Downtown and Segundo Barrio Soundwalk
About the Route
The downtown El Paso and El Segundo Barrio soundwalk starts at San Jacinto Plaza, a heavily gentrified, artificially beautified park in the downtown area, and ends by crossing into El Segundo Barrio, a culturally rich neighborhood that has been historically neglected by the city. This is a linear walk with a start and end point that are not the same. The soundwalk moves through zones which allow us to reflect on settler-colonization, criminalization, segregation, and decolonization. This soundwalk asks us to question: Who has the power to choose who and what is visible? What is silenced through the decision of what is valued? And how do these questions lead to the criminalization of “othered” or “unwanted” people, and the production of carceral geographies? The locations, structures, and histories contained in this soundwalk attempt to provide some insight into these questions.
This Soundwalk was created by Adam Heywood in 2022 as part of a UTEP Public History Certificate. It accompanies the Master's thesis 'Cleaning Up the Wretched Refuse: The Zones, Echoes and Bridges of El Paso, 1881-1939.'
Walk & Listen
Before starting the walk, please be aware that the length of the walk and some of the elements contained in the audio and made apparent in the landscape can be overwhelming and contain a certain amount of surveillance and trauma. Due to these emotional effects, the listener may choose to split the walk into separate days or take extended breaks between each location. Also, the historical narratives can be either read before conducting the walk or following the audio prompts that direct the listener to review the narratives before each clip.
Please be aware that the only public restrooms along this soundwalk are available at the San Jacinto Plaza location (located directly across the street from the plaza). If the walk is conducted at night, these public facilities may not be available.
From San Jacinto Plaza, 114 W Mills Ave, El Paso, TX 79901 to Sacred Heart Catholic Church Mural, 231 E Father Rahm Ave, El Paso, TX 79901. Distance: 0.9 mi
The downtown El Paso and El Segundo Barrio soundwalks start at San Jacinto Plaza, a heavily gentrified artificially beautified park in the downtown area, and ends by crossing into the El Segundo Barrio, a culturally rich neighborhood, but heavily neglected by the city. Each of the areas along this soundwalk incorporates a specific zone based on settler-colonization, criminalization, segregation, and decolonization. Soundwalks allow you to focus on the audio experience presented by this urban environment and imagine the sounds that have disappeared through industrialization, gentrification, and technological interference. Through these walks interactions with hidden carceral geographies present themselves and become apparent, giving a less desensitized and better understanding of the world we interact with today.
Who has the power to choose who and what is visible? What is silenced through the decision of what is valued? Who decides who belongs in visible spaces and histories? How do these questions lead to the criminalization of “othered” or “unwanted” people, and the production of carceral geographies? The locations, structures, and histories contained in this soundwalk attempt to provide some insight into the questions listed above by offering previously silenced and marginalized groups’ perspectives on the spaces we traverse. The insider/outsider identities that we carry into spaces reflect societal inclusions and exclusions that may be obvious or may be hidden from our consciousness, but are nonetheless present all around us.
This raises the question, what can we learn from studying downtown El Paso and El Segundo Barrio through the lens of carceral geography? El Paso became the first city known as the gateway between Mexico and the United States and commonly referred to as the “pass of the north.” During the Jim Crow era, El Paso contained multiple forms of segregation along with an historical “gateway” for Jim and Juan Crow laws because of the railroad. El Paso became the last stop where railway operators forcibly divided passengers between railcars labeled 'white' and 'colored.' If a person of color was heading west, the El Paso stop provided passenger cars void of any designated racial seating. However, when traveling east, the railroad conductors strictly enforced the racial seating of passengers at the El Paso railroad station. Within El Paso, the railroad tracks, and later roads (Paisano), created a physical barrier of segregation between the elite classes (often based on race) and marginalized groups in El Paso.
However, the present carceral geography of downtown El Paso can only be understood as a legacy of settler colonization. In 1598 Don Juan de Oñate led his Spanish expedition from Santa Bárbara, Mexico into what is now San Elizario, Texas, and with the unsuccessful and brief Rodríguez-Chamuscado expedition of 1581, marked the beginning of over 400 years of El Paso history. The sovereignty over the land in and around present-day El Paso shifted seven times throughout its history, with the Manso and the Suma first inhabiting this area prior to the Spanish colonization in the 1500s. Mexico would gain its independence from Spain in 1821, seeking to control the North Pass, but the Texas revolution from 1835-1836 relinquished the territory over to the elite Anglo-Texans and Tejanos. Further Westward expansion in the 1840s triggered the US-Mexico war, concluding with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, giving the United States possession of the Texas territory. The Confederate States, during the Civil War, claimed Texas until the war ended in 1865 when Union forces took control of the Texas territory. The constant change of authority and power over the territory of El Paso signifies a complex and layered history incorporating the land, the people, and the events that have shaped the carceral environment for marginalized groups living in this space.
What is the significance to certain individuals and groups in determining how and who has access to land? Who is welcome, and what forms of covert and overt oppressive tactics become implemented in order to deny access, or imply some people are not wanted, in certain areas? Also, what happens when we look at this process, not in a Euro-centric linear perspective of time, but a circulatory and interrelated construct that builds upon traditional colonized histories, burying “unwanted” histories through a layered carceral geography. This circulatory construct not only involves geographical spaces, but concepts as well, such as criminalization and how that process has changed over time and how that process has remained the same.
Each of the stops along the soundwalk incorporates a specific zone based on psychogeography that expands upon David Dorado Romo’s Ringside Seat to a Revolution. As Romo suggests, “The first rule of psychogeography is to walk through the streets without preconceived notions; just drift and let the city's underground currents take you where they will.” That is what this soundwalk incorporates through its exploration of urban environments, looking to emphasize the connections between places, people, and events by uncovering a history that has gone silent through intentional and unintentional consequences of racial, social, gendered, and other hierarchical structures. By exploring the sounds, sights, smells, and feelings emanating from the downtown area and the Segundo Barrio, we get a complete picture of life in El Paso and a microhistory by recognizing the similarities and differences of these two communities. As Romo states, “I'm willing to bet that you didn't find this book in the ‘American History’ section of the library or bookstore,” because most “Americans” do not consider El Paso and other border towns distinctly “American.” Yet the story of these neighborhoods is a case study in tactics of colonization, exclusion, uneven development, policing, gentrification and criminalization that are instructive in understanding the United States nation-building project. Retelling history through places and routes that have not been examined as often can expose gaps missing in United States history.
Track 1: San Jacinto Plaza
Start: San Jacinto Plaza (114 W. Mills Ave.)
Walk south on N Mesa St
Turn left onto Texas Ave
Turn right onto N Stanton St
Slight left onto San Antonio Ave
Arrive at location: 511 E San Antonio Ave (U.S.Bankruptcy Court Clerk, and Federal Bldg. “Pass of the North” Mural)
San Jacinto Plaza (Track 1)
“Colonization dehumanizes both the colonized and the colonizer.” -Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker
San Jacinto Plaza is a colonized space where histories and geographies have become layered and interconnected. The land, people, sounds, sights, and events have shaped the area over time. Artificially implanted trees sway in the wind with sounds of construction and busy traffic replacing the now diverged waters of the mighty Rio Grande. Historical markers litter the park and large sky rises weigh down the earth while also blocking site lines of the Franklin mountains. Los Lagartos statue (pictured above) dominates the space, representing the seven non-indigenous live alligators that once drew tourists into El Paso. The soundwalk starts here to show what is absent, erased, made silent — a space that is made welcome for some and unwelcome for others. The Plaza has served as a place of transportation, recreation, entertainment, surveillance, colonizing remembrance, exclusion, activism and protest, a social hub, and even a dump. The colonizing efforts from Spain and the United States developed layered geographies and layered histories that weigh down the earth and attempt to bury and “clean-up” marginalized histories.
The “growth and expansion” of El Paso is “intimately related to the development and improvement of the Ponce de León Grant,” which is the location of present-day downtown El Paso. Millions of years ago, the area now known as San Jacinto Plaza, formed the ending point of the Rio Grande, creating a large lake named Cabeza de Vaca after the first European colonizer in the area. Over time, shifts in the Rio Grande, climate changes, and human interference created a desert, with seasonal flooding, in this area. Maria Ponce de León became the first owner of this land recognized by the United States government, placing vineyards in this location around 1851. However, on November 7, 1848, the War Department issued orders for a post on this land. Benjamin T. Coons purchased land from Ponce de León because of United States military interests, and it became known as Coon’s Ranch. The first structures on this land were buildings for servants and a watchtower to look for Apache “invaders,” then a tavern, a warehouse, stables, corrals and other auxiliary buildings.
This land was not called by the name El Paso until around 1873, when Anson Mills started to refer to this area as such, after Paso del Norte changed its designation to Juárez. The city of El Paso purchased the plaza area around 1880 and “cleaned up” the location by removing the vineyard and mesquite-filled land. While the term “clean up” did not appear in the media or other documents until the 1900s, concerted efforts by city officials targeted low income and minority housing locations in an attempt to eliminate those populations and their homes for the sake of “progress” and “civilization.” J. Fisher Satterwaite, the El Paso Parks and Streets Commissioner, placed a fence around The Plaza, built a gazebo, planted Chinese Elm trees, and constructed a pond where he housed non-indigenous alligators. The beautification and exclusionary space became complete in 1903 when the city named the park San Jacinto Plaza, in honor of the final battle where Texans (Anglo-Americans and Tejano elites) defeated Mexican troops for the independence of Texas.
Modernization and “clean-up” efforts continued into the 1900s with horse-drawn carriages, followed by trolleys and finally buses and taxis in the 1950s. Along with transportation, religious efforts held revivals, seeking to eliminate drunkenness, communism, and other societal “evils.” The city of El Paso continues its beautification and exclusionary efforts through remodeling and placement of colonizing symbols and markers. One such marker still stands today, but is difficult to find and read because of its camouflaged nature. The marker references El Paso seceding from the Union (1871-2), Confederate troops in Juárez, and “pro-southern” sentiment in El Paso being “squelched” by Union troops who occupied the town. The camouflaged nature of the marker speaks volumes about the hidden nature of oppressive elements, and ways in which the dominant political bodies seek to remind “unwanted elements” of their “place” within the community. In fact, San Jacinto Park contains multiple subtle references to colonialism and domination, from busts of conquistadors to religious emblems, celebrating the Spanish legacy of the Mexican populace, but ignoring the Indigenous roots of their ancestry.
The justification for “clean-up” efforts within and around The Plaza center on unwanted homeless “intruders” encroaching upon and making wanted “citizens” feel uncomfortable. In February 2016 the park underwent a $5.3 million renovation. Approved in 2012, the funding for this renovation derived from “quality of life bonds” and came about because San Jacinto Plaza is part of a “special zone” that seeks to encourage investment and gentrification in this area of town. The displacement of poor citizens and allocations of funds for the sake of beautification and attracting an “acceptable” element of citizenry adds to the exclusionary history of this space. The shadows of the past pile on top of each other, adding to the buried histories and geographies yearning to be unveiled.
If you were to take a snapshot over time, from the displacement of Indigenous tribes, to Spanish occupation, and leading to the Anglo settlement and colonization of this particular piece of land, you get a layered and complex telling of a history rooted in expulsion, violence, uprising, and gentrification. The many faces of what is now called San Jacinto Plaza has seen many “owners” of this area, and offers insight into spaces that have multiple uses. The colonization of San Jacinto Plaza turned the land into a material possession that embraced symbols and meanings, either intentionally or unintentionally, welcoming certain racial and social groups, and excluding other groups.
Track 2: Pass of the North Mural
You will need to enter the building to view the mural. The mural is behind a security checkpoint as soon as you pass through the entrance. Before entering the building it may be prudent to turn off any recording devices.
Head South (straight after viewing the “Pass of the North Mural,” and leaving the courthouse) toward N Campbell St.
Cross the street (San Antonio Ave.) onto N Campbell St
Arrive at location: 200 S Campbell St (Parking Garage. Former site of 1916 El Paso Holocaust)
Pass of the North Mural and Parking Garage (Tracks 2 and 3)
The parking garage at 200 South Campbell Street is an unremarkable urban architecture. Sounds of sirens, busy feet walking, buses, and beeping pedestrian crossing lights overwhelm the senses. This structure is an unassuming building with several warning and no trespassing signs affixed to its exterior and is guarded by security guards and surveilled constantly with cameras. At the current location of the parking garage stood the El Paso jail and courthouse where a fire broke out in 1916 because of kerosine baths that guards and health officials imposed upon the people incarcerated inside the facility.
El Paso “Clean-Up”: March 1914-May 1915
In March 1914, General John J. Pershing attempted to establish order and protect the border in El Paso from the chaos that resulted from the Mexican Revolution. Previously, Pershing was in charge of imperialist efforts in Cuba, the Philippines, and Panama, “cleaning up” those nations, and Pershing offered this same expertise to the elites in El Paso. The main focus of the “clean up” were the areas in South El Paso referred to as Chihuahuita and El Segundo Barrio. Not only was Pershing brought in to contain the Mexican refugees from crossing the border, the El Paso elites expected Pershing to eradicate the “dirt” from South El Paso. Pershing’s enemy consisted of the jacals, thatched roof homes in South El Paso, and the South El Paso “pathogens,” perceived carriers of disease.
Tom Lea’s son, Tom Lea Jr., recalled in an interview how “They [Mexicans] had all those crib houses down on Ninth Street and all that stuff, and they [Pershing and Lea] had to police the area with all these young soldiers pretty thoroughly, so he had quite a connection with the post.” In fact, Lea Jr. commented on how his father and Pershing were “great friends,” two elites with the common goal of containing and eradicating “dirt.” Pershing and Mayor Lea not only used their influence and army to intimidate and “clean up” the city, but effectively used the media to directly link Mexicans living in South El Paso with “plague, pestilence, and widespread death and suffering.”
The “clean up” efforts in Chihuahuita and El Segundo Barrio escalated and provisions were implemented to ensure that everyone obeyed the sanitation efforts. Offenses were “Punishable by imprisonment or severe fine” along with “Rigid enforcement of reasonable sanitary rules.” It was clear that any violation or attempts at not complying were met with criminal persecution. Yet, this “clean up” occurred only in South El Paso and further associated Mexican American citizens with “defilement” and criminality. Local newspapers described Chihuahuita residents as living in “shameful conditions” and a “problem” as dangerous as a “volcano,” spreading devastation and trapping anyone who dared to get in its path. However, Pershing's troops and Mayor Lea left behind their own devastation. They destroyed hundreds of adobe homes in Chihuahuita and created “American” housing for the “clean” residents of El Paso.
El Paso Holocaust: March 6, 1916
The “cleaning up” of Mexicans and Mexican Americans was not limited strictly to El Paso. In March 1916, a little less than a year after the “clean up” in El Paso, Mexicans living in Laredo-Nuevo Laredo started to complain about being stamped by US Public Health Service (USPHS) officials. The Mexicans were forced to bathe in a kerosine solution, then underwent an examination by medical officials, and finally received the stamp “admitted” on their arms at the international border crossing. H.J. Hamilton, the leading health inspector for the USPHS in Laredo, declared that the branding of Mexicans was “for their own benefit.” Furthermore, Hamilton claimed that the branding was necessary in order to stop disease and harmful germs from entering Texas. The El Paso jailhouse also implemented these same baths.
Tom Lea Jr. recalled in his interview the conditions of the people imprisoned and the reasons for the implementation of the baths: “They were caught and put in jail, and they all were unwashed and in pretty poor shape from the troubles they had had in Mexico. They were lousy and full of fleas and there was a typhus thing going on in Juárez.” Lea Jr. continued his narrative and described how “The prisoners were quite willing to get something about it. It wasn't done by force or anything by any means.” The people detained welcomed their sanitation baths, according to Tom Lea Jr., but he did not mention the power dynamics that existed between a guard and the people they detained. Lea Jr. complicated his narrative when the infliction of his voice changed, and he reflected how “The gasoline was on some of these poor devils, and they burned to death.” Lea Jr. could not recall how many people incarcerated had burned to death. What he did remember was how his father, Mayor Lea, was “devastated,” and how Lea’s father “Thought about it an awful lot and thought that somehow or other he took the blame for it, you know, as he would.” Tom Lea Jr. described his father as devastated, not because people burned to death, but because Mayor Lea was “blamed” for the incident.
The incident in question came to be referred to as the El Paso Holocaust. Twenty-five people detained at the city jail were fatally burned on March 6, 1916, at 3:30pm. The initial report from the El Paso Herald claimed that “A tub of gasoline in which the prisoners were being given baths to kill lice, exploded.” The scene at the jail was horrific, and “The smell of burning flesh filled the air in the jail and made the rescue work more difficult.” In addition, the article mentioned fifty other detainees who were taken out of the jail and escorted to other parts of the jail not on fire. The article also made sure to mention that the police, at all times, guarded the detained individuals. There was a clear indication throughout the article that the people detained, and not the fire, were the real threats. In bold capitalized letters, the article read, “GASOLINE BLAZE THE CAUSE,” not the policy of bathing humans in gasoline and vinegar or fumigating their clothes in turpentine. The article placed a clear emphasis on the criminality of the detainees, and transferred the blame onto the detainees and not on the policies that caused the explosion.
R.H. Bagley, a guard at the El Paso jailhouse, described the process of the baths, “A bucket of gasoline, one bucket of coal oil and a bucket of vinegar.” Another bucket contained gasoline and disinfecting solution for the detainees’ clothes. Then, the detainees stripped naked and their clothes were dipped in the gasoline and disinfectant. After the detainee finished “bathing,” they showered off in the water, and then waited naked inside their cell while their clothes dried. Another guard, Barry Morris, testified hearing Dr. Clanan, the head health professional at the prison, say “Time and again, tell the prisoners not to light any matches and I told them myself to look out for matches.” A.B. Pery, alias T.L. Deal, a detainee at the prison provided an alternate account, “They never did warn us not to smoke. I had smoked a cigarette about 45 minutes before and received no warning. Neither did they tell us what we were bathing in. I had no idea what it was.” The guard and inmate provided testimony for the committee charged with investigating the explosion. Instead of asking why the inmates had to bathe in gasoline and vinegar, the main question asked was if the sanitation officials or guards had warned the inmates not to smoke.
On March 8, 1916, the El Paso Herald sub-headline for the El Paso Holocaust read: “MAYOR LEA SAYS FIRE WAS UNAVOIDABLE ACCIDENT.” In two separate statements, Mayor Lea “deeply deplores” the El Paso Holocaust, and “statements made by irresponsible people.” On March 9, 1916, the El Paso Holocaust became page four news. The article contained only a simple statement about indictments. Indictments returned after the explosion were “completely investigated.” However, there were no indictments made in the El Paso Holocaust.
El Paso Bath Riots: January 1917
The headline on January 29, 1917, in the El Paso Morning Times read, “AUBURN-HAIRED AMAZON AT SANTA FE STREET BRIDGE LEADS FEMININE OUTBREAK.” Several women protested because of the fumigation and baths recently implemented at the border. These women protested with the “Auburn-haired Amazon,” Carmelita Torres, who was only 17 at the time. Claims about nude photographs taken of women undergoing the baths, and posted at local bars and cantinas in the El Paso area, added to the volatile situation. The El Paso Morning Times also reported, “Not only was the civil population of Juarez permitted to make a disgusting exhibition, but the Mexican soldiers were turned out as though to encourage the civilians in their anti-cleanup demonstration.” The Times reporter focused on the “disgusting exhibition,” and mentioned that the demonstration did not occur because of the humiliation experienced by the women, or their bodies defiled, but because the women were against cleanliness. The journalist displayed confusion as to why the women demonstrated against the “clean-up,” because those at the border subjected to the baths and fumigation, “Came out with clothes wrinkled from the steam sterilizer, hair wet and faces shining generally laughing and in good humor.” The women did not find the humiliating process at the boundary warranted or jovial. The protest escalated from a few hundred women to several thousand by the end of the day.
The women’s protest occurred on January 28 and was reported on January 30, the same day the El Paso Morning Times reported the women’s protest, the men protested as well. Inspired by the women, the men joined in the protest, including 200 men from the El Paso Smelter company. The article in The Times assured residents that the demonstrations would lessen once “More Mexicans are bathed and receive certificates,” suggesting that the Mexicans would comply once they realized that the baths were for their own good. The article also reminded the reader of the trouble and inconvenience that these “unclean” Mexicans had caused. The men created a “serious shortage” of labor at the Smelter company, and the women protesting denied El Paso families of their servants. The El Paso Holocaust and 1917 bath riots created an image of the immigrant as “unclean” and “diseased.” This image allowed the implementation of processes that sought to contain, eradicate, and expel any undesirable elements from crossing the boundary into the United States. The portrayal of “unclean” elements, first associated with the detainees at the El Paso jail, eventually carried over to the Mexicans crossing the boundary.
511 E. San Antonio Ave.: Federal Building & U.S. Bankruptcy Court Clerk – “Pass of the North Mural” – “Giants of El Paso history”
Located in downtown El Paso, Texas inside the Federal Building stands a larger than life mural of the “giants of El Paso history” titled “Pass of the North” by the artist and historian Tom Lea Jr. Along with housing the mural the Federal Building also contains the United States Marshals Services, United States Pretrial Services, and the El Paso Divisional Office. The mural, painted in 1938, measures 11 × 54 feet and includes depictions of a conquistador, mounted soldier, Mexican vaquero, Franciscan priest, Apache trackers, white pioneer woman, “American” cowboy, prospector, and sheriff. Lea's mural claims to be an appreciation of the multicultural diversity in El Paso and an homage to various groups that have significantly contributed to El Paso’s heritage. Yet, except for the Mexican vaquero (who is one of the few not holding a weapon or on a horse, which can be read as positions of power), the representation of any women of color and other historical Mexican group is glaringly absent. This omission of marginalized groups extends to conventional historical accounts and archives throughout American history.
The “Pass of the North” mural depicts mythologizing “giants of El Paso history” and “founding cultures of El Paso history” In order to gain access to this mural you must first relinquish everything on your person and answer the question “Do you have any firearms, weapons, or explosives on your person?” After passing through the metal detector, a security officer will conduct another measure of security that includes the handheld metal detector wand. Constant surveillance is not only visible, but felt while viewing the mural.
Not only are the histories of Mexicans silenced in historical narratives and public records, but typically the only time Chicano/a/x people received recognition came alongside white Euro-Centric dominated accounts of colonization, like the “Pass of the North” mural pictured above. American social constructs and aspects of Americanization sought to assimilate or segregate other non-white groups, not only from or into white society, but attempt to separate all racially constructed groups from each other. Other historically oppressive tactics, like red-lining, created a barrier between the “wanted/desirable” population, and the “unwanted/undesirable” marginalized groups. Furthermore, the interactions and relationships between any racial groups, especially in historical texts, becomes isolated, indicating that each race and/or ethnicity interacts separately, and experiences history within a vacuum. The segregation of marginalized communities hides the solidarity and influential relationships present amongst multiracial neighborhoods. In addition, looking at historical accounts through a relational perspective adds texture and complexity to all histories.
Track 3: Parking Garage
Notice the warning signs here, and who does and does not have access to the garage.
Head south on S Campbell St toward E 1st Ave
Turn right onto E 4th Ave
Arrive at location: S Kansas St & E 4th Ave (Douglas Grammar and High School).
Douglass Grammar and High School (Track 4)
From the late 1800s to the 1950s, El Paso served as the stopping and starting point for railroad cars during the Jim Crow era. In addition, North and South El Paso have historically been separated along lines of race, for the most part. With North El Paso serving as the residence of mostly white or middle to upper class households, and South El Paso as the residence of lower class and largely Mexican and other minority households. From the railroad tracks that served as the dividing line to the advent of the automobile, Paisano street served as the border between these two neighborhoods, and Douglas Grammar and High School, situated just past Paisano in South El Paso, served as the segregated school for the Black community from 1891-1920.
In 1933 the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC), a government-sponsored corporation created as part of the New Deal, produced a set of maps with housing zones. Grades were assigned for each zone to determine the eligibility of loans. The types of grades (A through D) received marks of “best, still desirable, definitely declining, and hazardous.” South of Paisano, which included a majority of low income Mexican Americans, received the lowest grades and comments like “ This large area is the concentration of Mexican peons which constitute the largest class of Mexican laborers. All of the shacks therein are very poor and there is positively no demand of any kind for property in this section. This area, as well as all other Mexican sections, is avoided by mortgage lenders.” Conversely, the mostly white and upper class Mexican Americans North of Paisano received the highest marks and were able to easily receive housing loans. The effects from this structural racism can be seen today with the contrast between the buildings and upkeep on the North and South sides of Paisano.
The whitewashed 124-year-old brick building on the corner of Kansas Street and Fourth Avenue, with the American and Texas flags flying proudly in the breeze, is surrounded by a gate that impedes access to an abandoned relic on the South side of Paisano Street. The historical marker in front of the building marks the significance of this hidden historical structure that stands as a reminder of the segregated barriers between gentrified downtown El Paso and the Segundo Barrio. Frederick Douglas, the famous abolitionist, was the inspiration for the school's name and represented the small Black community in this area.
A mural once adorned the Douglass School wall, according to a longtime resident, but the whitewashing of the building serves as a constant reminder of the attempts to whitewash history, both figuratively and literally. The original Douglass School was also home to Miracle Delivery Armored Service, an armed car service, according to an El Paso Times article in 2015. Douglass Grammar went from a segregated school serving the Black community, to a place of business that contributed to the security of money and wealth for the elites. However, the historical marker highlights the former school's role in El Paso's history, and is a reminder of the racial segregation that continued legally in the Jim Crow era. This segregation continues through systemic processes of gentrification, mass incarceration, and continued economic and social gaps.
Track 4: Douglass Grammar and High School
Read the historical marker. There used to be a mural on this school. The school is now entirely white washed and abandoned.
Continue on 4th Ave toward Stanton St.
Turn Left on S. Mesa St.
Turn right on Father Rahm Ave.
Arrive at location: 298 E Father Rahm Ave
You will see the Sacred Heart Church Mural first once you turn right. The Water Bug Mural will be on your left after the apartment building on your left.
El Segundo Barrio (Track 5)
“CHINCHE AL AGUA” (Water Bug) mural by Victor “Mask” Casas (298 E Father Rahm Ave)
“A wall won’t keep them from having fun. A wall won’t stop migration. A wall won’t stop growth.” -Victor “Mask” Casas
Residing at 298 East Father Rahm Avenue in the heart of the Segundo Barrio lives a mural surrounded by reminders of a dilapidated and underfunded neighborhood. A chain link fence and half constructed iron bar gate haphazardly guard this inspiring depiction of a childhood game. Signs warn of “PRIVATE PROPERTY,” “NO soliciting loitering trespassing,” and “VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.” Constant reminders and threats of incarceration amidst a community engulfed in historic oppression and neglect still sought ways to become neighborhoods of resistance and hope.
Casas’ mural stands as a decolonizing method for giving back hope to a community that has been traditionally criminalized, marginalized, and dehumanized through the media, political leaders, and society. Categorized as threats to society, undocumented Mexican immigrants and, more recently, immigrants from Central America, are greeted with animosity and imprisonment for fleeing life-threatening conditions. Immigration laws and xenophobic attitudes have continued to place immigrants at the periphery of society and exclude those that do not either assimilate or fit the image of the “American citizen,” mainly white middle-upper class. However, artists like Victor Casas call for a reimagining of spaces that are forgotten and place an emphasis on these often buried histories that are invaluable to understanding the importance of communities like El Segundo Barrio. Victor Casas’ The BORDERWHAT?! Mural Series attempts to decolonize the traumatic and destructive narratives told through whitewashed histories and settler-colonialism. By engaging in dialogues and acknowledging the resilient past and present generations of marginalized peoples, creative approaches provide alternative solutions for uncovering a silenced history.
Sacred Heart Tortilleria and Restaurant (231 E Father Rahm Ave)
The final stop on the soundwalk provides an alternative to Tom Lea Jr.’s “giants,” through an unguarded mural painted on the wall of a Mexican restaurant. Sacred Heart Church in El Segundo Barrio commissioned Francisco Delgado, Mauricio Olague, and 50 Bowie High School students to paint the mural as a way to oppose the Downtown El Paso revitalization plan. Several figures surround a crucified Jesus Christ and symbolize important figures throughout El Segundo Barrio’s history. Depicted in the mural alongside the Crucified Christ and Our Lady of Guadalupe includes Olives Villanueva Aoy, who started the first “escuelita” (little school) in the barrio, teaching both in English and Spanish; Mariano Azuela, who wrote the first novel about the Mexican Revolution while residing in the apartment buildings across from the church; Jesuit Father Carlos Pinto, founder of Sacred Heart Church and School; Jesuit Father Harold Rahm on the bicycle; and Pancho Villa, among others from the giants of the community.
Catholic Churches have historically been spaces of heteropatriarchy and colonization, but also a place of organization, community, and sanctuary. Sacred Heart Church has served as a voice for the marginalized community, and created realms of freedom. In order to peel away the layers of colonization that have perpetuated racism, violence, and trauma, new ways of thinking about traditionally oppressive institutions and ideologies must have different approaches. Decolonizing methodologies that employ creative and unorthodox strategies create opportunities for healing and uncovering silenced histories and people. Instead of mythologizing and celebrating colonizing “giants,” the Sacred Heart Mural rescues the actual decolonizing giants of a community filled with valuable historical treasures.
Track 5: El Segundo Barrio
"CHINCHE AL AGUA” Mural There is a bus station next to this mural. Read the signs around the mural.
Arrive at location: 231 E Father Rahm Ave Sacred Heart Church Mural The mural is painted on a restaurant, but sponsored by the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Notice the differences and similarities between the two murals: vividness of colors, type of “canvas” for each mural, themes and images depicted.
“Borders are generally established in order to exercise control, and when we center our attention on the historical empowerment of the oppressed, we inevitably swim rivers, lift barbed wire, and violate no trespassing signs.” -Aurora Levins Morales
As you traverse down the zones within this soundwalk you might notice the streetlights and signs regulating your movement, along with cameras that monitor the space and the actions of pedestrians. A sense of surveillance could creep into your subconscious, creating a feeling of uneasiness in a familiar environment. On the other hand, you might not notice any feelings, you may have a sense of belonging, or no feelings whatsoever. What sensations do you notice that emerge from how you experience the space? How does this connect to particular identities that you hold? What type of sensory experience reveals itself to you in this chaotic urban environment? Observe how the “Invisible forms of power are circulating all around us.” Then, imagine how that power can be deconstructed or abolished in an effort to live in a cageless society where everyone belongs and is valued.