After hours of meetings over the past two weeks and a full month of work from a high-profile taskforce, City Council voted to put an ambitious workforce development and education initiative on the November ballot. 

Before Council members took that vote, as is customary, most delivered passionate speeches to their colleagues and the public, defending their position. With tears in her eyes, Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) recounted the circumstances that led to six deaths in her family from COVID-19. But the virus isn’t the only culprit, she said: poverty is guilty, too.

Below are her remarks:

I want to start off by sharing a number that has been significant to me during this time, that number is the number six. Six of my family members have died as a result of COVID-19. Six cousins whose early economic circumstances combined with the lack of access to healthy habits at a young age contributed to the underlying health conditions they developed as adults, thus complicating their ability to survive an unforgiving virus.

The matriarch of that family, my dad’s sister, my Tía Rosa (que en paz descanse), worked really hard, physically hard, to provide for her family. Her husband, my Tío Mingo, and she traveled up north in their van every year to Wisconsin with their entire family of 10 children to pick crops, leaving behind their humble home in District 5, in zip code 78207, on the West Side of San Antonio on Queretaro, about two blocks from where my cousins are now buried.

When they’d come back to San Antonio, there was always a celebration with tamales and plenty of pan dulce. My Tía Rosa and my cousins would gather around the dinner table after washing the dishes and play games of lotería, where she often would tell stories of people who were advocating for the rights of folks who picked crops. I recall in her stories the names of César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, who advocated for families like hers who worked the fields in El Norte.

Although there were ten kids to feed, they never went hungry, thanks to the hard work of my aunt and uncle, but they often ate what was readily available and cheap, many times a meal constituting of sugar-packed alternatives and empty calories, which is what they could afford. And if they got sick, they kept working because they couldn’t afford not to.

Now, I must admit that I don’t how many families are still migrating up north to find work, but I know that a program like the one we are being presented today would’ve helped my Tía Rosa provide her children access to an education without disruption, access to health care, and access to an overall better quality of life. Perhaps an opportunity like this for skills training, certifications, and other academic degrees would’ve led to a family-sustaining-wage job that would’ve kept my cousins from developing the underlying health conditions that they had, including diabetes and hypertension. And perhaps, as a result, they would’ve had a better chance of surviving. But, here we are, a family mourning the loss of six of its members. Six lives lost in exactly six weeks.

Today, our vote to place this initiative on the ballot in November allows us to cast a vote to change the future of many families with a small step, and I’d like to thank the mayor, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, and the folks on the committee and the working groups for uniting together to begin what I think will be a ripple effect that can change the course of San Antonio’s trajectory. And perhaps when the next virus attacks us unexpectedly, our action today will have given more San Antonio residents a better chance at surviving it.

Six votes is all it takes today for this council to positively affect the lives of many people who we will never know, but who we can keep from suffering from the effects of the economic oppression that has for so long held so many back.

Looking at my notes from about a year ago, when I met with Emily Donaldson from the San Antonio Report about a story regarding school boards, I read in my notes a reminder to tell her that the key to addressing anything is to work united and together.

In District 4, 90 percent of the population is economically disadvantaged, and the reality is that this stems from the fact that our district has a low level of educational attainment. Residents like the ones I represent will benefit from an opportunity like this, and as a result, the entire city will benefit. But we must work together to address the systemic issues – overlooked errors at best – that have allowed this unfairness to happen.

Community partners like Port SA have already stepped up to the plate, establishing internships for kids to see robots operate for the very first time, or learn about defending their country from attacks from behind a computer by teaching them about cybersecurity. The South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce is another community partner that has stepped up, investing money, time, and effort into the Alamo City Electrathon, where students can build and race their very own electric-powered car. Holt Cat, Toyota, and Cast STEM have also created opportunities for our kids to learn and have access to internships that lead to jobs in in-demand fields, and I appreciate their efforts to recruit from their own backyard.

Our community partners have stepped up, and this is our opportunity to step up, too. This is our individual opportunity to cast a vote today that allows every voter in San Antonio the opportunity to cast a vote in November to help people that they may never meet, but who may one day be or give birth to the person who develops the vaccine for a virus, a cure for a disease, or who may become the first person from San Antonio to achieve the previously impossible.

Integrating the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, I’d like to share the words of Our Lady of the Lake University Faculty Assembly President Karina Gil delivered on Tuesday. She shared “that the Sisters of Divine Providence had the radical idea to provide education to women and girls, at a time in history when that opportunity was only available to a few selected women. Their idea became a statement, and a statement became action.” Their action, Gil stated, continued despite “global wars, the flu pandemic, the Great Depression, and while many called for peace and fought for their civil rights.”

Gil reminded us that these women were a group who cared about what was happening around them and took a stand. She reminded us that here we are again in a year “when the world is dealing with a major pandemic that has affected many in our community disproportionately, a year in which many in our community are still fighting for their basic human dignity and civil rights and fighting to eradicate societal illnesses, and in a year when, globally, the concept of leadership has been questioned more than ever.”

Today, this is our Council’s opportunity to begin a legacy, to take the idea and make it a statement, giving our community the opportunity to place it into action this November. Thus, an idea becoming a statement, and a statement becoming an action.

So, thank you, Dr. Gil, for your inspiring words, which I found appropriate to integrate into today’s conversation.

In closing, I leave you with six words: Sí se puede. San Antonio puede.

Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia is a lifelong resident of San Antonio with a passion for working with organizations that help San Antonio’s most underrepresented demographics. She is the president...