Shifts in Time
By Tatiana Rodriguez
"San Jacinto Plaza is a place where memories are made. Just look at how happy these people are. Coming here to take graduation and quinceanera pictures, meeting up with family and friends, using it as an ideal date spot. It's so beautiful, don't you think? I can only imagine what once stood in this exact spot and in the surrounding buildings. What these places are now are just as important as what they once were," said Cecilia.
"Thank you," said Seth. "Now that we have gone around and everyone has given a response, let's begin our Downtown walk. Our next stop will be the El Paso County Courthouse."
I walked ahead of some of the UTEP PhD students to help lead them from where we were gathered in front of the Los Lagartos statue across the plaza to walk along Mesa Street. I was immediately struck by seeing a banner that read 'Store Closing' above the door of CVS Pharmacy.
A student named Leah turned to me. "You see that sign? I don't know why CVS would close. But I remember going to this store with my grandmother to pick up her prescription medication when we used to live close by. I just wonder what they would turn this building into."
"I wonder the same," I said. "What I'm hoping is whoever purchases this building keeps the way it looks."
We reached the intersection of Mesa and San Antonio Avenue and turned left, passing the Fallas Discount Store.
"Wow, Fallas?" asked Leah. "I can't believe it's going out of business, too."
"Right? It was only so long since it reopened after closing temporarily because of the pandemic," Cecilia replied. "I remember going to this store a few years ago with my niece to shop for school uniforms. It's a great place to find good quality uniforms for a reasonable price."
We then turned onto Kansas Street and arrived in front of the courthouse. Seth pulled out his notepad, flipping through its pages before landing on one.
He turned toward the UTEP students. "We are now standing in front of the El Paso County Courthouse, a site of surveillance. As soon as you enter, you will be met by security guards who will ask for your IDs and any bags or purses you may be carrying to run through a metal detector. Today, we will not enter the building since we are such a large group. But I invite you all to think about how this site can represent a shift in the environment. Direct your attention toward the courthouse, then look around you as we continue to walk on Kansas to the intersection with Paisano Drive. What differences do you see between your current surroundings and what lies past Paisano?"
Once we crossed Paisano, the students continued to reflect on the prompt given at the courthouse. I reflected back to the time when Seth, a Student Fellow who used to take part in our project, and the Faculty Fellow who facilitated our project went on our Downtown walk for the first time as a group. I remember Seth saying that I should share the response I had given at the time with the UTEP students who would be joining us.
"It felt like there was a huge physical shift in the environment," I said. "When we still stood by the courthouse, in every direction there were tall, domineering buildings, many with a combination of modern and historical architecture. It was easy to see the layers of history peering through - what once stood in the buildings and what they have been renovated into now. What was difficult to see was the geographic landscape. I couldn't see the mountains anymore. Not in the small gaps between the buildings in the court district. Not even in the reflection of the glass covering the whole front of the courthouse. But I can see the mountains here on Paisano as I look back toward Downtown."
"That's very true," said Leah. "Something I just thought of is how Paisano can act as a marker between Downtown and Segundo Barrio. A marker between the traffic of vehicles and pedestrians. It is much more quiet here but this place seems so vibrant with its close community feel and artwork."
"Yes," Cecilia added. "I think I have been in this neighborhood only once or twice before. I don't really remember. But, what I'm noticing now is the culture of this place with the mural I can see on the house it looks like across the street."
"I'm glad you brought that point up, Cecilia," Seth responded. "That is something we will be exploring as we continue this part of the walk further into Segundo Barrio."
We began to walk again on Kansas until we arrived at Father Rahm Avenue. We turned right and continued our way until we reached the Sacred Heart Church Mural. I moved to the front of our group because this was the location where I would be leading our discussion.
"This mural is representative of El Paso," I said. "Father Rahm is a central figure as he rides a red bicycle. We can see an alligator in the foreground, which is a reference to the alligators that were once in San Jacinto Plaza before being moved to the El Paso Zoo. Another prevalent element is the use of the colors, red and green, the colors used in the Mexican flag. It also nods to the fact how vital Mexican and Mexican American culture is to our city as a whole."
That was the close of the walk but everyone still walked together as we turned back onto Oregon Street back toward San Jacinto. I listened to what some of our group members spoke about. The words from their conversations echoed: beauty, community, calmness, closeness, home. Each of these words used to describe Downtown and Segundo Barrio resonated with me. They still do. I can still hear them being spoken. Beauty is the neigborhood. A community of intertwined identities and experiences. The closeness its residents feel is calm in the place they call home.