Notes from Barrio Anita

by Marc David Pinate

Since attending my first neighborhood meeting in Barrio Anita last May, I have slowly come to know the history and the people (past and present) of this neighborhood.

Through these meetings I got to know warm-hearted  people like Ramón Olivas who went through all his family albums with me, telling me stories of his relatives; Gail Ryser who helped me understand about Barrio Anita’s historic designation; Luis Mena, one of Tucson’s best artists; and Gracie Soto, owner of Anita Street Market who gives away hundreds of toys to kids at an annual Christmas event in Barrio Anita and works in so many ways to make her neighborhood a better place. A great relationship has formed between Miguel Garcia, program director at the Oury Neighborhood Center, and the project artists. And I met my brother from another mother, Mr. Julian Barceló, the rock star first grade teacher at Davis Bilingual School, who’s played an integral part in the project when he’s not being featured in magazines for his ground breaking teaching-through-gardening methods. 

I have conducted fifteen oral history interviews and counting. There is an sublime intimacy at these interviews. When people tell you their story they give you a little piece of themselves, of their life experience, their heart. I often struggle to hold back tears. Like when Dr. Alejandro Valenzuela, who started the very first after school mariachi program in 1983, performed a song he wrote about his mother; or when Sarah Garcia told me the story of her father’s decline and suicide after losing his hands and eyesight when he saved a group of kids from a dynamite explosion on Cinco de Mayo in 1937; or listening to Julian Argote, a young single father and tattoo artist born and raised in Barrio Anita, share with me his dreams for his kids.  I’ve listened to so many stories and each time I’m reminded of how resilient we humans can be.