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Fronteras: How A Flood 100 Years Ago Fueled San Antonio’s West Side Resilience And Power Of Community

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Char Miller is the W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College in Claremont, CA. The former long-time San Antonio resident and former Trinity University professor is the author of "West Side Rising: How San Antonio's 1921 Flood Devastated a City and Sparked a Latino Environmental Justice Movement."
Courtesy Trinity University Press
Char Miller is the W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College in Claremont, CA. The former long-time San Antonio resident and former Trinity University professor is the author of "West Side Rising: How San Antonio's 1921 Flood Devastated a City and Sparked a Latino Environmental Justice Movement."

One hundred years ago up to 17 inches of rain fell across San Antonio. The San Antonio River and the creeks in the city’s near West Side flooded, spilled over and left destruction in their wake.

The city’s official death toll from the flood of 1921 was recorded at 51, but that figure is believed to be severely undercounted. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated at the time 224 people may have perished from the floods, either buried by mud, killed by debris or their bodies washed away by the waters and never located.

The tragedy marked a pivotal point for city leaders as they moved quickly to prevent any future flood damage. But those efforts were largely focused on protecting the downtown business elites and property assets, and the city’s predominantly Mexican-American West Side was neglected.

“The disregard that the city elite — politicians, business folks and the like — held for the West Side is appalling,” said Char Miller, author of “West Side Rising: How San Antonio’s 1921 Flood Devastated a City and Sparked a Latino Environmental Justice Movement.”

Miller details the fatal events that unfolded Sept. 9, 1921 and brings attention to the community mutual-aid groups — including Cruz Azul Mexicana and Communities Organized for Public Service (C.O.P.S.) — who, according to Miller, served as one of the earliest examples of the environmental justice movement in the country.

“I think this is a story that is at once really devastating, but also is celebratory in that, look at how the community — in this case, it's really the West Side — how it saved itself,” said Miller. “And that's a tale that's rare in environmental justice stories, but I think it's well worth telling.”

This is part two of a two-part conversation. Part one can be listened to and read here.

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Trinity University Press hosts a Maverick Book Club discussion on “West Side Rising” with Char Miller and Sarah Zenaida Gould, the Executive Director of the Mexican American Civil Rights Institute, on Tuesday, Sept. 14, at 6 p.m. (CT).

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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