The Westside Development Corporation recognized three people and one family whose work in education, public service, business, arts and culture has rippled through the Westside community at the 2016 Westside Outdoor Gala Thursday evening at Rosedale Park.
“Tonight we are honoring four individuals who have either lived, worked, had some type of tie or impact, made some sort of significant contribution to the Westside of San Antonio and, in some cases, far beyond the Westside and beyond San Antonio in our greater nation,” said Westside Development Corporation (WDC) Board Chairman Chris Martinez.
“As you’ll hear, the honorees are proud of their ties and contributions to the Westside,” he added, because the Westside is more than just a barrio, it’s a familia.
The organization has honored individuals with awards at the annual gala for the past seven years. This year’s event drew more than 100 guests.
This year’s recipients were:
- Federico Zaragoza – Education Award
- La Familia Cortez – Business Award
- Vincent Valdez – Arts and Culture Award
- Bro. Stanley Culotta, M.D. – Public Service Award
WDC started in 2006 with a mission to promote economic development and redevelopment in the Westside, a historically underserved area of the city, while preserving its unique culture, history, and identity.
The Westside is home to the University of Texas at San Antonio Downtown Campus, Our Lady of the Lake University, and St. Mary’s University, as well as storied cultural institutions like the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.
“(The Westside) has a lot of challenges, but there’s also a lot of opportunity,” said WDC President and CEO Leonard Rodriguez. “When we look at the three universities, the creek system, when you look at the historic housing that we have here: you really get a sense of the community that has a lot of upside.”
Through its services, the Westside Development Corporation “helps fulfill the community’s dreams whether that’s technical assistance, working with small businesses, or community development,” Rodriguez added.
Education Award winner Federico Zaragoza, vice chancellor for economic and workforce development for Alamo Colleges, has played a key role in implementing educational access and workforce development opportunities in the Westside and greater San Antonio area.
More than one person in a video presentation played before Zaragoza received his award said his work establishing the Alamo Area Aerospace, Advanced Manufacturing, Health Professions, and Information Technology Security academies was instrumental in bringing key employers to the city.
“While there’s much to celebrate in the educational space (in the Westside), and we look at things like increased high school (attendance) and increased higher education graduation rates, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there are many unresolved educational issues and challenges that we face in the Westside of San Antonio,” Zaragoza said after receiving his award. “In our Westside, only 10% of residents have a college degree and so that needs to be addressed.”
The community should encourage more students to pursue a college degree, he added, especially in areas where there is a high demand for employees and where students can make “family sustaining wages.”
The Cortez Family has grown to local acclaim after nearly 75 years of serving San Antonio families at their iconic Market Square restaurant, Mi Tierra Cafe and Bakery. With décor that celebrates San Antonio’s vibrant culture, the restaurant is currently run by four generations of Cortez family members, and continues to host a mixture of locals, visitors, and dignitaries alike each day.
Community members on Thursday applauded the Westside-born family who, by anchoring their businesses in the area and promoting Latino culture, has been actively involved in the revitalization of their barrio since the beginning. The family has played a key role in the establishment of the Zona Cultural, the state’s newest cultural district.
“We know where we came from and we’ll never forget where we came from,” said Michael Cortez, co-owner of Mi Tierra, who received the award on behalf of his family.
Through his artistry, Vincent Valdez has portrayed the essence of the Westside and of its predominantly Latino population. He has left the city over the years to pursue an arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and showcase his work across the country, but always returns home to his Westside residence, a restored 1928 fire station.
“I am very proud of my son, and he is proud to be part of the Westside,” said Valdez’s father, Arturo, who accepted the Arts and Culture Award on his son’s behalf. Valdez was in Los Angeles preparing for an exhibition of his work and was unable to attend the ceremony.
Bro. Stanley Culotta, medical doctor and principal and president of Holy Cross of San Antonio, has taught generations of San Antonio students since 1958. Many in the community believe his selflessness, support, and dedication to service make him an ideal role model.
He said his work, and that of all educators, is much more than just getting students into college.
“Education cures poverty just like medicine cures illnesses,” Dr. Culotta said in a video before receiving the Public Service Award. “If we can get more education we can cure the poverty.”
The evening was an opportunity to look into the future of the Westside, to take note of progress headed its way, said more than one speaker on Thursday.
“The struggle for equality still exists,” stated Valdez in a letter his father read to the audience. “It is clear as day in the Westside, the numbers will tell a story. My zip code, 78207, after 50 years, is still highlighted on the national index as a community in distress, economically segregated and underserved.
“In sharp contrast, the very same Westside community is rich in other significant ways – family, culture, history, legacy, and the ability to persevere. In this way, I am proud to be a part of one of the richest communities in the nation.”
Top image: The Cortez family, of the restaurant Mi Tierra, await to receive their award for service to the Westside. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.