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:
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?)