Political & Civic Engagement

Carolyn Jean Garcia


By Alexandra Cannon

Carolyn Garcia has lived by the words her father shared with her when she was only a child: "God gave you a voice. And if you don't talk for yourself or for others, then what good was it that he gave you a voice? You see there's people, the oppressed, people that are afraid to speak up. Mijita, you speak up for them."

Francisco Robledo


Interview by Anderson Boyd

Former Frio County Justice of the Peace Francisco Robledo hadn't questioned why the social order in Pearsall, Texas, was as it was. But a meeting at his children's school snapped him out of complacency.

Lupe Uresti


By Shelby Custer

In December of 1975, Guadalupe Arredondo Uresti, a 31-year-old homemaker, spoke at a kick-off rally for the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in the old Civic Center of Rosenberg, southwest of Houston.

Uresti, who also devoted time to working in her father's furniture business, remembered exhorting her Mexican American neighbors to register and to vote - to make their voices and needs heard. Even though she trembled with nervousness, she made an impression.

Velia Erlinda Sanchez-Ruiz


By Rachel Hill

Voter participation was always a priority for former gym teacher Velia Sanchez-Ruiz, who grew up under segregation in Texas. Sanchez-Ruiz, who was 71 at the time of her interview, recalled what life was like as she grew up in of Lockhart, Texas, 30 miles southeast of Austin, during that period. She was born in 1942, one of seven children born to Cruz Garcia-Sanchez and Adela Mayo-Sanchez, a civil servant that worked at Bergstrom Air Force Base and a homemaker. They lived on the Mexican and African-American side of the city.

Frances Rodriguez Luna


By Joan Vinson

Politics in small-town Texas were very different when Frances Luna was young. Back in the days of the poll tax, politicians would offer to cover the fee to encourage local residents to vote for them.

Luna said that when she was 15 years old, Johnny Phillips, a county commissioner in Fort Bend County, paid the poll tax for her father, Elias Rodriguez. But it took more than that to earn the support of the Mexican-born cotton farmer.

Henry Oyama


By Lauren Harrity, California State University, Fullerton

After growing up in a Spanish-speaking Japanese-American family in Tucson, Arizona, Henry "Hank" Oyama went on to be a tireless supporter of bilingual education for American children.

Oyama always felt more Hispanic than Japanese-American. His mother, Mary Matsushima, was raised in Mexico and spoke primarily Spanish; his father, Henry Heihachiro Oyama, died shortly before he was born. His neighborhood friends were mostly Hispanic.

"Tucson was like a small Mexican town at this time," Oyama said.

Richard Armand Moya


By Alsha Khan

In the late 1960s, Richard Moya, an investigator with Legal Aid, was having lunch with two of his best friends - who also worked in anti-poverty programs - at Johnny Boy's Hamburgers. The topic: how tough it was to help their clientele.

Over hamburgers, fries and Dr Peppers at Johnny Boy's, the three of them talked about their frustrations, how to get the bureaucracy to hear the voices of the little guy.

"You know the only way we're gonna help all the people we want to help is we have to get on the other side of the table," someone remarked.

Lencho Hernandez


By Paige More

Retired labor organizer Lawrence "Lencho" Hernandez is still haunted by his elementary school principal's big green disciplinary paddle. That paddle would snap him in a direction that he would later regret.

"I had straight As in school. I had the highest GPA out of all of the students," Hernandez said. "But I could never please [him]."

Gonzalo Barrientos


By Ashley Mastervich

As one of the first Mexican Americans to represent Travis County in the Texas House of Representatives and Senate, Gonzalo Barrientos Jr. was part of the first wave of Latino officials who led the way for minority groups in local, state and national politics. Following the lead of his early role models, men like John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Barrientos devoted his career as public official to challenging the inequalities he witnessed and endured in his youth.

James Ramirez


By Britini Shaw

James Ramirez remembers a time when Mexican- American communities held dances to pay for the poll tax in Austin. He would ask himself, "Why do people have to pay to vote when it's their constitutional right?"

By the time he was eligible to vote, at age 21, the federal government had outlawed the poll tax. But Ramirez saw that Mexican- American faced other hurdles when it came to voting and political participation. He dedicated his life to getting his community involved in campaigns to exercise their rights.