You may know Anna Vasquez as one of the four female friends falsely convicted of sexual assaulting two children in the late 1990s in Texas. She and her co-defendants Elizabeth “Liz” Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh and Cassandra “Cassie” Rivera are known as the San Antonio Four from media headlines and most recently depicted in the award-winning documentary Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four. All four women were represented by the Innocence Project of Texas.
What you may not know about Vasquez is that she is the youngest of six children and the only girl of the bunch. She adores her mother, Maria Louisa Vasquez, whom she describes as a constant pillar of support for her and her co-defendants from the time they were wrongfully convicted until they were exonerated, just six months ago. In honor on Mother’s Day, Vasquez, who recently joined the Innocence Project of Texas staff as its director of outreach and education, spoke to the Innocence Blog about how her mom inspires her to be a person of “unconditional love, kindness and passion” in her work and in life.
Related: How Four Texan Lesbians were Wrongfully Convicted of Rape
How was your mom supportive throughout your wrongful conviction?
My mom was a huge part my life and through this whole ordeal. Not only was she supportive of me; she was supportive of the girls. I say that because mom would drive three hours to get to the see me for two hours and occasionally see Liz for one hour at least, and then travel to see Cassie and Kristie—to bring them little snacks at visitation. These snacks were a treat and her presence was a boost up—gave me a sense of hope, a shedding of light in a dark place. My mom was the mom for all of us.
What was the relationship like with your mom after you were released in 2013?
The adjustment was like I was never gone. She was there to support me emotionally and financially. She helped me so much. When I was released, it was twice as hard for me to find a job because I was a registered sex offender. She, along with my brother Bobby, supported me eights months before I could find a job.
Related: Justice at Last: San Antonio Four Are Declared Innocent
What type of values did your mom instill in you that helped you throughout your life?
I strive to be more like mom in acceptance, unconditional love, kindness and passion. She’s got the biggest heart.
Is there a memory that comes to mind?
She was a teacher for confirmation communion at church. I would follow her to these classes and help her with the students. She had a lot of compassion for the children.
We live on the poor side of San Antonio. She would go beyond just teaching the church. All that’s to say that that’s the way I want to be in my work with Innocence Project Texas; I want to go beyond my job. I want to go beyond helping prove our clients’ innocence. I want to help them in their transition out. As an exoneree, if you don’t have positive role models, you can fall back into the system.
It’s been four years since your release and half a year since your exoneration. How have things changed between the two of you?
The roles are reversed now. I am her caregiver. She’s got back problems. Also, I was able to help her retire. Finally, I could help financially.
Family portrait: Front row: Maria and Anna; Back row: Jerry, David, and Chris.