Valenzuela Family

Manny Valenzuela in Chandler Police Department uniform
Chandler Museum Collection, 2005.38.8

Rafaela Valenzuela migrated to Arizona from Sonora, Mexico, with her family in the 1920s. She was a migrant farm worker at the Ocotillo labor camp in Chandler. Manuel (Manny) Felix Valenzuela was the seventh child of Rafaela’s nine children. He was born in 1941 in Queen Creek, Arizona.

For the Valenzuelas, the Ocotillo labor camp provided basic shelter and a sense of camaraderie with other Hispanic families in Chandler and Queen Creek. Poverty was a common condition that many workers endured. The pay scale for migrant workers in Arizona was sometimes less than 50 cents an hour. The Valenzuelas did not know what it was like to have luxuries such as indoor plumbing, water, and electricity.

Young Manny would hitchhike or job with his siblings from Queen Creek to downtown Chandler. The children would dive into water irrigation canals with their clothes on to cool of from the hot sun. Because they couldn’t afford shoes, they carried a piece of cardboard to stand on. The cardboard protected their feet from the scorching earth. While in Chandler, the Valenzuela children sold their mother’s homemade tortillas, shined shoes, or did whatever chores were available to earn money.

When Manny was 18 years old, he became an auto mechanic and worked at Desert Petroleum Gas Station. Manny was an exceptional baseball player and coach for many local teams. But throughout the years, his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player faded.

A Queen Creek deputy sheriff befriended and encouraged Manny. His mentoring gave Manny self-confidence. As a result, Manny finished his general education requirements at Phoenix Community College and qualified for the Arizona police recruitment test. All of Manny’s hard work and studying paid off when the Chandler Police Department recruited him for the position of police officer.

In 1963, Officer Manny Valenzuela was the only Hispanic member of the Chandler police force at the time. On occasion, his peers challenged him because he was Mexican. Manny remembered being questioned by his supervisor on one occasion. The interrogation came from an incident where Manny fatally shot a murder suspect. The only weapon Officer Valenzuela had in his patrol car was a shotgun. Officer Valenzuela shot the suspect while defending himself and a fellow police officer in downtown Chandler. This event was just one of many situations Officer Valenzuela faced while protecting the residents of Chandler.

Manny Valenzuela (right) receives his diploma from the FBI Academy
Chandler Museum Collection, 2005.38.9

Manny received a series of promotions and appointments from the Chandler Police Department. He was the first Hispanic police officer to become a supervisor as he rose through the ranks as Detective Sergeant (1973), Lieutenant (1974), and Captain (1977). Manny achieved specialized skills at the FBI Academy National Headquarters in Virginia (1976). He was the first Hispanic Chandler Police officer to graduate from the Arizona Polygraph Association. In his role as a polygraph examiner, Manny testified during the State Senate impeachment trial of former Arizona Governor Evan Mecham. Manny continued his education at Arizona State University earning credits toward his degree. A medical retirement in 1981 ended Manny’s long and distinguished career.

Manny’s personal community dedication and leadership was instrumental in developing an anti-drub program called “Dope Stop.” This innovative program was launched in Chandler schools before the well-known National DARE program. Manny’s personal story of tenacity, integrity, and strong ethical values inspires Chandler’s Hispanic youth.

Today, Manny lives in Chandler with his wife, Ann. They have three children: Manny, Jr., Krista, and Caroline. All three siblings pursued their college education in criminal justice programs. Manny is busy in his retirement as a mentor, paralegal, and expert criminal behavioral psychology consultant.

Biography researched and authored by Mary Polanco-Gerlach and Diane Brown