When you hear the name Willie Vasquez most people think of Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project(SVREP) and Su Voto Es Su Voz. Both attributed to Willie Velasquez. Willie was much more than that. First there was Lambda Gamma and then MAYO (Mexican American Youth Organization).
Being a true West Sider from San Antonio, Willie Velasquez’s mother wanted him to get a good education, something she did not feel he was going to get by going to a public school. So, she sent him to Catholic schools elementary, high school and St. Mary’s University. The education gave him a strong conservative catholic foundation which would contradict his activist’s tendencies in later years.
St Mary’s was the first experience Willie found out that being Mexican American was a negative when applying for admission to St. Mary’s fraternities. To be accepted, you had to be the right kind of Mexican. That meant, money, family and sophistication. So, he founded a group called “loscaballeros”. It took three times, but the group was finally accepted as a fraternity at the university.
Willie’s dream was to be a diplomat. That was his vision. The Filipino grape workers went on strike first. They asked Mexican grape workers to join them. On Sep 16, 1965 led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta the huelga started. This changed Willie’s world view. He very much knew what the grape owners were doing. Anyone that joined the strike was red and scabs and undocumented workers were hired to replace them. But it was when the strike came to South Texas that it became personal. Texas farm workers were getting paid half of what they were getting paid in California.
Governor John Connally, a Democrat, refused to intervene and ask for a minimum wage in Texas. Willie felt the grass roots was the answer and that the answer was in voting. The answer was registering people to vote and getting them to vote. MAYO was the grass roots organization and political arm. MAYO was an agent of change.
Much went into creation of the SVREP. Unfortunately, Willie died at a very early age. We must now ask ourselves this question, “Was Willie Velasquez’ efforts in vain? Did the ship sail and hit the doldrums? Willie believed that you had to put pressure on politicians to do their job well and represent the people that voted them into office.