Westside Community Partnerships

Research & Faculty Engagement

UTSA faculty have worked collabortively with community partners to catalyze and support a meaningful community engaged research spectrum to improve community wellbeing that encompasses health, education, neighborhood environment and the economic security of area residents.

To help foster a vibrant intellectual community of scholarship for the benefit of UTSA and area residents, the Weststide Community Partnerships initiative has established faculty seed grants, a scholar-in-residence award and has connected UTSA faculty with San Antonio Westside non-profits, schools and small businesses to engage jointly in research by enhancing networks and infrastructure for engaged research.

Active seed grant research projects for 2021-22 are highlighted below.

West Side Sounds Oral History Project 

Project Title: West Side Sounds Oral History Project 
Principal Investigator: Sylvia Mendoza, COEHD, Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexuality Studies 
Community Partner: Jaime’s Place 
Project Period: 12/06/2021 – 8/31/2022 
Amount of Award: $5,000.00 

The West Side Sounds Oral History Project (WSSOHP) collects documents and shares the oral histories of musicians, as well as dancers and fans of the genre since its inception to present day. The West Side Sound is a genre of music largely influenced by Black music (R&B, rock ‘n’ roll) as well as conjunto, country and western music and was/is performed by musicians rooted in San Antonio’s west and east side communities. Ethnomusicologists/scholars have written about San Antonio’s West Side sound.

This oral history project aims to document its history from the perspective of the musicians and their fans, centering and drawing from the experiential knowledge and historical memory of the San Antonio community. In addition to collecting oral histories of musicians and music lovers, the WSSOHP includes a photo and storytelling component, which will culminate in a community exhibit to be shared at Jaime’s Place, a popular West Side music venue. Owned by Jaime Macias, Jaime’s Place is Chicano/San Antonio owned, and is quickly becoming a hub for other small businesses, artists, performers, and cultural workers in the community. 

Digital Literacy through Language Education 

Project Title: Digital Literacy through Language Education 
Principal Investigator: Martha Sidury Christiansen, COEHD, Bicultural- Bilingual Studies 
Community Partner: San Antonio Time Dollar 
Project Period: 12/06/2021 – 8/31/2022 
Amount of Award: $5,000.00 

UTSA’s Adult Digital Literacy through Language Education (ADLLE) Community Lab, is a program that serves the adult culturally and linguistically diverse population residing in the Westside community in becoming digitally literate. It is well documented that there exists a literacy and digital divide between areas that are economically disadvantaged and those which are not. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the already existing digital divide even broader, and while efforts have been made to tackle the costly infrastructure, the lack of digital literacy has not been systematically and consistently addressed in the Westside community.

To address the digital divide, the Community Lab offers classes twice a week based on the Literacy Education and Communication System (LINCS)’s guidelines. A partnership between San Antonio Time Dollar and UTSA’s Department of Bicultural and Bilingual Studies formed to provide a location already familiar with the community and to provide a consistent influx of qualified teachers or MA teacher-trainees with supervision from UTSA’s faculty. Most importantly, this site enables the research on language through digital literacy practices. Using a sociocultural framework of language learning, the research study aims to demonstrate how, through the explicit use of digital technologies for everyday purposes, language learning can be integrated and, in doing so, students’ cultures and identities upheld. 

The Changing Demographic and Socioeconomic Characteristics of the Westside

Project Title: The Changing Demographic and Socioeconomic Characteristics of the Westside
Principal Investigator: Rogelio Saenz, HCAP, Demography
Community Partner: Prosper West 
Project Period: 12/06/2021 – 8/31/2022 
Amount of Award: $5,000.00 

The Westside has experienced a slight decline in its population during the 21st century. The Westside population dropped from 56,348 in 2000 to 55,514 in 2010 to 53,969 in 2014 and experienced a bit of a turnaround to 55,484 in 2019, similar to its population size in 2010. Nonetheless, overall, the area's population declined by 1.5% between 2000 and 2019. Despite this slight population loss, there is not much information that has examined the extent to which the Westside has changed along with a variety of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. Indeed, the slow decline of the area's population hides the dynamics of its demographic and socioeconomic shifts that are likely responsible for the slow population decline that the Westside has experienced over the last two decades.

This research project uses data from the 2000 and 2010 decennial censuses and the 2014 and 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-Year Estimates to provide a demographic and socioeconomic profile of the Westside during these four time periods. The results of the analysis will provide valuable information to illustrate the major demographic and socioeconomic changes that have taken place in the area during the last two decades. The findings have major implications for understanding these changes and for the use of these data to develop community initiatives and policies to enhance the sustainability of the Westside and its residents. 

Westside Shotgun and Vernacular Housing: Retaining Authenticity and Integrity

Project Title: Westside Shotgun and Vernacular Housing: Retaining Authenticity and Integrity 
Principal Investigator: Angela Lombardi, CEID, School of Architecture and Planning 
Community Partner: Esperanza Peace and Justice Center 
Project Period: 12/06/2021 – 8/31/2022 
Amount of Award: $5,000.00 

The Westside of San Antonio is a unique community, with a rich history and a remarkable cultural significance. The area developed expeditiously in the early 20th century due to the massive waves of immigrants from Mexico and became home to generations of Hispanic residents. Today, the Westside remains a major center for Hispanic heritage and a vibrant community. It features an array of attractions, small businesses, and communal spaces. It also offers affordable housing options since a large count of its housing stock consists of older small vernacular structures. Among them, a considerable number of shotgun houses remain, retaining authenticity and integrity. This housing typology is present in large numbers in the Westside. It developed as an affordable housing option for Mexican workers and a suitable solution for the narrow and long city lots. As the area was part of the 1930s redlining practices, residents were denied access to credits, thus many of these houses were self-built with cheap and available materials and witnessed spontaneous transformations, adaptations, and additions. These houses remain as strong evidence of the Westside’s rich history. Yet, many of them are in declining conditions and face the threat of demolition. This project helps to retain the integrity and authenticity of the Westside. 

El Cascarón: Mario Cantú, San Antonio, Tejas, and Transnational Revolutionary Struggle, 1969-1984

Project Title: El Cascarón: Mario Cantú, San Antonio, Tejas, and Transnational Revolutionary Struggle, 1969-1984 
Principal Investigator: Jerry Gonzalez, COLFA, History 
Community Partner: Mexican American Civil Rights Initiative 
Project Period: 12/06/2021 – 8/31/2022 
Amount of Award: $5,000.00 

Mario Cantú, restaurateur, activist, ex-pinto, embodies the transition in San Antonio and south Texas from the cultural nationalist inspired actions of the Chicano Movement to a more capacious vision of sin fronteras that centered the struggles of undocumented peoples. Fresh out of prison in 1969, Cantú dove headlong into local activism and organizing while he simultaneously operated the family restaurant in the Westside. As the founding director of Semana De La Raza in 1970, Cantú crafted a liberationist vision for Mexican-origin people that incorporated history, arts, literature, and music from both sides of the border. He also worked with local Black activists to challenge police abuse and imprisonment of people of color, most notably through the local chapter of the Free Angela Davis movement. He later founded the local chapter of Centro De Accion Social Autonomo (CASA) that provided direct legal and financial services to undocumented immigrants. In that role, and in his capacity as a small business owner, Cantú developed networks that spanned both the U.S. and Mexico and directed resources towards the struggle.

Advocating for and employing undocumented workers eventually got him arrested, but he faced other challenges because of his support for revolutionary struggles in Mexico. He famously confronted Mexican President Luis Echeverria in protest in 1976. And, as an alleged arms smuggler to Florencio “El Guero” Medrano’s resistance efforts in southern Mexico, Cantú faced international charges to which he responded by fleeing to Europe to form solidarity committees with Chicanos and Mexicanos in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and England. Although he lacks the fame of many of his contemporaries, Cantú is ubiquitous throughout the 1970s, appearing as a specter across the archives. 

Illuminating New Ecologies of Belief and Culture Across San Antonio's Westside Communities

Project Title: Illuminating New Ecologies of Belief and Culture Across San Antonio's Westside Communities
Principal Investigator: John P. Santos, Honor’s College
Community Partner: Scholar-in-Residence 
Project Period: 12/06/2021 – 8/31/2022 
Amount of Award: $10,000.00 

Belief is a powerful driver for shaping how we see ourselves and our roles in communities, cities, regions, and nations. Understanding the complexities of belief (religious & cultural) deepens our understanding of our communities and their sense of the place they occupy in the world. While San Antonio's Mexican American community has deep roots in Mexican Roman Catholicism (with strong indigenous influences), the religious beliefs and cultural practices of today's Chicano community have become considerably more diverse and novel, with the myriad expansion of Protestant sects, Indigenous revivalism, healing practices centered on Botanicas, and the introduction of religious traditions from other parts of the world, including Islam, Buddhism, and African religious practices. There's a new mestizaje of belief that is re-shaping the identities of the Westside.

This research project focuses on capturing the emerging diversity of beliefs and encouraging public reflections on what these ecologies say about who we are, and who we are becoming as a community with a deep history in Mexico and the Borderlands. How will a new diversity of beliefs and cultural practices contribute to positive social change for this historic part of our richly storied city? What role do religious and cultural beliefs play in the struggles for social justice? Community interviews are recorded in video and audio, and the findings of the research will be shared through a series of public presentations featuring project participants. These events will be undertaken in collaboration with community-based institutions such as the public libraries, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, et.al. By developing a more detailed portrait of the diverse ecologies of belief in San Antonio's Westside today, this project will cultivate a greater appreciation of a community "en camino," exploring the many ways we are becoming a new people, shaped by our history, transformed by our experiences, aspiring to well-being and purposeful roles in our community and society. In addition to the public events planned through the period of research, a short edited video and podcast will be used to publish the findings of the project.