This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Born and Razed.”
In the Duranguito neighborhood, on the south side of downtown El Paso, 89-year-old Antonia Morales likes to walk down the block to her local park. The space is small, about a tenth of an acre, but the grass is green. A few years ago the city installed new sidewalks and red-brick pavers in the area, and Morales thinks the neighborhood—which is less than a mile from the river and Ciudad Juárez—looks better than it ever has. She tries to spend an hour or so at the park when she can, sitting on a bench under an ash tree.
Clean public spaces didn’t exist in Duranguito when Morales first moved here, in 1965. “It was very dirty, very ugly,” she says through a translator. “There were a lot of drugs, a lot of robbery, a lot of prostitution.” The streets were filled with trash: glass and syringes, car batteries and hubcaps. Some of the poorest residents slept on mattresses in the streets.
Morales and her neighbors wanted a better home. They called themselves fronterizos—proud to live on the border—and started cleaning up the neighborhood, block by block. Local activists helped petition the city to put up streetlights and pave the roads. They organized community meetings. “We gathered five hundred people in a schoolhouse to talk to the chief of police, and he agreed to help,” Morales says. “We cleaned the alleys. We picked up the syringes. We cleaned up everything.” Eventually, the neighborhood’s residents had a place where they were proud to live. And then one day, a year ago this month, the city decided it wanted Duranguito to become something else.
The city wanted the land for a “multipurpose performing art and entertainment center.” The larger area surrounding the site of the arena would also be redeveloped. The city council had approved the use of eminent domain to take the land, and many of the neighborhood residents decamped to far-flung parts of the city. But despite offers of compensation, Morales refused. Now she is the only remaining resident of a single-story tenement once occupied by roughly a dozen families. On her street, only one other neighbor remains. They live in limbo while a complicated debate takes place around them.
Source : https://www.texasmonthly.com/news-politics/battle-el-pasos-south-side/430