Alvarez: San Juan Hotel must be saved

2 weeks ago 55

The City of San Juan is planning on demolishing the San Juan Hotel as part of a plan to build a new downtown conference center. 

Stephanie Alvarez

As many of you know my former students and I have spent some eight years researching the hotel and its connection to state-sanctioned violence in the Rio Grande Valley. Our oral histories revealed that the San Juan Hotel was a site for the public hanging of many Mexican Americans and Mexicans for many years. 

We know that while there is a historical marker honoring Tom Mayfield, he is one of the principal actors in perpetuating this violence. We believe this hotel should not be demolished. We believe it should be a site for reconciliation and consciousness. 

Our proposal is to refurbish the hotel and convert it into a museum of RGV Civil Rights where the community can come to learn about the history of the fight for Civil Rights in the Valley. Maybe there is a better alternative but that is our recommendation. 

The city says it was told that the structure was unsound, beyond repair, and unsafe. However, in 2016 my students and I had an architect assess the stability of the building and their assessment was that it was in very good shape, and would not cost too much to refurbish. 

If you are interested in helping save the San Juan Hotel, please message me so we may be in touch. We need to preserve historical sites, not erase them, and when possible use them as a site to reconcile intergenerational historical trauma inflicted upon the community. 

Editor’s Note: The above commentary was penned by Stephanie Alvarez, a professor in the Mexican American Studies Academic Program within the School of Interdisciplinary Programs and Community Engagement at UT-Rio Grande Valley. The commentary first appeared on Alvarez’s Facebook page in response to a Rio Grande Guardian news story about the potential demolition of the hotel. Alvarez can be reached via email at:

About Stephanie Alvarez

Stephanie Alvarez, Associate Professor of Mexican American Studies, earned her PhD in Spanish from the University of Oklahoma. She is the founding director of the Mexican American Studies program (2009-2013) & Center for Mexican American STudies (2011-2013) at UTPA (now UTRGV). She is the recipient of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education Outstanding Latina/o Faculty Award (2011), the University of Texas Board of Regent’s Outstanding Teaching Award (2009), and the 2015 Outstanding Master’s Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. She is the co-editor with William Luis of The AmeRícan Poet: Essays on the Work of Tato Laviera (2014). Her research intersects in the areas of Latin@ identity, language, literature, culture, education and empowerment and has appeared in various edited volumes and journals such as Hispania, Journal of Latinos and Education and CENTRO: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, among others. Together with Tato Laviera, Edna Ochoa and José Martínez she founded Cosecha Voices, a program that provides migrant farmworker youth the opportunity to document and share their testimonios.

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