July 15, 2003
In San Antonio, where most residents are Hispanic, a sprinkling of
them make their living as professors. Fewer among them are economists. One
of those is St. Mary’s professor Alejandro Velez.
San Antonio Express-News: www.mysanantonio.com/expressnews/
After graduating from the University of Florida in 1977 with a doctorate in
economics, specializing in public finance and international trade and
development, Velez landed work in San Antonio, first at the University of
Texas at San Antonio, then at St. Mary’s.
Born in Cali, Colombia and raised there and in Brooklyn, N.Y., Velez said
that at the heart of his intellectual interest in economics was a desire to
understand the root causes of poverty and ways to eradicate it.
He chose international economics because his own life was an international
one, split between two continents.
As a young Ph.D., it seemed almost logical that Velez’s intellectual
interests would bring him to San Antonio, where 14 percent of residents and
20 percent of Hispanics live in poverty, and where today leaders are
struggling to expand the city’s international ties in the growing bloom of
“It really disturbed me as to why there was poverty,” Velez said. “I
thanked my parents that they did not brainwash me, as I’ve seen some others
in Colombia, into thinking that poverty was natural, that it would be with
us forever and there was nothing wrong with poverty.”
In the 26 years since moving to San Antonio, Velez has become a leading
local expert on trade with Mexico, international labor, and forensic
economics, the use of economic analysis in legal proceedings.
Velez said his decision to focus on international economics has paid
dividends for him personally and professionally, taking him across the
globe to various points in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
“In the 1970s, globalization was really becoming a powerful force in world
developments,” Velez said. “So I got to ride a wave. It’s as simple as
that. I’m just amazed that I picked a real high flyer.”
A two-time Fulbright-Hays fellow and a Fulbright Teaching scholar, Velez’s
most recent international post was in Europe, when he and 30 St. Mary’s
University students traveled to Spain for a semester last year. Velez
taught about international trade in English while the students learned
about the Spanish culture and language at the University of Alcala.
In the early 1980s, Velez taught finance classes in Spanish to bank
executives in Mexico City at the Instituto de Banco y Finanzas.
His other stops have included Mexico, his home country of Colombia,
Venezuela, Myanmar, Thailand, China, and Japan.
Velez said that each post taught him more about the human condition, forms
his world and personal views, and helps him to become a better professor
Among the more dramatic, life-altering experiences, he said, were his trips
“I don’t think of myself as being so ethnocentric, but what it taught me
was that all of us – we in the Western world, without realizing it or not –
are really ethnocentric,” he said.
“We think that everybody should know Cervantes, Shakespeare, the Bible,
Easter and Christmas, all the icons, all the religious and cultural
highlights of Western civilization. We take for granted that the world
should bow down and be appreciative of all these things, but going to Asia
will cure you of that.”
From the survival of China’s command economy, to the rise of Singapore and
Malaysia from abject poverty to great players in international trade,
visiting Asia, he said, can erase the notion that Western ideals are
necessarily the best.
But while his visits to thriving Asian countries, he said poverty there, as
here in the United States and in Latin America, hasn’t disappeared.
As one of the leading local scholars on Mexican trade, Velez said that
Mexico’s recovery from utter economic collapse in the 1980s has been a
testament to the sophistication and hard work of that nation’s workers and
But, he said, its ongoing growth would continue to be stunted if the
nation’s poverty-level laborers continued to live a low quality of life.
“I think I’m speaking for a lot of people who follow developments in Mexico
when I say that I am appalled at the depth of poverty in Mexico, when it is
so unnecessary,” he said. “I’m not saying that every person in Mexico
should have a three-car garage. I’m not saying it has to be lush. But the
depths of poverty in Mexico frankly are inexcusable.”
LOAD-DATE: July 14, 2003