Political & Civic Engagement

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.

Antonio Becerra


By Martin do Nascimento

Antonio Becerra has always found a way to remain steadfast, persistent and determined in the face of adversity - first as a Mexican American growing up in rural Texas in the 1920s and '30s, then as a German prisoner of war and finally as a six-time political candidate - unsuccessful the first five times.

In his late 80s at the time of his interview, "Tony" Becerra was still living in his hometown of Rosenberg, 34 miles southwest of Houston.

Bob Perkins


By José Andrés Araiza

Bob Perkins spent 36 years as an elected judge in Travis County. Perkins attributes his strong ties to the Mexican-American community as one facet for his worldview; this group was his main base of support and proved to be decisive in his first run for office.

Perkins retired in 2010 from the 331st Criminal District Court, where he presided over numerous high profile cases against prominent elected officials. Perkins hopes his fair administration of these cases sent a message about a system that often favors the affluent.

Rosalio Rabbit Duran


By Katy Lutz

Rabbit's Lounge was a dimly-lit, tiny bar that boycotted Budweiser while serving up some of the coldest beer in Austin, Texas. It might have seemed a very unlikely candidate for the Austin hub of Chicano politics in the early 1970s - if one hadn't also met its indefatigable owner, Rosalio "Rabbit" Duran.

Duran was born to diehard Democrats, Ezequiel Duran and Eva Gonzalez Duran, on May 18, 1933, in Austin. As an adolescent, Duran gained his nickname "Rabbit" because of his incomparable running speed in youth sports.

Harriet Murphy

Paul Cedillo


By Vinicio Sinta

One evening during the early 1970s, a crowd much larger than the usual Latino activists who periodically met in Rosenberg, Texas, poured into the local A.W. Jackson Elementary School to listen to a speech by Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.

Paul Cedillo, an attorney and activist who first contacted Jordan about the disenfranchisement going on in his community, recalled the moment as a milestone for minority communities in the then-segregated Texas town.

Jordan's oratory was electrifying, as she talked to local Hispanics about changing the system.

Emily Matilda Martinez Alvarado


By Jasmine Powell

Emily Martinez Alvarado never served her country in the military. She served it at home, as one of the thousands involved in the Chicano movement, by way of the Crusade for Justice, and as an important civil rights activist during the Vietnam War era.

Emily Matilda Martinez was born on Feb. 18, 1935, in Taos County, N.M. She moved with her family to Taos as a baby. When she was three, her parents separated. They divorced two years later. She was their only child. Both later re-married and had more children.