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Veterans' Day Salute

Posted by Jossie Flor Sapunar on 11/10/2014 @ 05:31 PM

Ernest Eguia, Former LULAC Member in Houston, Texas

This article was originally featured on the University of Texas at Austin webpage. Read the original post here. Special h/t to Russell Contreras for the story.

By Stephen Stetson

Ernest Eguia spent a lifetime on the cutting edge. Rising above the crippling poverty of the Great Depression, Eguia was at the forefront of the Allied Invasion of Normandy during World War II and was also on the frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement, pioneering the movement for Latino integration in the Houston area after the war.

Few people who knew Eguia as a salesman would have known about his incredible journey from Lockhart, Texas, his heroics during the Second World War or his leading role in the Houston Council of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). His story spans decades and details a trans-continental struggle for freedom.

Born Nov. 7, 1919, to Narciso Eguia and Maria Lara Eguia, Eguia is the oldest of six children. The family moved to Houston shortly after his birth during the Depression. Narciso worked as a railroad pipefitter for Southern Pacific, but the Eguias still struggled to make ends meet.

Like many young men in that era, Eguia began contributing to the family at an early age, bringing home food from the farmers market and helping his siblings gather toys when no money was available. He shined shoes at a barber shop and hawked newspapers at the corner of Washington and Houston Avenues, demonstrating the industriousness and dedication that would follow him through the remainder of his life.

Although Eguia excelled in the classroom, he dropped out of Sam Houston High School after the 10th grade and got a job in a menswear store, Buck's Dry Goods, where he made connections that would profit him after his return from the war. In October of 1941, he was drafted.

Eguia was shipped to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and then moved to Camp Roberts in California for basic training.

After basic training, Eguia received specific artillery training at Fort Lewis in Washington. There, he focused on coastal defense. The United States, in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, claimed to fear an assault on the country's west coast, even though it would have been difficult for the Japanese fleet to extend a sustained naval power projection over such a distance.

Specializing in 155-millimeter guns, Eguia got trained to be a forward observer for artillery. Scanning the surrounding area, he acted as a lookout for artillery cannons, calculated trajectories and surveyed for potential targets. Later, from January through September of 1944, he was stationed near Santa Barbara, Calif., with the 144th Field Artillery Battalion of the VII Corp, 1st Army.

After a stint of training in the Mojave Desert, Eguia was shipped across the ocean. There, he was part of the invasion of Europe at Normandy in France on June 11, 1944. After witnessing some of the most brutal fighting on the face of the European continent, the Allies managed to drive the German military backwards through France.

Eguia remained in occupied Germany after Berlin fell and helped to promote the restoration of German society. By encouraging the rebuilding of German infrastructure and performing various logistical duties, the Americans were able to withdraw from Europe at the end of the war.

"I thought that coming back to Texas, things would have changed," Eguia said, referring to race relations.

But within a week after his return, as he drove on a Houston street with some friends, a police car swerved in front of their car. Eguia yelled at the police car and the officers stopped their vehicle, guns drawn.

"I asked, 'What's going on? We didn't do anything; they had to pull their guns,'" Eguia said. "I was the one talking the most, and they took me to the police station."

Eguia recalls the arresting officer referring to him as "a smart boy,” and saying, “He's a smart Mexican." "And I said, 'I see things haven't changed since I left here four years ago,' he recalled, "And the sergeant heard that, he said, 'You been in the Army four years?' I said, 'Four years.'"

The sergeant released Eguia.

In 1945, he took a job with Warren Petroleum Company. Warren had been founded in 1922 and eventually was purchased by Gulf Oil. Eguia applied his military skills in a civilian capacity. The same techniques that once shelled German positions in the French countryside were used to build a pipeline across Texas from Huffman to Galveston, crossing through some of the most densely packed pipeline areas in the country. After leaving Warren, Eguia eventually took a job with his pre-wartime employers at Buck's Dry Goods. Eventually focused on men's clothing, he built a solid career at Buck's.

But Eguia’s days as a clothing salesman and store manager only tell a small part of his post-war life. Defying the defense-industry led paranoia about Communism, Eguia joined LULAC. Despite a concerted effort by the military to demonize collective mass movements, he was prompted to join LULAC after hearing the story of Macario Garcia, who received a Medal of Honor, but because he was a Mexican American, was denied service at a hamburger joint. Eguia says he wanted to put an end to some of the anti-Latino racism in Texas at the time, and LULAC was one of several organizations created to gain equal treatment for Hispanics.

Spearheading projects to integrate Latinos into various levels of Houston city government, Eguia's LULAC Council was part of a larger renascence of Hispanic activism. The high number of Latinos in Texas made the Houston Council of LULAC one of the nation's most prominent.

Holding several posts in the Houston Council, as well as at the national level, Eguia and LULAC were involved in getting Houston to integrate its police and fire departments. At the time of his interview, Eguia continued to participate in LULAC events and lived in Houston with his wife. They have four children, all of whom attended college and all received business-related degrees. Eguia also remained committed to preserving the memories of WWII and veterans' issues, staying active in the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

Mr. Eguia was interviewed in Houston, Texas, on February 3, 2001, by Claudia Garcia.

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Today, the Ernest Eguia Scholarship Fund awards educational financial assistance to deserving college students of Latin American descent who demonstrates a thirst for knowledge, a dedication to completing their education, a willingness to encourage other Latin American students to continue to pursue higher education, and a financial need to complete their studies.

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The Journey to Embolden Future Latinas for Public Office

Posted by Jossie Flor Sapunar on 04/23/2014 @ 11:10 AM

Underrepresentation of Latinas in Office Urges Launch of Latinas Represent

25,000,000 Latinas live in the United States. Of the 8,236 seats in state and national political office, only 109 are held by Latinas. There are only nine Latinas in Congress, and three in statewide executive office. There has never been a Latina senator.

Women’s political representation in this country has long lagged behind that of men. Even with women’s representation in Congress at an all-time high, the U.S. House of Representatives has only 79 women of 435 members; the Senate, 20 women of 100 members. This is far from equal, given that women make up 50% of the nation’s population and more than half of regular voters. While progress is being made, with more and more women running for and winning higher office, LULAC is keenly aware that more must break through. As members of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, we urge you to support the Latinas Represent campaign at www.LatinasRepresent.org.

By: Leticia Van de Putte, Texas State Senator
For more than 85 years, LULAC has dedicated itself to building a better America for Latinos across the country, to helping us fulfill la promesa – the promise of the American dream.

We turn to LULAC because LULAC fights for us. They led the historic movement to desegregate schools so that we could be educated as equals. They fought for our right to be represented in the census, to be counted, to say with one voice, “estamos presente.”

We have come a long way. But we know la promesa is still not within the grasp of so many in our community. Those who live in the shadows and fear being torn from their families, or who cannot access quality public schools and find college beyond their financial means. The millions in my home state of Texas and across the country who know that one illness could bankrupt their family. And our sisters, the Latinas across the country, who still only earn 54 cents for every dollar a man makes.

In so many of our homes, it is women who are at the decision-making table. And they know firsthand that making 54 cents on the dollar doesn’t mean that groceries, or gas, or tuition is 46 cents cheaper. But that perspective is missing from elected office – the decision-making tables that affect not just one family, but all our families.

As a sixth generation Tejana, mother, and grandmother, I understand the struggles our community has faced, and continues to face. That’s why I have worked every single day to be a voice for Texas families in the State Senate, and why I am running for Lieutenant Governor. But I am one of only 97 Latina state legislators currently serving in office nationwide. There are only nine Latinas in Congress, and three in statewide executive office. And there has never been a Latina elected to the United States Senate.

Latinas have shaped the nation for generations. We have served in the military and led civil rights movements. We do not suffer from a shortage of patriotism or leadership. But we are still missing from the halls of power.

If we want laws that work for all of us, then everyone needs a voice and a seat at the table. If we are to make la promesa a reality, we must fulfill nuestra promesa – our potential, to lead.

We can start by supporting fantastic Latina candidates who are already running for office – women like Lucy Flores in Nevada; Nellie Gorbea in Rhode Island; and Amanda Renteria, Norma Torres, and Eloise Gomez Reyes in California.

But the real work begins at home. We must look to our schools and churches, and to our mothers, sisters, and friends, to find leaders who just haven’t been asked to run yet. These are the Latinas who are already shaping our lives and inspiring us, who may have never realized their experience qualifies them to run.

I was one of those Latinas. Twenty-three years ago I sat at our kitchen table and vented to my husband that the candidates running for my neighborhood’s House seat weren’t talking about the issues important to our community, and he replied, “Well then, why don’t you run?” The light bulb came on over my head – the qualified candidate had been me all along, but I didn’t realize it until asked. But now we don’t have to hope that our family or friends will ask the right questions. Today we also have organizations like Latinas Represent that actively seek female candidates and give them the tools they need to run for office and win.

I know that we can achieve progress if we elect leaders who share our values and understand where we come from – leaders who believe in their power to do good, and who are inspired by love for our country and its citizens. This is our call to action. This is how we finally make la promesa a reality.

Leticia Van de Putte is a Texas State Senator, and candidate for Lieutenant Governor. You can learn more about her at www.leticiavandeputte.com, on Twitter at @leticiavdp or at facebook.com/leticiavandeputte. To learn more about running for office, visit www.latinasrepresent.org.

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