wished him good luck.

Others watched Johnson-Castro with interest, but not approval.

On the front steps of the Falcon National Bank, Ricardo Sandoval said he favored a wall because “there’s too many immigrants coming in.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Sandoval, a Laredo native who lives in Evansville, Ind. “It would keep us working here, and the violence out. All that drug trafficking, it will slow it down and save us tax money.”

No use for the wall

Still, many others voiced support for Johnson-Castro’s effort.

“The commerce and tourism between Mexico and South Texas is very good. A wall would hurt a little bit of everything,” said Robert Stanfield, general manager of the well-known La Posada hotel. “I’m trying to look at what the positives would be, but I can’t find it.”

As the afternoon wore on, and the heat increased, Johnson-Castro and his small entourage walked past the Paleteria Chueca, a Popsicle outlet on the outskirts of Laredo.

The company’s owner, Hector Gonzalez, invited the group in for free Popsicles.

“What do you think of the wall?” Johnson-Castro asked him.

“No, it’s bad,” Gonzalez replied, and he was invited to walk a mile.

He declined with a hearty laugh, but Johnson-Castro did persuade him to walk with him down to the next block before the Popsicle entrepreneur got back to work.

Though Johnson-Castro said he had the support of many border politicians, none showed up to support him as he started out.

But that doesn’t mean they want the fence.

“The fence ain’t gonna work. It’s a silly, silly idea,” said Laredo Mayor Raul G. Salinas, a veteran FBI agent. “At the time we’re knocking down walls all around the world, and we’re building new ones? Why don’t we just close the (international) bridges?”

Trek being filmed

The walk along the border is being filmed by Jesse Salmeron, a 28-year-old Houstonian who directed a documentary called Undocumented, an account of the pro-immigration protests that took place earlier this year.

Salmeron said he came illegally to Houston from El Salvador as a child.

“There is kind of a lull in the immigration movement right now, so when I read the story in the Houston Chronicle, I packed my bags and came down here,” the filmmaker said.

By the end of the day, Johnson-Castro had canceled plans to sleep outdoors in a tent after getting an offer of lodging from a South Texas immigration clinic.

He said the “word is really getting out in Laredo” as more and more cars honked at his small group, moving south toward Zapata.

“We’re doing good as long as I keep moving,” he said.


Border walker hits the road

Del Rio man walking from Laredo to Brownsville to protest fence

The Brownsville Herald

October 11, 2006 — Jay Johnson-Castro is on the road and accompanied by a handful of journalists as he walks along Highway 83 from Laredo to Brownsville to protest the planned construction of a fence along that stretch of the border.

“We’re on the walk,” Johnson-Castro said on his cell phone Tuesday from the road side in the outskirts of Laredo.

He was scheduled to begin his walk at 10 a.m., but he eventually got going with “quite a few people” around 10:45 a.m., he said.

He walked this morning with a group of mostly media, a documentarian from Houston and his assistant, Sara Boone from Del Rio. There was a good crowd in Laredo, Johnson-Castro said. Reporters came all the way from Mexico City.

The group stopped at convenience stores along the way, he said. Johnson-Castro calls the border fence “an atrocity” and is walking to send that message to its proponents. He estimates it will take him 15 days to walk the entire 200 miles.

For more information about the “Texas Border Wall-k” contact Sara Boone at (830) 768-1100 or visit


Clipped from

Laredo-to-Brownsville Border Walk planned to protest border fence

By Steve Taylor

LAREDO (Rio Grande Guardian) — The Secure Fence Act passed by Congress last week and now awaiting the signature of President Bush proposes 176 miles of fencing from Laredo to Brownsville.

Jay Johnson-Castro, Sr., a member of the Border Tourism Subcommittee, is planning a 176-mile walk from Laredo to Brownsville in protest against the fence.

The Border Tourism Subcommittee reports to the Tourism Advisory Council, which is part of the economic development and tourism department in Gov. Rick Perry’s office.

Johnson-Castro said he wants thousands of others who live along the border and who are opposed to the fence to join him on the walk, which is slated to begin next Tuesday.

“We are calling this the ‘Texas Border WaLL-k’ and we are doing it so those in Washington get the message that we do not want any more divisions between ourselves and our neighbors across the Rio Grande,” Johnson-Castro said. “When our so-called leaders come down from Washington they get treated like VIPs and are given the red carpet treatment. They don’t get to hear from the grassroots. Now they will.”

Johnson-Castro said he has received plenty of encouragement from the border elected officials he has so far contacted. He said more will be cont

acted over the next few days.

As well as moral support, he and the organizing committee are hoping to get food, refreshment, and accommodation along the way, as well as protection from traffic on the highways. He said the Border Walk could take ten days to complete.

Johnson-Castro owns a bed and breakfast in Del Rio. He said if the march from Laredo to Brownsville is a success, he might organize one in his hometown. He explained that his passion is protecting the Rio Grande River and he is concerned that the people and ecology of the Rio Grande Corridor will suffer if a border fence is erected.

“We have a unique culture along the Rio Grande. The river is no more a division between the people that live either side of it, than those that live either side of the Guadalupe, the Brazos, or the Colorado rivers that flow through this state. The powers in Austin and Washington, D.C. do not seem to recognize that,” Johnson-Castro said. “We who live along the Rio Grande Corridor, on both sides of the river, are related culturally, through our families, through business and commerce. What is never recognized is that we are a culture within ourselves.”

Johnson-Castro said he realized President Bush could sign the Secure Fence Act any day. Bush has already signed a bill committing $1.2 billion in federal funding for a border fence.

Regardless of whether Bush signs the Secure Fence Act, Johnson-Castro said the Border Walk would go ahead.

“We are offended and insulted by a border fence and we want our voices to be heard,” he said.


Oct. 9, 2006, 9:56AM
Man plans border walk to protest U.S.-Mexico fence

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

He doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep or eat. “I’m more concerned,” he admits, “where I’m going to go to the john.” But a South Texas bed-and-breakfast owner is determined to walk nearly 200 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border to protest Washington’s plans for a new fence.

“It’s going to be a long, hot walk,” said Jay Johnson-Castro, 59, of Del Rio. “But this is what needs to happen. People on the border have been ignored.”

Lawmakers last week passed a bill to build 700 miles of new fencing along the border. And President George Bush signed a homeland security bill that could provide initial funding for part of the barrier, expected to plug some of the most vulnerable gaps along sections of the border in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Upset about the fence, Johnson-Castro decided to let his feet do the talking. He hopes others will hear about his trek and walk with him.

He sets off from Laredo on Tuesday and hopes to make Brownsville some 176 miles away.

“The more people who join us, the bigger the statement,” he said. “A lot of people want to join. I don’t know how many will.”

The planned border fence — which could cost $9 billion to built — also has strong supporters.

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Tx, praised the fence plan during a debate on immigration in at the Houston Club last week.

“Border security today has to be framed in terms of the war on terror,” he said. “The day will come when they attack us in Houston. I don’t know why the terrorists haven’t hit us, but it will come.”

Johnson-Castro said he disagrees, and doesn’t believe the danger of terrorists slipping across the southern border is so great.

“When a politician comes along and says the border is a terrorism pipeline, I get offended,” he said.

The border fence has become a “political football,” he contends, and politicians in Washington aren’t listening to voterson the Texas-Mexico border.

“We’ve been ignored,” he said. “We feel we have a right to be heard. We are challenging the voice of the president, of congress.”

Nuevo Laredo, the Mexican town across the border from Laredo, has a tremendous drug violence problem, Johnson-Castro concedes. But for that, he said, “the U.S. government is penalizing the entire border.”

As for what to do about illegal immigration, he contends that America is hooked on immigrant labor, but won’t admit it.

“I’d like for the United States to get out of denial,” he said. “Our country would collapse without Latin American labor. We complain about these folks, but they’re here to work. The Mexican people are maintaining our country.”

He’s not sure how long his trek will take. Nor does he know where he’ll stop or rest.

Things are happening a bit too fast, he said, for much planning.

The idea for the walk came to him on Oct. 2. And it wasn’t until Oct. 5 that he decided for sure to do it.

He figures the trek will take 15 days or so. Maybe more.

“I don’t know where I’m going to sleep. I don’t know where I’m going to shower. But my biggest concern is, ‘where’s the port-o-potty?'”


Carlos Guerra: Prospect of 700-mile wall along border sends one man walking

Web Posted: 10/10/2006 12:02 AM CDT

San Antonio Express-News

LAREDO — Jay J. Johnson-Castro was born in Oregon and grew up in Alaska. But today, he wears his light felt hat and boots as if he were a Texas native.

An entrepreneur since college, his ventures ranged from eateries to real estate to historic buildings. And he traveled, visiting all the U.S.-Mexico border crossings until the last one, Del Rio-Acuña, captured his heart.

Real estate dealings led him into historic restorations, which required research, and “I learned a lot about Texas history and border relations,” Johnson says. “We’re the only Americans who have to prove we’re American when we go north.”

And his conversations are peppered with comments about “living inside the checkpoints,” the areas between the border and the secondary immigration stations both nations maintain a few miles inland.

Within this bi-national strip, the bed-and-breakfast operator says, is a world that is neither American nor Mexican, but a meld of both. It is also an area — and a way of life — that few outsiders know exists, much less understand or appreciate.

Almost 60 percent of Mexico’s north borders Texas, Johnson says, and that section accounts for about three-fourths of the frontera’s population.

“You have checkpoints on the U.S. side and on the Mexico side, and people who live inside those checkpoints think of ourselves as a community,” he explains. “We live in sister cities and have families that cross over; workers and employers go across the border to work; we network and promote our regions together.

“And get along,” he says. “But now, those people in Washington who don’t get along, who are divided and divisive, are coming down here to try and impose their divisive mindset on us.”

“Texas’ No. 1 trading partner is Mexico, and I find it profoundly disturbing that we are slapping our neighbor with this border wall,” he bristles. “It is the ultimate insult; it is immoral.”

After the U.S. House approved the construction of a 700-mile border wall, Johnson says, he was sure the more temperate Senate would not accept it.

“But a week and a half ago, they did,” he says, shaking his head, “and the Texas president who has been campaigning for immigration reform has signed the down payment for the darned wall!

“I’m nauseated and asking, ‘When did they ever ask us? When did we have a voice?'” he says. “We’ve got 1,200 miles of border with more people living there than some states have population and we don’t have a voice.”

Senate approval prompted him “to scream at somebody,” the 60-year-old says, “so I’m taking two or three weeks to walk 200 miles, to places I’m not invited to go; I’m one person, I’m a nobody in Washington;
I’m no CEO or lobbyist, and don’t have the money to buy a vote. They’ve already handed Boeing a contract for the high-tech fence. Will Halliburton get another job?”

So, at 10 a.m. today, Jay Johnson will start walking from Laredo’s historic Plaza San Agustín to Brownsville to protest the construction of the first part of the border wall.

If no one else expresses revulsion of this wall, he says, he will.

“Remember when we all celebrated the victory over oppression and totalitarianism when that wall that separated Berlin, that separated friends and families, came down,” he says. “And our country is going to do something like that?”

To contact Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail His column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.


A man and his mission

By Karen Gleason
Del Rio News-Herald

Published October 8, 2006

Del Rioan Jay Johnson Sr. has talked the talk, but, starting Tuesday, he’s going to see if he can walk the walk.

Johnson, owner and operator of the Villa Del Rio bed-and-breakfast, plans to make a 176-mile trek from Laredo to Brownsville to protest the proposed construction of a fence between the United States and Mexico.

“A year ago, the idea of a border fence was a joke,” Johnson said in an interview earlier this week. “Then the House passed it and we said, ‘The Senate will never allow something like this to go through,’ but then the Senate approved it.”

Johnson said he was driving to San Antonio for a conference Sept. 28 when he “heard Sean Hannity talking about it.”

“I was just stunned,” Johnson recalled.

After the shock wore off, Johnson said the thought of the fence began to anger him.

“(U.S. Rep. Henry) Bonilla voted for it; (U.S. Sen. John) Cornyn voted for it; (U.S. Sen.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison voted for it, and Bush signed it. I couldn’t believe it,” Johnson said.

“I think that a fraction of a percentage of the people who actually live here on the border would want a wall or a fence, but we who live here on the border, we who love the bi-national, bi-cultural, bi-lingual lifestyle; nobody asked us if we wanted this,” Johnson said.

“So I started thinking, if the government is going to build a wall between ourselves and our friends and neighbors, where is the collective voice of the border? Who is speaking for us?” he said.

Johnson blasted the Democrats and the media for not “speaking out” against the fence proposal.

He pooh-poohed recent reports that federal legislators now are asking for local input about how and where the fence should be constructed. “Now that a fence has been imposed on us, they’re basically saying, ‘Would you like for it to be pink or would you like for it to be orange?’” he said.

As his outrage grew, Johnson said, “I wanted to do something. I had to do something.”

He said his entire point in making the walk “is to shame the people who signed the bill.”

“It’s shameful what we’ve done,” Johnson said. “The only reason we have any problems with Mexico in the first place is that we’ve treated them like this for so long.”

Johnson said he will start his long walk Tuesday morning after checking out of La Posada hotel in Laredo then “walk south on Highway 83 to Brownsville.”

Johnson said he estimated the trek will take at least two weeks.

“I hope I’ll come back a little trimmer,” Johnson joked, patting his stomach with both hands.

Johnson said he doesn’t know who, if anyone, will join him on his walk, but he is inviting the world. “I’m inviting those legislators that signed the bill. I’m inviting Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, all the people who talk about this border and this culture and who have never walked in it,” he said.

Regional media, including television, radio and online news sources such as the Rio Grande Guardian already have picked up Johnson’s story and are broadcasting it throughout the Valley.

Johnson, who is well-known in Del Rio, is using the name “Johnson-Castro” with regional and national media.

He told the News-Herald that the name is, in part, a nod to his Hispanic roots.

“Both my grandparents on my biological father’s side came from two different islands in the Azores and ended up in California,” Johnson said.

He said he was not raised by his biological father and didn’t even know he had siblings until 2001.

“I’m using the name professionally more and more. It’s an acknowledgment to them,” Johnson said.



Man Gets Creative In Protesting The Border Fence

Oct 6, 2006 06:16 PM

Reported by Ryan Wolf

“Shameful.” A “travesty.” “Anti-Texas!” A man who calls himself the ultimate grass roots guy is doing more than speaking out against Washington’s billion dollar border fence, he wants to walk all over it!

“Lets send a message back to Washington D.C. that we who live along the border that those who want the fence don’t have a clue.”

Jay J. Johnson-Castro out of Del Rio is organizing a historic walk with international implications. He’s planning on walking from Laredo to Brownsville, 200 miles over 15 days.

The length covers the Texas portion of the proposed U.S.-Mexico border fence approved by Washington and the President to keep illegal immigrants out.

“Our voice was never heard, it was never listened to– the system broke down and failed us.”

The event is dubbed the “Texas Border WaLL-k.”

Only in this case, walk is spelled with 2 letter L’s. That’s to signify, Jay J. says, the wall he’s against.

Congressman Henry Cuellar fully supports the demonstration.

“I admire people that are creative and who come with ideas to show their displeasure with this fence.”

The District 28 Representative voted against a border fence pushing instead for more manpower and technology.

He believes the fence’s impact will directly effect trade and tourism in the valley and spawn lawsuits from private property owners and environmentalists.

Cuellar not only fully backs the walk but plans to join the protest.

“I say go ahead and go with it!”

It’s the kind of support the event organizer wants from everyone here in the Valley… even if only for a few miles… even if only for a few steps.

“Any American who is opposed to the mentality of dividing a people join me!”

We also spoke to Henry Cuellar’s opponent for the upcoming District 28 race.

McAllen Attorney Frank Enriquez says he too supports the “Texas Border WaLL-k” and plans to join the cause.

The walk by the way is planned for Tuesday.

By mopress

Writer, Editor, Educator, Lifelong Student

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