Nati Saldivar

Tyrant’s Foe: Renewing Big Spring’s North Side


A version of this story ran in the November 2013 issue.

Above: Nati Saldivar

Last May, lifelong Big Spring resident Nati Saldivar noticed a worn fire hydrant outside her home in the West Texas town of 27,000.

“It was the most pathetic-looking thing,” she said. “It was all rusted out.” So she decided to paint it—and she didn’t stop at that one. Saldivar called Big Spring City Councilmember Carmen Harbour to gain permission from the Fire Department, and within five days had not only painted her hydrant but organized a community hydrant-painting contest complete with judges and prize money from local sponsors. The contest ran through the summer, and the result surprised Saldivar.

“I was thinking if I get 20 hydrants painted throughout town, that’d be awesome, and I had over 215,” she said. “I was extremely pleased and taken aback.”

Her success with the hydrants pushed Saldivar to start a group to improve her community. She called it the North Side Movement. Saldivar had already been an informal community activist, pushing the city to fix problems, and was tired of feeling like she was getting nowhere.

Her complaints to the code enforcement division were met with roadblocks and excuses, and she’d report the same problems six months later. “Weeds weren’t being cut, our streetlights weren’t lighting, our potholes weren’t getting filled, but they were getting bigger,” she said.

The north side of Big Spring had long been neglected. It sits between Interstate 20 and railroad tracks, which wall off the north side from the rest of the town. It’s a low-income, largely Latino section of the city.

Saldivar’s family has lived on the north side for more than 100 years. She says her parents, who owned a restaurant called Casa Blanca’s, instilled in her and her five siblings the importance of giving back to the community and being politically active.  Her family members all still live in the area.

For Saldivar, the north side is “the jewel of the town” because its placement—along I-20 and Highway 87 between Dallas and El Paso—means it’s the first section of Big Spring that travelers see as they enter town.

Yet, she noted, the north side lacks many basic services and stores—like a pharmacy, grocery store or post office—which makes life difficult for elderly and disabled residents.

“She’s become a spokesperson for people that are a little bit more timid, and [she’s] not afraid to call the city inspector or any organization and talk about any issues,” said Big Spring City Councilmember Marcus Fernandez.

But her passion for the north side didn’t gain an official name, logo and application for nonprofit status until late July, when she teamed up with five other community members to form the board of the North Side Movement.

Dale Avant, treasurer, and another lifelong north side resident, said the group in its short existence has been extremely well received by the community. More than 800 residents attended the group’s first outreach event, a Labor Day bash.

“We’ve had just an awful lot of people come to us and say, ‘You know what, I’ve never seen something like this in our community,’” Avant said. “A lot of people want to do something, but they just don’t have any direction.”

The group is quickly seeing results. Recently, the City Council allocated $25,000 to clean up the north side’s Roy Andrews Park. The group is also planning a community Monster Mash for Halloween and a Thanksgiving dinner.

But perhaps the group’s biggest project is seeking to connect the north side to the rest of town by restoring a bridge over Highway 87, one of the barriers that has historically segregated the city. Saldivar said the bridge, which is used by thousands every day, has no lighting and is wide enough for only one pedestrian at a time. The North Side Movement gathered more than 500 signatures to send to Austin, asking state representatives and senators for funds to revamp the bridge.

Saldivar said taking on so many projects is difficult, but she credits her determination and success to the support of her daughter, husband and board members.

“Our mission statement at the North Side Movement is ‘Moving forward,’” she said. “We want to restore. We want to clean. Renew retail business and restore pride in the north side.”