Elevate Difference

La Calle: Spatial Conflicts and Urban Renewal in a Southwest City

In her historical work La Calle, Otero focuses on the city of Tucson’s elimination of the Mexican cultural center known as “La Calle” in the late sixties. While this event may seem minor in the grand scheme of things, Otero successfully argues that the incident was in fact proof of a bias against Tuscon citizens of Mexican descent and representative of a far larger problem.

No other United States city has remained under Mexican control as long as Tucson, which was not fully acquired by the U.S. until 1856. As a result, the city retained both a people and a culture that reflected its prolonged ties to Mexico. While the Mexican flavor was initially used as a means to attract Caucasian tourists, the city later began a plan to “revitalize” the city by eliminating such centers of Mexican culture as La Calle, a downtown area populated by small locally owned boutiques, Latin flavored restaurants, and the Plaza movie theater, which showed films in Spanish. The city of Tucson chose to eliminate this popular downtown destination in favor of replacing the area’s attractions with chain stores and strip malls designed to attract suburban Caucasian visitors, believing such a change would mean a higher profit for the city.

The bias towards Mexican-Americans also went further with realtors not selling them homes to keep them out of Caucasian neighborhoods, and restrictive mortgage policies. Otero makes her case by culling local city records and utilizing the oral history from city residents who experienced firsthand the changes made to Tucson during the sixties. Otero’s evidence clearly points to a policy rooted in a belief that Mexican Americans were second class citizens and that historical monuments tying Tucson to its Mexican history were not worth saving.

As a whole the book does a good job at pointing to the larger issue of the political implications of city planning. Otero quotes feminist geographer Linda McDowell who stated “Places are made through power relations which construct the rules that define boundaries. These boundaries define who belongs to a place and who may be excluded, as well as the location or site of the experience.”

We may take for granted that the arrangement, boundaries, as well as what is deemed worth preserving, within the cities we reside in may most likely have been influenced by racism, classism, and sexism.

Written by: Adrienne Urbanski, February 21st 2011