A native of the Westside and graduate of Yale University, filmmaker and activist Graciela Sanchez is the founding director of the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center.
This piece was originally published in The San Antonio Report. The photo is by Al Rendon, the words are by Graciela Sanchez as captured and edited by gary s. whitford.
San Antonio is a city that is split in half. There is a very progressive community, and a very conservative community.
Esperanza and organizations like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Southwest Voter Registration Project and other civil rights and social justice organizations of amazing force have been able to grow in this town in part because we are countering that very conservative element. We (social justice organizations) thrive, we get support because people say, “This is what I want my community, my state and my country to be.”
We started Esperanza to offer an alternative to the San Antonio that is Military City USA. Many people love that brand, and others of us flinch at the concept because we understand that the city has made its mark and thrived on the violence that wars produce. Esperanza challenges the value of sustaining a city on the wages of war.
San Antonio is also one of the most economically segregated cities in the nation. We have very rich neighborhoods, and folks who are very poor.
A lot of the work Esperanza has done recently has been in District 5, where the per capita annual income is $9,000. District 9, which Councilman Joe Krier (represents) has a per capita income of $31,000.
As military jobs disappeared, they were replaced with a service economy based on tourism. Yes, we have a distinctive Mexican culture, but the jobs do not pay well. So we have people who are struggling to survive. The tourism industry exploits the culture, exploits the workers. Except for some of the unions that have come in to demand that workers get paid more than $2.75 an hour, which is the standard in the restaurant business, or more than minimum wage if they are hotel workers.
It’s a tale of two cities – very progressive yet very conservative, very wealthy but also very poor.