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Nation’s oldest civil rights organization is very active in Roswell

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LULAC partners with Enlace to encourage education for the area's latino community. Jackie DeLara is sitting with friends at an Enlace conference. (Submitted Photo)

When Manny Martinez died in January a number of organizations and countless Roswell residents suffered. Martinez was a busy man of service to his community. One of the organizations that had to take a breath and move forward without him is the local League for United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC.
LULAC’s current president, Richard Garcia, remembered Martinez with gratitude.
“I have known Manny for over 20 years and we lost a great man when he died,” Garcia said.
LULAC has set the standard for civil rights efforts.
“LULAC has been in existence since 1929,” Garcia said. “We’re the oldest civil rights organization in America. It goes back to a 1921 group called United Latin Americans. We do not endorse candidates, we support individual candidates through individual memberships.
“LULAC is here to stay. It’s 88 years and going with strong leadership from the national level on down, from attorneys to educators to economic development to healthcare to immigration – we’re all in it because it affects all of us.”
They see beyond the artificial divisions humans create directly into the needs of everyone.
“To us, people are important,” Garcia said. “Whatever your politics, that’s fine, the thing about it is what are you going to do?”
LULAC has the attention of movers and shakers.
“We just had our state convention at NMSU Alamogordo,” Garcia said. “We had our state senator who was articulate, and very much a statesman. We had Javier Gonzalez, the mayor of Santa Fe, a friend of mine and Virginia’s for many years.”
Much of LULAC’s work is labor-related, which is why they champion the honoring of Cesar Chavez.
“We support the fight to name something in Roswell for Cesar Chavez,” Garcia said. “He was a nationally recognized man, even by the president. He was a man of common means, he wasn’t rich, he just fought for what was right.”
At LULAC they understand how vital economic development is to a community.
“We need to work to make our communities safer,” Garcia said. “That pertains to crime. Crime will always be a tool for a politician. You can put all the boots on the ground that you want, but you have to have economic development with it. That is what we are trying to stress, is get educated, stay in New Mexico, contribute to your home. We want economic development because good paying jobs affect all of us. We need to have, not only good jobs, but opportunity.”
They also understand the importance of education in economic development.
“We’ve got Enlace, individuals who are strong advocates for educating young people,” he said. “LULAC has one of the strongest scholarship programs there is; Enlace, which is a very strong organization for education. We’ve got fantastic people working in that organization. Education is one of our highest priorities.
“It’s great to go into the trades, from welder, to plumber to painter, there’s opportunity there, but you’ve got to be willing to educate yourself and to change.”
Much of LULAC’s work is political activism and awareness.
“We’ve got the issue with deportation now,” Garcia said. “We get a lot of phone calls. Our office is next to Congressman Steve Pearce’s office in the Executive Suite building (at 1717 W. Second St.). I’m in the office almost every day of the week.
“LULAC is in the forefront on healthcare. Why can’t we have the healthcare that the government can provide for our representatives? Why can’t we take it away from them, and make them live like we do? They don’t remember they work for us.”
They understand it’s important to be able to work with whoever is in office regardless of ideology.
“We’re coming into a mayor and councilman election,” Garcia said, “and I respect them all. I don’t agree with them all, but I respect them. In 2018, we’ll have a U.S. Senator’s race, a Governor’s race, a Congressman’s race. Candidates will need to be clear in what they represent. It takes people getting out there and voting. Everything is political. It affects everybody.”
Garcia admonishes everyone to get or remain politically active.
“It’s easy for anyone to say, ‘this is my town’, but we must remember it’s our town,” he said. “We all pay for everything. We all have a vote. Civil rights, education, healthcare, immigration, these are important topics that involve everybody.”
LULAC’s main office is in Washington, DC and their national convention this year will be July 4 in San Antonio, Texas. To contact the local LULAC office, call 575-622-6633.
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.