Ruby Martinez-Berrier stands next to the cactus garden wall that her father built next to their home. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

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.

My mother gave birth to my sister in the front room of our home on Lavaca Street. Thick limestone walls surrounded her as our neighbor lit candles and prayed for her safe delivery – and two years later for mine. My parents named me after the Rolling Stones song, “Ruby Tuesday.”

It was in that house on Lavaca that my sister and I, who quickly became best friends, learned to walk, to read, to cook, to dance – everything.

My parents met at the original Whole Foods in Austin in 1983. My mother was working her way through college as a cashier, and my father had just moved back to Texas to work for the Governor. They fell in love, and when my mother decided to move back to her hometown of San Antonio, my father followed.

They had been living in an apartment downtown when my father brought my mother to a decrepit old house across from Hemisfair one day. “I bought it,” he said proudly as my mother looked up in disbelief. Only one wall was standing upright, and weeds dominated the yard. But my father saw something beautiful.

The Lavaca neighborhood in San Antonio is shaded in blue. Credit: Illustration / San Antonio Report – Google Maps

Our home was built in 1871 by William Breslan. My parents love how old it is, how much history has been stored in it. Growing up, friends would come to my house and jaws would drop. “Wow, your house is like a museum!” they would say. I always felt super cool showing them the deepwater well located in the middle of our living room floor, or the shoes leftover from past residents underneath the trap door in the bedroom.Growing up, we started our mornings with a nice walk to Espuma. It was a sweet little coffee shop with the best cinnamon rolls. In the afternoons my sister and I would walk to Hemisfair with my parents and play in the fountains or rollerskate around the outside of the Institute of Texan Cultures.

When my parents moved in no one with any type of money was looking to invest in the community, so the community invested in itself. Lots of working-class families labored year after year. They kept their lawns nice, painted their homes, and worked hard to send family members to college for the first time.

My father made one adobe brick a day for a year to build the cactus garden wall on the side of our house. My mother helped found the Martinez Street Women’s Center. Many people engaged politically and socially for years, slowly transforming our neighborhood for the better.

An art piece that Ruby Martinez-Berrier’s father designed is displayed in front of their home. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

And now our neighborhood has transformed again. These historic homes are renovated and sell for up to a million dollars. Urban living has become more popular. Now the streets are cleaner, the houses are fixed up, and new restaurants and bars are opening every month. The downside of this change is that houses have become more expensive and property taxes are higher, meaning many working-class folks can no longer afford to live here. 

But not all the houses are a million dollars. When the paleta man rings his bell in the summer, we all still come running. You’ll still hear music coming from backyards where families are grilling and singing along. See, it is at this moment, when the neighborhood is so diverse, that people get to know the struggles and dreams of those who are unlike themselves. They empathize, they change. And they contribute those ideas gained from their experiences to the living, breathing entity that is our neighborhood. And we all add something. 

My favorite day of the year to live on Lavaca is New Year’s Eve. San Antonians from all over the city come out and park their cars on our streets. They set up camping chairs on our front lawns, drink Dos Equis and set off illegal fireworks. You can walk across to the carnival and eat your share of funnel cakes, maybe win a stuffed animal, and stumble back to our front porch just in time to see the official fireworks. They are always the most beautiful.

Our porch lines up perfectly with the Tower of the Americas. You could run to it in less than 60 seconds (I timed it). Best view in the city! As I stand there, surrounded by family, friends, neighbors, strangers, I see the best of the previous year and the best to come. I look up at the glitter of sky and sparkle, and I feel hope in my heart and happiness in my soul, knowing that this neighborhood raised me and continues to nurture me. It is the place where we celebrate, the place where we eat good food, the safe place. It is my favorite place. Lavaca, I love you.