Connecting with our city's untold stories of the past through tech —
November 18, 2017

Connecting with our city’s untold stories of the past through tech

By Cat Cardenas

ATX barrio archive
Photo from the Instagram account "ATX Barrio Archive"

Sifting through boxes of old family photos, Alan Garcia discovered an Austin that no longer existed.

After moving to Austin from Mexico in 1988, Garcia’s parents found an apartment near The University of Texas where they frequented restaurants and local businesses that are long gone now. As he sorted through the photos, his parents helped him learn more about the city’s history.

atx barrio archiveGarcia quickly realized there wasn’t a place that educated or even documented the stories of Austin’s Hispanic and black communities, so he decided to create an Instagram account, ATX Barrio Archive. There, he could preserve Austin’s history and create a space where the city’s older generation could share their stories with the younger one.

“[My parents’] lives as young immigrants in Austin were a part of the city that people didn’t talk about enough,” Garcia said. “This was a way to share those stories with others and incorporate it into the image of Austin and give it a rightful place in its history.”

With each photo he posted, Garcia began to piece together how much the city had changed and the people who had been affected by it.

“Seeing families on Rainey Street as part of a Hispanic barrio, it’s crazy to see it now,” Garcia said. “It’s hard to find out the struggle they went through because, as far as the city’s concerned, the story of Rainey Street starts with the construction of the new bars. Residents were refusing to leave, but their history’s been left out.”

While Garcia sometimes searches through archives or is sent photos to use for the account, he’s also found material on the street, simply by striking up conversations with random Austinites he meets. Because of this, most of the information on the account would otherwise be inaccessible to most people or placed on a shelf in libraries or archives.

“There’s so much history out there,” Garcia said. “There are so many stories that haven’t been told.”

Once the stories are shared on the account, viewers comment to share their memories at favorite restaurants or clubs.

atx barrio archive“Having people interact with the things I post, recognizing who’s in the photos, saying ‘This is my neighborhood,’ that’s what drives me,” Garcia said. “There’s really no other space for those conversations.”

The connection Garcia’s forged with his followers leads them to send him their own photos and videos. Because of this, Garcia said he’s learned so many things about the city he hadn’t found in his research from the birth of the graffiti movement in Austin’s barrios to Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to the UT campus.

The knowledge he’s gained from the project is what drives Garcia to keep it going. In the future, he hopes to see more community involvement with the project. In many cases, he’s found that so much of Austin’s history is living inside some of its older residents, away from the general public.

“There’s a lot of civil rights history and protest history that I knew so little about because there was so little that could be found,” Garcia said. “A lot of that gets passed down through conversations, so if we don’t reach out to these residents now, these stories will be lost forever.”

You can view ATX Barrio Archive images at https://www.instagram.com/atx_barrio_archive/.

 

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