Poor communities that have a rich cultural history often battle developers and city officials who may want to demolish structures to make way for improved public housing, parking lots or apartment buildings.
Sarah Zenaida Gould, co-chair of Latinos in Heritage Conservation, said good intentions aside, it’s not what’s best for the community.
“There are some developers who think that what the community needs is multi-story apartments,” Gould said. “There’s this concept that building these big buildings means progress and it means something good.”
Gould said in communities like San Antonio’s West Side - a mostly Mexican-American, impoverished neighborhood - the history and culture of the neighborhood must remain visible in the landscape.
“When you tear down those structures, you erase from the visual landscape those contributions of those people, those working class people. Their lives are no longer visible,” said Gould.
Gould, who is also a historian, dislikes the term “blighted” to describe impoverished communities.
“If we wipe out those communities, we’re wiping out the history of working people, people who built this city,” she said. “So many of the people on the West Side contributed and continue to contribute to the core economy in San Antonio.”
Graciela Sanchez has been a vocal activist for several years for San Antonio’s West Side. The director of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center said there have been successful preservation stories, but they often come after learning from past mistakes.
“We just need to look at the Missions. They weren’t always as preserved as they are today,” she said. “The community helped to preserve them… When we think about developers and all these people [who] have a vision for the city and a vision for the West Side, they don’t take into consideration what the people from that community really want and need.”
To hear more on social justice and historical preservation, listen to this week's Fronteras.