By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Brett Koshkin
By RFT Staff
By Lindsay Toler
By Riverfront Times
By Danny Wicentowski
By Pete Kotz
To this day, she suspects Patricia Lange was somehow involved and believes government officials were punishing her for advocating immigration reform. Velazquez was escorted back into her native Mexico on April 14, 2006.
Two months later she married American Andrew Jones, whom she says she'd previously met at a Starbucks in St. Louis. The couple bought and began to operate a bed and breakfast in Cancún, all while Velazquez coordinated with her employees back in St. Louis. The deportation saddened her, she says. "But we had such a good time in Cancún," she remembers.
That summer she heard a shocker: Three of her girls from Red Latina were teaming up with René Vences, her dear friend and former DJ at Radio Cucui, to establish another newspaper called El Mundo Latino.
"I loved him; I really believed he was my friend," Velazquez says, with an uncharacteristic softness to her voice. "And suddenly everything changed. He put a knife in my back."
The annual Cinco de Mayo festival on Cherokee Street began as a block party in the late '90s. It has since morphed into a quarter-mile stretch of crowds, blaring music and the aroma of grilled meat. It was here in 2008 that Cecilia Velazquez, freshly back from Mexico, tried and failed to stage a comeback.
She bounded up onto the main stage that May afternoon and took the microphone from her new archrival, El Mundo Latino editor René Vences, who was emceeing the event. She was allotted a brief time slot to announce her flashiest concert to date: Los Tigres del Norte, a powerhouse Mexican band coming to Chaifetz Arena. But after two minutes, nobody could hear her. The festival organizers cut off her mic because, they said, Velazquez had exceeded her time limit.
Writing about the incident later in a letter addressed to Russ Carnahan, a St. Louis City Circuit Court judge and several others, she complained of being "humiliated in front of hundreds of people."
"Since I was unable to get on the microphone and promote the event," she continued, "only 2,000 people showed up, and we were expecting 10,000 people, and La Rancherita Promotions lost close to $46,000." Plugging her concert on the main stage, she asserted, was her right "as a sponsor."
Except that she wasn't a sponsor that year, according to Jason Deem, a Cinco de Mayo organizer. El Mundo Latino had paid to be the sole media sponsor, and it was only after "multiple emotional requests" from Velazquez that they gave in and allowed her the chance, free of charge, to promote an outside event.
Vences and El Mundo again bought exclusive media rights to the 2009 festival, but headstrong Velazquez found a way to make her presence felt. She offered some free ad space in her paper to Carlos Dominguez, the owner of a prominent grocery store on Cherokee. All he had to do was hang her $1,000, two-story banner from the side of his building facing the main stage.
And so he did. The banner read: "Red Latina: Always Present at the Best Events," giving the impression that Velazquez, not her rivals, was the event's sponsor. (On the front page of her next issue, she splashed a photo of the festival crowds with her banner looming in the background.)
When the organizers discovered what she'd done, they prevailed on the grocer to take it down. Around 2 p.m., Aída Fuentes, El Mundo's marketing director, caught up with Cecilia, and a shouting match erupted. Vences swooped in and grabbed his former friend's arm, demanding that she leave.
That was enough for Velazquez to file a restraining order against him.
"I knew I shouldn't have touched her," Vences later testified in court. "But she was right up in [Aída's] face." The shouting match broke up, but police soon tracked down Velazquez, told her it was time to go and walked her out to her car.
When Velazquez's petition for a restraining order came before the judge, he heard an hour of testimony and declined to grant one. The drama spilled over to STL TV after Fuentes, who works with the station, sent producers an e-mail detailing what had transpired. Velazquez countered with her own written version.
"I basically told all of them, 'Whatever you need to do to work this out, do it, because STL TV wants to support both of you,'" recalls Andre Holman.
The beef didn't end there. On the sweltering day of June 21, 2009, the Kansas City Wizards squared off with the Mexican team Atlas in a professional soccer match on the Saint Louis University campus. Once again, El Mundo had exclusive media sponsorship. Velazquez arrived and took pictures, recalls Dave Borchardt, public relations manager for the Wizards. Then she hung up an eight-foot-by-eight-foot banner. Officials asked her to remove it.
"She asked if she could put it up, and I said no," Borchardt remembers. "But she did it anyway."
"She's very obsessive in pursuit of her goals," says Pinela. "And that's what irks people about Cecilia. She's totally committed. It's not a hobby for her. She is like, boom, 24-7, and people don't understand that."