top of page

Gloria G. Rodriguez


Founder, Former National President and CEO of AVANCE

Poder del Pueblo




The following are excerpts from Dr. Gloria G. Rodriguez’s forthcoming book. Special thanks to Gloria for sharing her story with us.

Dr. Gloria G. Rodriguez, who rose from poverty and the depths of the Westside of San Antonio, kept her vow and returned to her community to serve through the AVANCE organization which she founded and led for 32 years (1973-2006).   She considered AVANCE her “second baby,” and her calling and mission in life.

Dr. Gloria G. Rodriguez was born on Colima Street in 1948 next to her maternal grandparent’s home in the Westside of San Antonio, where they shared a communal outdoor shower and outhouse.  Gloria is the 4th of five daughters of Julian and Luz Villegas Garza.  Her father was born in Nava, Mexico and came to Zuel and Marion, Texas at the age of six with Gloria’s widowed grandmother, to live with family members who were sharecroppers.  Her paternal grandfather, Julian Garza, a prominent land owner, was killed protecting his land from Pancho Villa’s troops. He was one of five founders of Nava, Mexico.  Gloria’s paternal grandfather of the 10th generation was one of the founders of Monterey, Mexico.  Gloria’s mother was born on an agricultural farm near Laredo shortly after Gloria’s pregnant maternal grandmother and grandfather crossed the border, on their way to the Westside of San Antonio.  Both of her grandparents came to this country because of the Mexican Revolution seeking a better life for their children.

Gloria’s father and grandmother moved to the Westside of San Antonio on Smith Street to work as a butcher at Garza Meat Market, owned by his cousin.  Gloria’s parents met in the barrio and were married at Guadalupe Catholic Church.  Their five daughters were baptized at the same church. Her father was killed at the age of 35 in one of the many bars on Guadalupe St, leaving her 29-year-old mother a widow with five daughters one year apart, from 11 months to 6 years of age.  In addition to losing her husband, her mother Luz lost her own mother one year later and her only sister one year after that. Gloria’s mother was her inspiration when, as a teacher, she was trying to solve the education problems Latinos were facing.   Gloria would later ask herself, “How did my mother make it through all these trials and tribulations and still remain strong, resourceful, hardworking and a loving devoted mother with hopes and dreams for her children?”  She concluded that it was not only her strong faith, but the tremendous support she received from Gloria’s grandfather, Lazaro Villegas, as well as from other extended family members, neighbors and the community.   This enabled Gloria to understand the importance of family support, which she incorporated in her work when she returned to her Westside community to serve the families in need, through AVANCE.

Luz’s strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit was passed on to her children at an early age.  Her mother was a pecan sheller and later worked as a seamstress at Finesilver.  She made the most beautiful earrings that her daughters would sell, in addition to so many other products.  She was determined to make ends meet by augmenting her late husband’s $96 monthly social security survivor’s benefit check. She remarried a WWII Veteran, Antonio Salazar, who became a business owner of Veterans Barber Shop, that still exists today in the Westside on Commerce Street. They had two sons and a daughter.  The first son, Antonio Salazar, who is also a Veteran, now owns and operates Veterans Barber Shop.

Gloria’s family lived in the Alazan Housing project on Torreon Street for two years while their four-room house was being built on 26th street, near Las Palmas homes, in the Edgewood ISD.  She has fond memories of her youth playing fun games such as La Vibora De La Mar, 123 Red Light, Red Rover, baseball in the street, having a homemade seesaw, playing marbles and making clothes for her dolls. As a teenager, she and her sisters attended many dances at the Edgewood High School canteens or at Patio Andaluz, or just hanging out at the Malt House after football games. Gloria attended Las Palmas Elementary and recalls the many times she was punished for speaking Spanish by placing her nose in a circle on the blackboard. She overcame the humiliation, learned to speak English and would become a leader at Kennedy High School as a cheerleader, Sweetheart Queen and class officer. She was even in the Future Teachers of America club because she wanted to be a teacher, but was encouraged to take secretarial courses. While going to school Gloria worked as a saleslady to pay for her clothes and cheerleading expenses, and had to navigate her path to the bus stop without sidewalks, proper lighting and poor drainage.  Her mother would always be waiting by the gate for her when she returned home at night.

Gloria would become a teacher when she was one of thirty student leaders who were afforded an opportunity to participate in a Bilingual Teacher Training Certification Program at Our Lady of the Lake University, called Project Teacher Excellence (PTE) from 1967-1970. The understanding was that they would return to their communities to teach. Gloria would find out many years later (when both were in the same class getting their principal’s certification), that her high school principal did not recommend her for this program. At OLLU, Gloria was Cheerleader, President of Alpha Mu Gamma, and was in the Young Democrats. In 1968, Gloria stood next to Hubert Humphrey and Chubby Checker at an election rally in front of the Alamo!  Gloria was also selected as Miss Fiesta in 1970, representing OLLU and the city of San Antonio at the Fiesta Flambeau Parade and the Tournament of Roses Parade.  She completed her BA in 3 ½ years and was included in Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities. In 1972 she married Salvador Rodriguez, an Electrical Engineer from the Westside. Gloria spent many hours at the library studying and at Sacred Heart Chapel praying. She vowed that if she succeeded in college that she would use her degree to help others in her Westside community. 

Gloria could not return to the Edgewood District to teach because her brother-in- law was a member of the school board.  Instead, in December 1970, she became the first certified bilingual teacher at Northside ISD, developing her own curriculum.  She was assigned a group of 35 first grade Latino children from a poor community who their teachers labeled and ignored. They were considered destined to fail. She worked with the children for a year and a half. Thirty of the 35 children did well and moved on, but five were retained in the second grade.  One of those five children would be the catalyst for altering the trajectory of Gloria’s life. A day that will forever be etched in Gloria’s mind was when one of the five children she retained was in her room after school and her second-grade teacher came in, grabbed the child and threw her against the wall, where she fell into the trash can. The teacher was angry because the child would come to Gloria’s room for tutoring, just as she had done for over a year. This incident, and the lack of an appropriate response from her principal, led Gloria to return to OLLU to get her principal’s certificate to fire that teacher.

It was in a research class at OLLU that Gloria brought together all her values, life experiences and educational knowledge to come up with a better solution to the  educational problems and the child abuse episode she encountered. In that class, Gloria was introduced to Phyllis Levenstein’s Mother Infant program in New York. This made her realize the importance of helping parents get their children ready for school, especially during the critical formative years of birth to three, and understand their important role as advocates. Gloria conducted a research study of the parents of her first class, and confirmed her hypothesis that they needed help in acquiring important information.  But what made Gloria stop to ponder, was when the parents answered that they thought their children were not going beyond the 7th grade, the grade level they themselves had attained. That was when Gloria asked the question, “Why is it that my mother, who only had a 3rd grade education, did not think I was only going to the 3rd grade?” Gloria concluded that many parents needed support, like the support her mother received, to keep their hopes, dreams, high expectations and aspirations for their children alive.

As Gloria was looking for funds to start a program she had envisioned in her mind, she was told about a very similar program in Dallas called AVANCE.   It had just started a year prior by two students at Cornell University and funded by the Zale Foundation.  They were looking for a Child Development Teacher/Director to implement AVANCE in San Antonio.  Gloria was the only one interviewed and immediately got hired when she shared her research study.  In September 1973, at the age of 25, she left teaching to pursue her passion and vision. She was six weeks pregnant at the time, though she did not know that yet. She was told she was in charge of AVANCE in San Antonio. This included selecting the location site, being responsible for its sustainability, program design, daily operations, publicity and Board and community relations. The AVANCE Dallas Director would likewise be responsible for AVANCE- Dallas, which focused mostly on child growth and development. Unfortunately, AVANCE Dallas was discontinued for lack of funding after the initial three-year grant ended.

Gloria tried to balance family, work, community, while being a mother of three, running a multi-million nonprofit organization, getting her doctorate, writing a book and traveling extensively. She considered her leadership role at AVANCE challenging, extremely rewarding, and very fulfilling, having affected so many lives and improved so many poor communities.

Bio Anchor

AVANCE was like earlier mutual aid programs, where important services were provided to newly arrived immigrants and where neighbors came together to support one another and their community. Parents were treated with dignity and respect and made to feel special at their formal graduation ceremony. Parents were encouraged to speak up and advocate for their community.

00:00 / 20:44
bottom of page