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Progressive erasure

El Paso’s barrios are filled with prevailing people, history and culture. Amidst recent struggles, they have been forced to face the hands of the city who fail to better their quality of life.
The Hispanic populated zip code, 79901, has the lowest per capita income in El Paso and, a significantly low employed and educational percentage, according to City-Data. This area includes El Paso’s first and second wards and therefore, its earliest history.

Poor communities fail to provide the strong economic growth El Paso needs, but rather than embrace its’ rich history and identity, the city would seem to prefer the displacement of just that

“It’s erasure that doesn’t kill us, but it hurts. We don’t want the dignity of the people to be erased anymore,” said Duranguito supporter Ligia Arguilez. “It happens everywhere and to the same people everywhere. It’s always poor people. Often brown and black people around the country that deal with erasure of their spaces.”

The long-standing battle between the City of El Paso and the city’s first ward or “Barrio Duranguito,” is an example of city revitalization created at the expense of its residents.

Duranguito initially faced endangerment when the footprint for the city’s plans to build a sports arena in the Union Plaza district was released. Since then, supporters consisting of activist organizations and the footprint’s residents have remained at the battle’s forefront.

David Romo of the grassroots activist organization, Paso del Sur claims the city has been in cahoots with Alejo Restrepo, Nesim Assael, and Carlos Hernandez, who are members of the private organization, Paso del Norte Group (PDNG) as early as 2005 when the plans were first released.

“This is the group that did what we call drive-by demolitions to destabilize the buildings the day after the injunction,” said Romo.

The Sept. 11 court order provided Duranguito with a temporary injunction protecting it from demolition until the court decides whether or not the city should be able to proceed with demolition.

“They [Paso del Norte Group] feel like they’re above the law and it was  in their interest to tear everything down to get million dollars the city has for them in escrow,” said Romo.

Paso del Sur remains guarding the existence of El Paso’s history and residents for over a month since the injunction. Duranguito’s future is yet to be determined -if City Council decides- by the people in their next general election ballot.

A similar fate awaited El Paso’s second ward or, “Segundo Barrio” after the PDNG’s 2010, “Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy for El Segundo Barrio,” supported by the city would inevitably lead to the demolition of historical structures and displaced residents.

“When we lose spaces like this, I mean to include historical events, architecture and people that are resisting, it hurts because we don’t want to be erased,” said Arguilez who was also involved with the Segundo Barrio standoff. “We want to exist and be present. Preserving these spaces allow for that.”

The city’s decisions to silence and erase El Paso’s poorest communities minimizes the possibility for social and economic progress as they are prominently effected by revitalization and industrialization.

The Chamizal neighborhood is in the heart of a direct link between two counties. Its residents have had to ght for their life quality through organizations such as Project Vida, Queen of Peace Convent, Mujer Obrera and Familias del Chamizal.

Familias del Chamizal was formed to advocate for community centers, education, housing and raise awareness to its environmental health and contamination issues, according to their of cial website. These issues are largely pinpointed to be caused by the industrialization surrounding low-income communities.

Minimizing the necessities of the poorest communities minimizes their existence and their place in society.

El Paso’s eldest have proven they will neither cease to exist nor resist.

“People in general are tired of being pushed to the side,” said Arguilez. “Progress has become a dirty word. It’s no longer what it might’ve been before. It means erasure and we’re tired of that kind of progress.”

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