Interview with Anthony Vazquez
Interview conducted by Ania Salcedo for the West Side Community Organization in 2021. Interview has been edited for length and clarity. Portrait, above, by Elizabeth Leonardsmith.
Anthony Vazquez’s parents moved to Minnesota from Colorado after his grandfather, who worked on a railroad, told them “there's work up there if you want to go up there and challenge it.” His parents found work at the Armour meat packing plant in South Saint Paul. They moved first to Saint Paul’s Swede Hollow in the early 1930’s, and then to the West Side Flats, where Anthony was born in 1945 at 248 State Street. Later, his family was displaced along with hundreds of others when the City decided to turn the neighborhood into an industrial park.
“When we Mexicanos started moving in here it was all Jewish. And when you came from State Street, ran all the way down and crossed over the black bridge, there was a city dump down there. There was the Minnesota Tannery Company, that took hides, finished off the hides, and then shipped them out by truck. And next to that was my father's home at 248 State Street, and that's where I was born in ‘45.
What I remember about the West Side is just being safe. It was a community where you knew everybody, just about, and they knew you. So if you were messing around in the street, ‘I'm going to tell your dad’ or ‘I'm going to tell your ma,’ you know, because they knew you. They knew your family.
There was stores on just about every block of the community. There was a Jewish school down there that was across the street from our elementary school. There was three synagogues down there for them people. There was our church and then there was different programs for the kids and adults, and dances. And then there was for the grown ups, there was bars, you know, cantinas. There was probably about five cantinas down there too! But they were mostly 3/2 bars– they weren’t, you know, heavy hitters.”
To this day, I sometimes dream of the West Side, you know? We used to come up here on the hills, and then go back and ride in the dark down those crazy looking streets–dirt streets on some of the streets. “
His family later moved to 148 Fenton, across the street from Lafayette Elementary School, until the City of Saint Paul began moving families out of the flats.
“And then when the West Side started closing down, my dad picked up stakes again and moved up the hill over by Riverview Elementary School. The word came down in ‘52– I would have been seven. There was a flood. That took its toll down there, just about covering some houses.
The city decided instead of putting a dike, which they did eventually, ‘why don't we just clear them all out and make an industrial park,’ which it is now, you know. There's all kinds of companies down there. (One, as a matter of fact, where I put my time in for 30 years– can company. My friend got me that job. So I put I put 30 years in there down here in that hole.)
Ah! But anyways, the word came down that they were going to start knocking down the homes. And just before I went in the Marine Corps, ‘63, there was already movement down there. People were getting out, you know, my dad, my dad, even he pulled up stakes probably about ‘61. My father said, you know, the word is already coming down. As a matter of fact, the elementary school was already closing down too.
So everybody slowly but surely started moving out, moving up, moving up, moving up the hill, moving across town or wherever, wherever they found, you know, wherever they wanted to move, and then wherever they found homes that were suitable, that they could could pay for it, at least. So my dad, he moved up, moved up on the hill. And I spent maybe about two or three years there, and then I went into the Marine Corps.
He reflected on how the West Side today has changed from the old West Side flats:
“Up here in the West Side, it's changed in a way of a little bit more crime–not not as much as across town or anything– but you know, you've got to be vigilant for sure nowadays. It's changed from when we were kids, that's for sure. But I feel it's still a decent community to live at. And yeah, we raised two kids out here.
When asked why he chose to stay on the West Side, Anthony reflected that he and his wife have paid off their home, they’re healthy, and they feel safe.
“Everybody knows each other down the block, hay Mexicanos right here around the corner, and we all know each other. There's still a lot of our friends who live on the West Side. My wife grew up probably about three or four blocks over, and we both went to Humboldt High School. And you know, in a way that is more special to me. As long as you got your health, you have your friends. And shopping is right at our fingertips: the Mercado’s over there, the restaurants over here. Up the hill there’s all kinds of goodies. So, you know, I wouldn't move. Why move, you know? Like I said, we'll stay until they kick us out, until the flood comes or something."