The Mexican American Civil Rights Institute has identified two notable San Antonians to serve as its newly elected board chair and vice-chair. 

Robert Garza, president of Alamo Colleges District’s Palo Alto College, and Cecilia Elizondo Herrera, president and CEO of the nonprofit Cisneros Center for New Americans, began their new appointments as board chair and vice-chair, respectively, on Jan. 1.

The San Antonio-based nonprofit national institute is dedicated to collecting artifacts from Mexican American civil rights history and sharing stories to educate the public on the Mexican American community’s civil rights efforts in the US. 

Garza and Herrera joined MACRI’s board and national advisory council in 2020, and watched the organization grow under the leadership of founding chair Paul Ruiz and founding vice-chair Gloria Rodriguez.

Ruiz and Rodriguez guided MACRI through its founding in fall 2019 and were instrumental in securing $500,000 in seed funding from the City of San Antonio, according to a news release on the board transition. MACRI is housed at Our Lady of the Lake University on the city’s West Side.

Garza, now chair of the board, called his appointment a blessing and said it is an honor to serve. He reflected on his mother, who came to the United States from Mexico, only knowing Spanish.

“Historically, what we know is, if you spoke Spanish, you were punished,” said Garza. “You were disciplined. What do you do if that’s the only language that you know?” 

With his own family’s experience, Garza said his story emphasized the importance of sharing struggles from not-so-distant U.S. history.

“Oftentimes as parents, we protect our children and we don’t share our stories or struggles that happened in years past,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because it skips generations, and MACRI gives an opportunity to share those stories so we can build a concrete foundation on how we can build toward the future.”

Garza added that without those voices, generations to come won’t have the knowledge of the experiences before their time, and history would repeat itself. 

Garza, who also served as chair of the organization’s governance committee, said during his one-year term, he will be working with executive director Sarah Zenaida Gould to find a place to share MACRI’s message and called on the public for help in volunteerism and funding, as well as sharing stories of advocacy and struggles.

Cecilia Herrera
Cecilia Elizondo Herrera

“We need to hear those stories to continue building that foundation of voice moving forward,” Garza said, adding he will amplify those voices at a local and national level.  

Herrera, newly appointed vice-chair, said it is important to document and have a repository for the history of Mexican American civil rights in the United States. She credits the women in her mother’s family for being strong influences and for encouraging her to achieve everything she wanted to achieve. 

“I’m so indebted to these women who were my role models growing up,” Herrera said, adding she will ensure her family’s stories are archived. “I think Mexican American women who have been role models for so many young women, their stories need to be told and they need to be role models for other women.”

Herrera is a San Antonio native who began her public service career in 1979 working for the Alamo Area Council of Governments. She joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1987, serving for 25 years, including appointments in Guadalajara, Mexico City and Matamoros in Mexico; Melbourne, Australia; Washington; Rome; Baghdad and Caracas, Venezuela.

After all the different countries she’s lived in, Herrera said she sees the importance of initiatives about equity and inclusion all over the world. 

Herrera said that though MACRI is in its beginning stages of its journey, she looks forward to helping it fulfill that mission by connecting institutes, museums and organizations throughout the US.

 “I’m so blessed and I feel very humbled,” Herrera said.

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.