Life in West San Antonio

I have fond memories of the past while living in San Antonio. Those 20 years of experience living in the barrios and the Alazan Apache Courts served me well. For one, they made me what I am today.

I grew up during World War II at the end of the depression. This was a time where everyone had ration books to buy goods to help the economy and the war effort. They even had celebrities selling war bonds at the theaters to help the war effort.

I think that we helped by recycling glass bottles. I was about 6 years old when the war ended and I started going to school at Navarro Elementary school. I was then living with my mother on Laredo Street.

My mother initially had taken me to school hand in hand. She left me in front of the school. I was already street wise because of my uncles who taught me how to fend for myself so, I wasn’t afraid. So I stayed there until the fifth grade and graduated to Harris junior high school.

While in elementary school I started to work at various jobs. Selling newspapers downtown in which I hustled to earn a dollar each day, my pockets full of pennies which I gave to my mother. Later I graduated to throwing newspapers from my bicycle. It was ok during the week but the Sunday papers were too heavy and tended to weigh more than I did. My dad had me give it up because he was the one helping me hold the bike down while I went ahead and delivered the papers. Problem was also that the customers wouldn’t pay me.

Later on I had a job cleaning stoves at a used furniture store. I also painted the spring mattresses silver to make them look like new. The store was a block away from where I lived. I had to maneuver a drainage ditch with a twelve-inch walkway on one side and holding on to a fence. I fell down twice getting all wet each time. That was the same ditch I used to get to the railroad tracks that I followed down to the school.

During the 7thgrade, my mother arranged for us to move to the Alazan Apache courts and I had to change schools. I went to Sidney Lanier Junior High School. Living there was an experience. We had to adhere to rules which we weren’t used to. We had to maintain the apartment in pristine condition. In order to do that, we depended on resources from the business office. If we had to mow the lawn, we had to borrow their hand lawnmower. We couldn’t let it grow more than two inches during the summer. Also, they could come in anytime to inspect the apartment to make sure no one else was living there.

Transportation had always been a problem for us. We walked to school. We rode the bus to town and never called a taxi. There were mom and pop stores nearby for convenience. However, for groceries we relied on Centeno’s, a west side grocery store.

We had to move back to the house on Laredo Street for about a year but I didn’t tell the school about it so I winded up walking about a mile to school at Lanier. When it rained hard, I couldn’t get across the Alazan creek due to flooding. Later we were able to get another apartment with the Alazan Courts on Vera Cruz street. My family stayed there way after my graduation. Meanwhile I became more involved with school activities but at the same time I was working at Guerra’s drug store. Again my pay check went straight to my mother.

When I was seventeen, I was still at the end of my sophomore year. Everybody was graduating at seventeen or eighteen. It was probably because I had failed a grade or two at the elementary level. However, during my senior year I had decided to just enjoy school and all the senior activities and leave work alone. I was almost twenty when I graduated.

As a pre-adolescent, my life had always been about work. In a way I managed to get instilled in me not only a work ethic but also having fun and enjoying life. As a teenager, I still had to work but I enjoyed the dances and the gathering at various social centers with my friends. The Guadalupe Center, House of Neighborly, Boys Club and the Good Samaritan Center were the places to go to. Then there were school dances.

Somebody once said the West side was the center of our universe and it is rightly so because everything we valued was there. Family, friends, church and school were at the crux of our lives.

2 thoughts on “Life in West San Antonio

  1. Fabulous essay on our Barrio lifestyle. We have had the sense of value, respect, appreciation and the experience of all of the factors you’ve mentioned above. We didn’t think of ourselves as being poor or lacking material goods that some of our counterparts had, but as our parents and abuelos persevered, our character was built on this foundation of their strength and through their sense of family and community. Nowadays, selfishly, it’s more about the me and not so much about others. ¡Gracias por tu perspectiva!

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