Interview with Pastor Leroy A. Albo
Revitalization is the process of new development invested into older, often historic communities that have become out dated, eyesores to civic leaders. In South Phoenix new homes are being built at an alarming rate each day, driving up the value of the land, which most current residents cannot afford. The residents, most of who are Mexican American fear that they will be forced to sell their homes for far below their sentimental value. As a result, this will leave thousands without an affordable place to call home. Older residents of South Phoenix have lived in their homes for decades, and young families that have found the area an inexpensive venue to begin a family have often had the home passed down within the family from parents or grandparents. It astonishes residents to imagine that their community, which has been neglected for so long, could suddenly become a choice spot for homebuilders in the Valley. In actuality, the residents of South Phoenix are facing their own present day Manifest Destiny.
The “revitalization” of Phoenix as its city planners call the new development is nothing more than a process that has affected Mexican Americans for centuries. The Aztecs and Mexica tribes in Mexico were the first to have their land taken from them by the Spanish. After years of imperialism in Mexico, Mexicans were forced to move into the current day southwest United States. From that point Mexican Americans have fought for survival against Manifest Destiny. In California land was forcefully taken from Mexican Americans because of the grounds rich minerals. An increasingly Anglo New Mexico state government who wanted to decrease the Mexican presence did not recognize land grants belonging to Mexican Americans and in Texas they faced the sadistic raids of their communities by the Texas Rangers. In Arizona, when the Anglos wanted land that did not belong to them, it was the U.S. Calvary that displaced hundreds of Mexican Americans. Today the relocation of Mexican Americans and their homes continues but not in the name of Manifest Destiny, this time the displacement will be in the name of progress, in the name of revitalization.
The continuity of their communities has been vital to the survival of Mexican Americans. Pastor Leroy A. Albo is a man who has undergone a variety community changes in his lifetime. He has seen his sleepy, childhood town of Globe, Arizona grow from a small neighborhood of Mexican and Indian families to a boom in population. Eventually he settled in Phoenix. From this residence he gained first hand knowledge of how the city’s intervention can move an entire neighborhood in the name of progress.
Pastor Leroy A. Albo who leads the Family of God Fellowship was born in 1935 in the quiet town of Globe. Pastor Albo describes the community as small, a place where everyone knew everyone else’s name. While growing up in the 1940’s he recalled being surrounded by aunts, uncles and cousins since those that grew up in the area stayed in the community and it gave him a good feeling to know that he was close to his family. Still being in a small town did not keep discrimination from Pastor Albo and his family. At the time the public swimming pool was segregated. The Anglos, Latinos, Indians and a small Black community all had different times when they were allowed to swim. The town’s theatre was also segregated. Latinos and Blacks were forced to sit in the balcony while the Anglos were given the best viewing seats. Although Anglos and Latinos went to school together, the blacks had their own schoolhouses. While his father was educated and held the job of superintendent for the Globe hospital, it was the influence of his mother, a homemaker that brought him to the church. Pastor Albo’s mother was very active in the community and in the church, which was led by Reverend Jose Manuelos, who taught Pastor Albo to love his community and its people. As a result religion became an integral part of Pastor Albo’s life and he left Globe to attended Lydia Patterson Bible Institute High School in El Paso, Texas. After high school he studied at Bethany Nazarene College near Oklahoma City. Back home in Globe the segregation of the pools was discontinued as he was leaving for college in the early 1950’s.
After graduating with a double major in Theology and Psychology, Pastor Albo moved to San Antonio. There he joined a group of young Mexican Americans fighting for recognition and attempting to discover who they were and where they came from. Pastor Albo specifically coined the era, the Time of Reformation. As a member of Chicano activist groups like LULAC, Pastor Albo became involved in community action by fixing up older homes, and getting residents registered to vote. Pastor Albo himself had been registered to vote at the age of eighteen. For Pastor Albo communities are vital to the survival and flourishment of Mexican Americans. “As a people we must appreciate what we have and then we can achieve more.” From San Antonio Pastor Albo went on an eight-year mission to Mexico with the International Good Samaritan organization. Once the mission was completed, the Pastor returned to Arizona.
Pastor Albo then ran for the city council in Chandler. In 1963 he worked on the Human Relations Commission and formed the Chandler Christian Community Service to help stop the growing crime in the area. After many strategies to get the neighborhood dropouts back into school, out of gangs and away from sniffing glue, he prayed to God for an answer. That night a revelation came to the Pastor. He dreamt about a baseball game so the next day he took the group to an open field, gave them a bat and baseball and decided that this was his last chance to save these kids. What came afterward was nothing short of a miracle, the kids played baseball everyday and the city eventually formed a league, with teams traveling as far as Tucson to play in tournaments. What was important for Pastor Albo is that the kids became self-motivated, got back into school and out of uncertainty.
Eventually Pastor Albo’s love for teaching made its way to Phoenix where he founded the Family of God Fellowship in 1975. He then took on an incredible undertaking by becoming the first President of the Latin Association of Pastors. While conducting his assembly Pastor Albo makes a fundamental effort not to preach, but to teach. Teaching and counseling are his favorite parts of the job because that is when you know you are getting people personally involved, even though he does admit that sometimes the lines between teaching and preaching can be crossed if necessary.
Now living in Central Phoenix, he would not stay near Encanto Park long because the city began to buy out homeowners in his neighborhood in an effort to create additional space to Sky Harbor Airport. After several lowball offers, Pastor Albo organized the Community Action Rehabilitation program. He led a battle to stop the development if he and his neighbors were not given fair value for their homes as well as relocation costs. Consequently, the program worked and the residents moved to better homes in West Phoenix. This move enabled Pastor Albo to come up with the Anti Poverty Program to educate, and help the less fortunate.
Pastor Albo is a man about change. He says, “If you do not change and cannot change, you are not living.” Being a man of his word, Pastor Albo recently resigned as president of the Latin Association of Pastors because the group needed a new direction. I asked why the change and he stated that the world belonged to the youth, and new, vibrant Pastors had ideas and that could lead the association to the future. Pastor Albo is still an active member, “A very, very active member”, as he described and maintains the position of advisor to the association.
I first noticed Pastor Albo in a photograph of himself giving prayer in an aerial view with South Phoenix in the background. When I mentioned this to him he smiled back at me and explained that day he and a group of other church leaders from around Phoenix prayed all day long for the Valley of the Sun in 1996. Pastor Albo specifically asked that the crime and gang violence cease in South Phoenix. Incredibly those numbers have been dramatically reduced in the past five years.
The district of South Phoenix is drastically undergoing more change as new developers are creating homes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars next to older, mostly Mexican American blocks where the homes have been valued at just under $15,000. Pastor Albo does not agree with the attention the area is now getting from lawmakers and civic leaders but says that the revitalization is long overdue. He says for years South Phoenix had been neglected and left to the churches and other community groups to care for the well being of the residents. Having been forced to move once himself, Pastor Albo says that residents should demand fair value and relocation costs from developers buying large blocks of older homes in order to rebuild them. Those residents that have the opportunity to remain in the community owe it to themselves that they maintain the beauty of their homes.
As Arizona continues to make efforts to involve Mexican Americans in legislation, Pastor Albo believes changes are on the horizon to help improve the community, on the other hand, if representation fails, there are more vocal ways to encourage change. Pastor Albo finished the interview by stating that if developers and city council leaders in South Phoenix attempt to steal the homes at a low cost, the residents must make their voices heard in community meetings and at the voting booths. He also pointed out that Mexican Americans do not know the power that they actually hold by voting. Pastor Albo was very happy to report that his candidate in the last election for city council won by only sixty votes. He also drove home the power of a potential Latino block vote in city, governmental and national elections. As we were wrapping up our conversation Pastor Albo said, “That community is a beautiful place and I have many friends who live there that I visit often South Phoenix is a just a name not a place.” It took me a moment to gather that intense remark and when I did, I realized that a community is what you make of it and change happens. It is what you do when faced with that change that makes you who you are.
Pastor Albo left me with this message as I left his office, “Young man, education is the richest heritage we can receive and an educated person can give a lot back to the community. Education will teach you goals, how to respect what you have and education will give you compassion for your brothers and sisters.”
Understandably many Mexican Americans will be forced to move in the name of progress. Those that are able to stay and those Mexican Americans that move into the community are obligated to preserve the long history of Mexican families, low riders and bright pink and orange grocery stores and not lose it to Anglos from Nebraska, BMW’s or mauve and clay colored buildings. It is crucial that the stories told in the future of South Phoenix hold their Mexican American legacy and not describe the legend of Anglos arriving just in time to tame another new frontier.
essay and interview were both conducted by James A. Velasquez on 3/26/2002.