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Still we Rise: El Paso’s Black Experience

“Still we Rise: El Paso’s Black Experience”

EXIGO Architecture, in association with the Texas Tech University Huckabee College of Architecture in El Paso (TTU), provided fabrication services for the El Paso Museum of History’s exhibit “Still We Rise: El Paso’s Black Experience.” The exhibit reveals a story of the many African American communities displaced following the Highway Act of 1956, a legislation that authorized the construction of 41,000 miles of the Interstate Highway System over a 10-year period. Through the enactment of this public works project, Interstate 10  was constructed through El Paso’s downtown. The conditions of downtown El Paso, prior to the construction of I-10, was translated to a scale model by EXIGO using digital fabrication services in collaboration with TTU faculty and students. The model highlights overlapping conditions of financially coordinated redlined districts, areas of refuge for African Americans in the early 1960’s, and the communities lost to I-10.

The base of the model was constructed of plywood and served as an underlayer for the historical stratum leading up to and following desegregation. A portion of the Franklin Mountain and Rio Grande River were modeled through CNC milling while city blocks were constructed through laser-cut red, white, and clear acrylic sheets. The red and white acrylic blocks depict the socio-economic landscape of the early 1960’s. Areas deemed “hazardous” investments were designated red while all other neighborhoods were modeled in white.

The Negro Motorist Green Book, or simply the Green Book, was a publication available for African American travelers during the era of Jim Crow. The El Paso Museum of History, through historical records like the Green Book, identified 50 key establishments considered “safe havens” for African Americans, before the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Adjacent to the model, there is a key legend numbering the establishments and identifying them by name. Establishments such as the McCall Neighborhood Center, through its corresponding number, can be identified by visitors on the model by a scored clear acrylic block. The establishments comprised three main categories, Institutional, Residential, and Business. Museum attendees can locate the various businesses, homes, and community centers that were effectively removed through the construction of I-10.

The development of the interstate in downtown El Paso disjointed a neighborhood and exploited asymmetrically one community over another. The result was a devastating loss of a once booming African American business corridor. Business and homeowners were refused the financial support and security to provide recourse to improve their lives and fight displacement. Community leaders and designers must ask themselves how the future development of our city can remain attuned to the inequities of the past.

The final physical model was exhibited on February 25, 2023 and will be on display through January 13, 2024.

EXIGO: Alexandra Cortez and Elias Padilla

TTU: Andres Gandara, Shirley Lopez, Isis Sepulveda, Jonathon Lira, and Liliana Ocon