In the Shadows of the Freeway: Growing Up Brown & Queer by Lydia Otero

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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.

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