Fronteras: Cristela Alonzo — Comedian, Actor, Activist; Honoring Civil Rights Leader, Benny Martinez | Texas Public Radio

Fronteras: Cristela Alonzo — Comedian, Actor, Activist; Honoring Civil Rights Leader, Benny Martinez

Jan 10, 2020

Cristela Alonzo documents her upbringing in the Rio Grande Valley in her new memoir, “Music to My Years: A Mixtape-Memoir of Growing Up and Standing Up.” Alonzo spoke with TPR’s Reynaldo Leaños Jr. about what inspired her to become a social and political activist.

Plus, the lasting impact of Benny Martinez, a longtime Mexican American civil rights leader, is being remembered as he is laid to rest this weekend in Houston.


A native of San Juan, Texas, Cristela Alonzo returned to the Rio Grande Valley in Nov. 2019 as part of her stand-up tour: “My Affordable Care Act.”
Credit Koury Angelo

‘If I’m Doing A Homecoming Show, Then I Got To Do Something For My Home’

Along with Alonzo’s production and performance credentials, the San Juan, Texas, native also sits on the board for LUPE, La Unión del Pueblo Entero. The nonprofit founded by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta advocates for residents of colonias and communities in poverty.

Cristela Alonzo was in McAllen, Texas in November performing in a fundraising stand-up show as part of her tour “My Affordable Care Act.” She donated all proceeds from the show to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Texas Public Radio’s Reynaldo Leaños, Jr. spoke with Alonzo about her love of her culture, her political motivations and why former presidential candidate Julián Castro was a huge inspiration.

You can listen to part 1 of Reynaldo's conversation with Cristela Alonzo here.

Benny Martinez speaking at an event at the Rice Hotel on Nov. 21, 2013. The event commemorated the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy's visit with LULAC — Nov. 21, 1963 — the day before he was assassinated.
Credit David Contreras

‘His Personality Was Such That He Could Disarm You With A Smile’

A Mexican American who dedicated his life to public service died right after the holiday season at the age of 85. Benny Martinez was born Jan. 4, 1934, in the South Texas city of Goliad, and died Dec. 29. 2019. 

Martinez was a medic during the Korean War, spent 20 years as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital, 30 years as an election judge and five years as a deputy sheriff. Martinez fought for the election to become the first Hispanic State House representative from Houston, and he campaigned to have streets and schools named after Tejano heroes like Juan Seguin.

Martinez is probably best remembered for helping arrange a visit to Houston by President John F. Kennedy, his wife and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson for a LULAC gala on Nov. 21st, 1963. President Kennedy was struck down by an assassin’s bullets in Dallas the very next day.

Martinez was named LULAC Historian Emeritus in 2015. Hector Flores, a former national president of LULAC, shared his sentiments and memories of Martinez. You can read LULAC's eulogy for Martinez here.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1 and Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter @terrazas_lauren.