Feature Article: Austin Neighborhoods
Feature Article: Austin Neighborhoods
by MP Mueller
Photographs by Dagny Piasecki
On a recent Sunday afternoon, a small TRIBEZA team visited the Limon family matriarch’s house, located on the aptly-named Calle Limon. Aptly named because six houses on the street are home to different members of the Limon family; even more relatives live within hollering distance on adjacent streets in Govalle.
The reverberating bass of airplanes low in the sky departing or landing at nearby ABIA blended in with the hum of passing cars. Inside every car, a waver. Here, everyone knows everyone.
Lonnie Limon, 42, a former marketing executive, was our de facto family tour guide. His Uncle Johnny Limon, the unofficial family elder and spokesperson, handed us a three-page (single-
spaced) list of Limon family members—that’s just immediate family. Limon estimated there are more than 3,500 Limon cousins living in the Austin area.
Every time a car passed, nods were exchanged. “That’s my Uncle Joe,” or “Aunt Yolanda is married to him.” To help us tell this story, four generations of Limons gathered on this day, capped at the upper end by grandmother Eloisa, 102, who observed from her wheelchair under the porch eaves.
The Limon family immigrated from San Luis Potosi, Mexico in 1886, initially settling in the Lytton Springs, Creedmore and San Marcos areas. Lonnie’s parents met when they were 13 and 15 and married at 16 and 18 at St. Julia’s Catholic Church on Tillery Street. Forty-three years later they still live on nearby Kay Street, along with other Limons who’ve called the area home for 60 plus years. “Starting early in the morning, you see all walks of life from the neighborhood and beyond, from the construction worker, to the casual biker to the priest from across the street,” said Lonnie.
Depending on who you ask, the East Austin neighborhood of Govalle’s boundaries are thus: south of Oak Springs, north of East 7th Street, flanked by Pleasant Valley to the west and Airport Boulevard to the east. The Limon family is prominent, not only by sheer numbers, but community connections. A cousin, John Trevino, was the first Hispanic elected to City Council in Austin: he also served as Mayor Pro Tem. Another, Henry “Hank” Gonzales was a Travis County Commissioner. Every Christmas for the last 15 years, they host a holiday dinner honoring their local fire and police department units. Uncle Johnny dresses up as Santa Claus, the younger Limons as elves. They hand out candies and stuffed toys and take pictures with the kids. The Limons serve homemade enchiladas, tamales, pan dulce, chili con queso, rice and beans. Austin’s finest turn on their car sirens and let the kids play with the radios. The street is packed and stomachs and hearts are full.
Well beyond borrowing cups of sugar from neighbors these uncles and cousins, Lonnie explained, were always borrowing each others’ lawn mowers. “They didn’t always come back,” he laughed. Lonnie bought his first house on an adjacent street from an uncle. “There are a few guys from the neighborhood who are good carpenters and electricians. My Dad was helping me fix the house and everyday these two guys, Meme and Mike, would drive by, see my Dad doing work on the house and stop by to help. They didn’t ask for much—just a few cold beers. That’s how the east side has always worked. Neighbors willing to help out another neighbor.”
Lonnie talked about a neighborhood memory that was special to him: Back in 1992, after he applied to colleges, he would ask the mailman every day if he had a letter for him. This exchange went on for a couple of months. That April, he walked out to greet the mailman, who handed him a letter from the University of Notre Dame. “I asked him if he would wait with me so I could take in the good or bad news with someone else.” The mailman obliged. Lonnie slowly opened the letter and read the first line out loud: “Congratulations on being accepted to the University of Notre Dame.”
“I yelled out loud, pumped my fist in the air and the mailman and I gave each other a huge hug like we were old friends. It was one of my most memorable moments in my neighborhood.”
Read more from the Neighborhoods Issue | June 2016