¡El Barrio Unido Jamás Será Vencido!:” Neighborhood Grassroots Activism and Community Preservation in El Paso, Texas
Enriquez, Sandra Ivette
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This dissertation chronicles a Mexican American community’s struggle for survival amidst late twentieth century urban revitalization. South El Paso, Texas, a one square mile neighborhood along the U.S.-México border, functioned as a city within a city. For over a century, the ethnic Mexican population created a vibrant community and developed an emotional ownership of the Southside. Although socio-economically and politically marginalized, Mexican Americans fought for the preservation of South El Paso, especially during the late 1970s when the most intense waves of urban redevelopment occurred. The study examines Mexican American grassroots approaches to preserve the neighborhoods of South El Paso, Texas, in the 1960s and 1970s. It argues that the rapid disappearance of the barrio, experience with federal War on Poverty programs, the Chicano Movement of the 1960-1970s, and the community’s connections and feelings of ownership of the area led to fights for better housing and the preservation of neighborhood. In order to protect the residential and cultural character of the barrio, but not its poverty, the community of South El Paso employed three methods of activism: by participating in grassroots neighborhood political organizations, staging squatter demonstrations, and engaging in community based cultural preservation projects. Through these different strategies, Mexican Americans in South El Paso brought changes to the barrio and politically empowered the community by challenging the urbanizing visions of city leaders. The efforts essentially showed local, state, and federal power structures that the barrio was not for sale, and that their plight to preserve the area’s residential character needed to be respected, despite the fact that it remained segregated from the rest of the city of El Paso. The fight to preserve barrios in the 1960s and 1970s allowed Mexican Americans to not only to defend the spaces that were historically meaningful for them, but also served as a stage to exert their citizenship and civil rights. By melding Chicana/o and urban historiographies, this dissertation demonstrates that El Paso and Texas are important battleground sites within the long Chicana/o Movement and broader struggles for civil rights.