LULAC honors longtime Goliad activist with lifetime achievement award

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

Aug. 31, 2013 at 3:31 a.m.
Updated Sept. 1, 2013 at 4:01 a.m.

Fighting for rights is hardly something to be awarded for - just ask Benny Martinez.

Though the 79-year-old Goliad resident has spent most of his life advocating for the League of United Latin American Citizens, receiving a lifetime achievement award for 60 years of service still comes as a shock.

"Have I really been doing this that long?" Martinez asked jokingly a week after receiving his award at an Aug. 25 LULAC meeting in Edna.

Martinez became a member of LULAC in 1953 after being inspired by his father's successes in the organization. His father joined in 1932.

Soon after joining, he realized he, too, could make a difference. The injustices he lived through - entering through back doors, being discriminated against for employment, hearing racial slurs - all this could stop if he took a stand.

So he did.

To recap everything would be too difficult, Martinez said. What his 60-year experience boils down to is one lifelong mission: inspire change.

"It never has been for me; it's always been for the other guy," Martinez said of his work with LULAC. "I do this because I want to help other people."

Through the years, Martinez' big push has been education - making sure children have the best education possible and that there is no discrimination in classrooms.

He spends time throughout the year fundraising for scholarships with LULAC Council 21 in Goliad.

But perhaps one of Martinez's finest moments was Nov. 21, 1963, at a LULAC banquet in Houston. An invitation was sent to then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy to attend the convention.

Later that night at the convention, the crowd went wild, stunned to see Kennedy actually show up to talk about his pride of what LULAC was doing for communities.

It was a fine moment, Martinez said, especially because not more than 24 hours later, Kennedy was assassinated during a motorcade in Dallas.

"That was the supreme moment," he said about Kennedy caring enough to stop by. "His death was absolutely one of the darkest hours in our country. Such a brilliant man."

On a daily basis, though, it's about the everyday diversity battles, which have become less and less over the years, Martinez said.

Mary Lou Canales, a 34-year member of LULAC, has known Martinez for 25 years. She said his quiet, gentle tone and his experience living through discrimination makes him a powerful voice in the LULAC community.

"I just can't get over how passionate he is," Canales said. "He doesn't give up. If you close the door on him, he'll go through the back door."

Canales said she could not think of anyone more deserving of the recognition than Martinez and said replacing him will be nearly impossible.

Martinez said he has no plans to stop now.

Most recently, the efforts of Martinez and others helped build a Tejano Monument at the front of the state Capitol, a feat that took about 10 years.

Martinez has a lot more left in him, he said.

"If I had to do it over again, I would," he said.



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