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

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.

Norma V. Cantú: A Civil Rights Pioneer

Brownsville

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

Brownsville

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.