Native Victorian remembered as Hispanic community champion
July 17, 2012 at 2:17 a.m.
Updated July 18, 2012 at 2:18 a.m.
Nothing stood in the way of Manuel De Los Santos Jr.'s smile and the world.
When that grin widened and those deep brown eyes beamed, the world smiled right back - it's the same smile that stole Esther De Los Santos' heart nearly 40 years ago.
On Monday, that smile faded with his death after several years of complications from diabetes and other diseases.
"It was his time," she said.
But for his widow and the many friends he left behind, his smile shines on.
De Los Santos, 60, grew up in Victoria and provided a voice for the Hispanic culture through the power of words.
De Los Santos was a contributing writer for Revista de Victoria, the city's only bilingual paper, which he helped found. He also worked 11 years at the Victoria Advocate, starting first in circulation and eventually working his way to assistant local editor.
"It was very important to him to be Hispanic," said his wife. "He touched a lot of people."
The early years
Victoria in the 1960s was a much different place. De Los Santos was a teen living in Kamey in Calhoun County, and he and his older cousins would travel into downtown Victoria like no one's business.
That was, of course, until the driver dropped them off about a block away from Victoria Theatre on Constitution Street.
"This was to avoid being seen by those we wanted to impress," De Los Santos wrote in a 2008 Advocate article. "We did not want to be seen piled in the car or truck and have people realize that we were darker from picking cotton and not from the swimming pool."
The article was in response to the Victoria Playhouse theater changing to a warehouse. De Los Santos chose to share with readers his memories of growing up in Victoria. The days when English and Spanish movies were played at the theaters.
One by one, they closed, but the memories stayed very much alive.
While at Stroman High School, De Los Santos met Esther - the Bloomington woman he was going to spend the rest of his life with.
"He was my high school sweetheart," his widow said. "They were exciting times because it was just him and I."
The two went steady for four years. De Los Santos volunteered to enter the U.S. Air Force, where he also wrote.
Eventually, the two married and traveled throughout the U.S.
On their first year anniversary, De Los Santos took his wife to an Elvis Presley concert, something she'll never forget, she said.
"He was a very loving and giving person," she said.
Five years after their marriage, they had their first of four children.
"Those were fun years," she said.
This love for family, community and writing is what helps keep De Los Santos' memory alive, said Chris Rivera, who worked alongside De Los Santos during Revista de Victoria's inception.
The later years
"He was very instrumental when Revista began 21 years ago," said Rivera, a good friend, who learned of his death Monday.
De Los Santos' friends were friends he knew growing up. He met Rivera at Stroman. Rivera graduated a year before him.
The two worked together at the Victoria Boys and Girls Club, setting up tournaments, basketball games and other programs.
"We enjoyed our jobs very much," Rivera said.
But at this stage in his life, life was much different for De Los Santos.
His focus was his family, and instilling the Hispanic traditions he was raised on. The acceptance of the culture, being bilingual and, of course, the power of education.
He wrote for the mi opinion "my opinion" column for Revista. He also wrote the "Chismes de Chemo" column, a column about some of life's weird happenings.
"He always believed we needed to expose those traditions," Rivera said. "Manuel was very proud of his heritage."
In the end, what made De Los Santos someone to remember was something simple: he was a family man who was proud of his life, his wife, and his kids' accomplishments as musicians.
"We're all very saddened by his loss," Rivera said. "We'll always remember him."
You can read some of his stories below: