Last fall, Elizabeth Villafranca was getting into political activism for the first time, attending protests against the crackdown on illegal immigrants in Farmers Branch and holding community meetings at Cuquitas, the restaurant she owns with her husband. A year later, the wife, mother and devout Catholic is being honored as the Dallas Peace Center’s Peacemaker of the Year.
A newcomer to the Latino advocacy scene at a moment of high-pitched conflict over immigration, Villafranca set forth with a leadership style that combined determination with a penchant for consensus and dialogue. Which doesn't mean she expected to be honored for it.
“I was really surprised,” she tells Unfair Park. “I feel a little bit overwhelmed because it’s not something I ever expected. My goal in life was not to be recognized by anybody -- I just felt so strongly I needed to be a voice for people who are so unheard so much of the time.”
Villafranca, as always managing to be both bubbly and humble, may sound earnest and a bit naïve. But as far as we can tell, she means the things she says and actually lives them. This is a woman with an incredibly comfortable life who could easily spend her free time attending women’s luncheons, joining a walking club or volunteering somewhere devoid of the tension and conflict that comes with the immigration debate.
Instead, for the past year she has dragged her 8-year-old daughter to demonstrations and meetings to educate her about diversity and democracy, spoke on radio shows and lobbied local churches to offer mass in Spanish.
“I really just try to put myself in God’s hands and use my talents for whatever needs to be done,” she says. “I’m just a regular person, so I think [me getting the award] could be a good example for other people in the community who feel strongly but feel their voice doesn’t matter. Mother Theresa said not to ever wait for great people to come along, to do things yourself one thing at a time. If we all did that, how cool would that be?” --Megan Feldman