University of Texas logo

Voces Oral History Center Interview with Richard Villa Jr.

Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search This Index
0:00 - Preamble -- Introductions 2:13 - Initial Reaction to COVID-19 and Immediate Impact

Play segment Segment link

Segment Synopsis: Richard Villa is a 27-year old born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the oldest of three siblings; he has two sisters. His family has deep roots in Arizona, going back five generations to before Arizona becoming a state in 1912. He is heavily involved in his community, including giving back, volunteering, and activism. He grew up Catholic, attending Catholic school in the Phoenix neighborhood of Maryvale at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School. As a kid he was involved in giving back to the community, mostly through the church, which mostly centered on providing food and aid to the unsheltered community. He enjoys music, the outdoors, spending time with friends and family, and being involved in the community, especially in the form of activism.

Richard is someone who is careful about the news he consumes and likes to research the information he receives. He first heard of COVID-19 back in December or January because of news reports and seeing things on social media. He immediately began to pay attention because he doesn’t like to dismiss news. A friend of his from work, whose wife is from Wuhan, got stuck in China on family trip because they were locked down in Wuhan as the virus began spreading. His co-worker was unable to leave China because of the lockdown despite being a U.S. citizen, and this was well before the eventual shutdown in the U.S. Because of this, as well as personal family reasons, he took it very seriously from the onset.

Several of Richard’s family members contracted COVID-19, including some younger members of his family who had severe cases. While none of his family members died of COVID-19, his father and his grandmother both died during the pandemic for other reasons. As a result, his family was limited in the services they could hold, and it added many complications to their ability to have a funeral and properly grieve their loved ones. Richard took much of the responsibility upon himself, but it was incredibly difficult, especially having to tell family members they couldn’t come to the services and not being able to honor his father’s requests for spreading his ashes. His grandmother died within a few months of his dad passing, on Mother’s Day, and it again underscored how much of an impact the pandemic can have on families.

Keywords: COVID-19 (Disease)--Positive; Financial Impact; Latinx Community; News Coverage--COVID-19 (Disease); Pandemic; Phoenix, Arizona

Subjects: Catholicism; COVID-19 (Disease)--China; COVID-19 (Disease)--Health aspects; Latinos (United States); Mexicans--Arizona

19:42 - Impact of Daily Life

Play segment Segment link

Segment Synopsis: Richard has always been a self-described “clean freak” and “germaphobe” but the pandemic has caused him to think even more about the ways germs spread, especially through regular contact like handshakes, hugging, touching surfaces, etc. His normal social interactions and methods of expressing affection have had to change, especially as someone who relies on physical touch to express affection and endearment. The pandemic has caused him to reconsider many things he hadn’t before, such as simply hanging out with friends and shaking hands as a greeting or even talking within close range of others. Having to adjust to so many new norms and worrying about all the ways one can be exposed to this kind of virus has also caused a lot of mental stress, not just about catching it himself, but also about potentially getting somebody else sick, particularly those who are more vulnerable like elder family members.

Richard has also had to make tough decisions about whether to visit family members during this time, and he notes that he hasn’t even visited his nieces and nephews because of the fear of potentially getting them sick. As a result, he has tried to rely on technology to communicate, especially with phone calls or apps like FaceTime. He makes many considerations before hanging out with friends and has tried to be very careful. Despite that, he acknowledges that his activism, which involves protesting in person and in large groups, presents a challenge to socially distancing and following guidelines and recommendations. He tries to do what he can, by wearing a mask and gloves, but he says it’s just about finding a balance between staying healthy and doing what’s right.

Keywords: Activism and Advocacy; Coronavirus; COVID-19 (Disease)--Positive; Latinx Community; Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); Social Distancing

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease)--Health aspects; COVID-19 (Disease)--Prevention; COVID-19 (Disease)--Safety measures; COVID-19 (Disease)--Transmission; Latinos (United States); Social Interaction--United States

30:18 - Activism and COVID-19

Play segment Segment link

Segment Synopsis: Richard is willing to put his health, and his life, on the line to protest for injustice and what he believes in. Richard engages in many forms of activism, including in-person protests, signing petitions, talking with lawmakers, forming outreach groups, and various other forms. His activism started in the early 2010’s with protesting immigration laws in Arizona and has included movements such as Red for Ed (education reform) and racial injustice (i.e. BLM, George Floyd, local examples of police brutality, etc.). After he graduated high school, he was active in registering voters. He has been particularly active in 2020, participating in numerous marches and peaceful demonstrations, as well as giving back to the community through donations as well as providing food and water, backpacks, feminine hygiene products and other supplies to the homeless. He is also a part of groups that organize outreach with local officials by scheduling call blasts. Richard thinks there are many ways to engage in activism, and that people should do whatever they can in whatever capacity that is. He has made concerted efforts to try to educate and get friends and family involved.

While Richard was involved before the pandemic, COVID-19 has really increased his activism, especially as there have been many instances of racial injustice and police brutality throughout the pandemic. He worries about his safety during these peaceful protests, especially regarding the police and people who disagree with their cause. He says the pandemic has caused some to stay home but has reignited others to participate and demand for change.

Richard says the current social justice movements and protests aren’t going anywhere, especially as this isn’t just a national issue, but a global one. Because activism takes many forms, Richard thinks that people are going to continue to find ways to fight against injustice and create change, and he is going to continue to participate whether there is a pandemic or not.

Keywords: Activism and Advocacy; Civil rights; Floyd, George; Latinx Community; Pandemic; Protest

Subjects: Black lives matter movement--United States; Colored people (United States); COVID-19 (Disease)--Safety measures; Latinos (United States); Police brutality; Social Interaction--United States

49:45 - Latino Identity

Play segment Segment link

Segment Synopsis: Richard’s Latino/Hispanic identity is very important to him and factors very heavily into his activism, and he views himself as a representative of those like him, especially family who have come before him. His father has experienced discrimination, and physical abuse, as a result of his ethnicity and speaking Spanish. Richard notes that oppression is deep-rooted among Latinos, much in the same way it is with the Black community in this country. He believes Black and brown communities have some shared experience, and he wants to be a unifying voice in bringing those communities together, especially in regard to fighting against social injustice.

Richard wasn’t taught to speak Spanish growing up, largely because of the discrimination faced by his father and other ancestors as a result of speaking Spanish, so he has had to make a concerted effort to teach himself, so he doesn’t lose that part of his culture and identity.

Keywords: Black Community; Civil rights; Language Barrier; Latinx Community; Phoenix, Arizona

Subjects: Colored people (United States); Latinos (United States); Spanish (language)

56:33 - Employment and Health Care

Play segment Segment link

Segment Synopsis: Richard is a licensed investment broker who works for a well-known investment company handling retirement accounts, brokerage account, stocks, funds, etc. He’s been working with the same company for the last four-and-a-half years. He has taken a step back from work because of his activism, and he is actually in the process of making a career change by going back to school and trying to focus more heavily on his activism. As far as the pandemic is concerned, Richard was able to work from home, and his company provided everything he needed to work from home effectively. The transition to working remotely was stressful, but his company didn’t have to lay off or furlough employees, so Richard didn’t experience any pay cuts or negative effects from the pandemic in that sense. Likewise, Richard has healthcare through his employer, and this was also unaffected by the pandemic. His role at work didn’t really change in terms of what he did, but his interactions with customers did as he fielded a lot of calls from worried investors about their money, which was more stressful than usual.

Richard hasn’t gotten sick or contracted COVID-19, so he hasn’t utilized his healthcare throughout the pandemic. He did have to deal with the medical care of his grandmother as she was in hospice before her death, which made him aware of the intricacies and difficulties of the U.S. healthcare system.

Keywords: Activism and Advocacy; Health Services; Pandemic; Pandemic--Job Transition; Remote Working--COVID-19 (Disease); Social Distancing

Subjects: COVID-19 (Disease)--Health aspects; COVID-19 (Disease)--Prevention; COVID-19 (Disease)--Safety measures; Social Interaction--United States; Social interactions--Technological innovations--United States

71:20 - Continuing Education During a Pandemic

Play segment Segment link

Segment Synopsis: Richard attended college after graduating high school but ended up joining the workforce and not finishing his degree. But he has recently decided to re-enroll in school this fall, and he will be taking a full class load of five classes. He was looking forward to being on campus and enjoying the college lifestyle again, but the pandemic has shifted all of his courses online. Luckily, he will not be affected too much by remote learning, as he has experience in an online learning environment and has the self-discipline to stay on track, but he wishes he had a more robust, in-person experience. He will be finishing a criminal justice degree from Arizona State University with the ultimate goal of attending law school after he graduates. He still has a couple years to finish his degree.

After he graduates, he wants to become a lawyer/prosecutor. His mom has long worked as a paralegal and legal assistant, and as a teenager, Richard’s first job was helping his mom at her law firm. That brief glimpse into the legal field inspired Richard to want to one day work in law, which he says is a passion. He ultimately wants to be able to use his role as a lawyer to prosecute injustice, especially injustice at the hands of police, such as police brutality and deaths that result from police violence. He also wants to help provide public defender assistance to those who can’t afford it, especially to minorities and those who are in poverty.

Keywords: Activism and Advocacy; Coronavirus; Education--Distance Learning Applications; Education--Online-Learning; Pandemic; Social Distancing

Subjects: Diversity in higher education; Minorities in higher education; Police brutality; Social Interaction--United States; Social interactions--Technological innovations--United States

78:02 - Police Relations During COVID-19

Play segment Segment link

Segment Synopsis: Richard’s desire to become a lawyer that holds the police accountable stems in part from his own personal experience with the police. He notes that as a Brown, Mexican man, especially a decently sized one, he is not welcomed by police officers, regardless of how friendly he interacts with them. Recently, Richard was the victim of police brutality. He was unlawfully detained after being tackled and beaten up during a peaceful protest. Richard was ambushed and tackled by several officers, who threw him to the ground on his head and punched him repeatedly. The altercation was caught on camera and featured on local television news reports. Richard notes that regardless of how he approaches officers, they usually respond the same – with aggression and violence. He doesn’t have a positive relationship or association with police, nor does he view them favorably.

Keywords: Activism and Advocacy; Civil rights; Latinx Community; Phoenix, Arizona; Protest

Subjects: Police brutality; Social Interaction--United States; Social movements