I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world. I live in the Mission Historic District in the home that my great-grandparents built when they married in 1857. My grandfather was born in this home in 1871. My mother was also born in this home in 1916, and my sister and I were both born in this home, as well, in 1949 and 1950, respectively.
For our family, life revolved around Mission San Francisco de la Espada. A grade school was established there in 1915 by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. My mother attended, and later my sister and I. We received all our sacraments at Mission Espada, and that is also where I married my husband Jesse Mendoza.
When I married, my husband and I bought a house in the Harlandale area. Then when my parents passed away, they left the house to me, and we moved back. Even though I had lived in Harlandale for 20 years, I feel like I never left this house. No matter where I’ve lived or how far I have traveled, I’ve always felt a gravitational pull toward this area. I was born and raised here, and I love it.
I remember going swimming in the Espada Aqueduct with the neighborhood kids before it became a park. My next-door neighbor at the time, whose daughter still lives next door, had a station wagon. She would pile us all in and take us down to the river to go swimming. Before Loop 410 was built, we’d walk down to Mission Espada for the Bookmobile in the summer.
In the early ‘60s there was a lot of flooding in the area. The Army Corps of Engineers came in and rerouted the creek that ran behind my house. After the reroute, it was called Six Mile Creek, but my whole life it was called Arroyo de la Piedra, which is what we in the neighborhood still call it. When the creek was rerouted, a lot of people – among them my mother’s cousins – who lived here got bought out. There were a lot of Rivases who lived up and down the road, and the Gutierrezes, who are also related to our family, also lived in the area.
The neighborhood was one big family because the land used to belong to my great-great-grandfather Domingo Bustillos, who was a prominent citizen of Tejas y Coahuila as well as the Republic of Texas. When he passed away in 1854, he left his seven children a total of 1,600 acres in this area. It was a Republic of Texas land grant, and the area was called Rincón del Alamito. A lot of that land was sold off over the years, and now I’m sitting on about three-quarters of an acre.
My husband passed away three years ago and both of our phenomenal kids, Jesse and Julie, are now grown and out on their own, so I live in this house by myself. My daughter married and now lives just south of Boerne, and when my husband passed away, she suggested I move in with her. But I could never leave this house. My roots are too deep here. My heart and soul are deep in my beloved South Side. I would feel like a fish out of water anywhere else.
I love being able to visit my beloved Mission Espada. As soon as I enter those grounds, I feel a sense of peace. I love to take walks along the river. The Mission Reach, which was completed not too long ago, is also great.
There are so many great Mexican restaurants in this area. Any place you go around here, you can get good Mexican food. My daughter says that’s the one thing she misses. My grandson often complains that there’s no good Mexican food out where they live. He loves to come visit and eat. Nicha’s is one of our favorites.
There’s so much history in this land and in this house. Neighbors and family who have moved away always comment on that connection they feel to this area. I have two chairs on my front porch that have been there for 70, maybe 80 years. There are pictures of my me and my sister sitting in those chairs when we were just toddlers, and when my cousins come to visit they’re amazed that those chairs are still in the same place.
It’s good that the National Park Service wants to preserve the history of this area, but the downside of that is that a lot of people get bought out. That happened to a lot of my relatives, especially in the Mission San Juan Capistrano area. That was once a vibrant community. There was a little grass road that led right up to the missions and there were houses along that road and small businesses, including my cousin’s beauty shop. Now there’s nothing there. And I get it, I’m a preservationist, but not at the expense of driving people out of their communities.
People are always telling me that it’s only a matter of time before I have to leave, too. But I’m not going down without a fight. I’m so impressed by the people of the West Side who are fighting for their own neighborhoods. I always see those “Mi Barrio No Se Vende” signs when I visit, and it makes me want my own because I feel the same way. This house, this neighborhood is too important to me.