It’s still hard to believe that longtime journalist and activist Carlos Guerra is gone. His body was found yesterday in Port Aransas. Guerra, 63, died of unknown causes. We were fortunate to have Carlos’ wisdom and insight in The Texas Observer. Guerra had just written an excellent piece in our October 15 issue on South Texas Democratic politics. His grasp of Texas politics and culture were invaluable. He had the kind of institutional knowledge and unfailing empathy for the underdog that made his voice unique and powerful in Texas journalism.
Guerra, born in Robstown, was committed to social justice and equality from an early age. After starting in journalism with freelance stories that caught the eye of the Observer’s founding editor, Ronnnie Dugger, Carlos became a prominent Latino columnist in American newspapers. He wrote his column in the San Antonio Express-News for 16 years until his 2009 retirement, becoming one of Texas’ most recognizable voices and a role model for countless younger journalists. His former editor Robert Rivard called him a pioneer for Latinos in the news media. “Carlos was a pioneer–a high profile Latino columnist when there were very, very few to be found in U.S. newspapers, someone who lacked formal journalism training but compensated with a passion for the underdog and a determination to be a voice for the voiceless.”
He was a youth leader in the Chicano civil rights movement and deeply involved in social justice issues throughout his life. Just last weekend, he had posted a video on NewsTaco.com, a site he had helped found, which advocated for immigration reform and passing the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented students. Guerra promoted NewsTaco.com tirelessly and often bragged about its writers.
Victor Landa wrote on News Taco, “He was an impeccable reporter, a good story teller and he could keep you on the phone for hours. He was genuinely excited about new media and digital storytelling. He bought video and editing equipment and was teaching himself to shoot and cut. He was fascinated by the community building capability of social media and thought it was both hilarious and interesting that the most comments he got on his Facebook wall was when he posted about huevos rancheros.”
As a journalist, Guerra refused to be pidgeonholed: In his last column for the Express-News, Guerra wrote: “From the beginning, I refused to be a Hispanic columnist, though like every other columnist’s my writings are shaped in no small way by my knowledge base and personal experiences. During my tenure, I have tried mightily to address matters that weren’t getting adequate attention, and sought to find sources other than the usual ones to shed new light on issues of the day. … But my favorite columns have always been about regular folks in unusual circumstances, and whose very lives teach lessons, and tales of people whose audacity put them into another, unusual realm.”
One of the greatest, most admirable things about Carlos was his commitment to future generations. After retiring from the San Antonio Express-News in 2009, Carlos didn’t kick back and go golfing. Instead, he created a scholarship fund at his alma mater Texas A&M Kingsville. He tirelessly raised funds for the scholarship program so that other South Texas students would have the same opportunity he had to attend university.
There aren’t a lot of voices for the underprivileged in Texas. Guerra’s was constant, clear and unfailing. He’ll be deeply missed not only for the great person that he was but also for his advocacy for the most vulnerable Texans. Rest in Peace, friend.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to Carlos Guerra’s scholarship fund, on the Carlos Guerra Day in San Antonio Page. –NewsTaco