Former councilwoman Rebecca Viagran likes to say that the Southside “is the past, present, and future of San Antonio.”
The Viagran family’s local roots go back more than 250 years. Her great-grandfather’s middle name is Losoya, which is also the name of an unincorporated community that’s considered part of the Southside—only about 20 minutes from downtown San Antonio.
“Dad was indigenous to this community, and by that I mean he was Native American as well,” she explains. Her mother’s family is from Mexico by way of Italy, and they were part of the wave of people who migrated here during the Mexican Revolution.
The Viagrans are not novel in this respect—
a lot of local families are connected to each other
and to the region’s history.
Interconnected, but also disconnected from San Antonio’s growing downtown and Northside. And that was no accident of history—the disconnection was by design, a matter of public policy.
We’re accustomed in this country to hearing about the Jim Crow Era, and we think of that story as one mostly set in the Deep South. But Jim Crow existed in south Texas, too, where brown-skinned families and neighborhoods were subject to intense discrimination.
“My mom is much lighter skin than her cousins,” says Viagran, and “she was treated differently than her cousins because they had darker skin.” Her mom could enter the front entrance of local movie theaters, while her darker-skinned cousins had to access a different entrance.
Yet the family thrived. Viagran’s dad owned a trophy shop, then managed a softball complex to help generate a stronger market for his trophies. The family worked the businesses together. “My sister Phyllis was the engraver,” says Viagran. “My uncle, my aunt, my cousins—it was a complete family business. If somebody needed a summer job, they would work at the trophy shop.”
That past connects to the present: “I still live in the same neighborhood, in the same house that I grew up in,” she says. She and Phyllis were raised a few blocks from St. Leo’s, where the Viagrans went to church and the girls went to school. Everything was connected.
“The community helped raise my sister and I,” she says. If they so much as crossed the street the wrong way, “the mama patrol” would tell their parents. “Everybody knew your business. We knew our neighbors. Everybody knew what was happening around the neighborhood.”
Viagran moved to San Marcos for college, New York City for a summer internship, and Spain for a year of mission work. She came back to San Antonio to work for St. Mary’s University and then the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce before winning a seat on San Antonio’s City Council.
Viagran spent a full eight terms on the council in keeping with a campaign promise she made after learning constituents were frustrated with councilmembers leaving before they got anything done. She stayed, and she has the receipts of eight years of work—the work of catching up the community after all those decades of neglect and disinvestment.
The catchup included seemingly simple but beneficial resources like dog parks and hike-bike trail extensions. And a lot more: