On September 9, 1921, a series of heavy rainstorms moved across south Texas which grew intense in the late hours of the night. The torrential wind and rains overwhelmed San Antonio’s weak Olmos and San Pedro tributaries which burst and buried downtown, North, and Westside districts of San Antonio. The flood resulted in at least $3 million in damages, destroying the city’s electricity, communication, and infrastructure, leaving citizens scrambling for resources. This year marks the centennial anniversary of this devastating natural disasters, one of the worst in Bexar County’s history. For the past year, Dr. Lindsey Wieck and Victoria Villaseñor have been researching the history of water and infrastructural development in San Antonio in response to the events of 1921. Throughout their work, they have found that while the downtown business and northern districts received most of the news coverage and infrastructural development in the aftermath of the flood, it was the Westside experienced the greatest devastation yet received little help from the city government. The floods ravaged through an already structurally unsound and neighborhood, which magnified the poor, unsanitary conditions, and inhibited the Westside from fully recovering before the next flood. Through firsthand accounts, environmental data, historical narrative, this project walks audiences through the inequities of the Westside and the tragedies that unfolded as a result during the flood of 1921.
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The Hispanic-serving Institution (HSI) designation is a statistical-based identity given to colleges and universities with a 25 percent or higher Latinx student population. While HSIs are eligible to receive federal funding based solely on that designation, there are no definite guidelines to ensure that the money is spent in a culturally responsive manner. However, Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) continues to provide high quality education to their Latinx students. In this presentation, we traced historical events that influenced OLLU to develop a Latinx-conscious identity and then compare their institutional behavior to that of another university located on the Westside of San Antonio: St. Mary’s University (StMU). Aspects such as campus ecology, the influence of gender, and ethnic identity are observed and elaborated upon within the project. Through this project, we aim to contribute to the Westside community’s perspective of the historical higher learning institution known as “The Lake.”
The slideshow above about provides introductory information regarding this research. To provide further information, the authors included audio of themselves explaining the project. Be sure to raise your volume and hit play to listen to that audio.
Dual language programs, in which classes are given in English and Spanish, have exploded in popularity within San Antonio. In the school districts of the historically Mexican American Westside, there are 23 dual language programs, ranging from early childhood to high school, and including Washington Irving Academy, an entirely dual language campus (EISD, 2019; SAISD, 2021).
Dual language programs seek to promote bilingualism, biliteracy, biculturalism, and high academic achievement, and to empower students by recognizing their cultural identity (e.g., Malik, 2019; SAISD, 2019). The idea of empowerment is essential, as U.S. Spanish speakers suffer from insecurity. While they believe their language is an important part of their identity, they also tend to see it as deficient, incorrect, and useless outside of the family (e.g., George & Peace, 2019; Villa, 2003; Zentella, 2007).
This project presents the story of Spanish on the Westside, its diminishing over time, how the school system historically limited its reach, and how schools today are fighting to give it a place of importance in society. Included are articles, statistics, and interviews with multiple generations of Westside residents and students. We showcase the great work that dual language programs do and encourage other educators to recognize their students’ culture, identity, and language.
To view the research above on a larger page, check out this link.
The Effect of the Housing Crisis on Westside Community Health: A focus on historical and present-day epidemics/pandemics
San Antonio’s Westside boasts one of the oldest public housing developments built between 1939 and 1942, the Alazán-Apache courts. The Westside, due to redlining, is made up of predominantly Hispanics (93%) who are of lower socioeconomic status (40% poverty rate). Residents in the past were vulnerable to disease due to poor public health infrastructure. For example, Westside neighborhoods lacked clean water and adequate sewage system. These were breeding grounds for disease. Deplorable living conditions made it more likely for residents to contract various diseases.
San Antonio, has experienced its fair share of outbreaks. In 1849 San Antonio witnessed a cholera outbreak which resulted in approximately 600 deaths. Lack of adequate health care contributed to the high death count. In 1866, another cholera outbreak resulted in 292 deaths. This prompted the city to consider its infrastructure and implement ways to remove and drain stagnant water. In 1913, San Antonio’s Fourth Ward Health Auxiliary recognized the impact of poor sanitation and worked with city council to put measures in place for garbage disposal. In 1939 First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt commented on the high tuberculosis rates in San Antonio and the need for public housing which initiated the building of the Alazán-Apache courts. In 1946 San Antonio experienced the polio epidemic and in 1970 a diphtheria outbreak. Many of the cases of the diphtheria outbreak were in the poorer Mexican American neighborhoods. The high infection and death rates were a result of inadequate public health infrastructure.
Poor Mexican American neighborhoods, including San Antonio’s Westside, have experienced several public health crises. Many of these crises are due to poor housing conditions. A past and present burden on Westside communities is the shortage of affordable housing. As it was with past epidemics, today, with talk of demolishing Alazán-Apache courts, it means, many Westside citizens may find themselves displaced from their communities. The stress of displacement often leads to social problems such as: depression, drug abuse and increased risk of teen pregnancies. It also highlights how housing policies contribute to racial segregation and social inequalities. Continued research focuses on how social interventions (eg. housing) may alleviate or exacerbate inequalities in the way people experience epidemics.
The Westside Stories documentary filmmaking project was completed in Spring 2019 to fulfill the requirements for the undergraduate course, Media Production II. The students in this course creating documentary films about business owners and employees on San Antonio’s Westside. The upper division course included eight students, seven of whom completed a Westside Stories documentary.
The project intended to teach students the practical skills of creating short documentary films such as interviewing, sound and video recording, and audio-visual editing; work with community partners to create narratives; grow the connection between St. Mary’s University and the immediate Westside San Antonio community; and help students hone their ability to listen for and to diverse stories, and create an understanding of the value of vernacular, everyday stories, and the specific stories of the people within this community.
St. Mary’s University presents a transformative theatre project capturing the spiritual and cultural realities of youth and young adults in Holy Rosary Catholic Parish located in San Antonio, Texas, telling their stories through performance using all theatrical elements — props, lighting, projection, sound, costumes, scenic units, and text/story.
The project was created by St. Mary’s University students Jorge Martinez, Rachel Huron, Gabriella Rivera, McKayala Rodriguez, and Vanessa Wheatly. A portion of the proceeds from tickets benefited Holy Rosary Catholic Parish.
Watch the full performance below.
Professor Bernadette Hamilton-Brady and students conducted interviews and surveys to develop the theatrical project. The interviews and surveys captured stories from the Youth at Holy Rosary Parish. Professor Bernadette Hamilton-Brady also interviewed parishioner Jerry Martinez, who recounts his past experiences at Holy Rosary and offers guiding wisdom to the Youth. You can access the transcript of the interview below.
This story map is part of St. Mary’s University’s Westside San Antonio Humanities Project. The project aims to uncover aspects of the Westside’s history and culture and share results with the public. This component is part of a collaborative research effort by Cynthia Rodriguez, a student (now having graduated) in St. Mary’s Master of Public Administration (MPA) program, and Dr. Joe Gershtenson, faculty member of the Department of Political Science and director of the MPA program. Credit for work on audio files, biographies, and mapping in ArcGIS also goes to Citlalli Rivera of St. Mary’s University.
In January and February 2021, Ms. Rodriguez interviewed seven individuals with roots in the Westside and/or currently serving the community. The aim was to examine the individuals as leaders with particular attention to the role of their experiences on the Westside. In addition to contributing to St. Mary’s University’s Westside San Antonio Humanities Project, Ms. Rodriguez completed an academic research paper as part of her studies in the MPA program. That paper can be accessed here.
Education inequality in a pandemic affects low-income and middle/high-income neighborhoods differently. Drawing on the concept of intersectionality, we compare two high schools in San Antonio-Texas; one located in San Antonio ISD (Westside) and the other located North East ISD. These two schools were chosen by analyzing the data on the Texas Education Agency website 2019-2020 Special Population Reports. We found the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in each public, non-charter high school in Bexar County, and then chose the least economically disadvantaged (Regan High School, 12.16%) and the most economically disadvantaged (Lanier High School, 95.15%). In this study, we discuss the extent to which intersectional inequalities during the Covid-19 pandemic have widened the educational gap. Intersectionality explores how power-relations based on race, class, gender, sexuality, nation, ability, or ethnicity are interrelated, shaping one another. By conducting a comparative analysis, we examine data from the Texas Education Agency website, San Antonio Covid-19 website, news articles, financial data for each school (technology budget, property taxes/values), economic, and demographic data in order to address the issue of inequality furthered by the Covid-19 pandemic. We discuss the categories of class and ethnicity/race. We argue that the pandemic has increased the educational gap affecting the human security of disadvantaged students. We will provide recommendations to mitigate and prevent the educational gap.