The life story of Mexican-American voter registration activist William “Willie” Cárdenas Velásquez Jr., told through fictional letters written by him—30 years after his death.
González (Golondrina, Why Did You Leave Me?, 2009, etc.) draws upon her experience as a novelist to create an unusual account of his life, designed to educate and inspire older children and young teenagers. Narrator Velásquez tells his own story in the form of missives from beyond the grave to his mother, his wife, and beneficiaries of the DREAM Act, among others. He was born on May 9, 1944, in Orlando, Florida. When his father was shipped overseas soon after, his 18-year-old mother, Mary Louise, brought him back home to San Antonio, Texas. After graduating from that city’s St. Mary’s University, Velásquez originally planned to work as a diplomat in Washington, D.C.; he spent two summers working as an intern for U.S. Rep. Henry B. González (D-Texas). Then, on Labor Day, 1966, Velásquez’s passion was ignited by a farmworker’s protest in Austin. He realized that the key to dealing with problems affecting the Hispanic population in Texas—including flooding, lack of good jobs, and insufficient education—was to motivate Hispanics to register and vote for Hispanic representatives at all levels of government. In 1974, he helped found the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project; he died in 1988 at 44, credited with adding millions of Hispanics to the United States’ voter rolls. In 1995, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As presented by native Texan González, the letters—written from the beyond with the approval of “the Big One,” according to Velásquez—are breezy, sometimes humorous, and conversational in style. The narrator effectively speaks to young readers directly: “Life is about knowing that the world isn’t fair. And it’s not fair so that you and me can learn to make it fair, get that?” González celebrates Velásquez in this imaginative book in a way that aims to give Latino kids pride and hope, and it’s likely to engage young audiences.
A buoyant, instructional, timely, and offbeat biography.