Gus Garcia took the murder case of Pete Hernandez, arguing an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and securing an equal rights victory for Mexican Americans in 1954. Before the landmark trial, Garcia was known for his work ending segregation of Mexican American children in schools. He was also the legal advisor for the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American G.I. Forum. However, Garcia was plagued by alcohol addiction: he was hospitalized several times and ultimately had his law license suspended, before dying of a seizure in 1964.
Carlos Cadena worked side by side with Gus Garcia in the historic case of Hernandez v. Texas. That same year Cadena helped appeal another case, ultimately decriminalizing boxing matches between people of different races. Cadena also helped found the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund before becoming the first Mexican American justice on the Texas Court of Appeals in 1965 and a Chief Justice in 1977.
John J. Herrera, an experienced Houston trial lawyer, won two remarkable civil rights cases with Gus Garcia, including Hernandez v. Texas in 1954. The other case (1948) declared school segregation of Mexican Americans illegal. Herrera was the first Latino political candidate in Harris County, Texas, though in eleven years of running for office he never won. Herrera became president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and served in several other national advocacy organizations.
James DeAnda was the youngest of the four lawyers who argued the Hernandez v. Texas case. After graduating from law school in 1950, DeAnda searched for a job for months -- most white firms would not hire someone of Mexican descent. He finally got a job with John Herrera for $25 a week. Over two decades, DeAnda fought for Mexican American rights, winning important cases against segregation and discrimination in Texas schools, and co-founding the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In 1979, DeAnda became the second Mexican American appointed as a federal judge.
When Pete Hernandez killed Joe Espinosa, nobody thought it would result in a landmark legal case that would give Mexican Americans equal rights in the eyes of the law. Hernandez, a field worker with a bad leg, had been insulted by Espinosa and shot him in anger.
Caetano "Joe" Espinosa was a tenant farmer known to everyone in the small town of Edna, Texas simply as "Joe." On August 4, 1951, Pedro Hernandez shot and killed him. Gus Garcia and John J. Herrera took Hernandez's case, in which he was found guilty of murder. Garcia and Herrera, along with fellow attorney Carlos Cadena, appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they won the right to have Mexican Americans serve on juries alongside whites -- a major civil rights victory for Latinos.
Pauline Rosa was a Mexican American resident of Edna, Texas in the 1940s and 50s, when Latinos were legally considered "white," but met with discrimination. Children of Mexican descent attended segregated -- and inferior -- schools. When Rosa tried to enroll her English-speaking, American-born children in Edna's white school, they were denied admission because they were Mexican American. Rosa testified during Hernandez v. Texas to help lawyers Gus Garcia and Carlos Cadena illustrate the widespread discrimination against Mexican Americans.