A Tale of Two Austins

A Tale of Two Austins

A writer and his fiancé relocate to Texas, only to find that the neighborhood they wanted might not want them...

by Adam Harris, October 25, 2013

A Tale of Two Austins

Austin, Texas

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Secure in the fact that a move from Lubbock would be ideal after graduating from Texas Tech University, my fiancé and I were ready for something new. We were sure that we wanted a bigger city and, for the time being, to stay in Texas. She began searching for a job and, as I was in the early stages of my writing career, I agreed that wherever she found employment we could move. After seemingly countless hours on the road traveling to interviews, a second interview landed her a job with a financial agency in Austin, we knew this was the place, this would be our new home.

After hearing word of the job offer and the impending move our family and friends were excited for us – elated that we would be starting a new chapter in our lives. However, their excitement did not come without reservation though. They read the news and heard the stories. Austin is home to the infamous bleach-bombings at UT-Austin and it isn't exactly over-populated with faces that look like us. They gently reminded us that the Black people of Texas live in Houston or Dallas.

The estimations of our friends weren't too far off. In fact, according to Census data and projections, where Houston and Dallas hold roughly 25% Black populations, Austin struggles to maintain it's already dimunitive Black pfesence. We took all of these things into consideration, but deemed ourselves ready for the challenge. Moving is something of an art form to her and I. We both grew up in military families and we well understood the choreographed routine that is the relocation process. Further, we knew the difficulty of finding friends and necessities in the area but we knew it could be done.

We first sought the counsel of her coworkers who sent a few recommendations to us, along with a friendly note to steer clear of any complexes or rentals east of IH-35. We were unsure why we should stay away but we took the suggestion in stride. We thanked them for the advice and continued looking.

Our hunt next found us on the phone with an apartment locator. This company had a solid track record of placing people in great communities. After listing what we were looking for in an apartment,9* they compiled the data and sent us a list of places they thought we would find ideal. They mentioned that, though there are a few good fits on the east side, the west side would best fit our “lifestyle.” This trend of warnings began to trouble us.

We knew well that East Austin is where most of the Black residents of Austin call home. It is, historically, the Black side of Austin. East Austin lore weaves tales of the infamous “cuts” and “the end,” Eleventh and Twelfth street respectively, and the blues spots, movie theatres, and businesses that called them home. Stories of the two Black colleges that once resided on the east side and the graduates of E.H. Anderson High School. That we were being cautioned away from this history was frustrating.

It took less than two weeks for us to find an apartment and move to Austin after receiving the job offer. Our first few weeks were filled with exploring our immediate area. We went to bars and bodegas, coffee and consignment shops, food trucks and fitness centers. I must admit that I have never done yoga so frequently in my life. But, as it always happens, it became time to find those necessities. The qualities that really make you feel at peace in a place.

The next order of business was finding a good barbershop. South Austin is home to a number of barbershops that come highly recommended – from Avenue to Birds but, just like you can't trust everyone's potato salad, you can't trust just anyone to cut your hair. The search for a barber led me to the east side.

It took me longer than expected to get there. Though I was east of I-35, I didn't begin seeing remnants of the old East Austin for a a while. The earlier blocks seemed to be filled with new businesses in spaces previously occupied by Black ones and newly-built complexes. Realizing that I needed to get writing done, I happened into one of the coffee shops. I was the only Black person in a coffee shop on the east side of Austin. Most of the customers seemed well off, on breaks from their jobs, or in Austin tradtion, weird.

They told me that they moved to East Austin because of all the transplants that are moving to the West side of Austin. Some bought houses on the east side, just a little renovation can make it theirs after all. This

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