Remembering Laredo: Spatial Reflections

Mehnaaz Momen

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Momen, M. (1). Remembering Laredo. Space and Culture, 10(1), 115–128.

critical memory , Laredo , nostalgia , public space , simulacra

This article explores the public spaces of Laredo, a city situated on the border of the United States and Mexico along the Rio Grande. The construction of urban history is shaped by changes in public space—its physical settings, access to residents, and utilization by people. The author analyzes the transformation of public spaces and public events of Laredo to trace how amnesia and remembering are reflected in the cityscape. Public events reproduce assorted versions of urban history and help scholars to locate what part of history is preserved and what part is erased in the collective psyche of the community. The visual history of public spaces and events thus conserves a narration of the past, one that shapes collective memory and self-image.

Main finding
Repeatedly the author found examples where national identity and nostalgia trumped local identities that, if recognized, would critically reflect extant cultural and class tensions - such as with the social homogenization and decline of inner-city barrios and plazas that lack the culture and vitality they once had. Instead, a nostalgic veneer of culture exists in some older areas purely to attract tourism, but not engage in the rich and contested Mexican-American history of the people or place. Washington’s Birthday festival creates momentary community bonds, yet the author argues these are short term and revert to social isolationism afterward. The festival is wildly popular and unchallenged, but is a-political, lacks any Hispanic content, engenders a narrow, romantic view of the past, and engages in a simulacra of historic figures that support commercialism instead of possibilities for critical discourse about the needs and struggles many of Laredo’s residents.

Description of method used in the article
The author used the contrasting concepts of nostalgia and critical memory to analyze historic public spaces (two plazas) and events (George Washington’s annual, two-week birthday festival) to critically determine what aspects of the town’s Mexican-American history have been privileged/preserved or ignored/erased, respectively. While no methodology is made explicit, there is evidence the author used mostly participant observation as detailed by the photographic documentation and direct knowledge of events and spaces under study. Additionally, archival research was done to ascertain an outline of the contested history of the city.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Other or N/A
Archival / Historical Participant Observation
Physical types
Geographic locations