/ Modified feb 11, 2020 11:50 a.m.

Archive Tucson: In the shadow of the freeway

Historian Lydia Otero talks about growing up in a neighborhood that was partly erased by the construction of I-10.


ANDERSON: Historian Lydia Otero was born in the mid-1950s and lived on Farmington Road, which runs parallel to I-10 near 22nd Street.

OTERO: It was what you could describe as a poor community. Although it was poor, most of the people owned their houses on Farmington. So everybody knew everybody. The chickens roamed around. I would describe it as very rural, but we were within the city. I was born in '55 and raised in the '60s, yet it seemed like a community back in time.

We had a ramada with grapes that grew around it. And the grapes, when it was—around the spring, they would start turning green, and it would become a place where you'd walk in and it'd just feel so fresh and cool. So we didn't have air conditioning, right? We didn't even have evaporative cooling until much later, late '60s.

While my father was in World War II, he and my mother managed to save enough money to buy a big lot. The construction force was my mother's sisters who helped. So they built the adobes in the backyard, and then they all crammed into a big room and then helped my aunt build her house.

And when my father came home he had to make peace with all my mother's family living in a one-room house. I don't think he complained much because I think he was thankful to have a place to come home to.

The freeway was not there when my parents built their house. It has a history, too. There was something there before the freeway was there.

My cousins lived in that area and they were offered money. It was pretty clear that they didn't have a choice and had to take what they were offered. Farmington was just lined with houses. 12th Avenue actually ran all the way to 22nd Street. That entire area was houses.

And I grew up having kids to play with, going to their houses, eating lunch there, watching the Beatles cartoons, and trying to skip catechism, and having these childhood adventures with kids. And as the kids moved away and their houses were either destroyed, bought up for hotels… the way families would leave, that announcement just came: hey, we're moving out next month. And it was really hard as a child, even at 10 or 12, to wrap your head around it. Like, leaving in a month, and pretty soon they're gone. There's no parties, but the freeway's just there, the noise is just there, and the traffic is just there, and it became very lonely.

When I went to elementary school the bus would pick us up, but like around fifth and sixth grade, it wouldn't come to—near my house anymore because there's less kids. I was about the only kid. Shoes always had holes in them because I had to walk to school. By the time I got to school my socks were brown, my legs were brown because of the dirt, just walking to school. So it was a big drag. I don't know why I continued going to school. In our neighborhood, most of the kids dropped—well, what was left—they dropped out.

Urban development always falls on the backs of poor people.

ANDERSON: To learn more about life on Farmington Road, Otero's latest book is In the Shadows of the Freeway: Growing Up Brown and Queer.

This story is part of Archive Tucson, an oral history project produced by Aengus Anderson through the University of Arizona Libraries' Special Collections.

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