UTSA's activism collections include more than paper. Ephemera like these buttons help tell the story of the organizations working to further their causes.
One of the marks of a top tier university is the caliber of their archives - collections of rare and historic materials so unique that they draw the attention of researchers from around the world.
UTSA Libraries is helping the university gather steam toward top tier status via its Special Collections, a leading resource for South Texas history. The collections-used by researchers, students and history buffs alike-consist of documents, audiovisual materials, photographs, and memorabilia documenting the diverse histories of our region. One of several signature collecting areas to emerge in recent years is the wealth of materials relating to local activism and prominent San Antonio activists.
UTSA's status as an archival power-house took a leap forward in 2015 when the University acquired the records of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), one of the most import-ant sources of its kind documenting voter registration, political behavior and political participation of Latinos in the American Southwest. The collection-supported by a $146K grant from the National Archives-highlights the accomplishments of Willie Velásquez, a San Antonio native known for his contributions to Mexican-American civil rights and voter registration education and awareness.
Velásquez founded SVREP in 1974 as a non-partisan and non-profit organization with several goals in mind, including in-creasing voter registration among Latinos, providing voter registration education and research to eliminate gerrymandering, and electing Latino officials.
In 1984, Velásquez launched the Southwest Voter Research Institute, a hub for exploring public policy and providing more in-depth research into issues affecting Mexican-Americans. Renamed the Willie C. Velásquez Institute (WCVI) to honor the activist's work after his untimely death in 1988, both SVREP and WCVI continue to participate in numerous voting campaigns and educational events.
Workers Alliance leader Emma Tenayuca speaking to crowd outside San Antonio City Hall, March 8, 1937. L-1541-D, San Antonio Light Photograph Collection, UTSA Special Collections.
"The Southwest Voters collection will al-low future political scientists to explore how to mobilize voters," said Dean Hendrix, dean of UTSA Libraries. "The most exciting part is seeing our students getting first-hand experience with primary sources that document their community's history."
The recent presidential election inspired renewed activism nationwide, stirring greater interest in UTSA's collections. Recognizing a unique opportunity to both preserve and document the activism taking place at UTSA and in San Antonio, archivists began collecting ephemera from marches and protests taking place in early 2017. An open call for signs, posters, buttons and stickers resulted in UTSA Special Collections receiving approximately 170 items, all of which will be preserved to provide later generations with first-hand documentation and evidence of today's activist movements. In the future, the collection will be digitized and made available online.
"These items are often thrown away or discarded," said Amy Rushing, head of UTSA Libraries Special Collections. "While they aren't what we traditionally think of as historical documents, they can serve as a platform for voicing issues important to individuals in our community."
An advertising for the National/Chicano/Latino Conference, form the Jose Angel Gutierrez papers.
UTSA Libraries has over 30 collections that focus on activism or prominent activists, and the list keeps growing.
Some of the collections go beyond paper and digital files. A selection of T-shirts and other textiles from LGBTQ organizations are showcased in Wearing Gay History, a project devoted to promoting the hidden histories of the LGBTQ community. The shirts come from a variety of UTSA collections, including The Lollie Johnson Papers, the Texas Lesbian Conference Records and the San Antonio Lesbian Gay Assembly.
UTSA Special Collections houses the personal papers of several prominent local activists, giving insight into the lives of those who dedicated themselves to their causes. Examples include José Angel Gutiérrez, a leading Texan Chicano activist and co-founder of La Raza Unida political party, Esther Vexler, the first female president of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio, and Albert A. Pena, Jr., a judge and defender of Mexican American rights.
Similarly, organizational records give a glimpse into the inner workings of non-profits working for a wide variety of causes. Highlights include the records of the Mexican American Business and Professional Women's Association, the San Antonio Chapter of the National Organization for Women, and Communities Organized for Public Service (C.O.P.S.) and Metro Alliance Records.
UTSA's librarians and archivists are quick to point out that Special Collections are not just for researchers and students, but are open to anyone with an interest in local history. UTSA affiliation is not required, and individuals can view any collection of interest by making an appointment to visit one of the University's reading rooms. Some collections have been digitized and can be viewed online.
Activist and champion of the Latino vote Willie Velásquez (left), 1983. From the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project Records.
Knowing the potential of archives to breathe new life into history, Special Col-lections librarians are particularly focused on providing opportunities for UTSA students to work with the collections. Collaborating with faculty is key to this effort, and has resulted in some unique learning experiences.
Last fall, for example, Writing Program lecturer Darren Meritz developed a new curriculum to incorporate UTSA's historic materials into his Writing Composition class. He even invited fellow UTSA faculty member Mario Salas to speak about his personal papers on activism, African Americans and civil rights.
"Working with these collections gives students the opportunity to learn with primary source materials for the first time," said Meritz. "It's not sitting in a classroom and watching a PowerPoint, it's an interactive way to learn."
For Rushing, the reward for the work of her department is knowing that the stories and the struggles of so many individuals and organizations will not be lost to future generations. "We're really trying to develop broad collections on activism and communities whose voices may not have been represented."
Watch our archivists and librarians in action as they work with the tangeables of activist history in History Irreplaceable, a video by Sombrilla Magazine.
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