In the Shadows of the Freeway: Growing up Brown and Queer

In the Shadows of the Freeway: Growing up Brown and Queer

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A thought-provoking coming-of-age memoir about growing up brown and queer in a Southwest city invested in urban development.

Raised in an adobe house built by their mother, the author takes readers to a mid-20th century barrio that existed on the social margins of Tucson, Arizona despite sitting a little more than a mile away from the central business district. Born in 1955, and nicknamed La Butch by their family, Lydia Otero knew they were queer the moment their consciousness had evolved enough to formulate thoughts.

In addition to growing up fighting assigned gender expectations, a new freeway greatly influenced formative aspects of Otero's childhood. The author witnessed how the steady expansion of Interstate 10 (I-10) separated and isolated a barrio of brown and poor residents from the rest of the city. Growing up 200 feet from the freeway meant more than enduring traffic noise and sirens for barrio families. It introduced environmental hazards that contributed to the death of family members.

The construction of the freeway also realigned school boundaries. Although able to attend the same schools as white children, the author details how Americanization policies and programs worked to racialize and separate brown students such as Otero as late as 1961.

This book, which combines personal memoir and family history with historical archives, offers more self-disclosure than Otero's previous works, as the author's experiences of childhood take center stage. Otero reveals the day-to-day survival mechanisms they depended upon, the exhilaration of first love and the support the author received from key family members as they tried to gain a sense of belonging in a world mired in dislocation.