For Two Weekends This Month, San Antonio’s Barrio Gang History Comes to Life

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Juan Mendoza, left, and Joe Gallegos
Patrick Michels
Former San Antonio barrio gang members Juan Mendoza, left, and Joe Gallegos. Each are organizing events this month to help preserve West Side San Antonio's street gang history.

Back in August, the Observer featured a fascinating project in the works at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where criminologist Mike Tapia is gathering oral histories from veterans of the 1950s barrio gang wars on the city’s West Side.

At a time when train tracks separate much of the West Side from downtown, when many of the streets were still unpaved, the street gangs were built on fierce neighborhood pride. Boys and girls got caught up in the scene young, and were on the way out by the time they reached 18.

Today’s street violence is of a vastly different character, with more cars and guns and often a connection to highly stratified prison gangs. But many of the West Side neighborhoods have kept their names. Many of the old street brawlers still live in them.

This month, two events will bring some of those old days back to life.

The first is a three-day festival this weekend, organized by Juan Mendoza, a former member of Los Cocos in the early ’50s. Decades after that, his bar—Los Cocos Lounge—was a place where old gang members got together to tell old war stories, swap old photos and take new ones. The bar has closed, but for three nights this weekend, Friday to Sunday, he’s hosting a reunion at Dora’s Patio Bar, 1225 S. Brazos, inconjuntion with the Hampton Roads Mexican-American Club. Here’s the flyer with more details.

The following Friday, October 18, is a fundraising reception for Tapia’s project, to help fund more work committing stories from San Antonio’s West Side to the historical record. Joe Gallegos—a member of the Ghost Town Boys who spent years counseling gang members once he grew up, and is also featured in the Observer‘s story—is helping to organize this event, with Adelante Second Chance and the Hispanic Community Center. Here’s that flyer with more details.

Both events, in their own ways, will help ensure more of this often-overlooked history gets remembered.

Patrick Michels is a reporter for the Texas Observer and a former legislative intern. He has been a staff writer and web editor at the Dallas Observer, and a former editor of the Texas Independent. He has a bachelor's in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and is a competitive eating enthusiast.