The rich history of San Antonio’s Historic West Side is evident not only in the historical archives detailing the construction of our racialized space and labor structure. It is evident, too, in the day-to-day lives of those who live here. It is visible in our shotgun lots, school mascots, architecture, and can be understood through the storytelling of our elders. Our Historic West Side is a vibrant community with rich murals, colorful casitas, and passionate people eager to lend a helping hand.
Take a cruise down Guadalupe Street and you will be greeted by National Steel, a Westside recycling center, legacy business, and a key source of income for many residents since 1946. Within the panoramic view atop the Guadalupe Bridge are the rooftops of our neighborhood schools and of the homes of our neighbors at the Alazan-Apache Courts. Welcome to the Historic West Side, home to bold community leaders, gorgeous gardens, and a close-knit community known to take advantage of a front-porch breeze.
My fondest childhood memories consist of walks around the neighborhood, plucking roses from my grandmother’s neighbors’ yards on our way back from Guadalupe Plaza, placing them in a styrofoam cup likely from Don Juan’s Cafe. Guadalupe Plaza and the Guadalupe Church were my go-to hiding places and spaces for meditation when it got too crowded or too hot at my grandmother’s house. As children, we loved playing at the plaza and taking turns on the playground zipline while community folks gathered nearby to catch up and play dominoes.
The Historic West Side has been home to my family for generations, dating back to the late nineteenth century, and serves as the core of our San Antonio experience. When my husband and I were presented with the chance to rent a family home there, we were overjoyed, and it was not long before we were packed up and making the one-mile move from our previous residence.
Having found ourselves now living walking distance from the best tacos de nopales at Linda’s Mexican Restaurant as well as from one of the best mole specials in town at Yatzil’s is both a blessing and a curse. Luckily, the charming trails that run along the nearby Alazan Creek provide an opportunity for us to get a good run in and work off our meals.
Our neighbors are family friends that we have known for as far back as I can remember. These days, we catch up and keep each other up to date on our growing families. The neighborhood children adore our two dogs, Pebbles and Axel, and are always asking to see them.
If you speak to any generational resident, you will notice a strong sense of sentimental pride in where we live. Many Historic West Side homes were built by the hands of family members and have housed multigenerational residents. As San Antonio has continued to grow and our neighborhoods change, the Historic West Side has experienced an increase in housing demolitions. Certainly, the health and safety of our neighbors is a priority, and it is why structural repair programs that would preserve our most affordable housing stock for our most cost-burdened neighbors should be given priority over outright demolitions.
While the West Side has endured decades of disinvestment, it is now experiencing speculation and investment that is outpacing stagnant wages. Our community members are the individuals who work in the service industry taking care of our tourists, working the low-paying essential jobs in San Antonio’s tourism-based economy. As San Antonio continues to grow, our city must prioritize the safeguarding of our residents against displacement and preserve existing and affordable housing stock.
As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, we must shift the paradigm of what is being proposed as affordable housing and start thinking of a Green New Deal for Housing. Retrofitting and decarbonizing public housing, homes, and buildings into safe, sustainable, and truly affordable housing will create much-needed demand for employment opportunities, uplifting our communities and workers. San Antonio has the infrastructure to partner with existing workforce development programs to provide the skills for green union jobs including students at Lanier High School. Now is the time to take bold action and build on existing home rehabilitation programs, historical tax credits, and use public funds for the working people of San Antonio.
I love our Historic West Side for a wealth of reasons: you can catch neighbors in their front yards, jamming out to music, grilling, gardening, gathering. Compliment our gardens, and we will offer you some seeds or even a plant cutting. If you miss your bus, someone will offer to lend you their bicycle or give you a ride. The Historic West Side is a strong community, and while economically poor, it is rich and deeply rooted in culture, history, and solidarity.