Political & Civic Engagement

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.