Text says, "Texas A-F-T celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month."

Recognizing Important Texans

National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15, 2022) is an important time to highlight the contributions of the Hispanic world to history, music, art, literature, and public education. Each week, Texas AFT will highlight an Hispanic Texan from history and a current or retired Texas school employee.

We believe to #TeachTheTruth, we must recognize and lift up the contributions of the wonderfully diverse population of our state, our country, and our world.

For more ways to bring National Hispanic Heritage Month into the classroom, check out the free lesson plans and resources available to AFT members through Share My Lesson.

Ricardo A. Samaniego: Champion for COVID-19 Safety

El Paso

Nominated by Veronica Hernandez, president of Socorro AFT

Ricardo A Samaniego
Ricardo A. Samaniego

Ricardo A. Samaniego was sworn in as the El Paso County Judge on January 1, 2019. Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic would put him in the spotlight.

At the peak of the pandemic, when El Paso ranked as one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the nation, Samaniego took action and instituted safety measures, despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s orders to the contrary.

For those working and learning in El Paso schools, Samaniego’s actions were not only welcome, they were heroic. In August 2021, he wrote to public and private schools in the community, urging them to adhere to the local health authority’s masking requirements.

Born and raised in El Paso, Samaniego is a proud Thomas Jefferson High School graduate who went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Texas at El Paso. Samaniego also holds three master’s degrees: in educational psychology from the University of Texas at El Paso, in bilingual bi-cultural education from New Mexico State University, and in international economics and public policy from the University of Notre Dame.

Before taking public office, Samaniego worked in various fields. In his all-encompassing work experience, he has worked in a variety of roles, including as an El Paso County juvenile probation officer, the interim director for the El Paso County Housing Authority, the human resources director for Rio Grande Workforce Solutions, and as an operations director for the employment agency SERCO of Texas.

In addition to his extensive experience in business, mental health is a top priority for Samaniego; he was a clinical therapist in El Paso and New Mexico and served as a liaison between mental health centers, state hospitals, and forensic institutions like Big Spring State Hospital, Rusk Texas State Hospital, and La Tuna New Mexico State Prison.

As an avid reader with a passion for education, Samaniego enjoyed teaching at El Paso Community College and the University of Phoenix where he taught in labor law, human resources development, operations management, and international economics. During his tenure at The University of Phoenix, he was recognized as the “Instructor of the Year.”

Samaniego takes pride in his family’s roots and its long record of public service to El Paso. He is the proud father of six sons and three daughters.

Jose Ruben Avalos: A Teacher of Every Year

El Paso

Nominated by Veronica Hernandez, president of Socorro AFT

Jose Ruben Avalos
Jose Ruben Avalos

Jose Ruben Avalos is a native of El Paso and has been teaching for more than 20 years. He graduated from Ysleta High School in 1993 and holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from The University of Texas at El Paso.

Avalos has taught both middle school and high school math. While working at Ysleta ISD, he was named Teacher of the Year for the 2005-2006 school year, representing Ysleta High School. In his time at Socorro ISD, Avalos has been named Teacher of the Year for the 2018-2019 school year at Sun Ridge Middle School and an Elite Eight Teacher of the Year for Socorro ISD in that same academic year.

Avalos loves his students and his work, and, he says, they respond by giving him “110%” in return.

“Teaching has always been a passion for me,” he says. “I believe the biggest challenge teachers face is getting students to believe they can achieve, no matter the subject. Once we achieve that, the rest is easy — even in math!”

He continues, “Over the years, I have been blessed with making at-risk students successful in the math classroom, and I have found success at each campus and grade level in which I have worked.”

Avalos brings that same passion to his work in his local union, Socorro AFT, where he serves as secretary-treasurer. As a union leader, Avalos has been an outspoken advocate for competitive wages, affordable health care, a reasonable workload, and respect for public education employees.

“I focus on trying to be a strong leader and a valued employee and use a collegial approach to team building,” he says. “The secret to our success is not really a secret at all, but planning and preparing together!”

Avalos and his wife Gloria have been married for 20 years and have three sons.

Araceli Manriquez: Making Mexican American Studies Accessible

San Antonio

Nominated by Alejandra Lopez, president of the San Antonio Alliance

Araceli Manriquez
Araceli Manriquez

Araceli Manriquez is a middle school dual-language teacher in San Antonio ISD. She currently teaches eighth-grade DL social studies and started the first Mexican American Studies (MAS) course for middle school students in the district. She received her double-major bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies Bilingual EC-6 and Mexican American Studies from the University of Texas at San Antonio and also has her master’s degree in Bilingual-Bicultural Studies. Manriquez has been at the forefront of advocacy and organizing for Mexican American Studies to be offered as a course for credit throughout the state of Texas.

She also helped create a MAS Summer Camp on her campus for San Antonio ISD middle and high school students and writes MAS curriculum for the district. As an educator, she ensures that her students have a rich, deep understanding of the culture and contributions of the Latinx/e community and are taught a true history of Texas.

Manriquez is an active member of her local union, the San Antonio Alliance, and a founding member of its social justice caucus, PODER. She leads professional development in social studies, Mexican-American studies and culturally relevant/sustaining pedagogy for educators throughout San Antonio.

She says she feels blessed for all the opportunities ethnic studies has brought to her and grateful for the opportunity to grow in the areas of leadership, advocacy, organizing, and curriculum and professional development.

Teri Castillo: A Leader for the People

San Antonio

Nominated by Alejandra Lopez, president of the San Antonio Alliance

Teri Castillo
Teri Castillo

Teri Castillo is a community organizer and an historian of urban policy elected in June 2021 to represent San Antonio’s District 5. Castillo is the proud daughter of a U.S. Navy Veteran, IBEW union member, and migrant farm workers. As a lifelong and generational resident of District 5, Castillo has committed to ensuring our public money works for the people of San Antonio.

Castillo is a proud product of our public schools and attended San Antonio ISD’s Burbank High School. Castillo earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio and completed her clinical teaching at Fox Tech High School. In 2019, Castillo earned her master’s degree in history with a focus in urban policy from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Since taking office, Castillo has brought historic investment to the people of District 5, nearly doubling the amount of bond investment at $95.6 million, and continues to pursue investment in basic infrastructure. Castillo has prioritized preserving and building affordable housing, while moving with urgency to meet our city’s climate goals. Castillo has built a District 5 team that takes a proactive approach responding to constituent needs, ensuring her office goes out to meet people where they are at, connecting residents to vaccinations, mortgage and rental relief, fire safety, and so much more.

Since taking office, Castillo has emboldened the labor movement in San Antonio. Castillo was on the picket line with the striking Musicians of the San Antonio Symphony, joined the San Antonio Alliance in their struggle for higher wages and COVID-19 safety measures in our schools, supported AFSCME Local 2021’s demand for premium pay for city workers who risked their health and safety during the pandemic, and supported a policy proposal to move San Antonio toward an ordinance that guarantees that the workers who build San Antonio receive a water break.

Castillo lives in the Historic Westside Neighborhood of San Antonio with her husband and two dogs, Bam Bam and Pebbles. When Castillo has a spare minute, she is on the South Side of District 5 visiting her parents or walking her dogs.

Norma V. Cantú: A Civil Rights Pioneer


Nominated by Zeph Capo, president of Texas AFT

Norma Cantu
Norma V. Cantú

In 2021, Norma V. Cantú was named the top authority on civil rights in the United States by President Joe Biden, becoming the first Latina to chair the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

But before that monumental appointment, she was a student and an English teacher in Brownsville. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas – Pan American.

After earning her law degree from Harvard, Cantú joined the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund as a lawyer in class action civil rights cases. The kinds of cases she handled involved a variety of issues, including educational funding, disability rights, and access to services for English-language learners.

Cantú made a name for herself on a national stage when she was appointed as Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights in the Clinton Administration, a role in which she excelled.

By the end of her tenure in office, her team had vastly increased the number of illegal discrimination complaints resolved, many of which were resolved by voluntary corrective action.

Through the course of her career, Cantú has developed policymaking experience that serves her well not only in her civil rights work, but also in her dual roles as the Ken McIntyre Professor of Excellence in Education and Professor of Law at the University of Texas at Austin.

Cantú’s accomplishments are so wide and varied that she has been recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Hispanic People in the U.S.” and named to the Women’s Institute on Sports and Education Hall of Fame for her work on Title IX.

Maria J. Ramos: A Devoted Special Educator


Nominated by organizing committee members in Brownsville Educators Stand Together (BEST AFT)

Maria Ramos
Maria “Janie” Ramos

Born in Mexico, Maria J. Ramos is a lifelong Brownsville resident. A retired educator, Ramos’ life has revolved around Brownsville ISD, first as a student and later as an employee.

When she enrolled at Texas Southmost College in 1979, Ramos said she was “clueless” as to what career she want to pursue. Two years later, she decided on education as her path and went on to graduate from the University of Texas – Pan American.

For her first job, she was hired by Brownsville ISD as a physical education teacher. Over the next several years, she completed additional courses to become a certified special education teacher.

As a special education teacher, Ramos says, she held various positions, giving her the experience to better understand the individual needs of special education students, state laws, and federal regulations.

That’s something her fellow union members in Brownsville Educators Stand Together (BEST AFT) agree on. BEST officers describe “Janie” — as friends and family call Ramos — as a quiet but powerful leader whose experience as a diagnostician has been invaluable to teachers and administrators trying to understand special education law.

Ramos became an education diagnostician after earning her master’s degree in special education from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville.

“Having been a special education teacher for a number of years prepared me for this new position,” she says. “It allowed me to better understand the students being referred or assessed, as well as the parents and school staff.”

It was her last assignment before retirement that Ramos became involved with BEST AFT, an experience she says has been “rewarding, exciting, and informative.”

Though she retired in June 2022, Ramos continues to attend BEST AFT board meetings and events, and she routinely fields calls from colleagues looking for guidance on district policy or special education concerns.

She remains committed to her “outstanding union of professionals” and devoted to her family, including her husband (they’ve been married for 36 years), her two children, and a special 16-year-old “fur baby.”

The Honorable Hilda G. Tagle: Texas’ Sonia Sotomayor

Corpus Christi

Nominated by Dr. Nancy S. Vera, president of Corpus Christi AFT

Judge Hilda Tagle
Judge Hilda G. Tagle

U.S. Senior Judge Hilda Gloria Tagle was born in Corpus Christi in 1946 and grew up in nearby Robstown, in what she says was a “humble but very enriched” upbringing. Her parents, Manuel and Dolores Tagle, were migrants who traveled across the state as farm workers and struggled to feed their family on the small amount of money they earned. Her father served in the Army during World War II, and her mother worked as a beautician and worked in other odd jobs to help support her daughter and four sons.

Although her mother encouraged her love of reading, she insisted that Tagle enroll in beauty school at 15 years old so she could be financially independent. Tagle became a licensed beautician at the age of 16, but she never lost her fierce desire to attend college.

In 1967, Tagle received an associate’s degree from Del Mar College. She continued her studies at East Texas State University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in library science, Spanish, and English. She continued her education, obtaining her master’s degree in library science from North Texas State University in 1971, and a doctorate in jurisprudence from the University of Texas School of Law in 1977.

Tagle returned to South Texas, where she worked as an assistant city attorney for the City of Corpus Christi. After a year, she was recruited to become an assistant county attorney for Nueces County, where she was one of very few women trying criminal jury cases. In 1980, she was recruited by the Nueces County District Attorney to prosecute felonies. After leaving the DA’s office, Tagle practiced law and taught at Del Mar College for four years.

Her work in the courtroom and her reputation as a lawyer opened the door to a judgeship appointment with Nueces County Court at Law in 1985, becoming the first Latina judge in Nueces County, the first Latina county court-at-law judge in Texas, and the second-ever Latina judge of a court of record in Texas.

On January 1, 1995, she took her oath as judge for the 148th District Court in Corpus Christi. Later that year, she was nominated by President Bill Clinton as U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Texas. Her nomination lapsed, but she was nominated a second time by Clinton in 1997 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in March 1998. Tagle was the first Latina to serve as a federal judge in Texas, and she become a Senior U.S. District Judge in 2012. This year marks her retirement from a ground-breaking career.

A Legendary Teacher: Ricardo A. Godoy

Corpus Christi

Nominated by Dr. Nancy S. Vera, president of Corpus Christi AFT

Ricardo Godoy
Ricardo A. Godoy

Ricardo Alonzo Godoy was born in Corpus Christi in 1939, and he began his teaching career in 1960 in Edinburg.

As a first-grade student, Godoy could not speak English. In the local public schools of the time, he was punished for speaking Spanish in school, humiliated because he was poor, and forced to take the least rigorous classes. Throughout his school days, Godoy had only one Hispanic teacher. In the face of these challenges, he decided he wanted to be the role model in the classroom he needed, helping students overcome language barriers and poverty.

After starting his teaching career in Edinburg in 1960, Godoy transferred in 1963 to Cunningham Junior High School, a school with a predominately Hispanic student population in Corpus Christi ISD.

In 1967, Corpus Christi ISD opened a new school, aimed at segregating the district’s students of color from the district’s other two high schools. Godoy was hired at Foy H. Moody High School, where he flourished as a master teacher and a leader for disenfranchised and marginalized students of color.

Although the intentions of the district were questionable at the time, Godoy says now that the situation actually allowed these 1,600 students to be taught by educators dedicated to their success.

“As teachers,” he says, “we took to heart what the parents expected and dreamed for their children.”

In 1970, Corpus Christi became a flashpoint in the fight to desegregate schools for Mexican-American students when 26 CCISD parents formally filed suit against the district — a legal action that would become Cisneros v. Corpus Christi ISD. This was the first case in the United States to extend the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education to Mexican-Americans, recognizing them as a minority group frequently discriminated against.

To improve CCISD’s majority-to-minority transfer plan after the Cisneros case, Godoy formed the Moody High School Alumni Association in 1987. The alumni group proposed a new transfer plan that was approved by the school board and by plaintiffs in the historic desegregation lawsuit.

Moody High School was established as a magnet school for medicine in CCISD so that students from across the school district could transfer to the high school.

In 1988, Godoy became only the second Teacher of the Year in CCISD’s history. His work with Moody High School’s student senate, his advocacy for teachers as a union member, and his dedication to his students as an English and Creative Writing teacher and Literary Magazine sponsor until 1998, garnered him a place of distinction among community members and his former students.

Godoy still serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration to his students and community members who respect, admire, and remain grateful for his service to Corpus Christi’s Hispanic and Latino communities.