Lailah Williams Headshot
Lailah Williams

Maria Berriozábal: Politics starts at home

Updated: Apr 24, 2024

Maria Berriozábal headshot

Maria Antionetta Berriozábal, a seasoned activist and former councilwoman of San Antonio, is no stranger to hard work and sacrifice. Maria was born to immigrants in Laredo, Texas and grew up using her experiences and heritage to develop a strong work ethic. Berriozábal’s community inspired her to become a voice that empowered those who made it possible for her to succeed. She became the first Latina to be elected to the San Antonio City Council in 1981 and she ran a historic mayoral campaign in 1991, but before all of her triumphs, her definition of politics started at home.

For Maria, politics transcends our political parties and our electoral system. “To me, politics is a broad idea that includes the relationships of people to each other,” she said. Being from a large family involved in her church, she became privy to class divides, cultural differences, and the variety in ways that people can give back to each other. In her childhood, Maria had to translate for her parents and grow up quickly to be able to help them. Her mother and father served as her first role models, teaching her about resilience and courage. However, when it came to public service, representation was scarce. Community members in her adulthood were able to show Berriozábal the ropes and helped her navigate the world of political action.

Entering the world of public service did not come easy, as Berriozábal quickly realized that her love of justice and equity was not shared by all. “You run because you want to represent a certain community and their needs, so I ran in my community where I had been raised, and there were a lot of needs,” she said. She already knew that so many in her home district were without basic human needs that were not readily accessible. Maria describes much of politics as not having a place for “human capital investment.” Respect and action go a long way, but it proved to be a challenge as Berriozábal recognized her differences. However, Maria did not shy away from the challenge, in fact, she embraced it. Maria is proudest of her efforts to uplift others throughout her life and her desire to leave others feeling empowered. She has always loved to help and by pursuing that love, she has developed a culture of sincerity within her community. To her, community is the foundation of democracy.

Running for public office, while foreign to Berriozábal, did not deter her from relating her family life to her politics. Her father, who shared stories with her about the government in Mexico, inspired her to use her heritage to establish her relationship with politics. While Maria never expected to run for office, supporting and helping people became her passion. At 39 years old Maria had already been involved in the local political efforts. From community organizing to working with the Democratic party, she spent 20 years voluntarily making a difference while working full time with social service, governmental and political institutions. “Everything around me was a message,” she said. Berriozábal cites her husband’s, fellow Mexican-American women organizers, and her family’s values as her motivation to finally pursue a seat in her local government.

San Antonio has always had its charms, but it is also not without its struggles. Maria described the infrastructure concerns and the socioeconomic divide that even permeated into her own home growing up. The movement to change the status quo and demand more from those who are meant to represent their constituents became an ingrained part of her journey. “Basic needs, those are the issues.” she said. Maria’s desire to be active in politics came to her when she realized that she wasn’t going to let her government make choices for her that she didn’t accept.

Maria balanced her life in politics through reflecting on the support she received from loved ones, including her family and Latina friends who gave her money, time, and mentorship to encourage her to keep pushing and fighting for what she believed in. However, in the ‘80s, there were hardships of being a woman of color in the political space that challenged Maria to never forget where she came from. It was an amazing feat to gain such community prominence despite the challenges, and Maria has found that her gratuity stems from all those who believed in her message and wanted to see her succeed. Her success meant their success.

Berriozábal would say

to women+ individuals wanting to run for elected office and be in public service to never forget the strength of their roots. Everyone is different, but diversity in our communities is what makes us special. Maria encourages those who are following in her footsteps to remain firm in their truth and to always pursue the struggle for justice for every person and their planet.

Maria Berriozábal with colleague in court

Maria Berriozábal with her husband


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