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Funded in part by a grant from TexTreasures and by the UT Arlington Library.

Blanca Vela

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(62 pages)

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Blanca Sanchez Vela was born Blanca Sanchez in 1936 in Harlingen, Texas, where she was raised. She holds both Bachelor's and Master's degrees and married Filemón Vela in 1962. Active in church and community, she began her political involvement campaigning in her husband's bid for state representative in 1963, stemming from his involvement in the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations (PASSO). Blanca Vela became a staunch political activist for Mexican-Americans in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Together with other Mexican-American women, she founded the Democratic Women's Club in Brownsville, Texas. She was appointed to the Brownsville Public Utilities Board (PUB) where she pushed for better pay and educational benefits for laborers, and also served on the Texas Public Power Association and the American Public Power Association, both consortiums for community-owned utilities. She co-founded the Brownsville Public Library Foundation with Betty Dodd, and served as the first woman on the board of the Brownsville National Bank. She is the first woman to have been elected as mayor of the city of Brownsville, Texas.

Interview Summary:

The interview was conducted during the first year of Blanca Sanchez Vela's term as mayor of the city of Brownsville, Texas. Mayor Vela begins with her family background and early life in Harlingen, Texas, including the discrimination towards Mexican Americans she experienced in the Catholic schools run by the Sisters of Mercy and in Harlingen High School, which she attended. She talks of her budding teaching career before completing her college degree, getting married, and working in her husband's campaign for state representative against Menton Murray, Sr., after which she began seeking opportunities that would allow her to create change in her community. She discusses her board appointments and achievements as well as the reasons she ran for the office of Brownsville's mayor against incumbent Henry Gonzales. Through her own involvement, she influenced her children to become active in the Hispanic community and urged the same of her contemporaries, campaigning actively at the grass roots level for herself and fellow Mexican-Americans working for the betterment of Mexican-Americans, Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley. She speaks of her son, Filemón Vela, Jr., and his wife, Rose Vela, and her involvement in their campaigns for public office in Corpus Christi. Blanca Vela talks about the 1980 appointment of her husband, Filemon Vela, Sr., as a federal judge who, prior to his career on the bench, was active in the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations (PASSO) and served in public office in Brownsville. She discusses the campaign of her brother-in-law, Moises "Moy" Vela against Ray Ramon, and her support for Republican Tony Garza. Mayor Vela gives her opinion on the political success of Black communities in comparison to that of Mexican-Americans. She also discusses the relationship between the border cities of Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and the opposing political parties, Partido de Accion Nacional (PAN) and Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in Mexico. Mayor Vela reiterates her concerns for water conservation and usage pertaining to the Rio Grande and the participation of the city of Brownsville in the American Heritage Rivers Alliance, and discusses potential development for the Palo Alto Battlefield. She finishes the interview by praising Governor Ann Richards for improvements made to the colonia of Cameron Park, Texas.

Locations of residence or activity:

Brownsville, Harlingen, Corpus Christi

Interview Date: