United States

Francisco Cigarroa


Growing up on the Texas-Mexico border, Francisco Cigarroa developed an understanding that would prepare him to become the first Latino chancellor of the University of Texas System, which allowed him to put into play the creation of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

“Being aware of that the border region was an underserved area, I understood that to get educated was an important value to then be able to give back,” Cigarroa said.

Alfonso Lopez Davila


After being struck by shrapnel on a German battlefield on Nov. 27, 1944, 20-year-old Alfonso L. Davila, of Corpus Christi, Texas, was dragged to a big foxhole where he lay next to dead soldiers for five hours.

“It was the first time I ever saw so many dead soldiers,” he said.

Finally, he was rescued and sent to a hospital in Liverpool, England, for four months. He was reassigned to the Air Force’s 53rd Troop Carrier Squadron 61st TC Group and traveled to Trinidad to help with the war efforts there. Davila was well-received.

David Ayala


Not getting an education was “not an option” for David Ayala and his three siblings.

Ayala was born March 3, 1949, in Pharr, Texas, to Marcelino and Ana Maria (Guajardo) Ayala. After he graduated from high school in 1967, he attended Pan American University in Edinburg, hitchhiking the 15 miles from home to campus. His mother always made sure he had a plastic bag with him.

“She didn’t care about me getting wet,” Ayala said, “but she wanted to make sure my books didn’t get wet if I got caught in the rain.”

Luis Saenz


Luis Vargas Saenz Jr. is a Cameron County district attorney in Brownsville, Texas. However, the path to a seat at the front of the courtroom wasn’t easy.

Saenz was born Aug. 8, 1951, in Carrizo Springs, Texas, to Luis Saenz and Filomena Vargas Saenz.

His parents divorced when he was 5, leaving Filomena to raise six children. The family would travel north each year to do farm work for 60 cents an hour.

Rachel Ayala


For 45 years, Rachel Medina Ayala was an educator in Brownsville, Texas, working her way up from elementary school teacher to assistant superintendent.

Ayala was born May 13, 1947, in Brownsville to Francisco Medina and Maria Torres Medina.

She credits her educational success mainly to her parents.

“When we graduated from high school, it wasn’t a matter [of] ‘Are you going to go to college?’ It was a matter [of] ‘Where are you going to go to college?’” Ayala said.

Antonio Martinez


Antonio "Tony" Martinez was born Dec. 31, 1945, in Harlingen, Texas, a town about 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. One of six children, Martinez grew up when the railroad tracks were the dividing line between Anglo-American and Mexican-American families.

Later, his family moved to San Antonio, Texas. He attended the Peacock Military Academy, a private high school, and graduated in 1963.

Pedro Ortiz


From a humble beginning on the west side of San Antonio, Pedro Ortiz’s life roles included those of migrant worker, soldier, husband, father, civil service worker and, ultimately, accomplished woodworker, gardener and folk artist. Pedro Ortiz was always on the move and working with his hands. A home full of creative hand-built objects and a colorful garden perennially free of leaves and weeds are proof that after a life of hard work, this San Antonio native kept his hands and his mind busy.

Dr. Juliet Villareal Garcia


Juliet Garcia forged her own way into the all-male “club” of Texas community college presidents to become president of Brownsville’s Texas Southmost College in 1986.

Eventually, she would become the president of the University of Texas at Brownsville, a merged institution that grew out of a lawsuit by communities along the Texas-Mexico border and South Texas.

Garcia was born in 1949 in Brownsville, Texas. Her mother, Paulita Lozano Villareal, worked as a housekeeper and died when Garcia was only 9 years old.

Jasmine Virola


By: Voces Staff

Hector De Leon


Austin attorney Hector De Leon considers himself lucky to have been born in Austin and raised in East Austin.

“Without being born in Austin, Texas, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college,” he said.

He grew up not far from the University of Texas, where he would earn both a bachelor’s and a law degree. He also lived close to the state Capitol, where he first met one of his lifelong mentors, Henry B. Gonzalez, a state senator at the time. He keeps a photo of Henry B., as he is affectionately known, in his office.