The Life of an Unsung Heroine  

By: Rita Vega-Jackson

As a tribute to Paula for always giving unselfishly of herself in the service of others, the Latino Student Union at IUSB, along with the Latino community, embraced Paula and her ideals on october 9, 1998, with the award of Unsung Heroine.

On October 13, 2000 the Latino Student Union with the Office of Campus Diversity in IUSB, again acknowledged Paula with a Life-Time Achievement Award for having given up her life to serve humankind. The award credits Paula with the ability to love unconditionally. She has never sought acknowledgement or credit for her labors of love.

Paula Martinez-Gonzalez is a self-taught intelligent woman. Her leadership has been echoing in the walls of the Hispanic community in South Bend for over fifty years. Paula has been instrumental in raising funds for worthwhile causes. Much of the richness and beauty of the Latino Community in South Bend can be traced back directly to the work of Paula Gonzalez.

At age seventy four, she continues to live her dream of being a community servant, a major figure in the reorganization of her society. She started her story by saying:”We didn’t have much, but were happy”. Paula was born on April 2, 1927 in Bryan, Texas, to Francisco and Josefa Lopez Martinez. She remembers her mother saying:” I am not of United States. I lived in Texas when it was Tejas, Mexico. It is thus the pure and clean Mexican, Indian and Spanish blood that runs through my veins,” Paula shares her mother’s cultural belief. Many of her efforts have always been geared at stressing the importance upon Hispanics to take pride in their ethnic background. Paula remembers hearing stories of the Mexicans becoming strangers and second-class citizens in the land where they had lived for centuries shortly after their land was transfered to Anglos. It is for this reason that Paula has dedicated her life to improving the life of the Latino community since she migrated to South Bend, Indiana.

Paula had two years of public school in Bryan, Texas. When she was eight years old, her father decided to return to Mexico. Paula attended school there for three years .

At the age of eleven she was sent to Edinburg, Texas to tend for her three older brothers. She played the role of workingwoman, housekeeper and field laborer. Paula chuckles as she recalls crossing barriers required for employment as a chlid. This was the first time she was confronted with the need for a social security card. She was very clear with the reality that she had to do whatever it took to help her brothers support the family. So, she proceeded to obtain the card by lying about her age. Her employers certainly did not care that she was a child. She was a hard worker and nothing else mattered.

She recalls harvesting green tomatoes early in the morning and coming home tired from the labor fields and she could bathe and immediately start cooking while her brothers bathed. After the evening meals she and her brothers would then rush for second jobs at local packing sheds.

Paula recalls the long days that she and her brothers spent working from early morning to late evening harvesting the mint fields in South Bend. After the season was over, Paula obtained emplyoment at White Swan Laundromat.

In the year 1950 Paula met her crew leader’s brother. This young man stole her heart, his name being Rafael Gonzalez. In 1953 Rafael and Paula were married and in 1954 Maria Elena their first child was born. By juggling home life with public life, she has made volunteer work a full-time job. All her volunteer hours have been committed to organizations that meet a certain need to improve the quality of life in the community.

She first realized the need for the English language when she and Rafael purchased their first home in South Bend, she felt burdened by the fact that she was unable to read forms requiring her signature. Another burden that Paula faced was the need to spread Christianity in South Bend in a language that people could understand. So, in 1968, Paula and four of her friends came together to form a plan to initiate Spanish worships for the Hispanic community. The went to Notre Dame to request permission to create ther “Sociedad Guadalupana” organization.

The founding of San Esteban Parish is traced to the hard work od Paula Gonzalez and four of her friends. The first Spanish Mass in San Esteban Parish was held on April 21, 1968. The mission of “Las Guadalupanas” is to celebrate events such as graduations, baptismals, and confirmations with Hispanic cultural themes. Paula’s perseverance with her work of enabling Hispanics to come together for cultural events is one of her strongest contributions to the community.

Paula stands as a radiant, exceptional figure. She shines wherever she goes. She was the founder of League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council 5001 in South Bend in 1966. LULAC’s primary objective has always been to look for and create opportunities of study for high school graduates. Her friend and co-member of LULAC, Elliud Villanueva, comments, “Much of the monies raised by the LULAC chapter in South Bend can be traced directly to Paula’s efforts.

At seventy-four years of age, she continues to fight for minorities because she feels they are often excluded. Through the course of my visits with Paula, I discovered that she is curently and actively involved in twenty-five committees in the community and was instrumental in the founding of many organizations.

Her friend, Joe Vega comments about Paula’s ability to see in the future. Joe grins as he says, “ I have watched her fight for just causes for over forty years. My friend Paula has indeed earned a space in heaven”. Joe coments, “ I admire Paula’s perseverance and psychic energy to keep going even when faced by adversities.” And believe me, he says, “she has faced many.”