Roger Guevara: From SA’s Westside to the Nation’s Capital
Photos by Ramón Hernández
Roger Zamudio Guevara’s story is one of hopes, dreams, goals, inspiration, overcoming obstacles and achievement.
It is the story of a small child who lived at810 Guadalupe Streetwhose playground was the Alazan Creek a few yards to the West or the Union Pacific railroad tracks a less than two blocks to the east of his parent’s house.
To anyone that saw his parents, José Martinez and María Guadalupe Guevara, they appeared to be as any other Mexican family who settled inTexas. However, Guevara’s paternal forefathers, the Basques, Zamudio’s and the Guevara’s, who come from a long line of very smart people, migrated from the northern part Spain to Mexico where they settled in Saltillo and Guadalajara Mexico respectively. His maternal grandmother, was fromSan Luis Potosiand during the Mexican Revolution she travelled toSaltilloand then toNuevo Laredowhere a German family arranged her marriage with Juan Zamudio.
The Basques for those that do not know are said to be “the first European early modern humans also known as the Cro-Magnon descendants of the first émigrés, from theFar East– the first people on earth — but that’s a story all unto itself.
“InMexico, my grandparents owned business, had money, dressed in white and rode carriages on Sunday’s,” Guevara said during an interview at the Hispanic Entertainment Archives.
But just as the mass exodus of thousands of wealthy business owners fromCubatoFloridaduring the 1960s, Guevara’s family left everything behind when they fled the Mexican revolution and settled inSan Antonio.
The prominent attorney’s father was born in a caboose and graduated fromSidneyLanierHigh Schoolwhere one of his teachers was future congressman Henry B. González; and then, along with his brothers, fought for their country and ended their honorable military stints as decoratedWorld War II,KoreaandVietnamveterans.
After his call to service, Guevara’s father and the father of La Prensa newspaper’s publisher, Tino Durán — who lived in the 1100 block ofGuadalupe Street — went to work at Randolph Air Force Base.
For those not familiar with pachuco jargon and gang boundaries,Guadalupe Street is considered to be the core of the Westside. Therefore, Guevara was reared in the heart of El Hueso, then the roughest part of town.
But he was too small and too busy working, since age five, to realize its dangers. Or perhaps it was because he, his father and brothers had a newspaper route and they had to get up early to roll up and throw the San Antonio Express-News at four in the morning.
On weekends, Guevara went to the King William district to sell fruits and vegetables off a truck in small baskets walking from door to door. Thus, he and his siblings learned the value of a dollar earned and they never complained because it was like a game to them.
“I was an uninhibited happy-go-lucky child,” Guevara recalled. “Some of my cousins lived next to us and others across the street in the Alazan Courts. So our families would get together and that kept us united and happy. For fun, we would crawfish in the creek or ride the trains a few blocks down to the stockyards.
“Sometimes we saw heroin drug addicts riding the box cars and the drugs were all around us, but God kept us from all harm. Other times we saw stabbings at Josefa’s and other cantinas, but the happy memories were seeing vendors walking down the street selling pan de dulce or, ice cream being sold from a horse drawn carriage.
“At J.T. Brackenridge Elementary, I was very curious and had such a thirst for knowledge that I was always asking questions; and I always wanted to read and learn more.
Fearing the peer pressure the boys would face as they got older, around 1966 the family moved to a safer neighborhood between Christ the King Catholic Church andIraOgdenElementary Schoolwhere Guevara’s sixth grade teacher was Miss. Garza went to Guevara’s parents’ house to convince them to purchase a set of Encyclopedia’s for Guevara.
“It was better than getting a brand new bike,” the famous lawyer said as he flash a contented happy smile.
As any child that craves a better education, Guevara says, “I always wanted to go to Catholic school, to be a Boy Scout and to go to military school, but my mother explained why she could not when she told me, ‘If I do it for you, then I would have to do it for all of your brothers.’ So I wound up going to Washington Irving Junior High where some kids wanted to take away my lunch money and I fought back.
“Then, if they saw you were good at fist fighting, they’d want to recruit you for their gang; and back them guys would run after you and throw rocks at you just for being in their neighborhood, so yes, I joined a gang just so I could go through their turf to go see my girlfriend.”
Furthermore, if you spoke English, you were considered to be a queer (now called gay). And if you saw a youngster with a bulge in his pants, he was probably packing a gun. In Guevara’s case, what protruded from his clothes was the strongest weapon a man can carry, it was always a book he hid to avoid the ridicule of his classmates.
From early on, his father saved Guevara and his brothers from getting in with the wrong crowd through sports such as Pop Warner youth football and coaching their little league team, and in 1968, Guevara, made it all the way to the national playoffs in Pop Warner Football. In that same year his father as President of Prospect Hill Yellow Jackets, being three games away from going toWilliamsportPennsylvaniacancelled a game inAbilene,Texasbecause no Motel would allow the Mexican-American All Star Team to stay in to play in the Regional Game. Later their father had them playing soccer and varsity baseball at Fox Tech.
In spite of being shielded from the neighborhood violence, when Guevara was 13, he witnessed his first injustice from atop a tall tree he climbed to find out what drew a sea of people to a commotion.
“The people’s view was blocked by the flares the police had put around the detained person, so people could not see because of the glare. Then, an ambulance comes and parks next to arrested person and I could see the police, who were Anglo, hand cuff this Chicano and then start to beat up the guy with a Billy stick. Then they threw him into the ambulance. I had seen a crime committed by the people that are supposed to uphold the law and I could not believe it.”
At 16 years, Guevara’s leadership qualities also came to light when he was elected as an officer of the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America when he was taking Cabinet Mills at Fox Tech.
As a teenager, Guevara was going to catechism when he started to doubt if there was a God. However, following a freak accident that ended his hopes for a career as a professional baseball player, he underwent a near-death experience and saw the light.
“When that happened I realized that I paid the price for doubting God and now I give him all the honor and glory to God” Guevara said. “I saw my dad kneeling down and praying for me in the ER for the doctors not to amputate my leg.
His dreams shattered, he graduated from Tech in 1973, he wasn’t sure of what he wanted to do, until Arturo López told him how to obtain a grant for college through Project Stay; and after taking every conceivable subject at San Antonio College for three years, where he was a member of the Mexican American Student Organization, MASO and Mecha, he went to St. Mary’s University. There he encountered a serious case of discrimination, from a British professor.
This only made Guevara more determined to become an attorney as he said, “God, these people are not going to do this to me again and challenged the professor.”
“I saw a lot of injustices as a kid and I guess it was just a calling. When God saved my leg, I became so appreciative, so grateful that I could walk, that I wanted to be an attorney because that’s what God wanted me to do and because I believe in the truth.
In 1980, Guevara graduated from St. Mary’s University and moved toHouston, where he worked for a law firm as he went to law school. After he got his license in 1985, he came back to the Alamo City to help and provide good quality service to his people.
Two months out of law school, Guevara took a labor law case all the way to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals (one-step below the Supreme Court).
“Then I went into taking personal injury cases because I could relate to my client’s pain and suffering. Those were turbulence times in the police department and I took on numerous cases of Latinos that were the subject of police abuse.
“Guevara tried a case to a jury of this young U.S. Resident from Mexico who was beaten handcuffed by two private security guards. Several witnesses testified on behalf of the young Mexicano. The jury was made of nine Mexican-Americans and three Anglo Females and the verdict was 11-1 against the young Mexican. Guevara was heartbroken.
“This made me think of the times when teachers used to put down our people and they would try to instill an inferiority complex by telling us we were slow learners, lazy and dirty when we are hard-working people and very intelligent. The one juror that was on the young Mexican’s side stated that from the beginning of the jury deliberations the three Anglos were against the Mexican stating “he is from Mexico and he brought it upon himself.” He concluded that the Mexican-American jurors were intimidated by the three Anglo jurors, that it was due to our upbringing and I had to forgive and move ahead.
“As a lawyer, I also learned of the legal corruption that derives from political connections and contributions.”
In 1997, part of the price in standing up for his client’s rights after winning a unanimous jury verdict resulted in someone driving up to Guevara’s office and opening fire, but that does not stop him for defending the oppressed and blue-collar workers. Guevara represents the Cesar Chavez Legal and Educational Foundation spearheaded by Jaime Martinez and has seen the hate mail that goes along with defending our people.
He has also taken cases involving Deceptive Trade Practices against banks and mortgage companies, Product Liability cases against manufacturers, auto accidents, family law, and criminal cases.
“I take cases not only to proof innocence, but also to seek justice. So today, Guevara continues to be a fighter, but he uses his litigation skills to fight against injustice.
“I consider myself to be a litigator. I litigate cases and no matter how big or small a case is, I give my clients the same amount of effort. I want to provide people good representation and I want to give quality service to the people that deserve it, but I won’t take a case that will require me to be unethical or immoral, I just can’t do it.”
Guevara is such a good litigator, so honest and a champion for the underdog, that there are many who have suggested that Guevara run for judge or other public position.
Asked for his greatest accomplishment, the 57-year-old attorney answered, “Just being a lawyer. The bottom line is that I want justice to be done and when I can win for a client – that’s my reward.”
As for the writing skills of this StreetTalk Magazine columnist, Guevara said, “I’ve been writing since I was in college, keeping diaries, writing memos and other. I’ve always liked and have been interested in writing and history because my grandmother gave me history through her own eyes and that made me want to learn more about our history and I took it upon myself to take my findings and Congressional Records at St. Mary’s University and educate other through my column.”
A primary example is Guevara’s most recent article on the “First Thanksgiving,” a fact that has been verified and acknowledged by historians and scholars, yet our text books have yet to be changed – most likely because it occurred in El Paso, Texas and not Plymouth Rock.
For more information, go to www.guevaralaw.net. To make an appointment, call (210) 431-0551 and Guevara’s law office is at 3114 W. Commerce Street in San Antonio, Texas 78207.