UTSA Special Collections Preserve Legacy Of Latinx Voter Registration Efforts

The archives include hundreds of boxes of records, photos and redistricting maps.

By Norma Martinez July 13, 2020 9:30 am, , , , ,

From Texas Public Radio:

The Latinx vote gets a lot of attention in an election year. Many groups worked against the odds to organize the vote, including the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the Mexican American Youth Organization.

UTSA Libraries Special Collections is working to preserve the origins and history of another important voting rights organization: the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

Poster in the SVREP special collection at UTSA.

The SVREP was established in 1974 in San Antonio. It grew to be the largest and oldest nonpartisan Latino voter participation organization in the U.S.

Willie Velásquez founded the SVREP, and served as its executive director and president until his death at age 44.

He and other members of the organization had the foresight to save just about everything associated with the SVREP – pamphlets, posters, photos, and audio and video recordings.

Boxes of these materials had lingered in a San Antonio storage facility until the University of Texas at San Antonio took interest in 2015.

Amy Rushing, head of UTSA Special Collections, said the SVREP kept the records in good condition.

“When we opened the box, we could see what years the files were from,” Rushing said. “That helped a lot. It was still a huge process to get the collection organized.”

The National Archives gave UTSA Special Collections $146,000 to hire an archivist and archives assistant to process the collection.

Rushing said the collection is of significant size.

“It’s around 430 linear feet, which translates to around 430 boxes, and 550 redistricting maps,” she said. “So it’s very large.”

Moira Mackay stands next to some of photos archived in the SVREP special collection at UTSA.

Moira Mackay, public services and outreach archivist with UTSA Special Collections, said SVREP founder Willie Velásquez was on the FBI blacklist and had to wait several years until he could apply for the nonprofit designation.

“That’s when it came about in 1974,” Mackay said. “We have that and a number of boxes of board meetings.” She acknowledged board meeting notes don’t make for light reading, but “they can be very useful for researchers, especially with details on specific people and cases.”

The SVREP also compiled voter suppression complaints the group would later report to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund or the League of United Latin American Citizens.  

Other items in the collection include public service announcements in English and Spanish, including star-studded PSAs starring Jose Feliciano, Ricardo Montalban and Tony Plana.

ewspaper clipping of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis delivering the eulogy at Willie Velásquez’s funeral, 1988.

The collection also includes a scrapbook of newspaper articles from Willie Velásquez’s funeral service in 1988. The photos prominently feature then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis delivering the eulogy.

The records in the collection cover two decades of SVREP history through 1994.

Rushing anticipates more material in the future, as the organization is still active in mobilizing the Latino vote.

She said the collection is important to share with UTSA students and the greater community so they can learn the lessons of history.

“I think it’s important to be able to see where we’ve been, where we’re going,” she said, “and to see first-hand documentation of the struggles over the years, and to see how they dealt with the problems and how they worked to overcome them. Voter registration is still an issue today, so it’s important to be able to go back and see, ‘how did they do this?’”

The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project collection is stored at the UTSA Libraries Special Collection in San Antonio. It’s currently closed due to COVID-19. View the collection here.

Those interested in learning more information about the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project archives can contact specialcollections@utsa.edu or visit the Special Collections website.

Norma Martinez can be reached at Norma@TPR.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1.

If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation here. Your gift helps pay for everything you find on texasstandard.org and Texas Public Radio. Thanks for donating today.