In City Hall in Indio, Calif., hangs the Ortiz Wall of Service, a plaque listing more than 50 names of military servicemen from Richard Martinez III’s family.
“It dates back to the Mexican-American War — on the American side — and I’m the last name. I’m fourth-generation infantry,” said Martinez, a College freshman and an Army veteran who served in the 82nd Airborne Division.
But Martinez, who is 21, ultimately wants his name not on a plaque, but heard making an impact on the community.
“There is a van 10 minutes from my house in Fresno that takes workers to pick in the fields. There are younger kids starting from age 8 to people even over the age of 60. Some kids don’t go to school because they have to work and provide for their family,” he said. “It’s an image I grew up with, and something no other culture or race does, but it’s prevalent, and I’m tired of it.”
Martinez grew up in a modest neighborhood of West Fresno, the son of two teachers (his father has a radio talk show called “To the Point with Super Mex”).
“They gave me every opportunity they could with what they had,” he recalled. “My dad, who grew up very poor, thought the elementary school I attended was not a wholesome view of what the Hispanic community is. So in seventh grade I was sent to school in neighboring Madera, where there was a much higher percentage of Mexicans and minorities in general. It was culture shock and I literally and figuratively got my ass kicked.”
Martinez returned to Fresno for high school at a public charter school that emphasized academics and the arts.
“I was on the academic decathlon team, seven-time, back-to-back national champions, and we won the years I was on the team. I also won a national championship title in Greco-Roman wrestling,” said Martinez, who started wrestling at 7. He also performed in choir, feeding his lifelong love of singing.