Originally printed on March 24, 2019
Ramsey Muniz has been a Chicano advocate since the Sixties, and is beloved by hundreds of thousands of Latinos and other Americans that he has inspired to work within the system. Mr. Muniz was a renowned and respected Latino attorney who ran for governor of Texas, twice against Democratic Party governor Dolph Briscoe on a third-party ticket. Soon after his second run, Mr. Muniz was accused of participating in a marijuana conspiracy and later in a cocaine conspiracy. This left the Baylor University football star and law school graduate in ruins. The two drug conspiracy convictions were counted against Mr. Muniz as three convictions for the purpose of sentencing this Texas attorney to life imprisonment without parole. This was in 1994 under the “three strikes” law of the time. Mr. Muniz was an upstanding citizen who was never accused of selling or distributing any drugs nor of using any violence or weapons against anyone. These conspiracy charges and convictions were politically motivated to punish and destroy Mr. Muniz’s professional career for taking so many thousands of Latino votes away from Governor Briscoe and his Democratic Party in Texas. This also destroyed Mr. Muniz’s third party that was challenging the Democratic Party’s control of Latino votes-La Raza Unida. La Raza Unida was born out of Hispanic discontent with a Democratic party that was controlled by conservatives. I was privileged to be invited into his home to interview this gracious man. Now 75 years young, so full of love, life and freedom; free in his own home. It was an honor to have met him. I can see why so many people embraced and loved him. He truly is the real deal.
You sacrificed your life, health, and family for the cause. Was it worth it?
My commitment of seeking freedom, justice and love for the masses of our people was definitely worth it. When I saw from prison on television, the words freedom and justice being used by the raza; seeing it from the youth was the most important to me. In prison, I made sure I educated and organized the minds, the hearts and the souls of the youth that were imprisoned so they wouldn’t continue to make the same mistakes in life. I only asked them one thing; never to forget to say that they were nuestra raza (our race). They should continue to be proud that they were Mexican american, chicanos, whatever they wished to call themselves but to be proud of who they were. I always felt like I was making a contribution to the tree that belonged to us and that would always be there. Well grown and dando vida (Always giving Life). Don’t forget who they were and to emphasize their pride of who they will be. That was my life and God gave me more life to share this everyday in prison. On a daily basis, you would find me with 6-10 prisoners around me wanting to hear the palabra (the word). During exercise time, (so the authorities would think I was organizing something) I would be talking about amor, la familia, la importancia de la educacion, (love, family, importance of education) Even in there, I would make sure that instead of wasting their time, they would take classes. They had teachers from the outside that would come teach. I would compare how many students or prisoners were Anglo or Black . I would say “this other raza is gonna be mas inteligente que nosotros” (more intelligent then us) to put them in competition to motivate them so they would want to be more educated.(lol) I would make it a point so they would be a part of the education. I would emphasize they should take history classes but I also made sure they filled up the English classes so they would know how to speak and write properly. That was my main goal. At the end, when they would graduate, they would thank me. I would tell them to make a copy of their certificates and keep one and send one home so that family would know that while they were incarcerated that they were trying to make a better life for themselves once they were free. This helped many of them when coming in front of the parole board. I would tell them how they will make a contribution to society and you take your certificates and diplomas and you show them you accomplished this. The majority would be given a date to go home. That to me was my thank you.
The young activist’s advice, what advice do you have for them today?
Before making any ultimate decision about an issue or issues, be well read, do all your research on the issue at hand, speak to those who have gone through the experiences in life changing issues concerning the raza and all humanity. If you are going to organize a march, know the issue. Is it gonna benefit or change the issue at hand? Don’t waste your energy unless you know what you want to change and why. Is what I am doing truly beneficial or will I make it worse than what it already is? They need to make sure they know the issue well and find out by others that have fought for the same issue. They need to be secure about what they are saying and doing. We are very stubborn; our way or no way. We need to stop that. We need to bring things the correct way.
How do you feel about the Cesar Chavez March?
I am very passionate about that march because I knew him personally. I always respected him highly for him giving his life for a cause. It wasn’t just boycott this and boycott that. He was actually boycotting the system. He showed us that we needed to boycott an oppressive system. not only for our people but all people. We took it as a personal fight because his name was Cesar Chavez. We made it a Mexican thing. The press did the same. They made it about grapes. They turned it from a worldwide movement to a little farm that grew grapes; tried to make it a small issue. It was an awakening. His life made it as close as it will ever be to a spiritual movement. His was a very conscious spiritual movement. He tried to emphasize that everytime he was going to make an address, he would first ask for silence so they could pray. Always making comparisons of what we were going through to the life of Jesus Christ as much as he could. I felt like he was God sent to us as a people. In our movement, our lives and our history, he was God sent to us; so we would never forget the blessings and consciousness and in the future there will be more Cesar Chavez coming forth.
Who is the person that inspired and awakened you as a youth to feel the passion and the importance of using your voice?
My mother. Mi Mama was so ahead of her time. She was and continues to be a spiritual person. She had an aura of enlightenment of strength and faith. So proud. She walked around como que se crea la mama de Dios. (she believed she was God’s mother..lol) They used to call her La Weda. You couldn’t tell if she was Mexicana or si era Gringa. Very smart. The neighborhood would go to her. Neighbors knocking on the door for advice, for her to read and explain letters, reminding them to make payments. I inherited that. By 6th grade, my mom would say’ ya corre la escuela!’ (he runs the school already )They would come to me. Because I witnessed all that as a youth. She was para todos (for everyone). We were poor but nunca los falto por ella. (we never went without because of her) There wasn’t one day that someone didn’t send a meal for us to eat. All the time. Because she always helped everyone. She only made it to the 6th grade but she was very smart. My mama was so smart. She would go to the PTA meetings. I always loved to go with her because she would get it on with the teachers. The teachers would be on their pedestals and Mama would say ‘are you done? Well now let me tell you….` When the meeting was done, all the other mom’s would come up to her and ask her if she needed anything. They loved her. She was an inspiration.”
The justice system: what would you like to see changed?
There needs to be a tremendous emphasis on the issue of humanity. There needs to be a participation of not only attorneys and of those who have knowledge of the law but a participation of humanity from everyone. There needs to be more involvement at the local, state, and national level. We need a real legal system. Fairness, equality and most important of all is humanity. We should never lose sight of that. There is no question that I was ahead of my time. When you create history, you will be ahead of your time. Not just for myself by the forthcoming lives of our people-nuestra raza. I have been told that I shouldn’t just speak of just our raza. My answer was, ‘if I don’t, who is?’ I had to be the one that would do the awakening. We had to be woken up or we would always be the sleeping giant that did not want to be awakened. We are so talented. We know how to create, we know how to build. We know how to love. And if you don’t believe me, you go check the neighborhoods and you will see how many babies each household has. There is a lot of LOVE! (lol) No question that we are labeled very loveable people, muy amorosos. Era tiempo as ser parte de historia de la sistema de paiz (very loving people. It was time to be part of the history of this country’s system). For us to be a part of the system and make that system a better system but in order to do that we need to be a part of the story. We always spoke against it. We needed to be a part of that system and to rebuild that system and make it better for us and for everyone.
What changes have you seen since being released?
I go out and people receive me with warmth and sincerity; they break down in tears because of what I went through. It will never be forgotten. What I did mattered. They will now speak because of what I went through. They say ‘Ramsey brought change for our people.’ I know I brought change to their lives, the lives of their families and most importantly to their hearts. That is the change that I have seen. That is the change that matters. I have served my purpose. What else can I ask for?
At the end of this interview, we talked and laughed. He shared with me that there was a spiritual journey he went through that got him through his horrific time in prison. There were times he was on his deathbed and had been read his last rites. He would fall asleep and dream of his mother. They spent their time together and she would tell him he wasn’t done yet. It was time to go back and that he would not die in prison. He would wake up and would be like a young man again. He would jump out of bed like there had been nothing wrong with him. He could not explain it other than this was God and he wasn’t done with his mission. I only met him once and spoke to him on the phone on a few special occasions but I tell you what, that was enough for a lifetime. His energy was definitely that of God. You felt it when he talked to you. When he touched you. God put an Angel on this earth for our people and he made a difference. It is up to us, people of color, to continue the fight of recognizing how important we are. Ramsey said we were God’s chosen people. I believe him. With his beautiful gift of words, he made me believe in something that was never taught to me in schools or in church even. My heart breaks when I remember him breaking down crying when I showed him a video of himself being cheered on in his youth. I wish I had thought that out better. Seeing himself young and strong was overwhelming. He had not seen that young man in a long time. He was put in isolation for over 5 years straight. He had never committed or been accused of a violent crime in his life and yet he was locked away like the most violent criminals are for five years. He explained to me that being in a room that small, with no exercise and no contact deteriorates your body and mind. They did this to break him. He was strong and healthy before he was locked away. He came out with many health issues but his spirit was stronger than ever. He was incarcerated for over 24 years total. Many people ask if he was guilty of what he was accused of. He explained to me what happened. He told me it was not true. He even told me if it was, he already went to prison for it, why wouldn’t he just admit it. People can have their opinion and I will have mine; He was a brutally honest person. I believe him. He was very candid and he held nothing back. The last thing he said to me before I left, “ You and I are not done young lady. We have so much more to discuss. You felt the spirit,” and I did. I personally do not believe it ends here when we are gone. This is not the last I will hear from Ramsey Muniz. To his beautiful wife Irma, thank you for being there for him and with him during his incarceration. Thank you for taking care of him and defending him after his release. You are beautiful both inside and out. May God continue to bless you and keep you safe and healthy to continue your mission. From the La Prensa Texas family, we love you and our hearts are with you.