Political & Civic Engagement

Wilfred Navarro


By Brittany Wilson

After getting discharged from the Navy in 1948, Wilfred Navarro, Jr. returned to his hometown of Houston. He finished high school and decided he’d like to be a police officer. But first, he and other Latino veterans would have to overcome institutional racism.

Navarro was the third Latino officer hired by the Houston Police Department and would go on to serve for nearly five decades in many capacities, including high-level administration. His wife, influenced by her husband’s example, would later become a police officer.

Alberto Torres Millan


By Allison Banks

Having lived the tough life of a miner, Alberto Millan didn’t want his oldest son, Robert, to follow in his footsteps. So when Robert informed him he wanted to be a miner and a union leader, Millan told him no.

Manuela Maymie Garcia Ontiveros


By Carrie Nelson

Manuela Ontiveros dedicated her life to her family and community and to preserving her treasured Mexican heritage and traditions.

"You instill in your children and grandchildren pride [in their heritage]," Ontiveros said. "Even though my grandchildren are half white, they know how to cook enchiladas and tamales.

"I try to pass on the traditions of the Mexican people, traditions that they have nothing to be ashamed of," she said.

"I'm 81 years old, so I've seen a lot," Ontiveros said. "I'm glad I grew up in this community."

Carlota Ayala Ortega


By Angela Walker

Dr. Carlota Ayala-Ortega sits proudly by as husband Guadalupe Ortega recalls his memories from World War II.

Guadalupe recalls the time the owner of a museum learned of his many medals earned in combat, and told him "I'll make a hero out of you."

Guadalupe quickly answered, "I am a hero, I have been for years, and I don't tell anybody."

Ortega smiles and nods her head in agreement.

Many would say she’s a hero in her own right.

Hector De Peña


By Anita Rice

Hector De Peña never saw any action on the battlefield during World War II. He never stormed the beach at Normandy, never liberated the prisoners of Europe's concentration camps and never fired upon the Japanese or Germans. The war he fought was against the entrenched discriminatory practices used against Latinos during the time of the war.

Ruben Munguia


By Guillermo X. Garcia

Ruben Mungia, a career printer, laughs as he recalls "how smart the U.S. Army was" to let him join the service in the middle of World War II, only to assign him to Randolph Field in San Antonio, his hometown, where he ran the print shop at headquarters command.

Ed Idar


By Liliana Martinez

When Ed Idar was a teenager living in Buenos Aires, a neighborhood in Laredo, Texas, he never thought he’d volunteer as a civilian for Station X in England, and go to India and China while in the Army.

"I came to realize how big the world was, how many societies and cultures there are in this world," Idar said. "Seeing poverty makes you wonder, ‘Why can't we do things to help people?’"

And it was his thirst for helping others that pushed him to devote much of his life to working for the Mexican American community.

Joe David Casillas


By Nora Ramirez

World War II is over, but the fight against discrimination is far from finished for Joe Casillas, a WWII veteran who lives in San Diego.

His father, Felix Ledesma Casillas, was a migrant worker who came from Jalisco, Mexico in 1914 and worked in copper mines. Working conditions were terrible so he decided to move, buy land, and build a house.