- Jade Esteban Estrada
Last year, influential political figures advised her against the run.
“I’m glad I didn’t listen to them,” she tells me via video chat. “I was out there pushing myself for 12 hours straight a day. I was just really grateful that all of our hard work paid off.”
In November, Clay-Flores will challenge Republican opponent Gabriel Lara, potentially becoming the first woman of color to serve on the Commissioners Court. Regardless of the results, Clay-Flores seems content.
“It has already been so worth the journey,” she says.
Huge and richly diverse, Precinct 1 is Bexar County’s largest precinct. It spans all of the South and Southwest Side, also extending far enough up the Northwest Side to include Alamo Ranch. Clay-Flores’ purple-and-yellow campaign signs — the colors of her alma mater, Brackenridge High School — dot the district.
“So, my mom is from Mexico,” she says. “From San Luis Potosi, Mexico, so I’m Black and Mexican. Blaxican.”
Prayer and hard work became a maxim for Clay-Flores early on. Growing up, her mother would take her and her two older brothers to do missionary work in her native Mexico.
“It was those experiences that really taught me how to be grateful for everything,” she says. “My mother really instilled in us that in this country we had two things that were free: freedom of religion and a free public-school education. So, I really worked to take advantage of every educational opportunity afforded me at my neighborhood inner-city schools — coupled with prayer.”
Clay-Flores says that experiencing poverty and homelessness can be a traumatic experience, especially for children. At a young age, she realized the cards were stacked against her.
But, by the age of 12, she gleaned that education would help her succeed. If she was going to work hard, she decided, she may as well aim for a full scholarship at a top school.
“So, when I was 13, at the end of eighth grade, I started praying for a full scholarship at Harvard, Yale or Princeton. “My faith and my education [are] two things have guided my entire life since I was a child.”
In the end, she ended up at Princeton for her undergraduate studies and earned her masters at Harvard. Choosing her majors was a no-brainer: religion and education.
Though she experienced racism, classism and sexism, she says studying those issues in an academic environment allowed her to put a name to the experience and see how people are sometimes labeled unfairly.
“I think one of the key issues is that Americans want to put a label on you because therefore they know how to treat you,” she says. “And with me? You can’t just label me, because then I’ll confuse you.”
She continues: “So you see my twists or my braids and you say, “Oh, she’s Black, so let me treat her as a Black woman, and she’s probably an angry Black woman ... and I will go off on you in Spanish. And I don’t know how or when this happened, [but] there’s this assumption that if you’re Christian you’re supposed to be Republican? I am a practicing Christian and I’m a Democrat. There are these notions of who I’m supposed to be. Just because I’m a Christian, don’t make an assumption about my political association.”
When it came time to run, Clay-Flores wanted to approach voters, which she did before the pandemic. She tells me about speaking to a Rodriguez supporter at the polls and then later, earning her vote. The woman returned the next day with a hand-made bracelet for good luck.
“I was so appreciative of that,” she says. “I don’t believe in luck. I believe in prayer and hard work. “[But] it’s things like that that gave me the energy to continue to exhaust myself day after day, and my community is worth that and more.”
Though Saturdays are traditionally a big day for block walking, Clay-Flores, a Seventh Day Adventist, kept the sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, when she focused on God, her family and nature.
A photo of her and her students from when she taught in Tennessee hangs on the wall behind her. It prompts us to talk about her life in teaching and leadership. Indeed, Clay-Flores feels that she’s always been a leader.
“I had a very traumatic childhood, and I think kids who often have trauma in their childhood, they have to grow up early,” she adds.
Clay-Flores has worked at San Antonio Metro Health for the past five years.
“Right now, I process the contracts for the health department, but with COVID, everyone is doing things outside their normal job currently,” she explains.
Particular scriptures have helped guide Clay-Flores through different seasons in her life. One of those is written atop a Precinct 1 map at her headquarters. I ask her to recite it.
It’s from 2 Samuel 5:19: “David asked the Lord, ‘Should I attack the Philistines? Will you let me win?’ The Lord told David, ‘Attack. I shall let you win.’”
After the recitation, she becomes pensive. “This is just for me. I haven’t really said that to people. I think that’s the first time I’ve shared that with someone outside of my immediate team.”
A few days later, I photograph her at Mission San Juan Capistrano, with the white church in the background: a portrait of a Black Mexican woman with everything going for her.
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