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When I was growing up on the East Side of San Antonio, the neighborhood kids didn’t have a park or playground, but we made do with what we had. We spent afternoons running around, playing in a ditch, and climbing “mountains” until the sun started setting and we heard our mothers calling us home for dinner. On the days my mom made fresh tortillas, we were the most popular house on the block. Our friends would crowd into our kitchen for a warm tortilla spread with peanut butter or jelly.

I later moved into my own house just a block away, knowing that my mother would need me around when she got older. I’m grateful that I was able to be there for her when she got sick and take care of her until she passed away last year. My older neighbors need someone to be there for them, too, so I try to help how I can.

If you’ve driven through the near East Side recently, you’ve likely noticed homes getting renovated and businesses popping up. But in this corner of Denver Heights known as the Arena District, not much has changed in the decades I’ve lived here. Many of the neighbors I grew up around are still in their homes, though those homes are a lot worse for wear. There’s still no safe, accessible play space for kids nearby. But much like we did back then, the kids in the neighborhood still manage to make their own fun.

My grandchildren like to help me in the garden, which has been great, especially during the pandemic. They’re both older, so they were pretty good about following directions and staying on top of their work while learning remotely, but it was also important for me to have them get outside for some fresh air and exercise. I’m an outdoor person and I love being in my yard tending to my flowers or just sitting in the shade of the trees. It feels like my own private park.

But not everyone is able (or willing) to take care of their yards in the same way, so the neighborhood doesn’t exactly look inviting. These neglected properties, along with missing sidewalks, roads in need of repair, poor street lighting, and lack of drainage make this feel like a forgotten neighborhood.

Despite the presence of St. Philip’s College, we haven’t seen investment in the neighborhood like you typically see near college campuses. There isn’t a coffee shop, restaurant, or grocery store I can walk to or a park children can access without crossing a busy street. Many of the older residents rely on public transportation, and the bus route that would take them to the nearest H-E-B was discontinued during the pandemic.

While I would love to see more businesses and amenities in the Arena District, what we need first is the basics. Resources for my older neighbors who need help with home repairs and maintaining their properties are at the top of my wish list. As a community organizer, I’m able to talk to my neighbors and see the barriers they face. Even with the programs available, one small detail could mean they’re not eligible for help.

Concerns I hear consistently from my neighbors are that we don’t have enough street lights to feel safe getting around after dark and the roads are in dire need of repair. I’m always calling the city about these issues and getting the runaround. But I continue and am persistent because these concerns need to be heard and addressed.

And through it all, I’m still here because I love my neighborhood and the people here. I’ll often have friends I grew up with over and we’ll barbecue in the backyard and reminisce about the old days. Though it might not look like it, this is a special place with so many wonderful memories for a lot of people. I want to see this little community built up so that it can live up to its potential and prosper.

Rosie Baca

Rosie Baca is a community organizer on San Antonio's East Side. More by Rosie Baca

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