The Alma in the Alamo: Stories from San Antonio’s 300th year
Excerpts from González’s young adult novel Dear San Antonio, I'm Gone but Not Lost: Letters to the World from your Voting Rights Hero Willie Velásquez on the Occasion of his Rebirth. 1944-1988-2018.
I got these letters from Willie
Let me say that I believe in ghosts, Santa Claus, and the devil with the rooster foot. Don’t you? Lately, I’ve been hearing from Willie Velásquez, one of the most important and fiery people from Texas, specifically, San Antonio, a soulful city with rivers and creeks like a spider web of water.1 A semi-tropical city with all kinds of palm trees, orange trees and Spanish wrapped-up with English, like the Christmas lights on the river at Thanksgiving. Heard of the Alamo? Yup, it’s here, along with four other missions, a million people strong, and stories about war and borders, dancing on rooftops, the Polish and Germans, the French and the Jews and lots and lots of Mexicans fighting and some of them surrendering and others winning and it’s been three hundred years since San Anto2 was taken from the Native Americans who are still here. And we are celebrating that too and feeling guilty at the same time. . . .
Willie grew up right here, on the Westside, el Hueso. The bone of San Antonio. We call it the barrio.
Lately, people have been getting these letters, and they bring them to me. I don’t know why, only that Willie died 30 years ago this year, 2018. Something about he’s stepping up, moving on, and now he’s finding himself. Not lost anymore, no way. Has things he wants to get off his chest. Knows the way home to you now.
This is his story.
MAKING MY DREAM COME TRUE, PART 3
HOW TO GET POWER
When you are searching, the universe is searching for you, too. I have come to understand that things happen in ways you can’t plan exactly, but they will happen if you know what you have to do in the world.
I realize now there aren’t many like me. You know why they call me a “hero?” Only because I did what I was supposed to. And I did it even when I couldn’t afford a taco. Didn’t matter. My brother, bless you, George, always got me one when I called him. He always understood me.
I miss you, George. Hermano, de veras.
By 1974, which was like eight years after college, and maybe seven years after dropping out of my master’s program at St. Mary’s, I was broke, married to my beautiful Janie, and had a baby daughter, Carmen.
I’d been working with the Southwest Council of La Raza, which I helped found—in 1968—one of those non-profits that was serving the community through advocacy (speaking out for their rights), mostly. Not much money in it, but I loved the work.
Here’s the thing: the SCLR board and me really wanted to set up a Mexican-American voter registration organization. This was in the years right after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and we wanted to see more Latinos and Latinas participate in the system.3
It was so hard. President Nixon didn’t want to see non-profits like ours receive funding from foundations or labor unions for voting purposes—he realized that most of us vote “Democrat.”
Congressman Henry B. González was still upset with me because of MAYO, calling myself a Chicano, turning down a diplomat’s job in D.C., and raising hell all over the place, so we didn’t have a lot of support. We had to work with very little money and paid close attention to African-American voter registration efforts, especially VEP, the leading Black voter registration organization in the South.4
By 1971, the Southwest Council of La Raza created CVREP, as the Citizen Voter Research Education Project. We were denied three times by the IRS. There is no way you can be tax exempt without getting 501(c)3 status, and you can only get 501(c)3 status through the IRS. The president had the power to stop us.
Yes, we were trying to get people to vote. And many of those people might one day vote against the conservative president and about them, really. ’Cause Democrats have also made lots of mistakes in the past. What it’s about is DEMOCRACY.
I just believed that my community really needed to understand this idea—which is much bigger than any president. It’s about justice and equality for all—and how everyone—no matter how rich, poor, disabled, old or young. You name it. Everyone deserves a right to belong and participate. This will keep us living together through good and bad times. We are individuals, yes, but we are also a nation of people who have to get along in order to help each other be the best they can be. Democracy.
We were rejected by the IRS three times after five and a half years of trying. But I don’t give up. I formed a new organization and called it the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, based out of Texas. SVREP. And this one passed because I don’t give up!
I was thirty years old. And the organization’s address was at my house in San Antonio. It was 1974.
Forever and ever,
“The Alma in the Alamo: Stories from San Antonio’s 300th year” is a part of our weekly story series, The By and By.
Enjoy this story? Subscribe to the Oxford American.