Alan Garcia, a native Austinite and archivist, has witnessed first-hand the gentrification sweeping through the Texas capital. His childhood home, an apartment building his parents moved into after immigrating from Mexico, was torn down and replaced with a luxury condo. The Tejano cantinas and restaurants of East Austin where Garcia’s father labored as a repairman are now gone without a trace.
In the span of a few decades, developers have transformed the city’s historically black and Latino neighborhoods to accommodate white and affluent newcomers to Austin. East Sixth Street, formerly lined with Tejano cantinas and other Mexican-American owned business, now attracts young, whiter crowds in a neighborhood previously segregated from white communities. In 2015, a family-owned piñata store was demolished to make way for a SXSW party, the location later becoming the home of a cat cafe.
“The thing that really bothers me is that there is no time to document what was there,” Garcia said in an interview with Remezcla. “There’s no interest in respecting what was there and what is being destroyed.”
Last August, Garcia founded the Instagram account ATX Barrio Archive to share the remnants of Austin’s past with today’s communities. For those who may know Austin strictly as a party-loving college town or as the epicenter of the SXSW frenzy, Garcia’s unearthed trove of artifacts may come as a surprise. On the Instagram platform, Garcia shares photographs of 1980s Chicano murals since erased, lively dance floors in currently closed Tejano night clubs, and intersectional demonstrations in protest of the Ku Klux Klan. Other posts include vinyl recordings of boleros and Tejano oldies – some dating back to the early 1960s – recorded on Austin-based Mexican-American labels.
Reconnecting Austin’s archived history with communities of color is crucial to Garcia. He acknowledges that very little of these communities is documented in history books, museums, and archives. Expressions of culture among communities of color such as the birth of hip hop and conjunto have not been considered worthy of preservation, Garcia said.
Garcia is trying to bring this history back to the barrios it came from, and where it has the most use.
Moreover, the photographs, new clippings, videos, and other archival material available is often out of reach to most people, locked away in institutions for researchers.
Garcia explained an instance when he shared a video interview of a black business owner who started a taxi service for black and Mexican-American passengers at a time when segregation was still legal and taxi services were denied to people of color. The interview had never been made available to the business owner’s family and when the man’s great-grandchildren saw the video on ATX Barrio Archive, they thanked Garcia for the chance to hear their relative’s voice for the first time.
“I’m trying to bridge that gap between what is normally available to people in privileged positions and trying to bring it back to the barrios where I believe it belongs, and where it has the most use – because the people in these neighborhoods, the people who have seen so much change, are really the keepers of this history,” Garcia said.
Aside from archival footage, Garcia also shares photographs of communities of color today that continue to resist gentrification. On A Day Without an Immigrant, a day of action that called for immigrants to stay home from work, Garcia documented local immigrant businesses, such as taquerías and beauty salons, that closed in solidarity with other immigrants. As Garcia sees it, these photographs are another way of preserving history and culture often neglected and undervalued.
“It made me excited that these community of immigrant businesses were taking a stand,” Garcia said. “And if I don’t take a photo of these heartfelt signs explaining why they chose to participate in this day, when will it be documented? Will it ever be documented?”
For the month of March, a collection of photographs and artifacts curated by ATX Barrio Archive will be on display in the Austin Public Library, Carver Branch, in East Austin.