February 12, 2014

Opening Up the Conversation About Saving Latino History

  • By: National Trust for Historic Preservation
Written by Tanya Bowers, Director of Diversity, and Adriana Gallegos

Little Mexico. Credit: Sol Villasana
Historical photo of Little Mexico in Dallas, Texas

Late last year, the midcentury historic Univision building in San Antonio was demolished, serving as a wake-up call to many in the Latino community. When we posted our PreservationNation story about the demolition, it received some feedback from people on Twitter:

  • “Terrible loss… could’ve made a nice museum that showcases the contributions of Latinos in broadcasting.”
  • “Texas textbooks > Revisionist history deny Latinos place in American history.”
  • “It’s important to have Latino representation. Thank you for writing this piece.”

It was evident we needed to open the conversation as to why the Univision building and other Latino sites are not being saved or getting the attention they deserve. [Case in point: A 2008 study of National Register of Historic Places listings by associated cultural group found that only .11% (95 out of 83,775) were Hispanic.] And perhaps the way in is through the example of the trailblazers who for years have given Latino history a voice.

Take, for example, San Antonio native Graciela Sanchez, director of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center and its West Side Preservation Alliance. She and other activists were dubbed the “Univision 8” because they were arrested outside the Univision building for trying to stop the demolition.

Follow-up press conference by the eight citizens arrested at the Univision building. Graciela Sanchez in front. Credit: Adolfo Mendez Segura
Follow-up press conference by the eight citizens arrested at the Univision building. (Graciela Sanchez is in the foreground.)

But the Univision situation is only one of many battles Sanchez has fought. Her entire career has targeted two groups -- the community and city policy makers -- to build their awareness and consciousness of historic Latino sites. She says it is hard work to educate others that little “tienditas” are important -- even though they’re not big, beautiful, architectural wonders like the Notre Dame Cathedral -- because they still have a soul and a story.

Many years ago her group was able to save Casa Maldonado, a former tavern, fruit store, thrift store, and offices as well as the birthplace of civic leader and union organizer William Maldonado. Sanchez galvanized the community to fight for their history, and in the end they won.

Another activist in saving an important Latino site is Sol Villasana, a lawyer who saved St. Ann’s Church in Dallas' “Little Mexico.” Little Mexico was a neighborhood where Mexicans from all walks of life came to the Dallas area to take jobs in factories, agriculture, and the railroads.

St. Ann's Church in Dallas c. 1960. Credit: Sol Villasana
St. Ann's Church circa 1960

However, in the 1990s very little was left of “Little Mexico” except for St. Ann’s. The Archdiocese wanted to sell the church, but the group, Guadalupe Social Center, hired Sol Villasana to get the city to designate it as a historic landmark. It was a long battle fought against the Archdiocese, but Sol and the Guadalupe Social Center never gave up. Every day they had some event or vigil to get the community involved, and today, St. Ann is still standing as a café and museum.

If Graciela's and Sol's stories inspire you to fight for a piece of your history or heritage, please nominate a site to our 2014 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

Make sure that not another historic, cultural, or architectural landmark like the Univision building in San Antonio is lost. Help to keep the Latino heritage and history alive.


If you’re in the San Antonio area, please join us at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Theatre this Saturday, February 15, for the San Antonio Latino Legacy Summit. Events include:

  • The National Park Service invites you to learn about the landmark publication, "American Latinos and the Making of the United States: A Theme Study."
  • Attendees can meet and speak with representatives from local, state, and national historic preservation organizations as we talk about the future of Latino heritage and historic preservation in Texas.
  • National Trust staff will be leading “Este Lugar Vale” Preservation 101 Training. Targeting both experienced preservationists as well as those who are passionate about a particular place but unfamiliar with the ins and outs of preservation, this training module highlights case studies from around the country to broaden understanding of the laws, players, and approaches that have been used to save Latino cultural resources.

Register online here.

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