Antonia Morales aka Doña Toñita walking at a protest in defense of her barrio this week
This week Antonia Morales attended a City of El Paso open house where city staff tried to explain why her neighborhood, Barrio Duranguito, should be demolished. She walked in a protest against mayoral candidate Donald "Dee" Margo, a Republican who is in favor of demolishing Duranguito and calls Mexicans "riff raff" and "illegals." She participated in a Women's Studies Conference panel at the University of Texas at El Paso. Tonight, she will also attend the regular meeting between residents of Duranguito and their supporters.
And one last thing-- this week she turned 89.
She is the epitome of a Fierce Fronteriza.
Artwork by Zeke Peña/ Typography by Los Dos.
Doña Toñita has lived in Duranguito continually since 1965, and lived there as an teenager years earlier. She remembers walking home one day in 1945 and seeing the women of her barrio on their knees crying. She thought the world was ending but it was World War II that had ended and the women were giving thanks that their sons, husbands, and brothers would soon be returning home.
She has been a community leader for decades. Under the Clinton administration she participated in a program for seniors, leading the campaign to clean up the neighborhood from crime. Because of her leadership and the hard work of her neighbors, Barrio Duranguito is a safe and peaceful neighborhood.
I met Toñita in mid-October of last year, shortly after the City of El Paso announced that the City Council was scheduled to vote on whether to put an arena in the barrio, displacing the mostly elderly neighbors. The day before the vote, Dr. David Romo and I, both members of Paso del Sur, a grassroots organization that works with Southside neighborhoods to stop displacement, met with a group of Duranguito neighbors including Toñita. We asked how we could help. Did they want us to assist them in negotiating assistance from the City? Did they want us to be part of the fight against displacement? We told them it was up to them. Unanimously, they said, "Help us stay in our homes." The next day, the women of Duranguito went to their first City Council meeting to defend their barrio.
I have often heard Toñita call herself a fronteriza. "Soy fronteriza. He convivido mi vida en los dos lados de la frontera." Her life story shows the complexity of living on the border. Born in Columbus, New Mexico, her birth was registered in Palomas, Chihuahua so although she is a US citizen by birth, she had to go through the naturalization process to become a citizen.
She frequenlty says, "No me expreso muy bien," adding that she doesn't speak English or Spanish very well yet she is one of the most eloquent and forceful speakers I have ever heard. She did not have the opportunity to attend school but her lived experiences have been her education.
In the video below, courtesy of Paso del Sur, you can hear Toñita speak about the value of the people in her barrio.
The day before her 89th birthday, Toñita told us she would share the secret of her long life with us. "Surround yourself with young people and they will keep you young." Toñita's energy is indeed young. She is a fierce fronteriza who defends her barrio with love.
Happy 89th birthday, Antonia Morales. You inspire me.