Political & Civic Engagement

Elvia O. Pérez


By the Voces staff

Elvia Pérez’s senior year in high school was turned upside down when she joined a student walkout to protest the firing of a popular Hispanic teacher.

Pérez, then 17, had been a top student. She had won a community citizenship award and had heard she might be chosen as valedictorian of her class of 1970 at Uvalde High School. But once she joined the walkout, she became a radical agitator in the eyes of the school board in the town about 85 miles southwest of San Antonio, Texas.

Josué "George" Garza


By Taylor Gantt

In 1970, George Garza was a popular middle school teacher in Uvalde, Texas. But when the school board repeatedly declined to renew his contract, he became a central figure in a six-week school walkout that changed the small town for generations.

These days, Garza downplays his own part in the walkout.

Alfredo R. Santos


By Brigit Benestante

Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Alfredo Santos was ashamed of his ethnicity.

“I didn’t like being a Mexican,” he said. “I was embarrassed, I guess, to be a Mexican.”

Sergio Porras


By Chris Touma

Two years before Sergio Porras received his draft notice to serve in the Vietnam War, he was marching in the streets of Uvalde, Texas, with hundreds of other Mexican-American high school students.

It wasn’t war or the draft they were protesting. The students of Uvalde High were fed up with discrimination in the town’s public school system.

Uvalde, 86 miles southwest of San Antonio, was divided by railroad tracks. Whites lived in the northern section of town; the Hispanics, south of the tracks.

Olga Tobías Charles


By Voces Staff

In the spring of 1970, Olga Charles was a senior at Uvalde High School in South Texas. With just a few weeks before graduation, she was preparing to follow her mother’s career advice: Go to business school and become a bookkeeper, like her Aunt Julia.

José Aguilera


By Brigit Benestante

As a high school student in South Texas, José Aguilera participated in a six-week walkout that was ultimately unsuccessful and resulted in him leaving school. Yet he has no regrets: The experience defined him as someone who would stand up to the discrimination he had witnessed and felt.

“[The walkout] defined me as a person. I am really proud of that,” he wrote to the Voces Oral History Project.

Margaret Juárez Gómez


By the Voces staff

Margaret J. Gómez credits her early political awareness to her father. He was a Mexican immigrant with little education, but he closely followed political and world events.

“He read the newspaper from cover to cover every day,” she said. “A lot of times, he knew a lot more about what was going on in the world than I did, so when I got home from work, he would talk to me about what was going on."

Albert Alvarez


By Dylan Nikoletopoulos

Albert Alvarez did not have to make any compromises to become mayor of Pearsall, Texas. He knew exactly why he wanted to do it and had the background and name recognition to help get him elected.

His father, Adolfo Alvarez, had served as Frio County Commissioner for 16 years, and Albert also wanted to represent the people of Pearsall.

“I wanted to be like my dad and follow in his footsteps,” said Alvarez. “Not only in the business world, but as an elected official as well.”

Modesto Arriaga


By Faith Daniel

Modesto Arriaga was playing baseball with his church team, the Rosenberg Lions, when a police car pulled up and asked for one of his teammates to go with them. Later, the other boys would learn that the ballplayer’s older brother had drowned in the Brazos River, where he had been swimming.

“So the Father of the church asked me, ‘Why are the kids drowning in the river?’ And I told him, 'Because they didn’t let us into the swimming pool,'” Arriaga said. “He said, ‘You know what? Tomorrow, we’re going to see why they don’t let you in.’”

Iris Galvan


By Rebecca Chavoya

An old Hispanic man pushed a tamale cart down the streets of Rosenberg, Texas, in 1974. Iris Galvan, 18-year-old high school student and member of Juventud Unida, approached him with a warm, welcoming demeanor.

“Have you ever thought about voting?” she said. “You have a right to vote. You are a citizen of this country.” 

The man shrugged off her suggestion, saying that he knew his voice didn’t matter. “I don’t speak very good English,” he said.