UT alumnus' Instagram account bears witness to old East Austin

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Martha Doty Freeman

Hidden in the shadows of East Austin’s trendy food trucks, colorful murals, quirky sights and modern sounds, a hidden past lay in quiet wait for someone to find it once again.

In an attempt to preserve the history of East Austin, UT alumnus Alan Garcia created an Instagram account titled ATX_Barrio_Archive that serves as an online museum of the sights and sounds of old East Austin.

“It turned into a way of sharing this culture of Austin that historically has been ignored by the museums, archives, UT,” Garcia said. “It was (a way to) respect these communities of color and create a place for them in our city’s past.”

In August 2016, Garcia was rummaging through family photos when he realized that there were many families out there whose unsung stories had not been acknowledged either. So, Garcia decided to make it his mission to bring the Insta limelight to the people of the past who created today’s Austin.  

“That was a story that hadn’t been told before — the immigrant community of Austin, how much change they have seen, the jobs that they have worked, how they contributed to the growth of
Austin,” Garcia said.

During his anthropology and archeology research at UT, Garcia encountered many old images of familiar East Austin neighborhoods. He realized many of the families featured that actually lived in the area would never have access to seeing them.

“Rather than have it only be available for researchers, I decided a lot of this stuff really needs to be seen by the community because these neighborhoods still exist,“ Garcia said.

His favorite memory of his archives so far is of Rose De La Fuente, who submitted pictures of her grandparents — the original owners of the restaurant now known as Las Cazuelas.

De La Fuente said she was happy to see someone putting an effort into preserving the familiar, small town-esque East Austin she once knew.

“I remember going to the HEB on east 7th street with my grandpa,” De La Fuente said. “The people that worked there knew us by name. It was a very different time. It’s something that should
be remembered.”

Garcia also created a display at the Carver Branch Library of the Austin Public Library for his pictures. Doreen Boyd, managing librarian for the Carver Branch Library, said she knew the images went right along with the library’s mission to share and preserve history.

“Not being a native of Austin, and coming new here and being able to see these images of what East Austin was like before is a beautiful thing to see,” Boyd said.

Garcia said the history of how Austin has fostered art mediums like blues, art and muralism that originate from black and Chicano American traditions shouldn’t be forgotten since these are the things that give Austin its unique reputation.

“The immigrant communities that worked in the hotels helped Austin become a tourist destination,” Garcia said. “A lot of the culture that makes Austin a famous music and art city was born in the barrio — black and brown neighborhoods that never got the attention they deserved.”

Garcia said the best part of the project has been seeing people submit their own images and take part in telling the full story of Austin for future generations to see.

“Those are the stories that are still in the hearts and minds of the residents and deserve to be recorded,” Garcia said. “That’s what it’s about — our stories being told by all of us for us to rescue this culture and this heritage from these neighborhoods.”