El Barrio No Se Vende! Grassroots Activism and Community Revitalization on the US Mexico Border

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:20 AM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Sandra Enriquez, University of Missouri–Kansas City
Throughout the twentieth century, South El Paso, Texas, a one square mile area nestled along the U.S.-Mexico border, served as the Ellis Island of the Southwest for thousands of ethnic Mexicans who crossed the international border in search of a better future. A transient community created to house working-class Mexicans who labored in El Paso’s booming industries, the Southside was in decay from its inception. South El Paso’s location on the border affected the development of the neighborhood and the identities of its residents, especially as ethnic Mexicans found stasis in the area. For generations, the Southside became a city within a city: a dilapidated, thriving, yet segregated Mexican American neighborhood with a population of over 25,000 people rendered invisible: physically, socially, economically, and politically.

A series of Postwar redevelopment efforts and the resolution of a hundred-year-old international boundary dispute presented an opportunity to remedy the conditions of one of the worst urban slums in the Southwest by revitalizing what many deemed as the front yard of the United States.

These redevelopment projects destroyed and depopulated half of South El Paso. Concerned about the survival of their community, residents organized to save the South Side from the bulldozer. This presentation focuses on the story of a community’s struggle for survival and politicization in the face of late twentieth century urban redevelopment along the U.S.-Mexico border. By examining Mexican American grassroots activism for the preservation of the South Side, this project illuminates how a community envisioned, contested, and negotiated urban redevelopment. As scholarship oftentimes focuses on stories of urban renewal in Midwestern or Eastern cities, this presentation shifts the scholarly gaze into a city situated along the U.S.-Mexico border, exploring South El Paso’s significant and distinct convergence of race, urban crisis, and ethnic nationalism and mobilization in a border setting.