Former City Councilwomen Maria Berriozábal introduces the group of Latinas and urges voters to vote "no."
Former City Councilwomen Maria Berriozábal speaks during a political rally in 2018. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center launched an online exhibit on their new Museo del Westside website in August featuring women who pioneered change through their activism on San Antonio’s West Side.

The exhibit, Women and Activism in the Westside, began as a project to commemorate the centennial of the 19th amendment that granted women the right to vote. Laura Hernández-Ehrisman, cultural historian and co-curator of the exhibit said the project grew into an exhibit that reflected the work of women on the West Side.

“We wanted an exhibit that really would be inclusive of the kind of activism of most of the women in the West Side,” Hernández-Ehrisman said. “It’s kind of growing to be the sort of portrait of the various ways that women in the West Side have promoted positive change in the community.”

The Museo held “Poder de Mujer,” a virtual guided tour of the exhibit led by Hernández-Ehrisman and co-curator and Museo advisory board member Donna Guerra, Thursday evening. The tour was followed by a discussion moderated by the co-curators and guest speakers María Berriozábal, Carmen Tafolla, Mary Jo Galindo, and Ramón Vasquez. 

Berriozábal, a community activist and the first Latina to serve on the San Antonio City Council, is profiled in the exhibit with her grandmother Sebastiana Ramírez, a community and church activist. For Berriozábal, her faith guided her work in the West Side.

“It was about going a next step and saying, ‘what I’m going to do is work to help people that are oppressed people, whose dignity is hurt because they don’t have basic things they need like housing, food, a good education [and] health.’ And that became a major force for my life,” said Berriozábal.

Tafolla, former poet laureate of San Antonio and Texas, also is featured in the exhibit for her literary and theatrical work, along with her commitment to preserving the history of the West Side through her work.

“These are the stories that need to be told, if we are going to face life and community and public service, and all of those areas with todo el corazón (wholeheartedly) and with all of our honesty and our integrity. We have to speak for those who have not been able to share their voices, or have their voices be heard,” Tafolla said.

Carmen Tafolla delivers "This River Here" as an interpretive dance is performed by San Antonio Dance Umbrella.
Carmen Tafolla recites “This River Here” as dancers with the San Antonio Dance Umbrella perform during an event in 2018. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Some of the narratives in the project are written by family members who want to share their loved one’s story. Galindo and Vasquez both profiled their grandmothers for the exhibit.

Galindo’s grandmother María Rebecca Látigo de Hernández began serving the Westside community after moving to San Antonio in 1918. Látigo became politically active in 1924, focusing on the improvement of education in the West Side. She worked with Alonso S. Perales to create the Orden Caballeros de América in January 1929, which later joined two other organizations to become the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

“Some of the lessons that I learned is that social activism, if you really mean it, it’s a lifelong process, it’s a lifelong commitment,” Galindo said. “And my grandparents started in 1929 and they really never stopped.”

Vasquez’ shared the story of his grandmother Olivia Sánchez Zamarripa who began her activism in 1938 through pecan sheller strikes. Zamarripa helped found the Native American Voters League to oppose the exclusion of Native Americans from Fiestas Patrias, or Mexican holidays. 

“It’s [important] that the work that we’re involved in today, in terms of fighting for aboriginal rights, fighting to make sure that indigenous history and the contributions that our people have made to this country, to the state, and to the city are recognized and acknowledged moving forward. I think my grandmother had everything to do with that,” Vasquez said.

Hernández-Ehrisman said the Museo still has a list of suggestions for women activists to feature and anticipates that the exhibit will continue to grow.

The Museo, located at the historic Ruben’s Ice House, is undergoing restoration work that Hernández-Ehrisman estimated to be completed by the end of 2021. Until then, she added that the staff will continue to add profile content to its online exhibit so that it can later be transitioned to the building.

“We really want to kind of keep attention to the Museo as a physical space too because eventually we’d like to put this exhibit and other exhibits within the walls of the physical Museo,” Hernández-Ehrisman said.

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Samantha Ruvalcaba

Samantha Ruvalcaba, who grew up in San Antonio, is a Shiner intern and junior at St. Mary's University studying international and global studies with a minor in communications.