Rebecca Viagran: Deconstructing systemic barriers
Rebecca Viagran serves San Antonio City Council, District 3—an area encompassing part of San Antonio’s Southside where she grew up. Some of the issues District 3 currently faces are the same issues Rebecca noticed when she was a young girl. The disparity of investment in her community is systemically embedded. Rebecca is combatting these issues not born into the very policy governing the District. To describe her deconstruction of these systemic issues, Rebecca quoted the Broadway-spectacular turned screenplay Hamilton: “Winning is easy, governing is harder.”
Rebecca was born and raised in the same San Antonio district she now represents. She vividly remembered growing up on a highly trafficked street within her neighborhood, only a short walk away from her grandmother’s home. Her family was intertwined in community politics, even naming the family dog Jimmy Carter. Rebecca remembered her grandfather carrying his voter registration card on him at all times and her father taking her to the polling place for every election. Her father was an unspoken political icon in the community that hosted rallies and candidate forums at their local church. What Rebecca thought was a series of barbeques at the church ended up being a critical first step into politics.
Rebecca attended a Catholic school which formed her identity as a someone who wanted to serve others. More specifically, she recognized the status of her community within the greater city while at school: underinvested. Rebecca first realized the disparity when she learned her teachers were volunteers specifically commissioned in underserved regions of the city. When she entered college, Rebecca had shifted her career path towards civil rights advocacy, especially for Hispanic and immigrant communities. Rebecca eventually secured a position as a city council aide, working specifically on local issues affecting the district she was assigned to.
Hoping to expand her gift of service, Rebecca sought an appointment to the San Antonio City Council after a seat was vacated. While she was one of three finalists, she did not receive the appointment. But Rebecca did not stop there. At the start of the next cycle, Rebecca decided to run for the seat. As a candidate, Rebecca dedicated a majority of her time to the campaign, saying “if you aren’t out block walking, you’re out calling people for money, or you’re out being introduced to others.” She equally prioritized uninterrupted rest, noting that she would schedule at least half a day during the week for self-care. Sometimes she would take her dogs on walks, other times she would ride her bike.
Entering into her campaign, Rebecca did not have a wealth of monetary resources, however she felt she had the qualification and passion to serve. She tapped into her experience serving as a council aide. She dedicated her campaign to her father who passed away in 2011. She always thought he would run for office, though he never did. She carried on his legacy in the community, pushing herself until she eventually won the District 3 seat in 2013.
Now, as a councilmember, Rebecca is breaking down the systemic barriers holding District 3 residents back from prosperity. She regularly advocates for affordable housing and protection of legacy homeowners funding. She works to increase the amount of job opportunities in the area by hosting city-sponsored job fairs. She plans to increase access to healthcare, noting the first medical school in District 3 was recently built on the Brooks base. She also wants to build up the infrastructure of the neighboring communities, like commissioning sidewalks. Simply put, Rebecca said, “the southern sector of San Antonio deserves more.”
Rebecca recognizes the difficulties of running for and serving in public office. “You’ve got to keep going. You need to remember who you are and why you are doing what you’re doing,” she said. Rebecca candidly recounted times when her constituents discriminated against her because of her identity as a Hispanic, unmarried woman. Even in the face of this negativity, Rebecca equally represents the individuals in her community. She “calls out” the remarks, acknowledges her presence in this capacity, and identifies that she is a voice for her entire constituency. (Fun fact: Rebecca’s mom named Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” as Rebecca undeclared campaign theme song)
Rebecca gives tangible advice for women+ interested in pursuing politics. First, she encourages women to be secure in their own identity. Second, she emboldens women to be paid for work in the political realm. “People will say ‘it gives you experience and exposure’ but [you] being there gives credibility to whatever you work on,” Rebecca says. Third, she pushes women not to be afraid to ask for campaign donations. “You have not because you ask not,” she ended with.