Don Gadberry isn’t quite sure why Highland Hills has emerged as one of San Antonio’s most integrated neighborhoods, but he’s quick to emphasize why the Southeast Side community is so appealing to residents of various backgrounds.
“It’s a pleasant place to live. It’s really a gem that a lot of people haven’t discovered,” says Gadberry, a retired public-school teacher and administrator who now serves as Highland Hills Neighborhood Association president. “The housing is inexpensive, and we have a lot of disposable income because there are a lot of retirees that still live here.”
The nexus of Highland Hills is the busy intersection of Goliad and East Southcross. The intersection is close to both McCreless Mall and the city’s original Bill Miller Bar-B-Q location. A sprawling neighborhood with approximately 1,100 households (making it the largest local neighborhood association), Highland Hills was an early magnet for Czechoslovakian and Polish descendants, and it gradually attracted more Hispanics and African Americans, a trend which, according to Gadberry, became evident in the 1980s.
“It’s turning primarily Hispanic, like the rest of San Antonio, but there’s still quite a few Anglos here,” he says. “I think the Black population is actually decreasing here a little bit.”
If Highland Hills’ cultural mix has occurred with relatively little drama or stress, it might be because it happened in a subtle, organic way. Neighbors had time to adjust to demographic changes, and were willing to accept them.
“I think groups move according to their own background,” Gadberry says. “Blacks generally moved further east and northeast, Anglos went up the North-Central part of the city, and Hispanics went up the Northwest side. We were just kind of left down here, so to speak. And it just generally became comfortable. There was no flight.”
Gadberry says that Highland Hills’ smooth integration process is affirmed by the lower-than-average number of calls received by police officers at precincts in the neighborhood.
“There’s almost no lines at all `between people`,” he says. “Go to the store or the mall or anywhere here and it’s totally relaxed and accepted. I don’t know why, other than the ambience of the area.”