Olivia Sánchez Zamarripa
Social justice, labor, and political activist
Olivia Sánchez Zamarripa was a pillar of strength and tenacity for her children, her grandchildren, and her community. As a labor activist in the pecan sheller strikes, a founder of the Native American Voters League, and a precinct chair of the Democratic party, she taught her children and grandchildren that sometimes it’s necessary to fight for what is right.
Olivia was born on February 25, 1920 in Von Ormy, baptized on the Medina River. Her family, the Polancos, had been in South Texas since the mid eighteenth century. Generations of family moved back and forth between Von Ormy and San Antonio. In Von Ormy, previously known as Paso de las Garzas, the family attended Santisima Trinidad church, before it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1919. In San Antonio, her family originally settled in a neighborhood by San Fernando Cathedral. In the late nineteenth century the local press would describe this community as “the bird people of Alazán Creek”, because they would trap and sell birds and other items at the markets and bathe in Alazán Creek. While the local press would describe them as squatters and beggars, they were among the oldest indigenous communities in San Antonio, and well integrated into the city. Olivia’s great grandmother, Marcela Vasquez, was baptized at the cathedral. When Olivia lived in San Antonio they lived at 1226 Laredo street, part of the westside “Laredito” neighborhood and close to the factory that made Hippo sodas. Like the so-called “chili queens,” her mother and grandmother would set up stands and sell food in downtown plazas.
Olivia’s labor activism began when she became part of the pecan sheller strikes in 1938. She was just seventeen years old at that time. She attended meetings and was inspired by Emma Tenayuca and other leaders of the movement. She was also interested in challenging the exclusion of indigenous people in cultural celebrations. She helped found the Native American Voters League, an organization formed in opposition to the decision of the Mexican consulate and LULAC to have the fiestas patrias celebrations exclude Native Americans. The League also wanted the celebrations moved to San Pedro Park, rather than the Municipal Auditorium, because they felt the park, as the birthplace of the city, would be a more accessible, inclusive space to gather. In 1939, Olivia rode atop a car with the organization’s banner in the annual Diez y Seis parade.