At 65, Jaime Martinez has become an icon of Hispanic activism thanks to his work organizing huge marches across the United States to lobby for the civil rights of immigrants.

Born in San Antonio's Hispanic Westside neighborhood, Martinez, whose mother died when he was 3, was raised by his Mexican grandparents and they taught him to speak Spanish, as well as to understand social activism.

After finishing high school, Martinez entered the labor force and in 1966 he joined Local 780 of the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers, or IUE, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

"I learned to negotiate contracts, to defend workers' rights, to work out agreements favorable to employees and to watch over their interests," Martinez said in an interview with Efe.

"During that period I began to travel all around the country as a union organizer. Later, I was elected to the international board of my union. Who would have thought that a Hispanic born in a poor neighborhood would go so far," he added.

In 1996, Martinez helped organize the first massive Latino Civil Rights March in Washington, drawing more than 200,000 people to the nation's capital.

Years before he had gotten to know Cesar Chavez, leader of the farm workers movement, from whom he learned to participate in strikes and non-violent protests.

"After 15 years of struggles, in San Antonio and other cities we've gotten the work of Chavez recognized and (seen) his legacy made lasting with naming streets, avenues and schools after him," Martinez said.

"I'm never going to forget Chavez. He came to San Antonio to plan the strategy of the marches we were going to hold to defend the workers."

This year, Martinez led a series of protests in Texas against SB-9, a bill pushed by Gov. Rick Perry - a Republican presidential hopeful - that intended to eliminate sanctuary cities, that is to say cities that supposedly protect undocumented immigrants.

Martinez says that in his more than four decades of activism, he had never experienced the xenophobia and racism that exists nowadays against immigrants in Texas and the rest of the country.

The activist is currently presiding over the Cesar Chavez Legacy and Educational Fund and he has managed to secure thousands of dollars in scholarships for low-income Hispanic students.

Hanging in his office, located a block from the company where he became a union member, he has more than 100 framed photographs and news clippings about the odyssey he began years ago to support workers' and immigrants' rights.

Martinez, who receives invitations from many cities in the United States and Latin America to give talks about labor rights, has a message he learned from his mentor Chavez and that he applies in his daily life: "Never lose hope."