Fuerza Unida connects with South Side community, raises funds for larger facility
Saturday night looked like an early holiday party of one, big Hispanic familia.
City officials and community members, appearing as a South Side family, gathered at Texas A&M-San Antonio for Trenzando Comunidades, a fashion show hosted by Fuerza Unida, in an effort to overcome the injustice of the displacement of 1,150 workers from Levi Strauss’s 1990 closure.
Guests and participants gave the traditional Hispanic hug and kiss on the cheek throughout the evening’s fashion show, dinner and entertainment including mariachi-style music, Spanish rap and expressive dance.
“We’re just deeply rooted in each other’s work. We love each other’s work and respect each other’s work,” Patricia Castillo, executive director of The P.E.A.C.E. Initiative and master of ceremonies for the fashion show, said at the end of the night. “That’s why you see this community involvement.”
The fashion show featured denim jeans, skirts, jackets and other colorful garments by five local designers and created by seamstresses from Fuerza Unida, a South Side sewing cooperative that began following the closing of the city’s south side Levi Strauss factory.
Since then, Fuerza Unida’s sewing cooperative has developed into programs that benefit the community. As it continues to grow, the organization is “bursting at the seams” as District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña said.
He referred to the small Fuerza Unida building where clothing surrounds seamstresses as they sew and conduct business today.
Fuerza Unida is located on the city’s South Side, 710 New Laredo Highway, in a multipurpose building where the working space of four sewing machines surrounded by racks of clothes runs into the kitchen and office space.
Esmeralda Baltazar, planning and development coordinator, said Fuerza Unida raised about $30,000 at the fashion show to help fund a bigger facility. This did not include money collected from participants who placed orders for jeans that evening.
Tables went for $500 to $7,500. The amount also included money raised from a silent auction of items by local artists and Fuerza Unida clothing that were for sale.
She said the initial goal was $100,000 where they hoped to host 500 guests. Instead, there were about 350 guests.
Baltazar said the community’s contributions were a big part of the vision of the event.
Saldaña and other community members and officials participated in some way to help the growing effort.
“The South Side is growing on the shoulders of these great women,” Saldaña said, adding that his office is helping Fuerza Unida find space. Baltazar also said he has played a role in Fuerza Unida’s summer youth program.
President Maria Hernandez Ferrier and local churches offered tables and chairs for the event.
The night of the event, supporters bundled up in the courtyard of Main Campus Building transformed with colors and lights into a lookalike high-fashion runway. New, small trees were decorated purple and pink ribbon and the runway was outlined by white Christmas lights and backlit by colored lights along the building.
Models included girls as young as 9 years old who participated in Fuerza Unida’s summer youth program, ex-Levi workers, former councilwoman, members of League for United Latine American Citizens and seamstresses from Fuerza Unida.
Baltazar said the biggest part of the event was community involvement of the models.
She said where traditional models look a certain way and wear particular sizes, “We chose models who are considered to be role models.”
As they were introduced on the runway, the master of ceremonies not only talked about what the models were wearing but also what work they do in the community.
Laura Salinas, judge of County Court at Law No. 9, Attorney Rosie Gonzalez and former District 3 Councilwoman Jennifer Ramos were just a few who offered their support as they strutted their stuff on the runway as volunteer models.
Gonzalez said as an attorney, she has a long history supporting Fuerza Unida’s fight for justice. Baltazar also said Gonzalez buys and alters her clothes there.
Gonzalez modeled dark, denim jeans with a red blazer by designer Anel Flores, local visual artist, jeweler and writer.
Flores said her designs are inspired by the popular Mexican-style guayabera with a retro mix. A first time clothing designer, Flores said she got involved because she believes in the cooperative’s effort to create sustainability in our gente, our people.
Ramos, who worked of Fuerza Unida during her time as a South Side councilwoman, said she was asked to participate as a model in the fashion show. She added that she was deeply honored to represent a strong organization built by women, men and Latinos.
“It was my contribution to participate,” she said.
And as the show came to a close, models and designers walked along the runway and joined the audience of cheering supporters.
“The fashion show doesn’t just focus on what people look like but the role they play in the community,” Baltazar said.