“The more I can do for kids in my community, the better I feel,” Chavela Lozada Tavera told KXAS-TV in 1989, when the Anita Martinez Recreation Center was expanded.
Tavera, best known as Chavela, was a lifelong resident of West Dallas, born on July 8, 1931 in Dallas, and died this year on July 12, leaving a lasting legacy of selfless service to her neighborhood. Her efforts to improve the community extended from creating school lunch programs to improving voting access to Christmas toy drives and beyond, but she is known best by her work at the community center.
Carmen Garcia, who has lived in West Dallas since childhood, said Chavela was an empowering figure for generations of neighbors, but was especially helpful in integrating immigrant families into the community.
“A lot of recent immigrants who weren’t aware of the U.S. system, and a lot of them didn’t speak English, but Chavela was bilingual,” Garcia says. “While husbands went to work, wives stayed home, and Chavela started volunteering there and started knocking on doors. She had a lot of ladies working [at the center.] She taught them about government programs and brought a lot of resources to the neighborhood.”
During her memorial service on August 3, neighbors thanked the family for sharing Tavera with the community, sharing stories of her hard work, caring nature, and lifelong commitment to West Dallas.
Garcia described Tavera as the neighborhood “social media” because she could always find the right programs to support her neighbors, but also expected every member of the community to give back however they could.
“She gathered the community and we had a purpose, to improve and move forward, to bring resources and attention to this area,” Garcia says. “She said we could go to college, get jobs, and would tell us to apply for loans and financial aid. There was nothing that she didn’t know the answer for.”
This consistent fight for a better West Dallas led Tavera to receive accolades from the neighborhood, city, and eventually by then-president George H.W. Bush, who honored her as one of his “Points of Light,” presenting her with the award in Washington D.C.
In addition to these recognitions, community members are seeking to honor her through namesakes within local schools and a statue near the Felix Lozada Sr. Gateway.
Tavera will be remembered as a grassroots community activist by Garcia, and her hope is that this legacy will extend beyond just the people she worked with directly.
“She was our grassroots activist … she wanted to meet people’s needs so they could live a decent life and wanted to bring awareness, because we were here but no one knew we were here, this area was neglected for so long,” Garcia says. “Social activism and knowing your rights was her thing, because these are things everyone has a right to. Knowing her, I would say she was an activist, bringing the community together for a greater purpose, and teaching future generations to do the same.”
Activism and resources were hallmarks of Tavera’s work, but Garcia says she worked equally as hard to provide joy to the community children.
“She found ways to take kids to Six Flags, to the circus, to go camping through church [programs],” Garcia says. “She was like the fairy godmother. She made my childhood joyous.”
Chavela Lozada Tavera is survived by her sister, three daughters, two sons, her 15 grandchildren and more than 30 great-grandchildren, as well as all those in West Dallas and beyond whose lives she worked to improve.