Reflections of a Southsider Turned State Senator

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Uresti's first law office on Pleasanton Road.

Uresti's first law office on Pleasanton Road. Still there.

Twelfth in a Series: A Rising Southside

Today's stories, written by two Southside natives who now hold elected office, complete the series, "A Rising Southside," appearing on the Rivard Report over the last two weeks. We published a total of 12 stories exploring the economic, educational, cultural and environmental advances achieved in recent years on what once was the most neglected side of San Antonio. We invite your feedback on the series, pro and con, and what other aspects of city life you would like to see us explore. Just post your comments on any of the stories we've published. Links to all the stories can be found below this story or click here.

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 7.55.14 PMThe Southside has always been a wonderful place – the dogs are mean, but the people are nice.

Growing up on the Southside as a teenager was so simple because back then, life was simple.  There was no Internet, no cell phones or Instagram, and certainly no Facebook.  My boundaries were SW Military Drive, Zarzamora Road, Roosevelt and Loop 410.

Rarely did I travel outside these boundaries.  The truth is I didn’t realize that much of anything existed beyond them.

Uresti's "road" to school. Photos courtesy of Carlos Uresti.

Uresti's "road" to school. Photos courtesy of Carlos Uresti.

In the late 70’s, walking to McCollum High School every day was a trek along a wide creek (that just last year was finally cleaned, paved and cemented), tight-roping across a sewer pipe, then finishing along Commercial Avenue to get to class.

The key was to avoid puddles and cars since there were no real sidewalks on my route.  (There still aren’t any, by the way.)

Just two blocks from our home - my father still lives there after 37 years; my mom passed two years ago – stood a distinct building with the initials HBZ.

The Zachry building was a landmark back then, and of course, still is.  As a teenager, any free time was spent at school, JROTC training, and working at a number of fast food restaurants along Military Drive.  Did I mention that I was “assistant to the assistant team leader” at Arby’s?

What's left of the Mission Drive-In.

What's left of the Mission Drive-In.

For me and my twin brother, Larry, Friday nights consisted of watching high school football games against our friendly rivals, the Harlandale Indians or South San Bobcats.

We would “borrow” our Dad’s Pontiac Bonneville and cruise to the aqueducts, the Chinese graveyard on Zarzamora, pass by the Missions along Espada Road to go the infamous “railroad tracks” and, finally, sneak into the Mission Drive-In with our JROTC buddies in the trunk. (Has the statute of limitations run its course?)

The infamous "ghost tracks." Allegedly, if you position your car on the tracks in neutral, a mysterious force will push it off. Some witnesses claim to find strange fingerprints on their trunks.

The infamous "ghost tracks." Allegedly, if you position your car on the tracks in neutral, a mysterious force will push it off. Some witnesses claim to find strange fingerprints on their trunks.

Life was simple and so was the Southside.  We had simple streets, simple infrastructure and simply little attention.

After college at St. Mary’s University, I left San Antonio upon being commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Marines and was stationed at Camp Pendleton with my family.  But for short trips home during the holidays, four years passed before returning home to the Southside in 1989.  Simply nothing had changed.

I decided to attend law school, and three years later I opened a small office on Pleasanton Road. There are raspa stands bigger than that office.

Uresti's first law office on Pleasanton Road.

Uresti's first law office on Pleasanton Road. It's been many things since, including a taco stand. Vacant now, but still there.

The elementary school my kids attended had no playground and no Cub Scout pack.  I realized then it was time not only to get involved but to also take action – my first real civic engagement.  I started the first Cub Scout pack at Schulze Elementary (recently recognized as a top elementary in San Antonio) and raised $25,000 to have a playground built at the school.

After this community endeavor I wanted to do more, and believed I could help make a difference.  After some encouragement I decided to run for seat in the State Legislature.  Over the last sixteen years, first as a state representative and now seven years as a senator, I have witnessed a metamorphosis of the Southside.  Although I am proud of the legislation I have passed to help the Southside in many ways, I am more proud of the people and the businesses that have never given up on our side of town and recognize its many hidden treasures.

Amazingly, it took a Japanese company from thousands of miles away to get certain local “San Antonians” to finally realize that the Southside is a great place to work, live and play.  The result - a multi-billion-dollar, state of the art Toyota facility along Zarzamora that just a few years ago was the route to the local dump.

Over just the last two years, other Fortune 500 companies have built facilities on the Southside – Halliburton and Baker Hughes, to name a few. Last week, under the consistent leadership of Peter Holt, HOLT CAT, a longtime anchor of the Southside, recently announced it would invest several million dollars into its facility, bringing more jobs and economic development to the area.

Strewn about this new development on the Southside are four precious jewels - San José, Espada, Concepción, and Capistrano.  Thanks to Father David Garcia these Missions bring a sparkle to an old, yet vibrant community.

Mission Espada.

Mission Espada.

Down the road lies perhaps the crown jewel of the Southside, the Texas A&M University-San Antonio campus.  Still in its infancy, this school will one day be polished and evolve into a campus for 30,000 students - future scientists, engineers, teachers, and leaders of our great state.   The potential for our Southside students has no boundaries!

On the way to my Senate office on Military Drive, I drive through the neighborhood in which I grew up and observe the small “mom and pop” stores that represent the backbone of this community.  I reflect on the friendships that I have made over the years - the McAlexander, Gonzales, Navarro, any Meyers families, and so many others.  I wonder where the years have gone as I prepare to turn 50 in a few weeks, and I think about that kid who used to cruise the streets in what seems like just a few years ago.

Finally, I think about how the Southside has changed so much but still maintains its identity.  Its people are hard-working, blue-collar, God-fearing, family oriented, die-hard Spurs fans (with the silhouette of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili on their back windshields).  They want what we all want – simply the best - for their families.

When I travel to the Bexar County Courthouse or the Capitol in Austin, I always think about what my parents taught me growing up on the Southside: “Mijo, never forget where you came from.” As a smile grows across my face and pride swells in my chest, I only have one word in response – impossible.

 

Texas State Senator Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, is a lifelong resident of District 19. Uresti enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves at the age of 18 as a Private First Class. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and a Teaching Certificate from St. Mary’s University, and was then commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. Senator Uresti rose to the rank of Captain and earned the Navy Achievement Medal during his four years of active duty as a combat engineer. Since graduating from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 1992, he has been in private practice in San Antonio, currently with the Uresti Law Firm. Follow him on Twitter @CarlosUresti and on Facebook.

 

Related Stories:

A Look Back and a Look into the Future: The Smart Money's on the South

Texas A&M University-San Antonio: Changing the Landscape of San Antonio Forever

Toyota: Engine of Change on San Antonio’s Southside

Brooks City-Base: Where History Greets the Future

A Boyhood Remembered, a World Heritage Site Anticipated

The Missions: Our Southside Spiritual and Cultural Anchors

The Mission Reach: Bringing Life and Pride Back to the Southside

It’s the Decade of Downtown, But Don’t Miss San Antonio’s Rising Southside

Rain Date: Historic San Antonio River Mission Reach Party on Oct. 5

Toyota Investing in Tomorrow’s Southside Role Models

One of the Last Inner City Trailer Parks Going Condo

 

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