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AARP AZ Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

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As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month in this year of heightened awareness around equality and social justice, we are reminded of how positive change happens only when someone decides to lead.  We are reminded of those men and women who, often in the face of great obstacles, dedicated their lives to serving something bigger than themselves, inspiring others and giving us all a path to a better tomorrow. 

The Hispanic community in Arizona is grateful for the gift of progress that leaders who came before us left as their legacies.  Extraordinary individuals like Raul Castro, the first Hispanic governor of Arizona, Terri Cruz, founding member of Chicanos Por La Causa and Ed Pastor, Arizona’s first Hispanic congressman have improved the lives of countless others who share their heritage and culture. AARP is proud to recognize Hispanic activist and lobbyist Guadalupe Verdugo Huerta and community leader and businesswoman Julia Cuesta Soto Zozaya. These individuals spent decades serving their communities through advocacy, education and building the next generation of Arizona leadership.



This Hispanic Heritage Month, AARP is proud to honor those Hispanic leaders from Arizona who spent a lifetime serving their community to create lasting positive change. 

Raul Castro

1916-2015

Attorney, judge, three-time US ambassador and Arizona’s first and only Hispanic governor

Raul Castro, Arizona’s first and only Hispanic governor, was born and raised in Cananea, Sonora, Mexico, a town 30 miles south of Douglas, AZ. He worked tirelessly to overcome poverty and rise above cultural barriers always prioritizing education. After graduating from the University of Arizona College of Law he went on to be a Pima County attorney and later judge in the Pima County Superior Court, the first Mexican American elected to either post. Castro became a community leader and eventually an inspiration for a generation of Arizonans, including Mexican Americans and immigrant families. During his career, Castro also served as an American ambassador to El Salvador, Bolivia and Argentina. In 1974, Castro was elected as Arizona’s 14th and first Hispanic governor. After his retirement from politics, Castro remained active as a community volunteer and philanthropist, often speaking to children and young adults about the importance of earning a good education.

Ed Pastor

1943-2018

Arizona’s first Hispanic Congressman

Ed Pastor was born in Claypool, Arizona, the oldest of three children. After high school, Pastor accepted a scholarship to Arizona State University to become the first in his family to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1966. After graduation, he taught at North High School in Phoenix, but left in 1969 to join a community non-profit as deputy director. Pastor served as vice president of a legal aid society in 1971 and returned to school earning his law degree from the Arizona State College of Law in 1974. After three terms with Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, Pastor was sworn into Congress in 1991 where he spent 23 years advocating for the needs of Arizonans.  Immigration and education reform were two of Pastor’s most crucial issues. He spent decades fighting to make the American Dream accessible to everyone, especially our nation’s most vulnerable.  

Terri Cruz

Community, civil rights leader and Chicanos Por La Causa founding member

1927-2017

Terri Cruz, a long-time community advocate and activist came from humble beginnings. She was born in Tucson raised by her aunt following the death of her parents at age 5. When she was 15, she moved to Mesa where she babysat and cleaned houses for a living before being encouraged to become politically involved. This led to her joining a dedicated group of 15 people to form Chicanos Por La Causa in 1969.  Their mission was to battle for critical civil rights, including police brutality, farm-worker injustices and education discrimination in the Hispanic community. Cruz spent more than four decades working as a social services counselor advocating for the social well-being of Arizonans. Cruz played a key role in organizing a 1970 boycott of Phoenix Union High School to protest educational equity issues. She also served on the Hispanic Senior Citizen Foundation Board, the Maricopa County Community Service Commission and the Arizona Attorney General Senior Citizen Council. Cruz is the recipient of numerous awards recognizing her leadership and service to Arizona Hispanic community.


Guadalupe Verdugo Huerta

1920-2000

Hispanic activist and lobbyist for the elderly and disabled

Born in Glendale, AZ, Guadalupe Verdugo Huerta grew up in a hard-working and caring household with strong values that stressed the importance of personal responsibility to help others.  It was this decent and humble upbringing that inspired Huerta to become a powerful voice for the Latino community. During WWII, Huerta served her country by working at Luke Airforce Base as a mechanic on the fuselages of airplanes including elite top-secret jet fighters. When the war ended, Huerta worked as a domestic worker and later as a laundry worker. During her tenure at the laundry mat she rallied other Latinas to ask for higher wages, resulting in a raise for the women workers. In the 1970s Huerta left her former work following a stroke and devoted her future to advocating for elderly, poor and disabled individuals. She spent many years working for Chicanos Por La Causa and served as a lobbyist in Washington D.C. under the Clinton administration. In recognition of her efforts, Huerta received numerous awards including the Jefferson Award/Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefiting Local Communities, Hon Kachina Award, Spirit of Arizona Award and was recently named to the Arizona Women's Hall of Fame in 2019.

Julia Cuesta Soto Zozaya

1926-2004

Community leader and businesswoman

Throughout her life, Julia Cuesta Soto Zozaya displayed a strong sense of perseverance, civic responsibility, and advocacy. As a teenager, Zozaya was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited eye disorder that gradually destroyed her retina; by the age of 27, she was legally blind. Despite her vision impairment, Zozaya went on to build a successful career working as a saleswoman for Sarah Coventry Company, business manager for Zozaya Construction, information specialist for the state of Arizona and owner of the first 24-hour Spanish FM radio station, KNNN. Among her many accomplishments, she became the first blind person to pass Arizona’s real estate exam in 1992. Using her bilingual skills, Zozaya worked for Century 21 offices in Mexico to facilitate their listing of real estate properties in Arizona. Zozaya was a member of numerous boards, committees and organizations and received several awards for her service and leadership including the Outstanding Citizen Award from Chicanos Por La Causa and Arizona Latina Trailblazer Award.


At AARP, we are honored to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of these remarkable leaders.  They had the courage and compassion to stand up, to overcome and to create lasting change.  We hope that your Hispanic Heritage Month takes on a special meaning this year, inspired by those who made the progress we enjoy today possible. 

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