Strength in Numbers
As work continues on the SVREP collection, one thing that is clear (no matter what category of documents you are working on) is that SVREP rarely worked alone. As an organization that stretched thousands of miles across the Southwest, they coordinated with and worked parallel to hundreds of organizations to achieve the same goals.
Figuring out why they worked together is much easier than figuring out how. As Latino numbers began to grow in the United States community advocates began to harness the power of the sheer number of people willing to get involved. One of the first newsletters I found when I started to inventory the SVREP Collection was a United Farm Workers newsletter from 1969. From there the partnerships (and acronyms) continued to grow.
From Organizations like Atlanta VEP (Voter Education Project) to MALDEF (The Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund), community organizers always found strength in numbers. Using networks to communicate, plan and organize, SVREP spread its message and its power. In fact, MALDEF is one of my favorite examples of SVREP’s cooperation with another organization to achieve results. Our archival material documents years of their work together to study representation in predominantly Hispanic school districts and took local school boards to court if they refused to provide representation for their minority students.
So much of this can seem like old news, but living in San Antonio offers us a unique chance to run into that history every day. Last Spring, I had the chance to meet local activist, Rosie Castro, at a voter registration event at The Esquire Tavern. I introduced myself and told her a little bit about my opportunity to work on SVREP archives. I knew she’d known Willie Velasquez but was unprepared for her response. “Are you kidding me” she smiled, “Southwest Voters and MALDEF hung out here at The Esquire all the time. Right here at this bar.” She pointed to a few stools a few feet away. To hear that members of two historic organizations planned strategy in the a bar that is now a popular downtown spot made me wonder about all the other stories our city would have to tell of partnerships, and civic alliances that stand as examples for us today.
In my own time as a community organizer, I have often seen how powerful connecting organizations can be. Whether it was for amplification, strategic alignment or just solidarity, SVREP used it’s ability to work with others without the advantage of the internet to strengthen their community.
SVREP and MALDEF filed 81 lawsuits with school boards to make sure students across Texas got the representation they deserved. While some local boards initially resisted, eventually all 81 complied.
**This project is generously funded by the NHPRC**