Reviving a Nearly Lost Barrio Story
The Barrio Stories Project speaks to how downtown Tucson's physical and ethnic landscape has been drastically altered.

By Jamie Manser, Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry
Feb. 9, 2016

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Borderlands Theater actors depict life in the culturally diverse, 80-acre residential and business district in downtown Tucson.
Borderlands Theater actors depict life in the culturally diverse, 80-acre residential and business district in downtown Tucson. (Photo: Marc Pinate)

In the late 1960s, a culturally diverse, 80-acre residential and business district in downtown Tucson was demolished as a consequence of urban renewal and the construction of the Tucson Convention Center complex.

More than 100 years of historically significant and irreplaceable cultural spaces, shops, homes, restaurants and entertainment venues, notably La Plaza Theatre, were wiped out.

Through the work of University of Arizona faculty members and the Borderlands Theater, the Barrio Stories Project is reviving the history of this neighborhood in several public events this spring.

"The Barrio Stories Project offers an innovative approach to disseminating history and will inform audiences about an important chapter that vastly altered downtown Tucson's physical and ethnic landscape," said Lydia R. Otero, a UA Mexican American studies professor.

Otero received a 2015 Faculty Collaboration Grant from the Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry to help realize the Barrio Stories Project, and she is working in partnership with Elaine Romero, an assistant professor at the UA School of Theatre, Film and Television.

"The production of this play also speaks to the importance of academic and community collaborations, and I am glad that the Confluencenter is invested in funding these types of partnerships,” said Otero, a scholar in culture, history and urbanization and the award-winning author of "La Calle: Spatial Conflicts and Urban Renewal in a Southwest City," which was published in 2010 by UA Press.

Otero and Romero are working in conjunction with the Borderlands Theater, youth, anthropologists, historians and playwrights to adapt the narratives in order to share the neighborhood’s rich history and reclaim the voices of its community members.

"The deep work professor Otero has done with her historical research, her life in Tucson and her profound connection to our community supplies our collaboration with an authenticity that cannot be acquired by any other means," Romero said.

"There is no shortcut to seeing a community through the eyes of someone who has lived through its changes and reconfigurations. Indeed, 'Barrio Stories' will speak to a hard-earned truth of our Tucson community. Not all stories are easy to tell, and this one might bring a few tears. That's the only kind of story worth telling."

Javier Durán, director of the Confluencenter, has familial ties to the community that was razed.

"My father was born in Pennington Street in 1924, so this project hits close to home, as it connects many memories," Durán said. "I'm delighted to see Professor Otero tackling this subject, and the Confluencenter is sponsoring a project that successfully captures the diverse heritage of the Tucson barrios and reminds our contemporary audience of downtown’s not-very-distant past."

Extra info

Details on the Borderlands performances are available online.


Resources for the media

Jamie Manser

UA Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry