Member of the Week: Gene Morales

Gene Morales

Lecturer, History

Texas A&M University-San Antonio


Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

My current research examines the 1968 HemisFair, a World’s Fair created in San Antonio, Texas, during a pivotal year in U.S. history. My family is what drew me to the project. I had always heard stories about my grandfather working to create one of the buildings in the middle of the fair. The more I started to research the fair site, the more I realized that there was a bigger story to tell that involved civil rights, urban renewal, foreign affairs, and changing political ideology.

What are you currently teaching? How does it relate to your scholarship?

I am currently teaching U.S. and Texas history survey courses. I try to integrate my scholarship by lecturing on segregation and civil rights topics, having students analyze primary sources I found in the archives, and teaching them how to conduct oral histories. My students and I are currently creating a COVID-19 & Texas Winter Storm Oral History Project. I did this in 2021 with my students, and it was amazing. This year I hope to help my students gather more oral histories and preserve some for future generations.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I am currently writing an article about the Civil Rights court case Clifton v. Puente (1949). It involves a Mexican American named Abdon Salazar Puente who tried to purchase a house in a white neighborhood in San Antonio. It came up during the Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) Supreme Court case. No one really knows about the Puente case because it gets settled after the Kraemer case in Texas, making it the first to uphold it in any court.

What advice would you give to students, both undergraduate and graduate, who are interested in urban studies/urban history and just starting out their careers?

The advice I would give students interested in urban history is to research your neighborhood, current town, or city. You do not have to venture far sometimes to uncover unique stories dealing with urban history. I tell my students that they have to look around their community and realize that there is a lot of history in these spaces.

How has your own connection to an urban space—the Southside of San Antonio—shaped your scholarship and approach to urban history/urban studies?

I appreciate coming from the Southside of San Antonio; it’s where my journey outside of the academy started. I grew up in a very large and low-income family. My mom worked part-time for the city of San Antonio, and my dad worked at Kelly Air Force Base, located between the Southside and Westside of San Antonio next to Lackland Air Force Base, where they do basic training for the Air Force.

On most weekends, my brothers and I worked side contractor jobs with my dad to make extra money for our family. We typically did jobs like cement foundations, roofing, plumbing, and insulation from sunup to sundown until it was finished. It was nice, but I realized that these jobs allowed us to live and work, especially in the early 1990s when military bases were closing, and my dad was laid-off. When we did not work, we traveled across the city to visit relatives; I could then see the city and compare my community to my families on the Westside and Northside. The Southside gave me a unique perspective on life and something I bring to my research.  

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