The covers are bold, unmistakable: Against backdrops of gold, scarlet or navy, young men and women, some wearing traditional Mexican clothing, hold their heads high, eyes lifted toward the future. Inside the magazine’s pages, the words of one Manuel de la Raza — his surname translating to “of the people” — sound a clarion call: “Remember we have possibilities,” he urges. “Awaken to them. Forget that old saying, ‘A Mexican hasn’t a chance.’”

The setting is World War II Los Angeles, and the writer behind the evocative pen name is Félix J. Gutiérrez ’45, a twentysomething art major who will make history as the founding editor of the Mexican Voice — the first Latino student publication at UCLA — and as a pioneering advocate for the rights of Mexican Americans. Just 10 years after he graduates, his life will be cut tragically short by cancer. Yet his star burned bright: During that brief span, he advanced and uplifted his community in ways that still reverberate across the decades.

Gutiérrez was a young father when he died, and his daughters and son — Lorraine Margot, Mercedes Gail and Félix Frank, all of whom followed in his footsteps in various ways — are now tracing their father’s path back to the working-class San Gabriel Valley neighborhood where he came of age during the Great Depression. Digging through scrapbooks, they’re helping to plan a public art memorial that the city of Monrovia is dedicating in his honor. With the turn of each page, a picture emerges of a young man who defied every barrier to complete his education — and inspired other young Mexican Americans to do the same.

Though Gutiérrez knew the struggle of segregation, he never doubted his place in the world: His grandparents had resided in California since it was part of Mexico, and his father was a respected cement contractor whose name can still be found engraved on some of Monrovia’s sidewalks. But despite living in a diverse community, Gutiérrez was one of just two Latinos in his high school class to graduate. Being college-bound set him apart even further; some neighborhood teens scoffed as he waited at the bus stop, books in hand. Some, however, saw his determination as inspiring: When Gutiérrez was picking oranges to pay for his education and carpooling to the orchards with crews, friends would cover his share of the gas money, telling him he’d need it for college. Those who knew him back then would later tell his son, Félix — a journalism educator — how much it meant to know that someone from the neighborhood was going to college.

Courtesy of UCLA Special Collections
The bold covers of Mexican Voice telegraphed the dynamism of its U.S. community. Our job, Gutiérrez wrote, is uplifting our people. 

Gutiérrez co-founded the Mexican American Movement in junior college and created the Mexican Voice as its media organ, while beginning to blossom as an artist and student journalist. Determined to earn his bachelor’s degree in art, he set his sights on the young, thriving public university on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. Transferring to UCLA in 1940 as an art major, Gutiérrez poured his talents into the magazine alongside fellow Bruins of Mexican descent. With “Progress Through Education” as their motto, the youth organizers addressed shared struggles and advocated pride in their culture and identity — work that resonated powerfully during the era of the Zoot Suit Riots. The Mexican Voice amplified their efforts, trumpeting the achievements of local Mexican American youth in everything from sports to academics to military service, and urging young people to pursue higher education as a “new frontier.”

Gutiérrez’s creativity, like his activism, knew no bounds. A clever cartoonist with a sparkling sense of humor, he served as art editor of the UCLA football program, The Goal Post; off campus, he lent his talents to the war effort as a draftsman for the Douglas Aircraft Company. Some of his most striking student work lives on through the linoleum block print covers of the Mexican Voice, alongside those of fellow art student Juan Acevedo ’48. Gutiérrez’s daughter Mercedes Gail, herself an accomplished artist, recalls that her father became a master of the linocut technique.

Courtesy of the Gutiérrez family
In addition to being a passionate writer, Gutiérrez was also a talented artist and illustrator. Here, his watercolor, titled Baile, showcases the vibrancy and energy of the Mexican American community. 

Both his art and his writing held a magnetic quality, and when the magazine’s staff grew to include fellow organizer Rebecca Muñoz, a love story unfolded. Muñoz, who would go on to become a pioneering educator, shared these observations in the Voice: “…His personality is dynamic, just like his writings; he attracts because he is real and sincere in his acts.” The pair married in 1942, starting their family the following year.

After graduation, Gutiérrez looked for ways to share what he had learned at UCLA. “Our job is uplifting our people,” he had written once in the Voice. “And how can we do this? By becoming teachers, social workers, writers, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, trained workers, and working in every way possible for their benefit and betterment.” He spent his final years as a beloved East L.A. middle school art and journalism teacher, activist and community leader. His daughter Lorraine Margot, a social work educator, is particularly inspired by his directorship of a Highland Park family center that provided lifespan education and after-school activities.

The Monrovia monument has been designed to honor both Gutiérrez and his father, Francisco, as pillars of their community. Meanwhile, Gutiérrez’s memory lives on at the campus where he once proudly walked: Before his death, he donated the full run of the Mexican Voice to UCLA, knowing that someday people would seek out the story it tells. Housed in UCLA Library Special Collections, this Bruin treasure has served many scholars mining its historical significance. It awaits countless more.

Its volumes are fragile now, the vivid colors fading and the mimeographed pages worn. But the message within — the legacy of Félix J. Gutiérrez’s life and those whose lives he championed — remains as vibrant and powerful as ever.

Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Summer 2024 issue.