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Fronteras: The Flood Of 1921 Devastated San Antonio's West Side. It Also 'Sparked A Latino Environmental Justice Movement.'

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Courtesy Trinity University Press

Sept. 9 marks the 100-year anniversary of one of the worst floods in San Antonio’s history. The flood of 1921 was a critical turning point for the city’s development as it spurred infrastructure actions that ultimately resulted in a key identity staple for the city: the River Walk.

But the response efforts by local leaders at the time were largely driven by protecting economic power brokers and downtown elites while neglecting the barrios of the city’s West Side where the water likely killed more than 80 people.

“There's a kind of privileged disdain for the very people that made those (downtown) hotels run, that were the manual labor (who) built a lot of the river that would be concretized and changed,” explained Char Miller, W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.. “But they have no interest in those bodies or the communities that were there.”

Miller is a former long-time San Antonio resident and former Trinity University professor. He wrote “West Side Rising: How San Antonio’s 1921 Flood Devastated a City and Sparked a Latino Environmental Justice Movement.”

Miller’s book details what happened on that fatal night and the West Side community organizers who fought to protect their neighborhoods after city leadership failed them, which resulted in systemic inequalities that persisted for decades.

“The shift that they brought about as a result of that flood is mind boggling,” said Miller. “It's one of the greatest political turnarounds that I know of in American history.”

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Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren