South of downtown, ending at the U.S.-Mexico border, is El Paso’s Segundo Barrio district. It reminds me of any number of Central American cities—crumbling brick facades are painted assorted bright colors; business signs and overheard conversations are in Spanish; the ubiquitous flea market is not just a weekend event; a grand cathedral spans most of a city block; and colorful murals liven the street scene.
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for a closer look!
I went to the district on a tour of Museo Urbano, a tiny museum in a historically significant building that tells the fascinating history of Segundo Barrio. Prior to visiting, I had been most interested in seeing the building since it used to be a boarding house occupied by Henry O. Flipper from 1919–20. I won’t go into the intriguing details of Flipper’s life—especially since it’s not a main focus of the museum—but his story is definitely worth exploring, and some historical sites associated with him are located within the Texas Mountain Trail Region.
Another interesting historical figure who does take center stage at Museo Urbano is the young, Mexican healer/revolutionary, Teresita Urrea, who also lived there. The museum tells her compelling story through photographs, quotes, and a room full of the traditional products and herbs of a curandera (healer).
But what reminds me of Central America lies behind the museum. A small alley is full of vivid and surreal murals portraying various aspects of the community’s heritage, including music, leaders, oppression, and triumphs. Apparently, the museum commissioned the first mural of musicians, and community members spontaneously responded by filling the alley with subjects of importance to them.
a closer look!
Down the street from the museum is the stately Sacred Heart Church, and more murals can be found around the corner on East Father Rahm Avenue. Street art can be found throughout the world, but the quantity, prominence and styles—typically surrealist or magical realist with lots of religious imagery—is what reminds me so much of Central America. I’ve seen similar murals in León, Nicaragua; Panama City, Panama; Liberia, Costa Rica; and small towns around Lago de Atitlan in Guatemala. It’s nice to find some of that flavor in the U.S.
Speaking of flavor, I would be remiss not to mention fantastic neighborhood restaurant, New City Grill. Located on South Mesa Street and East Third Avenue, New City Grill offers an eclectic mix of Mexican, Italian, and American fare. Being in El Paso, I had to sample the restaurant’s take on the city’s famed chile relleno dish. The egg-breaded, deep-fried, stuffed-pepper-smothered-in-red-sauce did not disappoint, and the raspberry lemonade was a memorable accompaniment.
Rob Hodges is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in such diverse publications as the Houston Chronicle, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Austin Monthly, Edible Austin, South American Explorer, national meetings magazines, and Texas Historical Commission travel guides. Having traveled through about 30 countries on five continents, and about 40 states in the U.S., he can say with authority that Texas is a great place to live. His home is about a mile from the Capitol in Austin, where he lives with wife, Kate, and daughter, Zadie. His work can be seen at robhodges.com.