Where I Live: Monte Vista

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Andrew Casillas walks through the backyard with his dog Jackson.Andrew Casillas walks through the backyard with his dog Jackson.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Andrew Casillas walks through his backyard with his dog Jackson.

To call Monte Vista a beautiful neighborhood would be a blatant understatement. It’s a quiet, quasi-stately area mostly occupied by retiree residents, old homes, and even older trees. From time-to-time, you’ll even see a hitching post that predates the Teapot Dome scandal. 

The taco scene is pristine, whether you want to visit the original Taco Cabana on Hildebrand or Tacos El Guero, aka San Antonio’s best taco truck. And provided cedar fever hasn’t overtaken the atmosphere, every walk around the neighborhood remains revelatory. 

Prior to living here, I couldn’t tell you the difference between Spanish and German architecture for the life of me. Now, I’m prone to heated arguments over whether a home is too angular. Even a chore like walking the dogs is an eye-opening excursion, maybe more so for myself than the pups. I’ve only been here for a few years, but I’d never want to live anywhere else in town. 

If I have one problem with living in Monte Vista, however, it’s shaking the feeling that I was never supposed to live here in the first place.

My wife and I live in a 90-year-old home. We got curious about the history of this old building, and my wife took it upon herself to find out more about this abode. We thought we would uncover some notorious former resident or historical figure that resided within these walls. Maybe we’d find out that it was a partitioned piece of a large late-19th century estate. So what did we see upon researching the original deed?

“Said property shall not, at any time, be leased, sold … or conveyed to, or otherwise become the property of any person other than one of the Caucasian race.”

To be fair, this was not a surprise. In a perverse sense, it was even quite funny. The feeling of “Ha! Take that, old racists! Excuse me while us brown folks stretch out in our home.” But we still felt the sting. 

There aren’t a lot of people like us in this neighborhood. Of course, this being a more affluent area, you don’t see many millennials in the first place (at least not yet). But the few that I’ve encountered line up with expected demographics; that is to say, generational white wealth. It makes me wonder what other generational wealth was destroyed for brown and black families in San Antonio, which would have begat others living in this wonderful place.

It’s no surprise San Antonio has a tragic history of racial discrimination, specifically as it relates to housing restrictions. This has been documented in many sources more instructive than this article,  so I won’t rehash these stories here. Although anyone who has the opportunity to hear Trinity University professor Christine Drennon discuss the history at length absolutely should for didactic reasons. 

That’s not to say that the area itself is openly hostile. Most of our neighbors have been very welcoming, and the Monte Vista Historical Association is engaging and inviting to all of its residents. From our first month here, they’ve consistently reached out to us, and they’re always quick to engage our local representatives during election cycles. Plus, you can count on them to put on a swell get-together at some of our neighborhood’s nicest homes or venues for their mixers.

But it’s impossible for me to shake the feeling that we’re the recipient of some sort of birth lottery. We certainly worked hard to get here, but nevertheless we feel lucky to be in that position in the first place. In the larger sense, San Antonio is no more ideal for minorities to elevate their social class than any other large American city. Especially in recent years, it’s markedly more difficult for minorities to attain home ownership in traditional affluent neighborhoods, which leads one to contrast the beauty of Monte Vista with the realities of residents in adjacent areas of town. 

Take, for example, the neighborhoods around Monte Vista. Olmos Park certainly rivals this neighborhood in median lawn size, and many of Alta Vista’s homes boast designs as gorgeous as any area in the city. But Los Angeles Heights and Beacon Hill residents, for the most part, exist in a different working class world while sitting a block away.

A Monte Vista resident who sends their children to SAISD schools can boast to their neighbors about the virtues of “going public,” but others hardly get the same ability to choose schools based on their philosophical virtues. That’s not to say that SAISD isn’t an excellent district, but the general attitude toward public school attendance amongst many residents oftentimes fails to square with Monte Vista’s reputation as a red state liberal enclave.

The Monte Vista neighborhood in San Antonio is shaded in blue.

Illustration / Rivard Report - Google Maps

The Monte Vista neighborhood in San Antonio is shaded in blue.

If there’s hope going forward, it’s in seeing how city leadership, after years of paying lip service to the issues of inequality, has made strides in the past decade, facing up to its legacy of racial, class, and economic segregation. This has come in a few forms, such as Mayor Nirenberg’s new housing policy aimed at reducing the gap in homebuilding and affordability; City Council’s reorientation toward an equity-focused budget; organizations like SAGE’s and LiftFund’s continued growth in assisting with capital opportunities to minority businesses; and SAISD’s various initiatives aimed at increasing economic diversity amongst its student populace. We’ve experienced drawbacks as well, but the first step in alleviating our past mistakes is to acknowledge the problem and begin investing in possible solutions – which the city can definitely say it’s finally doing.

All this is to say that I love this city. I love this neighborhood. I love this house. Not everyone has the privilege or ability to say they love those three things. If you’re one of the lucky people who can, please remain vigilant for those who cannot. A rising tide does lift all boats. And when you see someone adrift, please throw them a life jacket. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some racist ghosts to taunt in my living room.

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