Silicon Valley Latino icon Victor Garza leaves a lasting legacy
Victor Garza, founder of La Raza Roundtable, is pictured in this file photo.

Victor Garza, founder of La Raza RoundTable and a Santa Clara County Latino community icon, died this morning, multiple community leaders confirmed to San José Spotlight.

He was 86 years old according to his personal Facebook page.

Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley executive director Gabriela Chavez-Lopez said she learned of Garza’s death during a Race Equity Action Leadership Coalition meeting Thursday morning when a community leader mentioned his passing. Chavez-Lopez said she attended La Raza RoundTable meetings with her dad after the organization was founded in 1988 and considered Garza a strong force who was larger than life.

“He definitely had his style, but it was complementary to the other Latina leadership that was happening at the time of Blanca Alvarado,” she told San José Spotlight. “I studied him, I watched him growing up. Leading Latino leadership organizations today, I think a lot about his tactics. I think a lot about his way in which he advocated for things that he believes in.”

Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said she also remembers Garza’s larger-than-life presence at community meetings throughout the 1990s.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect and tremendous amount of gratitude to him for being on the front lines of so many fights,” she told San José Spotlight. “Victor’s passing is the loss of a booming voice. Everybody knew you had to come to his meetings to know what was going on in the community.”

Garza was born in 1937 in Eagle Pass, Texas and moved to California in 1960, where he began his lifelong career in public service in 1986.

In the early 1970s, Garza and other members of the Chicano Employment Committee ensured the San Jose Police Department, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office and San Jose Unified School District followed anti-discriminatory legal decrees in hiring Latinos. While working for a bus company in Los Angeles, he hired Latino janitors and taught them welding, a skill he picked up in the U.S. Navy. Then he’d hire them as welders and hire more Latino janitors.

Garza started La Raza Roundtable to give residents a voice in creating positive change and spent his life fighting for equitable employment and education for Latinos.

“He was a fighter, but he was very gentle and would help anyone,” Rose Amador-LeBeau, president and CEO of ConXión to Community and a co-founder of La Raza Roundtable, told San José Spotlight. “Victor just did a lot of leadership things because he wanted to make sure the youth would take over.”

Bob Nunez, former La Raza Roundtable co-chair, said Garza often worked with the NAACP, the Asian Law Alliance and other groups if they had issues and to get their support.

“I’ve been in Santa Clara County, in San Jose for 24 years, and I was still looked at upon as the newcomer because I wasn’t born there, but Victor took me under his wing,” Nunez told San José Spotlight.

Garza also founded a mentorship program at Evergreen Valley College to help Latino students struggling in math and English. As the first Latino elected to the board of the Berryessa School District, he was instrumental in the superintendent hiring Latino principals, vice principals, administrators and teachers.

“Today our community is mourning the loss of a visionary leader and civil rights activist,” state Sen. Dave Cortese said in a statement, noting he’d ask the Senate to adjourn in Garza’s memory. “The founder of La Raza Roundtable, Victor Garza created a coalition that has uplifted countless Latino and Mexican-American voices — advocating tirelessly for equity, social justice and the rights of students and veterans. An advocate at heart, an unwavering commitment to the fight for civil rights can be seen in everything he has done. His passion and vision for our community have left a mark on California, inspiring many, and will continue to guide us for years to come.”

San Jose Councilmember Peter Ortiz said Garza’s positive impact goes beyond the Latino community and that he affected change across Santa Clara County politics and government.

“He’s been a giant when it comes to advocating for the immigrant, Latino and working class communities in East San Jose — but really throughout the county,” Ortiz told San José Spotlight.

Ortiz said he wants to coordinate with other San Jose City Council members to honor Garza at a future meeting.

The message Garza instilled in Chavez-Lopez before his death was to get more young people involved in La Raza Roundtable and keeping them engaged in the fight for not just Latino rights, but all communities needing assistance.

“Victor welcomed everyone to the table,” she said. “I think he should be remembered as both good and obviously super effective in the community. I also think he should also be remembered as a fierce, challenging, kind of like hell-raiser of a man that he was — and the two can coexist.”

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow @VicenteJVera on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply