Political & Civic Engagement

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.

Felicita Munguia Arriaga


By Hope Teel

In 1959, Felicita Munguia Arriaga was a 12-year-old accompanying her mother to the polls, where the older woman planned to cast her vote for a man named Joe Hubenak.

Very few Hispanics were voting during that time for various reasons, including fear and illiteracy, but because she worked for Hubenak and his wife, Jesusa Munguia and her husband had agreed to go vote for him.

Albert Henry Kauffman


By Amayeli Arnal-Reveles

Al Kauffman's middle-class background, attending segregated schools in Galveston, Texas, might not have seemed to prepare him for a role in Mexican American civil rights. But other aspects of his life - he was a sensitive teenager growing up in the 1960s - would surely suggest his later work was not so unlikely.

Alma Hernandez Salinas


By Estefanía de León

Alma Salinas, a lifelong Democrat, switched to the nascent Raza Unida Party in the 1970s. A native of Pearsall, Texas, Salinas used to take Mexican Americans to the polls on election days. But it seemed the Democratic Party, which the community supported, was doing little to improve their lives.

"We thought going to vote would make a difference, but then we found out that the ones sitting in the Democratic chair have the say so you can't go further," said Salinas, who is now 82.

Adolfo Alvarez


By Jacob Martella

Coming back from the Korean War, Adolfo Alvarez knew he had to do something with his life.

He had survived nine months along the 38th Parallel holding the line against the North Koreans, not knowing if he would return to his family in the United States. Now, he wanted to make a difference for the Hispanics in South Texas.

"I said to myself if I make it back, I'm not going to raise hell, but I'm going to do something constructive so that this would not be in vain," Alvarez said.

Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza


By Megan Breckenridge

Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza became the first minority district clerk of Travis County in 1991 and only the second minority woman to hold that position in the whole country. She went on to serve for 24 years, championing the causes of Latina women, women's health and the arts.

She launched her career in politics as a 24-year-old in 1970, when she ran for president of the Mexican American Youth Organization. She finished second behind Paul Velez, but that was enough to make her vice president.

Yolanda T Trevino


By Stacie Richard

When Yolanda Treviño graduated from Pearsall High School in 1959, she was determined to make her life elsewhere. The racism of the small town was too confining.

"I left Pearsall because of the racism," said Treviño. "I just couldn't stomach it. I wasn't coming back… Education was my way out."

George J Korbel


By Vinicio Sinta

For George Joseph Korbel, going back to Pearsall, Texas, a city about 55 miles southwest of San Antonio, unearthed memories of a time when Mexican American and black Texans were almost completely excluded from the political process.

"When I drove into town, I just felt cold. This was such an awful place, just an awful place," said the veteran civil rights attorney, who has fought for minority voting rights in Texas for more than four decades.

Rolando L. Rios


By Jess Brown

It was the summer of 1952. Leo Rios, a cab driver, was shot dead by a passenger he had just picked up on the streets of San Antonio, Texas. His wife, Teresa Hernandez, was left with a broken heart to nurse and three daughters and a son to raise, without any means of doing so.

But help was at hand.

Adrienne Cervantez


By Doug Waters

Growing up in Dilley, Texas, Adrienne Cervantez (nee Garcia) hated two things: politics and fried cow intestines, or tripas.

A lot of her childhood was spent campaigning for her parents, and backyard barbecues were a mainstay of their political rallies.