Patricia Castillo tiene ganas. Her life’s work encompasses teaching women to speak up for themselves and mentoring teens that need a guiding hand. She has a “get real” attitude that is energizing.
Castillo tells it like it is.
I recently sat with her in her office at the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative, a domestic violence education nonprofit which she founded, inside a Mennonite Church: chingos de stacked paper, a comfy chair, Chicana art prints and activista banners on the walls. In the corner, a college fridge.
Castillo is not a nine-to-fiver.
I’ve known her community work for years. She is relentless en la calle at protests, in the boardroom, at press conferences, and in our cultural spaces. She knows what’s up with her hometown.
“San Antonio has a pretty good facade in terms of being a tourist and military town,” she said. “We have beautiful locations that show up in commercials during the Spurs games for the nation to see. Pero, you just scratch underneath that surface a little bit and you see the real San Antonio.”
San Antonio has its share of city-wide initiatives designed to raise the profile of social justice issues and reveal the real San Antonio. One such program is the Cardboard Kids awareness program organized by ChildSafe.
“You know the Cardboard Kids that you see everywhere?” Castillo asked. “At a partner meeting, the organizers were talking about how successful the Cardboard Kids campaign was. It jumped from 6,000 Cardboard Kids last year to more than 46,000 this year. San Antonio knows how to dress things up so everyone feels good about the Cardboard Kid in the window of our office, our car.”
Editor’s note: Cardboard Kids is a child abuse prevention campaign created by ChildSafe, a nonprofit that focuses on helping abused and neglected children by providing evidenced based, trauma-focused services. The cardboard figures, shaped like children, symbolize the thousands of children that are abused and neglected in the community.
Then Castillo leaned in and her bright smile disappeared.
“How far is the Cardboard Kid from what kids’ lives are really like aqui en San Antonio?” she asked, not looking for an answer. “The statistics are off the charts in regards to child abuse and family violence – the two go hand in hand. We need to stop hitting our kids. That is not a form of discipline, it’s a form of punishment. Discipline and punishment are not the same thing.
“What’s the real story of our kids? Our children are chained in yards. We need to open our eyes to San Antonio’s huge educational and economic disparities and where these inequities are leaving our children. Some of us are out there en chinga trying to do something for our kids.”
Castillo’s familia es la comunidad.
“I never had an urge to have children,” she said. “I talk about that when I teach about domestic violence – about how much pressure there is for people to be in a relationship, to be (part of) a couple. And if you (aren’t), there must be something wrong with you. That is a very powerful cultural aspect of our identity. Familia is everything. But it doesn’t bother me. It never has.”
One of the programs that Castillo and the P.E.A.C.E Initiative are involved with is the It Takes a Village Program. Community advocates meet with kids who’ve committed low-level crimes and must, thus, face the legal repercussions at the municipal court.
Alicia Trujillo, senior juvenile case manager with the City of San Antonio, said the It Takes a Village Program works primarily with adolescents in truancy cases and Class C Misdemeanors.
“The program works with both the child and the parent,” Trujillo explained.
The P.E.A.C.E Initiative, the nonprofit organization that Castillo has been leading since its inception, is one of several community initiatives involved with the It Takes a Village Program. Others include the American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, the Valero Truancy Prevention, and the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, among others.
“These kids are at risk,” Castillo said. “If we don’t do something about these kids in our community – and there are thousands of them – we are putting them on the pipeline to prison.”
Castillo educates and informs through self-empowerment. Another organization she works closely with is Fuerza Unida, a member-driven nonprofit that was founded after the Levi’s factory on the Southside closed down.
“Es un poder de fuerza. Un mujer muy fuerte,” said Petra Mata, one of Fuerza Unida’s directors. “She is a power force, a very strong woman.”
Talking with Castillo was like having my own personal motivational session designed to make me more active within my community. As she spoke with me in her office, I felt a growing sense of personal power.
“People need the opportunity to reconnect with their own sense of power. I stay away from the patron/patrona mentality (in case work) and focus on an individual’s empowerment,” Castillo said. “People oftentimes do not act on their own behalf because they don’t know the resources within them. You have to help people understand: You have personal power.
“If you are surviving an abuser, you are one badass woman.”
I can see Patricia Castillo on the cover of a local weekly with survivors she has met through her work. The headline reads: “The Real San Antonio Badasses.”
“If you can survive an abuser, you can do anything,” she said. “People have to be reminded of personal power because if you’re a battered woman in our society, then you are marked a pendeja. My job is to flip that. My job is to say, ‘No. If you’re a battered woman and you’re living to tell your story, mis respectos.’”
Castillo surrounds herself with a community of supporters, like-minded people who are doing good work en chingas. Jane Shafer is one of those allies.
Shafer and Castillo started working together more than 20 years ago at the Center for Women in Church and Society at Our Lady of the Lake University. Shafer is now the Community Services Supervisor with the San Antonio Police Department’s Special Victims Unit. Together, the two women founded the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative and the Family Assistance Crisis Team (FACT) with the support of several organizations.
“When we first started, no one wanted to talk about domestic violence,” Shafer said. “Over the years, we’ve had over 2,000 volunteers involved with FACT. They work on weekends when all of our offices are closed. Those are the high times of family violence.”
Castillo said that a shift in culture gives her hope.
“That’s a big deal for me, because that was one of my goals: to take the shame away from domestic violence, la fuerguenza,” she said. “Fuerguenza is shame times a thousand for Chicanas. Now no one is ashamed to raise their hand to say, ‘Yes. I am a survivor.’”
Castillo identifies as a Chicana. A Chicano/a is a politicized Mexican-American, or a proud American of Mexican heritage. Castillo is one of San Antonio’s Chicana feminists who not only theorizes about Chicana feminism, but actually does the work.
“I took this job at the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative in 1990 and I knew what this job was going to entail,” she said. “I also knew, even before 1990, that I had to quit drinking. I just hadn’t done it. I knew if I wanted to be respected in this work and taken seriously, then dancing on tables on weekends was not going to cut it. I quit drinking. I loved alcohol, but it was not my friend. I didn’t know how to control it. It took me a while –years – to figure that out.”
When Castillo’s niece was born, she quit drinking cold turkey.
“I thought to myself, ‘Poor kid. She has my alcoholic brother as a father. I’m going to have to step up for this kid to have a chance.’ In the last three generations of my family, I have lost 22 men to alcoholism and alcohol-related car accidents. Twenty-two men. Just in my family. And I have a small family,” she said. “I cry when I think about it. And that whole myth about how men are the strong ones? The men are dropping off like flies in our society.”
Castillo graduated from Our Lady of the Lake University, back when they had a pub on campus.
“There was a lot of partying at Our Lady of the Lake. The pub is where the bookstore is now located,” she said. “The drinking age was 18. By the time I was a sophomore, I could buy beer at ten cents a cup. The pub was so badass, the walls (were) covered with Jesse Treviño paintings.”
The mural by Jesse Treviño is now on display at the OLLU library.
“I used to sit on the pub steps with this monjita, who will remain nameless,” Castillo said. “We’d wait for the pub to open at noon. One time she went to go find me because I was supposed to be in math class, but I was drinking and shooting pool in the pub. She came to find me. I was hiding underneath the pool table. ‘Patricia Castillo,’ she said. ‘I know you’re in here.’”
College was not the easiest thing for Castillo, but she now has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in social work.
“One of things I learned at Our Lady of the Lake is who I am and where I come from. If we’re going to be servants in our community, you have to start here,” she said, pointing to her heart.
“You have to know who you are and know your worth.”
Top image: Patricia Castillo is the founder of the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative in San Antonio. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.