During the summer of 2008, Velazquez entered the church building of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Ferguson, just after a Sunday Mass. She began handing out fliers promoting one of her bailes, which caught the eye of 66-year-old Maria Lucrecia, a native Colombian who works in the parish's Hispanic ministry.

The two women already had a less than amicable relationship. Lucrecia attempted to stop Velazquez that day among the pews but couldn't. Monsignor Jack Schuler was forced to step in and convince Velazquez to take her activities outside.

"The real issue is, we just don't sell things in the church," says Fr. John-Paul Hopping, now the church's pastoral administrator. "It doesn't matter what it was, we just don't do that. But she's welcome to come pray with us."

Former U.S. senator Jean Carnahan poses with Velazquez.
courtesy Cecilia Velazquez
Former U.S. senator Jean Carnahan poses with Velazquez.
Cecilia Velazquez and American Andrew Jones at their 2006 wedding in Cancún, Mexico.
courtesy Cecilia Velazquez
Cecilia Velazquez and American Andrew Jones at their 2006 wedding in Cancún, Mexico.


Editor's Note: Village Voice Media, in a national series, is chronicling the stories of Hispanics among us and the struggles they face amid the groundswell of anti-immigration anger. The project also addresses the consequences when federal authorities lack a coherent immigration policy. Read the series on our website, at www.riverfronttimes.com.

Velazquez returned for the parish festival on October 12, 2008. She knew some of the DJs working the sound system. According to Lucrecia, she asked them to plug her bailes over the loudspeaker. Velazquez denies doing this. A fiery exchange of words ensued between the two women. Lucrecia left the scene and appealed to a parish priest, who returned with some police officers. They escorted Velazquez off the grounds.

Lucrecia claims that the following Sunday a couple of people relayed a message, reportedly from Velazquez, that unspecified harm would befall the parish worker.

"A lot of people think she does brujerías," Lucrecia says. "So I told [the messengers], 'Since you like relaying news, tell Cecilia that if she does witchcraft to me, it's not going to stick, because I'm with God. And if she sends someone to kill me, I'll go to Heaven, and she'll go to jail.'"

Velazquez laughs it off. "Come on, I'm a psychologist, that's ridiculous to me." Then, with an impish laugh, she adds, "And she's the one who's the witch!"

The publisher went so far as to recount the incident in the early November issue of Red Latina, claiming she was ejected "for no reason" and referring to Lucrecia as "a wolf in sheep's clothing" who runs "petty schemes" from within the sanctuary of the church. Velazquez insists she got an apology from parish priests but not from Lucrecia.

Lucrecia says she prays for the editor of Red Latina. "I think she doesn't know herself, and she's grasping to find out who she is. At the same time she's hurting herself by doing all these crazy things," says the parish worker. "So I pray that one day she finds herself and stops bugging people."

A trailer home caught fire in the wee hours of January 27, 2005, in Fairmont City, Illinois. Juan José Martín and his wife Silvia escaped with their daughter, Yoseline, and one of their twin babies. Silvia tried without success to pull the other twin from his bed and burned her hands severely. The seven-month-old boy died in the blaze.

Not content to simply feature this story on her front page, Velazquez decided to throw a fundraiser at Casa Loma Ballroom, where she collected enough donations to give the Martíns $8,000 and two automobiles. They used the money to pay for a new home.

Sitting on her couch in Fairmont City five years later, Silvia Martín says she was so devastated by the loss, she didn't even want to go to Casa Loma that night. But once she arrived, Velazquez's concern made her feel better. "I know a lot of people don't like Cecilia," Martín says. "But for me, she's an angel."

Another time, Velazquez organized a Posada, or symbolic journey from house to house commemorating Joseph and Mary's attempt to find shelter on Christmas Eve. Donations were collected for a Nicaraguan teenager whose osteoporosis was so advanced that he needed an electric wheelchair. Then, just last March, Radio Cucui raised $14,000 for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

"She's a good person," Pinela says. "And she legitimately cares about the Latino community and the migrant community — a lot."

Jorge Riopedre, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, describes Velazquez as "a joyful person" who has "always got a smile on her face." Their business relationship, he says, has always been "cordial."

Jealousy colors people's perception of her, suggests Pat Brannon, owner of Casa Loma. She's recently sold out two big shows at his venue: Los Tigres del Norte (back again) and Espinoza Paz. She devoted some of her emcee stage time trying to convince her Hispanic brethren to fill out their census forms.

"I think there's a gender discrimination in the Mexican population," he says, observing that all the other big concert promoters in St. Louis are men. "They're not used to seeing women achieving as much as Cecilia. But she's earned it all. Nobody gave her anything."

When Andre Holman at STL TV heard she'd returned from Mexico, he quickly sought her out to host Latinos en St. Louis, a thirty-minute show of short interview segments. He calls it "a great success."

"She has a chemistry with people," he says. "I've seen her take people who were kind of hesitant and just bring them out. Her personality is unbelievable."

Gisela Castillo-Munoz, a 29-year-old from Aguascalientes, Mexico, keeps a white binder stuffed with documents. They tell the story of her months working at Red Latina. "I hope this changes things," says Castillo, who hesitated for many months before speaking to the RFT. "Someone has to stop her."

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