Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Respect my HERITAGE!

Read that title in your best Cartman voice.

San Antonio's east side is historically black.  As I've said before, this city has a very small black population, percentage-wise. Only something like 7% to 10% of the population is black.  I grew up on the East Side, mostly off Rigsby Ave (I went to Jeff Davis Middle School, to give y'all local folks a good idea of things--I was there when they changed the name and everyone ignored the name change, and in fact when I was a very small child, before they moved Jeff Davis to its current location across from Sam Houston, you could actually walk a straight line from Jeff Davis to my front yard.  I lived in mortal fear of someone driving into my house until I was 9 and we moved.  But I digress).  Though I was on the receiving end of some nasty racism through elementary & junior high, I loved the side of town I lived on.  There is a very rich history over here, as I have tried to show a bit in my photographs.  It's one of the older parts of town, very close to Ft. Sam Houston.

Commerce Street is, in many ways, a gateway to the city.  Just east of I-37 is Sunset Station, which was and is the train station by which people travel to/from this city.  Continue east and you will go past the Friedrich building, which at one point was the heart of the East Side.  The historic city cemeteries I so like to spend time in are scattered along and near Commerce.  St. Philip's College is over here. So is the Dignowity Hill neighborhood, which rivals anything else in the city for architecture.

It's also the most crime-ridden part of the city, and economically disadvantaged as well.  That's why we call the HEB we go to the Ghetto-B: 'cause we live in the ghetto.  (And, true to form, this is where you find Martin Luther King, Jr Blvd.)

In his column on the City Council's boneheaded decision to rename Durango street after Cesar Chavez (something they had previously tried with Commerce), Scott Stroud noted that the vote broke down along ethnic lines.  He hit it out of the park when he said that, in San Antonio, things are often about race, even when they aren't.  And then he blew it:

Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, the only African American on the council, said she objected to the change because it would cost some $99,000. That sounded too much like the arguments made when Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday became a federal holiday — what a terrible hassle it would be.
I had to resist the temptation to think Taylor should've voted otherwise because of her race. In the end, I think she simply listened to her inner policy wonk, perhaps at the expense of sensitivity. Personally, I'm glad my children spend a week in school learning about King, and I'll be glad to have them ask about Chavez.

So...Yeah.  Because Ivy Taylor is black, she should reflexively vote to honor a person if they also happen to be part of a minority.  Damn, oppressed people have to stick together, right?

Well, see, here's the thing.  San Antonio is majority-Mexican.  I don't know if that was the case when I was a child, but it certainly felt that way.  No two ways about it, the heritage of this city is one to roll its Rs.  And that's fine.

But, like I have noted before, San Antonio's strength lies in its heterogeneous nature.  The culture of this city is so strong because it is so diverse.  We're apparently the most-integrated big city in the nation.  It's wonderful.  We have a huge MLK Day celebration.  We have the Texas Folklife Festival every year, where we get together and celebrate different cultures' food.  We have conjunto, which as I've noted before is basically Mexican polka music.  I can walk to two different panaderias and at least as many soul-food restaurants.

Here's the thing, though--and I've complained about this before.  While we are a melting pot, and very diverse and should celebrate that diversity...the trend is in the opposite direction.  There are people in this city--people with a great deal of money and influence--who are trying to brown-wash San Antonio's history and culture and make it over as overwhelmingly--if not solely--Mexican.

There was a big article in the newspaper a while back that said the East Side is no longer majority black.  Erik, who didn't grow up here, couldn't see the issue.  Why should it matter, he asked, if the residents of the East Side no longer elect a black Council member.  Shouldn't we be beyond race?

Well, yeah, we should.  But we're not.  City Council has, at present, only one black person.  Given the racial make-up of this city, it's no big deal.  But if you have a concern for maintaining the entire culture of this city rather than cherrypicking it...It becomes a big deal.

Remember this?  There are actually a few similar paintings over on Commerce.  There's one of Rev. Dr. King on the side of a convenience store.  There are also these two:

That's the side of the Southwest Worker's Union building. It now looks like this:

So, you once had portraits of two black civil rights leaders.  Now you have portraits of two black civil rights leaders...and this.  This is a pretty random mural that features a Mexican woman (I know, it looks like she could be black, but the artist was Mexican, so that's really not likely).

Hey, guess whose office shares a building with the Southwest Workers Union?  That's right--Ivy Taylor.

Maybe, just maybe, she voted against the renaming of Durango not just because it's a damned waste of money--which it is; you could buy half a City Manager for that price--but because it kinda feels like certain elements in this city are doing their damnedest to shove their heritage down everyone else's throats to the extent that it overshadows, if not obliterates, the culture that's already there.

Have white people done this sort of thing in the past?  Yeah, probably.  Does it excuse any other "minority" from doing it now?  Not so much.

(For the record, I'd be a-OK with this mural were it anywhere else.  It's beautiful and beautifully done.  I suppose I should count myself lucky they didn't let her paint over the others, eh?)


Albatross said...

I had to resist the temptation to think Taylor should've voted otherwise because of her race.

Who's Scott Stroud think he's kidding? He really means that everyone should have voted the way he he thinks is right, and he will use their race -- whatever it is -- against them to justify it.

Black? You should vote to honor Chavez because your people know what it's like to be oppressed.

White? You should vote to honor Chavez because your people need to make up for the sins of your fathers.

Asian? You should vote to honor Chavez because, because, because -- oh, yeah, the Chinese had it hard building all those railroads.

That's really how Stroud thinks. And it makes me sick. It's the same mindset that says you cannot criticize Obama because you're a racist if you do.

BC said...

One thing I think that's been left out of the debate is that Cesar Chavez isn't even part of San Antonio's heritage. He doesn't have any connection to San Antonio. San Antonio's never been a big agricultural center or union town, so it's not like he'd be a hero here for that reason. With our dependence on tourism, theme parks, and resort hotels, San Antonio commerce owes more to the work of Walt Disney than to Cesar Chavez.

Chavez is only part of a San Antonio heritage if you believe being of the same race trumps history, which I guess a lot of people do.

Dave said...

Could we please rename one of the many unconnected "Military Drives" Ceasar Chavez Drive?

Sabra, once again you demonstrate why you are genuinely better at writing than many if not most of the columnists featured in the Express-News. Great post.

Anonymous said...

She's a great writer, Dave, but the Express-News bar is not a very high one, especially with that new columnist they brought on to replace Jan Jarboe Russell...

Sabra said...

Thanks for the compliment, Dave. I don't think they let anyone get near them with a, shall we say, different editorial view. ;-) But they definitely need Erik's help; he's a mad Quark ninja, I tell ya, and could catch those embarrassing typos before they get to press.

Charlene said...

In Louisville a street that ran beside an all white, no blacks, Orientals, Hispanic or Jews club was renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard. It drove the very old moneyed rich crazy. The name stuck. Now about 25 years later there was a great cry to name an expressway after a minor local civil rights figure who happened to die of a heart attack at 54. I didn't agree with that at all.

It's like when they renamed an expressway in eastern Kentucky after that great earmark king Harold Rogers.

You name a street something leave it alone.

As to the "browning" of all things in San Antonio, that's going to happen but when a "Mexican" wants to exert influence isn't that the original culture of San Antonio since it was at one time part of Mexico?

Anonymous said...

but when a "Mexican" wants to exert influence isn't that the original culture of San Antonio

I'm afraid it's not that simple. Northern Mexico also had a sizable number of Czech and German immigrants that brought their own influences to the local culture...you know, sort of like San Antonio and, indeed, all of Central Texas. Schulenburg? New Braunfels? Fredericksburg? Boerne? All of those towns, from what I understand, started out as German settlements. And if you go to New Braunfels, you'll see its German heritage is very much alive. Said heritage doesn't disappear as you leave Comal County...or at least it shouldn't.

Joe said...

Can a white politically conservative republican Jew move into Dignowity Hill without (a) speaking spanish (or is that a general San Antonio question?) and/or (b) without becoming very lonely because it's filled with obamunists (concerned more with politics, not race...)?

PS - the catpcha question was in spanish... / sigh...

Sabra said...

It should be possible to live in that neighborhood without speaking Spanish, but San Antonio has always been very Democratic. The issue I generally run into is that I have a good amount of friends within the arts community (hazards of having attended the fine arts magnet school back in the mid '90s), and their politics run even more radically left than the average person's. *sigh* You can find conservatives here,though, but it's sometimes difficult.

Joe said...

"but San Antonio has always been very Democratic."

Thanks, didn't know that (which means I really need to do more research).

" good amount of friends within the arts community...and their politics run even more radically left than the average person's."

Understood from my own personal experience as well. Thanks for the feedback, and keep up the writing!

(captcha question improved, now it's R&R lingo: "wowiddi" !