The Where I Live series aims to showcase our diverse city and region by spotlighting its many vibrant neighborhoods. Each week a local resident invites us over and lets us in on what makes their neighborhood special. Have we been to your neighborhood yet? Get in touch to share your story.
When my father-in-law first came to San Antonio from Mexico in the ‘70s, he didn’t know much about this city. He hopped on a VIA bus to see where it would take him and, after exploring some neighborhoods, he found a house for sale in Culebra Park on the West Side. That’s where he decided to put down roots.
He and his wife started a family and together fixed up the house, adorning it with details that reminded them of Mexico, like colorful tiles and mementos from their home country. The first time I set foot in the house, it was like being transported. I could feel the love and care that went into making it a home and the history within its walls. When I moved in with my husband, Ruben, I knew I was moving into a legacy home unique to this area, and I felt so grateful to his parents for setting this foundation for us.
Having lived here his whole life, Ruben knows the neighbors who have been here just as long or even longer. Many of them are family friends who we trust to keep an eye on things when we go out of town. The neighborhood is a good mix of younger people like us and older folks who have been in Culebra Park for decades. There are Latinx families who have been here for generations and Black families who moved here after Hurricane Katrina.
One of my favorite spots in the neighborhood is our backyard. There’s plenty of shade for me to sit and relax with a good book. I’ve also become the neighborhood cat lady, so you’ll often find me outside hanging out with one of the many cats that stop by for a visit. A playhouse built by my father-in-law stands as a reminder of Ruben’s childhood. It even still has the Superman wallpaper.
My husband and I like to walk to Gilbert Garza Park, which has become central to our community after years of neglect. The city has recently made updates to the park, including adding a playground and partnering with the Spurs to freshen up the basketball court. The park is adjacent to Gregorio Esparza Elementary School, which my husband attended and where he now works as a P.E. coach. He was especially excited about the updates to the park because he’s seen the need for something like this in the neighborhood.
One thing there’s no shortage of in Culebra Park is good Mexican food. I especially love the old-school mom and pop taquerias. My favorite spot is Taqueria El Rodeo de Jalisco. It’s like going over to a family member’s house for some home-cooked food.
And it’s really this old-school feel that makes me loyal to the West Side. I grew up in the nearby Deco District and after my family moved to Castle Hills when I was in middle school I never quite settled in there. I knew I belonged on the West Side and moved back as soon as I could.
Change is slow to come to Culebra Park, which could be due to a number of reasons. There’s a negative perception of this area that outsiders have — and that couldn’t be further from the truth — that often dissuades businesses from investing here. Residents are also protective of their neighborhood and sometimes use these misconceptions to ward off intruders. There’s a joke that folks will shoot off their guns once in a while to scare off potential gentrifiers.
This fear of gentrification is certainly warranted, as we see other parts of San Antonio transformed in ways that push out families that have lived there for generations. So I understand that there’s a fine line between welcoming change and inviting gentrification.
My hope is that we can embrace our neighborhood identity without playing into the stereotypes and that we can take pride in our neighborhood by keeping it clean and safe for the people who live here. I’m proud of my husband for staying close to his roots and teaching Culebra Park’s new generation that they should be proud of where they come from and invest in making it better. My husband and I wanted to start a life together in Culebra Park because we have so much love for the West Side and want to share that with our children someday, so it’s encouraging to see the families of these students sharing in that mindset and building community with each other.