Rendon Retrato: Graciela Sanchez

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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. Photo by Al Rendon.

Words by Graciela Sanchez:

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.

*Interviews conducted and edited by copywriter Gary S. Whitford.

More Retratos:

See all Rendon Retratos here.

Alfonzo Chiscano, Canary Islander

Juan Tejeda, Ethnomusicologist, professor, and co-founder of the Conjunto Festival

Claus Heide, German Culturalist

Jack Orbin, Impressario of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Alejandro Sifuentes, Artist

Vincent Valdez, Artist

4 thoughts on “Rendon Retrato: Graciela Sanchez

  1. Graciela, you do great work at the Esperanza Center. God knows where you get all your energy, but I’ve seen you in action, and it is impressive. Thank you for everything you do.

  2. Graciela you are correct in saying that the story of San Antonio is of two opposite sides. The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center has consistently worked on bringing equity, respect, and justice to the poor, to women, to immigrants, to all humans in the sight of conservative right wingers as “the other”. I applaud the work that you and la Buena Gente of EPJC have done representing and defending with open heart and mind.

  3. We really are very fortunate to have leaders like Graciela in our community. I always remember one time when they hosted a documentary that showed the high cost of war, not just to the nations we bomb, but also to our servicemen and women. I saw so many military men and women there. They were in uniform, and obviously very proud to have served their country. But, the film resonated with them. When I asked where they had heard about the event, they said that they had been contacted directly by Graciela. And when I talked to Graciela if she had had any reservations about inviting the military–thinking that maybe they would be too conservative an audience, she said, “Absolutely not. This film is their voice. It’s for them. And we have to be willing to put ourselves out there.” She and the team at Esperanza show us over and again that bravery begins and ends with love.

  4. Graciela was one of my early students when I began teaching. I had her brothers, Fernando and Gustavo and her sister, Leticia. They were taught by their mother and father to be strong, independent, and courageous in their thinking and in their deeds. Knowing each of them has been a blessing to me and my husband , was also their teacher, and as a result made me a better teacher. I am so proud of what Graciela has and continues to do for the community of San Antonio.

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