First Latina on San Antonio City Council remains an outspoken advocate

Family roots inspired Maria Antonietta Berriozabal’s life of public service

SAN ANTONIO – Now 81, Maria Antonietta Berriozabal holds a cherished family photo with pride.

“That’s my life. That’s what I know. That’s who I am. I am them,” Berriozabal said.

The first Latina elected in 1981 to the San Antonio City Council, Berriozabal wrote about her ancestors in her book, “Maria, Daughter of Immigrants,” published in 2012.

Sadly, when the photo was taken in the mid-1930s, Berriozabal said her family had just buried one of their children, who had died of tuberculosis.

Maria Antonietta Berriozabal holds a family photo taken in the mid-1930s. (KSAT)

If others would see what she sees in the faces of her immigrant ancestors, Berriozabal said, “We would address that issue and do what it takes to solve it.”

Berriozabal said her lifelong commitment to helping others has been guided by the question, “Who needs somebody to advocate for them that is not being heard?”

After a decade on the city council representing the people of District 1, Berriozabal said she saw the needs that still existed in the city, from infrastructure and housing to the welfare of children and seniors.

So, she became the first Latina to run for mayor of San Antonio.

Berriozabal said she was concerned about the direction the rapidly growing city was taking.

She asked at the time, “Why do we just have to go north? I mean, can we invest in the inner city?”

Berriozabal said political opponents would say, “Don’t vote for her. She voted against the Alamodome. She voted against Fiesta Texas. She voted against zoning over the aquifer.”

Her race for mayor in 1991 ended in a tight run-off against Nelson Wolff, who went on to become Bexar County judge after serving as mayor.

Berriozabal said she won 47% of the vote.

“To me, economic development is investing in the minds of people, particularly families,” Berriozabal said. “That investment is incredible. You empower a family — what a community we would have.”

Although she’s no longer in public office, Berriozabal said, “I don’t think I really left the life because I have continued doing community work and working on important issues, so I never quit.”

Berriozabal has been an outspoken advocate for immigrants, families, water quality, the environment and other issues.

Among her many honors, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project recently gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award.

She and her husband, Manuel Berriozabal, Ph.D., professor emeritus of mathematics at UTSA, were recently honored with an endowed chair to support STEM-based education. Founded by Dr. Berriozabal, the Dr. Manuel P. Berriozabal Pre-freshman Engineering Program has expanded into many school districts and universities throughout the U.S.

“Over 50,000 children have gone through that program just in Texas. That’s incredible,” she said.

Although they’ve been married since 1975, Berriozabal said her husband didn’t get involved in what she was doing.

“To have your partner cheering you every step of the way is an incredible, incredible gift,” she said. “It’s, like, on top of all the love that he has given me.”

About the Authors

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.

William Caldera has been at KSAT since 2003. He covers a wide range of stories including breaking news, weather, general assignments and sports.

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