Activist group fights to preserve Barrio Duranguito

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By Brittany Medellin

EL PASO – As residents of Barrio Duranguito face losing their homes, some of who have lived there for over 40 years, members of Paso del Sur defense group have taken it upon themselves to fight tooth and nail to give a voice to the elderly who live in this community.

Paso del Sur activists say that since the passing of the city’s Quality of Life Bond in 2012, the proposed arena has threatened the Duranguito residents’ way of life, and most recently it has engulfed them in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation by the hands of shady landlords and constant eviction notices.

Paso del Sur, a prominent activist group who strive for the preservation of Duranguito, battle to defend its residents and their history from being displaced and their memory demolished.

Medellin - package“Before everybody got pushed out (of Duranguito), it was an amazing thing to see,” said Yolanda Leyva, senior member of Paso del Sur group.

Situated in the city-ordained arena footprint, Duranguito is riddled with recently abandoned properties and buildings that used to be someone’s home. Windows now boarded up, with small scribbles of protest from unknown writers.

“There are still residents that don’t want to move; there is history still here,” said Paso del Sur member, Cynthia Renteria.

The area is known as the first ward, El Paso’s first barrio.

Although the fight commenced when the area was first considered in October 2016, the relatively new announcement of possible demolitions led to a fast-paced and hard-hitting defense from the group.

Knocking on doors and setting up various locations to procure signatures, Paso del Sur created a petition to convince the city’s council members to act in the best interest of the Duranguito community.

City council opted to not take action on the petition on advice of legal counsel due to zoning issues. Instead the council decided to wait until a state court ruling is made in the case this month.

“The first petition was a call to city council to vote on a measure that would designate the neighborhood as historic,” said Jose Quiñónez. “But because City Council completely disregarded the voices of over 2,400 district voters, we had to start on a second petition.”

Along with the organization’s second petition, legal actions are set to take place on July 17, in the city of Austin, Texas. A judge will decide whether the steps taken by the city and landowners in order to build the arena are in accordance with the law.

The Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce’s original resolution provided the voters with three questions, which appeared on the 2012 election ballot as propositions.

The second question included the proposition to spend money in order to improve and provide for libraries, museums, cultural, multi-purpose performing arts and entertainment, and a cultural heritage center without providing specifics regarding a project and its location.

The proposition contradicts itself in choosing Duranguito as the arena’s footprint which undermines the values, culture and history of El Paso’s first barrio, Renteria said.

“There should be transparency for the voters because we, ultimately, are the people paying for it (arena),” said Renteria. “If you have over 2,000 citizens of El Paso voters saying we want to preserve our history, that should count for something.”

Additionally, Leyva claims that the city’s legal obstruction was a ploy to push the issue out of the city and make it difficult for the defense to make it to the courts.

Regardless of its location, the concern to save Duranguito will travel to Austin and count with three different legal cases advocating for its conservation.  

Leyva informed that a group of historical preservationists are arguing the illegality of Duranguito’s demolition; meanwhile, the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA) is arguing that it is illegal to evict residents under these pretenses and will be representing some of the residents in court.

Finally, the third defense case, initiated by Leyva, argues that the city is in violation of the elders’ civil rights in pursuing Duranguito’s demolition.

The three defenses provide a sliver of hope for the preservation of Duranguito.

“We hope that there is a favorable ruling on behalf of the residents in the area and that instead of building an arena, it is declared as a historical community,” said Renteria. “Then the city should reinvest in this community, because some of the conditions here are a direct result of the city’s neglect.”

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