Del Rio High School graduate (2016), and fleet of distance foot, Olivia Flores, is a runner. Was. Is. Will be. Presently, her running transpires on the stage of NCAA Division I cross country and track and field. To compete at that level, running must partially or wholly inform your life. What compels her to run? It’s all explained below. Flores, who will begin her junior year at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) at the end of the summer, graciously participated in a Q&A Face to Face interview via email. (Please note that the answers have been edited for space.)
FTF: What does running mean to your life?
OF: Running always has and always will hold a special place in my heart...It may just seem like a recreational activity for many people, but for us distance runners, it’s a way of life and a perfect metaphor for life. It has taught me that you can’t go out too fast or else you will burn out and you can’t go too slow or else everything will pass you by...it’s simply about picking a pace in your life and enjoying the scenery.
FTF: What events do you compete in at UTSA? Was it a difficult or fairly easy transition from high school to college?
OF: My main events are the 3k Steeplechase and the 5k flat race. As for cross country, I’ve had the opportunity to participate at the Conference USA (5k) meet both years, but this past year was my first time competing at the NCAA regionals cross country meet (6k) which took me by surprise but now I’m looking forward to my junior season. My goal for my 2018 XC season is to just build off my weak spots...and placing at least top 35 in the conference...2019 track season is to make it to the conference indoor meet for the 3k flat race with a 10:10 time (there’s no steeple race) and for
outdoor, my end goal is to medal at conference in the 3k steeplechase. The transition from high school to college was fairly easy besides the fact that I still had lots to learn. I wasn’t such an expert at distance running in high school and surely wasn’t the best...I went into distance running not knowing anything about it, not knowing how to take pace and how many miles were supposed to be kept on a pair of running shoes, I injured myself one year with a stress fracture, but I quickly learned from that injury.
FTF: How did participating in cross country and track at Del Rio High School prepare you for the collegiate level?
OF: College running has looked very similar to my high school days, the only thing different that I wish I could tell 16-year-old Olivia is that Sunday long runs are very crucial and every day of the week counts, even weekends, I never knew what the coaches in high school were talking about.
FTF: Can you tell us about your family?
OF: I grew up with my mom (Leonor Torres) and my sister (Bernice Flores)...who have been my main anchors of support just by picking me up when I failed at little things. My dad (Javier Flores) who is still a part of my life but remarried, has also helped me a lot by being the smarter voice in my head, getting me to reach for bigger goals like college, which five years ago, I didn’t think I was good for.
FTF: Your major at UTSA?
OF: I’m currently majoring in Criminal Justice, with a minor in digital forensics, where I hope to accomplish my dreams of working my way through the Federal world and eventually become an FBI agent.
FTF: What is most important in your life and why?
OF: The most important thing in my life is to always remember the person I do these things for and that is my Lord and Savior, it is by His grace that I am who I am, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s just a matter of constantly trusting the plan because He knows exactly what He’s doing.
Paying dues and leaps of faith seem to be the defining actions of artistic individuals who seek and attain the lucrative results of the precarious music industry. These artists are special because they inadvertently, or cathartically, embed their joyful yet arduous journey into their songs, providing listeners with a more rich and robust experience. (The Nashville manufactured country-pop imitators can now promptly exit stage left.Thank you.)
In Del Rio, Peter Herrera III, or PH3, is one of those music artists who has ground down the wheel while logging countless gigs throughout the Lone Star State. From small Whitehead Memorial Museum events to opening for major Texas country music stars in Austin and San Antonio, playing alone or with his band, he has done it all.
“I do a solo gig a lot…that’s actually my livelihood, Herrera said. “It was a big leap of faith having to take that step and stop working a 9-to-5 job…but I think at the end of the day I was meant to do what I’m doing now.”
And he’s crushing it. Herrera is constantly in demand and his band Texas Roots Revival is headed to the studio to record a full-length album. PH3 authored all of the
“There’s so much going on right now…I’m super excited about that to have a full band behind it and that’s excited to be with me. I think it’s going to open up some really big
doors for us, for me,” he said. “I’ve got radio stations clear across the country that are ready to listen to the music.”
Closer to home, Herrera has recorded a solo single, entitled, “Del Rio.” A popular tune in his performance set list that has resonated with folks in the border town.
“I also have a song that I wrote about Del Rio coming out real soon. That’s already been recorded. It’s ready to be uploaded,” he explained. “We’re waiting for the video to be produced…I can’t wait for that.”
Music came early to Herrera. You could say he was born into it.
“I was raised in church. I was raised in a Pentecostal church and…a lot of people don’t know much about the Pentecostal churches, especially Hispanic ones, they don’t mess around when it comes to music. They get down in there,” he commented.
He took up drumming when he was nine years old but seeking an outlet for his teenage angst, he found therapy in the guitar. His father taught him three chords and the rest he picked up by ear.
And with a little bit of unintentional help from Staind frontman-turned country artist Aaron Lewis, Herrera was ready to embark on the journey.
“Aaron Lewis is the reason I started playing music, man. I saw Aaron Lewis do “Outside” by himself and in front of thousands and thousands of people in Biloxi, Miss. My jaw was on the floor and I said I want to do that. I feel that is what I need to be doing and so I did,” Herrera said.
PH3 prefers not to define his music feeling that paints artists into a corner, but categorizes it without really categorizing it.
“You get put into a box enough as it is in the industry. And it’s a hard enough industry to be in…and if you don’t fit into a certain genre then you need to be over here…I think if I had to…it would just be country, traditional with a little Texas rock n’ roll feel.”
The wisdom-marinated anger of Mario Vazquez pours through the backdrop of decay and lack of pride like oil through a faulty filter as he again steps into San Felipe Cemetery to chronicle hundreds of unmarked and uncataloged gravesites there.
“I asked, ‘Who’s buried here?’ ‘Well, really we don’t know.’ I said, why?”
Vazquez is not shy to ask the questions, “why not” or “how come.”
“In one place they have five rusted crosses,” he lamented. “Who’s there? Who knows?”
Vazquez is on a quest to identify several hundred gravesites in the cemetery. Years of abysmal record-keeping and the pace of technology have kept the dead hidden. But for the past several months he has been bringing them back to life.
Interestingly, the cemetery, which claims to possess the grave of the famed La Adelita from the Mexican Revolution (and indeed it does), has the unknown interspersed with the known. But finding the unknown has led Vasquez to a rugged paper trail.
“Nobody has computerized records and the person in charge doesn’t have a computer,” he said.
And the 90-year old son of an ice salesman seems to be the right person for the undertaking. Vazquez is a man accustomed to full activation. Back in the day ̶ the Civil Rights era ̶ Vazquez got after it as a bonafide activist. During the early years, he crossed paths with labor leader Cesar Chavez and was elected secretary of the Southwest Council of La Raza.
“You have to make waves. But people here are afraid. I’ll stand up and talk to anybody…they’re no better than I am…I’m not afraid to tell anyone the truth,” he said.
He estimates that he has matched 500 names to their respective gravesites.
After identifying them, he creates a grid in order to map out the cemetery giving it some semblance of organization. He has just completed his first section; “Section 0.”
He is also making an alphabetical database to provide a digital guide for the cemetery. The earliest grave is from 1862.
Vazquez, who was born in San Felipe and grew up in a house on Chapoy Street, sees the cemetery project as one way to revitalize and reinvigorate San Felipe, a community he feels has lost its way.
“There are a lot of things in San Felipe that I’d like to revive…
I want to see the barrio flourish,” he commented. “People will start taking a little bit more pride in San Felipe.”
His affinity for San Felipe shines through his paternal-like concern. He even wrote a book, “Mario From The Barrio,” which recounts his time growing up there.
“I’m doing a service to the community…I have free time…don’t sit around and wait for death to catch up with you,” he remarked.
Ultimately, Vazquez would like to hand the project off to others and educate them in the system he has devised.
“We’ll get it done if we get enough people who are interested in doing it,” he said.
In the meantime, the quest continues as he plots the grids and chases the dead.
Ramon’s medal wins the day In 1940, several hundred Mexican-American men reported for duty at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas, home of the U.S. Army’s 36th Infantry Division or “Texas Division.” Legends were born that day. Particularly in Company E, which was comprised of Hispanics only.
“It’s a story that should have been told many, many years ago,” said Dave Gutierrez, author of the book, ‘Patriots From The Barrio.’ “This is a story that…I’ve always felt should have been written 60 years ago.”
In his non-fiction work, Dave Gutierrez chronicles the accounts and highlights the patriotic heroics of his cousin Ramon Gutierrez and several other Mexican-American soldiers who served in Company E.
“I wanted to show Mexican-American contributions to this nation. Real, significant Mexican-American contributions,” he said. “These men were part of our greatest generation and they should not be forgotten. That’s why I wrote the book.”
The Rapido River crossing serves as the climax to the book where the 36th Division lost 2,000 men in a span of 48 hours in one of the colossal U.S. Army blunders during World War II. Though “Patriots From The Barrio” spotlights a number of soldiers, Ramon Gutierrez’ story is what really drives this narrative.
Arguably, the most interesting individual account in the book is how Ramon Gutierrez was awarded the Order of Patriotic War 2nd Degree from the Soviet Union.
“He became one of only a few Americans to be decorated for valor on the battlefield by the Soviet Union during World War II,” Dave Gutierrez said.
The Soviets had sent an observer to watch the 36th Division landing at Salerno. He overheard what Ramon Gutierrez had done at the landing and was impressed.
When Ramon Gutierrez’ Company E unit disembarked waist deep in water at Salerno his squad was immediately pinned down by German tanks and machine gun fire. After witnessing the demise of two of his comrades, Ramon Gutierrez, with uncontrollable rage and fury, initiated a charge of the machine gun nest. While rapidly approaching the nest he was struck in the arm and subsequently lost his Browning automatic rifle. Despite losing his rifle, he continued the charge and used a hand grenade to dispose of the nest.
“And then he jumped into the foxhole, killed the last German soldier in hand-to-hand combat,” Dave Gutierrez commented. That action earned him the Silver Star and the Soviet medal. On his return from Italy, Ramon received the Order of Patriotic War 2nd Degree degree in Washington D.C. The medal had been given to the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, by the Soviet ambassador, Andrei Gromyko.
The intriguing stories from “Patriots From The Barrio” have not gone unnoticed by Hollywood. Actor Wilmer Valderrama’s production company has purchased the film rights and is planning to create a six to eight-episode series based on it. Valderrama is known for TV-series, “That ‘70s Show” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” plus films, “Fast Food Nation” and “Larry Crowne.”
But at the end of any story it’s the depth and essence of character that matter.
When Dave Gutierrez heard the call to write this book he knew it was to curate and catalog important stories about the accomplishments and sacrifices of Mexican-Americans.
“I think Latinos in general, we need to look in the mirror and figure out how we can record and document our own history because that is the key that I feel that we need to improve on as Latinos.” (The Casa de la Cultura will be hosting a Dave Gutierrez lecture and book signing (the just-released 2nd edition that includes new stories) May 25.
For more information, please visit authordavegutierrez.com or http://www.lacasadelacultura.org.)