Soon after my wife and I moved Oak Cliff, 14 years ago, we were standing in line at Cesar’s Tacos #1 at night in spitting rain. When I got to the window, I ordered a mix of barbacoa and al pastor in mangled Spanglish, and then ran across the street to Gonzalez Elotes to get two large Styrofoam cups of corn, heavy on the mayo and light on the chili. When I got back to my wife, she was laughing. She said the Hispanic woman behind her in line had asked if I spoke Spanish. “No,” she said, stating the obvious. “Well,” the woman replied, shaking her head with an 80-20 mix of pity and wonder, “She ain’t gonna starve.”
At the time, I was an anomaly, so much so that the checkout girls at El Rio Grande would always first speak to me in Spanish, assuming that I must understand the language to navigate the neighborhood. I was entertaining at best, an inconvenience at worst, mispronouncing “pound” at the meat counter as “free.”
That’s because back then, I was in the minority. But now, I am it.
I am the it that Gene Vivero, owner of Vivero Boxing Gym, warns of when he says, “It’s coming this way.” In Roberto José Andrade Franco’s story for this issue, “Unfair Fight” (which went online today), Vivero talks about the gentrification that is threatening the very existence of Oak Cliff’s many boxing gyms. And, like it or not, I am that gentrification. I am the white woman with a weekly sourdough bread subscription from Candor Bread. I am the homeowner with a dumpster and a pallet of hand-glazed tile in the driveway.
Even as an interloper, I knew from the moment I first drove up Sylvan Avenue that this was my home. There were trees and rolling hills, Tudor mansions and clapboard bungalows, taco shops and paleterías. It was everything the cookie-cutter suburbs were not. It was where I wanted to be.
Down the street, there are abogados, hair salons, Catholic churches, tax preparers, fortune-tellers, and check cashers. There are shops for veladoras, tires, piñatas, records, quinceañera dresses, and secondhand furniture. Weekends turn lawns and vacant lots into yard sales, and bulk pickup is every day. Put a broken air conditioner or lawn mower on the curb, and it will be gone in minutes.
This past year, the accumulation of ignored home repairs finally caught up with us, and we decided to stay and remodel. As we upgrade, so has the neighborhood. There are good things: the boarded-up apartment complex at the end of the block has been replaced by a pastel row of single-family bungalows, formerly vacant storefronts along Davis Street now sell home goods and macarons, and the Ronald Kirk Pedestrian Bridge swells every evening with families and scooters.
But other things are in danger of being lost: the boxing gyms, used car lots, and car washes that are now more valuable as land, the fortune-teller and Cesar’s #1. This shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. My moving in shouldn’t move someone out. I chose this neighborhood because of its spirit, its soul, not for its development potential.
One thing has been made clear: I want the privilege to live here. Now I need to figure out how to save the neighborhood I love, before it is lost for good.