SAN ANTONIO – Considered an authority on Mexican-American history, politics and culture, how and where Teresa Van Hoy’s life began may surprise many.
“Wow, I am the biggest hillbilly you ever met,” Van Hoy said.
She was raised in North Carolina on what she said was the biggest cherry orchard in the South, within sight of the Appalachian Mountains.
“I grew up in paradise on the one hand and in a racially charged, very tense town on the other,” Van Hoy said.
She said her family were Quakers and her father was the only history teacher at the only high school, so he was chosen to lead the desegregation efforts in Asheboro, N.C.
“They tapped him because they said, ‘Look, you don’t have any business to lose. You won’t be boycotted,’” Van Hoy said.
Still, her family paid the price, she said.
Van Hoy said they were harassed, got threatening messages, and she was beaten up waiting for her school bus in the dark early morning hours.
“So this question of racial justice and social justice, it runs deep,” Van Hoy said.
Given her background at the time, Van Hoy said, “I had never heard really of Mexico. I’d never heard a foreign language.”
But when she was 19, Van Hoy was on a train in Norway when she met her future husband from Mexico City.
“I fell in love with him and all of Mexico and all of Latin America,” Van Hoy said.
After they were married, Van Hoy said her husband had several job offers, including one in San Antonio, but he wanted her to choose which one he should take.
“I chose San Antonio. San Antonio inspires me, its stories and its people, its history,” Van Hoy said.
She also said their firstborn child, Alejandro, was another major deciding factor.
“We wanted him to grow up Mexican-American, and we were in Connecticut where people couldn’t even pronounce his name,” Van Hoy said.
At least in San Antonio, she said, even people who don’t speak Spanish, knew how to pronounce their son’s name.
“There’s just a higher level of osmosis and acceptance of all things Hispanic,” Van Hoy said.
She said she told her husband, “This is our place in the world. This is where we can do our work and rear our children.”
Van Hoy said living in San Antonio would allow her to commute to UT Austin, recognized for its library’s Latin American Collections.
Van Hoy said she dreamed of working there, and she did, briefly. Fourteen years ago she joined the faculty at St. Mary’s University, a school with its own distinguished reputation.
“St. Mary’s University has a history of impassioned people working and risking for social justice,” So I must be worthy of that legacy.”