Interview extract with Jorge Guerra, owner of El Azteca Restaurant

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Jorge Guerra, community activist and owner of one of Austin’s original Mexican restaurants, El Azteca. Established in 1963, the restaurant continues to serve authentic Mexican food.

The restaurant is still at its original site on 2600 E. 7th Street.

Until three years ago, Jorge and his wife were involved in running of the business. Now their son manages the popular establishment, keeping the business in the family.

I visited Jorge twice at his home in early June 2015 while I was doing research in Austin. I was fortunate to track him down and spend a few hours with him. He was someone I wanted to talk to, especially as his grandson Nick also got in touch to suggest an interview. By chance, I went to El Azteca to talk to Carlos Vasquez  (Roy’s Taxi) over breakfast and we bumped into one of Jorge’s son, who said he would pass on my number. Talk about a lucky break! 

For my research in Austin, it was important to me to preserve the memories of the older generation. To capture a sense of what Austin used to be like in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, during my grandparents’ time. And to document the hard work they contributed to help pave the way for Austin’s success. 

Jorge Guerra was born in 1932 in Montemorelos, Mexico. At age 13, he moved to Monterrey to go to college. He met his American-born wife Ninfa in Linares, Mexico, then they moved to Austin in 1958. Their first house was on Francisco Street, near Parque Zaragoza in the Govalle area. The Guerra family then moved to a house on Linden Street in 1964.

As I work on the film and short stories for the No Place Like Home (Austin) project, I’m revisiting the film, audio interviews, old photographs and memories we captured. Of course I want to use all of it. As it will be a few months before I’m finished, I thought I would share with you an extract of some of the interviews. 

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This transcript is from a film interview we did with Jorge on 10 June 2015. For the interview, we had him sitting on his front porch in the shade, looking out at his neighbour’s houses and remembering the past.

What are your first memories of this area?

Coming to an atmosphere that was familiar to the areas in which I grew up and stayed for 21 years (Mexico). The food, the culture, the music. The acceptance, without limitations, of being one of their own, okay? Because the experiences in this city is that someone like me, even in the military uniform, was not wanted to be around in their homes. Rejected, you know, because that neighbourhood was meant for not for Hispanics or Latins. It took some time for me to accept.

That I wanted to live for the rest of my days comfortable, having good neighbours, being wanted and and being able to participate and do something for community. The other things I had experienced were not going to be something constructive for me because I was going to be prohibited. To be afraid, to be hiding. Thank god I found it. It was not too far from my assignment that I had from the Department of Defence.

I have lived since 1958 two blocks from here and here since 1964. But there were some things that I knew everybody in the neighbourhood needed. Safety and not being afraid of heavy rains. Not being afraid that the waters would come run you out any time it rains too much. So we corrected that through time.

If we had not found a few people interested in the community, this would be a lake. All the low area, from the hills up, down, to the tracks, it would have become a lake. We had already invested in whatever to put into our properties to which we lived and it was not easy to be moving if someone wants to have a lake or whatever. Now when you knew it didn’t have to be flooded, we corrected that situation, it took about 20 years to get it corrected but everything we started for, no water came into the house anymore. It wasn’t that hard. It was just a matter of communicating to the appropriate authorities. But it wasn’t up to us to do that. They as a government were supposed to look after our safety and begin to activate the appropriate situations to accomplish that. And that has happened!

And that is how come I choose to live here – like a family, not expensive, affordable. It was not easy for us to get a few thousand dollars to buy a home, not in those years. But it was affordable. Affordable why? Because it was created to be affordable for the minorities. The people in the majorities didn’t want to live in a minority neighbourhood.

But once there reach a point that it was too far from downtown, way up in the hills, then it was ripe for this community to begin to grow, because there was lots of empty land. And land that people here had to go away to find a better way of living. Right now we are still…. you can see…a home right across the street has about three floors. That’s the way they want to go. They don’t want to have single homes like this, they would like to get rid of them and have complexes like in Manhattan New York. Some neighbourhoods already look like this, Manhattan, New York-like on 6th Street.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I’m not gathering anymore information. I expect things to get higher.

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