Written by Jesús Najar
Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the United States. For more than 440 years they have contributed to building the culture and society of all the American South, from Florida to California. The Hispanic experience in South Texas specifically is 260 years old, and this legacy of multiple generations of Spanish-descent families has created a rich culture and conserved those sites and towns that reflect their heritage.
Laredo is the largest city on the Mexico-U.S. border with a Hispanic majority. It is also the center of the National Trust’s South Texas Community Outreach Program, an initiative that aims to engage Hispanics into conserving and revitalizing all those sites and buildings that matter to them.
Since September 2010, I have been learning from the experience and preservation efforts of local organizations such as Laredo Main Street, the River Pierce Foundation, and the Webb County Heritage Foundation, the host organization for this program headed by National Trust Advisor Margarita Araiza. A generous gift from the Meadows Foundation funded my position for the 8-month pilot program to aid in providing preservation field services and creating relationships within the communities of Webb and Zapata counties along the Texas-Mexico border.
My focus is the creation of historic resources surveys in Laredo’s oldest residential neighborhoods. The first completed survey identified 228 properties encompassing approximately 30 blocks immediately west of old downtown Laredo, in a Hispanic barrio known as El Cuatro.
El Cuatro has a diverse past which has included military and African-American resident populations, while maintaining its traditional Hispanic majority. Because of various proposed inner-city development projects and lack of coordinated informational tools, this fascinating collection of Border Vernacular homes is in danger of being inappropriately modified or demolished.
In addition to the inventory of El Cuatro’s Mexican brick and board & batten homes, education is an important part of this project. By demonstrating the ways to rehabilitate and promote these and other historical buildings in Laredo to both property owners and local realtors, the National Trust’s Southwest Regional Office empowers existing efforts to keep South Texas and the border region as a vibrant community that protects its past.
Jesús Najar is the Southwest Office’s South Texas Community Outreach Coordinator. A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, Jesús holds an undergraduate degree in architecture and recently completed a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning degree with a certificate in Historic Preservation from the University of Virginia.
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