The Rio Grande Valley is known for its agriculture, as you heard in season one, but it is also known for its contentious politics. In the last 40 years (and more), men and women have participated in city government and school boards, creating changes within their communities. Most of these men and women had children who followed in their footsteps–others who serve their community from outside of the political sphere.
In this second season, we hear the challenges and triumphs from the children whose parents welded their political power to change their communities. Each episode features a different individual: Lita Leo and Ramírez Brothers from Hidalgo County, Ruben Villarreal from Starr County, and Reba Cardenas McNair and Eddie Lucio III from Cameron County.
Host: Pamela Morales
Guest: Lita Leo
OPENING ID WITH BACKGROUND MUSIC
The Museum of South Texas History preserves and presents the borderland heritage of South Texas and North Eastern Mexico by telling the stories from the Rio Grande.
HOST – INTRODUCTION
Welcome to Stories from the Rio Grande. I’m Pamela Morales the Communications officer for the Museum of South Texas History, and I’m so excited, I know, I’m excited about everything but on season two of Stories from the Rio Grande we’ll hear about the politicians who shaped the Rio Grande Valley. However, were really not just going to listen to anybody, were going to hear from the people that know them best: their children. For this episode I sat down with Hidalgo County Treasurer Leta Leo, who comes from a very well know family in Western Hidalgo County, her Father La Joya Mayor, William Billy Leo was known throughout the Valley as Mr. Democrat. Don’t worry Leta is definitely going to tell us why. And her Grandfather the political activist, Leo J. Leo helped revive La Joya in the 1960‘s. As an elected official in Hidalgo County Leta is carrying on the family tradition of public service. In this episode she shared stories about her childhood, thoughts on Hidalgo County politics and her family’s legacy.
HOST: I’m here with Leta Leo the current Hidalgo County Treasure. Welcome Leta.
LITA: Thank you.
HOST: Could you tell us, if you don’t mind how old you are? What is your profession? What does that entail? And then we’ll talk a little bit more about your background.
LITA: Yes, my name is Leta Leo, I am 41 years old, just recently elected to the office of Hidalgo County Treasurer, took office on January first, went to work on the second and what the County Treasurer does, is she is the personal banker for Hidalgo County. Chief custodian of all funds. She is also the investment officer, so funds that are collected from the County for the County are then invested.
HOST: I invited you in because your family is well known politically. I just wanted to talk a little about that. But before that, just sort of give us a little background about who your family is, your parents, and are they still living? And then maybe describe a little bit about your childhood.
LITA: Yes, my parents are William and Filamena Leo, both of my parents are actually pretty well known throughout the district. My Mother is a former Superintendent of schools, an educator, a lifelong educator and My Father, who the County knows very well is Mr. William Billy Leo.
He recently passed away, were approaching almost a year. St. Patrick’s Day, it’s not going to be the same. He died on March 17th, of 2018 so as you see, it’s been just a little bit of time.
He is still very well known the name has always resonated. But on top of that He is also the son of Leo James Leo, who is a very well know political figure. Don’t know him very well or did not know him very well, he passed away when I was 4 years old. So, when I talk about him, its more memoirs and stories I hear from people in the valley and even beyond, from the state of Texas. And of course, from my family as well.
My Father carried on his legacy as a political activist. Not just a political figure. In addition to my Father being a former Mayor and County Clerk he was very active within the community and democratic party,
which he was very passionate for just like his Father. Who was known as an uncompromising democrat and my Father as Mr. Democrat. So, democratic politics was quite a theme throughout my life.
HOST: I think your family they mostly were from the west side of the County, which I think a lot of people don’t realize has a really rich political history and changes. Did you grow up in Western Hidalgo County?
LITA: Yes, Western Hidalgo County. I grew up in La Joya, which is closer to Starr County than Edinburg, which is the seat of Hidalgo County, however my Dad, that is where his roots began. And where my Grandfather actually began. My Grandfather actually paved the way to get the city incorporated it was known as a town called Tabasco. Buy it wasn’t an actual municipality. He made an effort and was successful in incorporating the city in which he became the first mayor along with two other city commissioners. Shortly after he passed away in 1981, I believe, shortly after my Father became mayor. right after him. We began in La Joya, where my Father inherited my Grandfather’s store which was off the expressway and that was more known as a political headquarters than it was an actual business. Although, later yes people remarked on how good the tacos were at that store. Many people throughout the state of Texas Remember that as a stomping ground for political rallies and even some kickoffs.
HOST: WOW! Is the store still there?
LITA: it is currently unoccupied, but the building is still there.
HOST: What was the name of the store?
LITA: Leo’s food mart it is, was right next to, no City hall just moved. They were finally able to build a very nice larger building together with their police station. We were next to city hall for many years.
HOST: In Your childhood, what sort of misconceptions were there about La Joya? Could you describe your school, the way you were brought up and any fond memories?
LITA: Well definitely a variety of fond memories. Unfortunate of course we also, every good has a bad, so seeing as my Father was very heavily involved in politics. What happened there to and actually there was a period, right now I believe there is a lot of throughout the state of Texas I guess the politics is pretty heated. The races are heavily contested and sometimes it can get pretty personal. I do recall one thing is that when my Grandfather passed, there was a little bit of stability in which all parties were somehow able to come to a compromise of some sort, not necessarily agree but at least work together. For a while there my Father was able to unite the parties and brought a bit of stability to the entire west. Which would be from La Joya, you see the La Joya School District is comprised of a couple of municipalities which include the City of Palm View, City of Penitas, the City of La Joya and Sullivan city. It’s a very large district, within that you also have the school board so anyone living in those municipalities, and even on the outskirts, are able to run for office and take a seat. The School board politics were a little heated. For a while there, there was some stability for about 30 years where they formed a committee; board races were able to go uncontested as well as some of the city races as well. If they did, they didn’t get too heated as its known right now. I do know that at this current moment. At least in the west and I’m sure in other areas throughout Hidalgo County and the valley. I understand there is an effort to stabilize these politics. I know these people do want to work together; it gets difficult. My Father was able to work through that and as I mentioned before, not to say it didn’t come at a cost, People did get their feelings hurt; he lost some friends. Sometimes a little bit of negativity. That just unfortunately, that is the price of being a public figure and politician. It does have its good and its bad points.
HOST: Yes, definitely. I know right now in Western Hidalgo County there are a lot of teams, like Team Liberty One. It’s really interesting to be reading up on that. So then, with that when did you realize that your family was a big deal?
LITA: Sometimes It really didn’t faze us. One story I used to say throughout my campaign, I like to tell that at eight years old, my parents exploited us, because we were so cute. At that time my Father was running for office, he had five children, or was it four? I can’t remember if my sister was born yet. My brother was a baby. We were dressed up in these T-Shirt, I was eight years old at the time, so this became normal for me. Politics and campaigns, we were constantly being taken to political rallies, so it really didn’t faze me. I didn’t see the family as a big deal. My Father was often recognized and asked to speak. He was sometimes the leader of those rallies. Again, I didn’t really fully understand it until a few times in school People would say, “you think because you are a Leo you could do whatever you want?” I really didn’t understand where that came from. It confused and baffled us, and it kind of annoyed us. And I speak for me and my siblings when I’m talking about this. But when I really saw it was a big deal was when Governor Richards came to campaign in La Joya, she formed a good relationship with my Father. We would take trips to Austin, and I gained an insight and would see that my Father was really trying to make some strides out here for his community.
HOST: And I think that also is because your Grandfather, we had actually a presentation about the Edcouch Elsa walkout. The presenter: Francisco Guajardo who is now a professor at UTRGV mentioned that when the students from the Edcouch Elsa walk out were suspended or expelled from the school district, and from that particular school, La Joya took in the students. And mentioned Leo J. Leo, which was your Grandfather, and maybe sort of your Dad got that making strides from your Grandfather?
LITA: Yes, my Grandfather, definitely was, during his time, civil rights were a major issue. In Edcouch Elsa I’ve heard the stories as well from people in the Edcouch Elsa area and what we were told is that members of that community were reaching out to other municipalities, many cities throughout the Valley. They were asking for their help, because these students, we did not want their education disrupted. Expulsion, a lot of them were doing very well academically. Losing a couple of months in your education would definitely hold them back maybe even a complete year. So, they were reaching out to other communities, some that were close by. From what I heard was that Leo, J. Leo, my Grandfather was the first one to say yes, and he worked together with a couple of the community leaders in Edcouch Elsa, they provided the bus. He had influence over the school board at the time as I mentioned that relationship. People sometimes view it as negative that this person tried to dictate and control however in this case, he was trying to use this influence for the greater good and that we bus these students to La Joya for several months there. That was a long ride, I’ve done the drive to Edcouch from La Joya, I can imagine these students went through to get up supper early. But in their efforts to continue their education.
HOST: Did their politics affect your view about the Valley? and if you left the Valley did anything change? Or did you see, well they weren’t necessarily right about that particular issue?
LITA: Nothing in particular, I do believe my parents, they saw the best in people. It’s difficult when you are an outsider looking in, you don’t really take into consideration what this individual, there is more to this story than is and so what I often found was that both my Mother and Father would help people and then they would turn around and begin speaking badly of them, or treat us badly, not treat us badly per say but just mention this to us and as children hearing this about your parents, it’s not easy to take in and it’s especially when you know about that person and you remember they were helped. Now of course that did sometimes bring about a negative view. I had mixed reviews about politics, especially politics in the Valley, I was a little negative, I had negative thoughts about it, however, once I left, I continued to stay involved, and so did my brothers and sisters, with the local races. We all left the Valley to attend college, but we stayed involved in those communities. Usually like the presidential races came about and we always came home to vote. So, my views did change, in that you grew a greater appreciation. Which I do believe happens to just about everybody that it takes you leaving to actually realize home is where the heart is as cheesy as that sounds sometimes. My views never changed as far as politics goes. I continued to believe in the candidate. As I said we might as an individual remember some of the bad. Somehow, we found there are good things to everything, and I said there’s a good and a bad to everything. I’m really not sure how to properly explain that.
HOST: Now you are an elected official, what did you running for that position, did that make you, were you shaped because of your family? Did you feel like it was time for you to run? Well first off, was this your first time running for office?
LITA: Yes, it was my first time running for office. I actually, right after high school I left the Valley. I went off to college, I started in San Antonio, moved to Lubbock. Right after Lubbock I was working in Washington D.C. for a few years. I returned to the Valley back in 2006 when the politics got extremely heated for my Father. He kind of did take a hit, that’s when the west started dividing, again people started turning against him. I was an adult when I came to see all this. I was motivated to get involved in these local politics just as my Father, in every way possible. The candidates which he supported were unsuccessful in their bids for either re-election or election in the west. On the school board too, the School board was pretty much where this all began and where all the shifts started happening to trickle down to the municipalities within the school district. I know at this moment, some of those municipalities are together with a couple of people taking a stand, and in other places, that’s why I say they are trying to divide but the division came at that particular time in 2006 and it’s when I really started to see the effects of my Father losing his grasp on the local race. When I finally decided to seek this office, I had been considering a local office actually. I wanted to do city council, never the school board, but city council and I would speak with my siblings about this and I know they were going to be supportive of it, but they kind of shook their heads as in “what are you doing, are you sure you really want to do this? Putting yourself and the family through this?” Because you know in addition to getting heated, it got very negative. When this position came about, I heard it was going to be an open seat for County Treasurer. Which as a matter of fact, my mom had mentioned it many years back. She said maybe this position will come about because Mrs. Norma Garcia has said that she may not seek office again. If not this term, the next one. I decided not to seek local politics because it was way too heated and divided. The more I campaigned throughout the County, the more I really got to see the impact that my Father and my Grandfather and even my Mother, because as I mentioned she became an educator, Superintendent and got to know other school districts: Donna, Weslaco, Sharyland. The Leo name was gaining even more respect. I do understand that some of the support I got had to do with my family and my family roots, my Grandfather, my Mother, my Father and in particular my Father. That I appreciate because seeing how things collapsed in the west, where his heart was. He loved his city. Just about all his T-shirts had City of La Joya, in support of La Joya. For a time, he never missed a La Joya football game, my Father and my Mother. He had a lot of pride for the city. Going beyond, in Hidalgo County, especially like Edcouch Elsa, my Father was very well respected, very well liked. And of course, a lot of people really do remember my Grandfather. In campaigning as I had mentioned, I saw the impact of what this individual had done and how people really respected my family. While I always knew it, its just that it’s always great to hear the stories. Someone always had a story to tell. They mainly involved the store and how they would come visit him at the store and visit him in the store. They just sometimes were driving by and they just had to stop and talk to him, because my dad, he literally did have that open-door policy. He would be in the middle of something and people would just randomly knock on his door and just start chit chatting with him. Of course, he appreciated that, even if it was in the middle of a deadline that he was trying to get through in regard to the business. Yes, that did leave an impact on me and it still does. When he passed on March17th, I was in the middle of a run-off, so it was really difficult to get through that campaign. Just seeing the amount of people and it was a couple of people that I still talk to, they were amazed at how many people were at his service, at the rosary, at the church and at the burial. People trying to make it in and out. It was pretty eye opening and remarkable.
HOST: Do you think that his legacy was something very important to remember?
LITA: It is very important because even now, what is it? 50 years later the Edcouch Elsa walk out, how my Grandfather, that is an incredible story in itself but just one of many where my Grandfather made an impact. How his politics and his activism. People remember that and my Father, both of them have put their hearts into their communities, into the people. They believed in these people. I think it is very important to carry on and I am doing my best. I had a conversation with my Mother recently, commenting on how to approach a couple of political matters and occasions where I am not as experienced and she is correct and my Father was incredibly active, probably in his early thirties he was already known throughout the County, he had already made a name for himself. As he became Mayor and County Clerk, he grew his political career. By the time he was in his 50s he was already a legend.
HOST: You said that there were five of you?
LITA: Yes, there are five of us at this moment, my brother and I we are the only ones who live in Hidalgo County. You can say we are servants in one way or another. My oldest sister lives in Washington D.C. doing government relations and consulting for various organizations around Washington D.C. My brother is a band director: Billy Leo Jr. is a band director not a politician.
HOST: oh, where is he?
LITA: In the Austin area, I forget the name of the school district. I apologize Billy, (laughter). My sister is a registered Nurse also in the Austin Area. My brother is a city manager in the City of Palmview which is in Western Hidalgo County and then myself, I just took office here in Hidalgo County. All of us here we are carrying on this legacy and we are serving our communities.
HOST: Is there any misconceptions or maybe one or two things people still get wrong about your family?
LITA: Well I think things have changed, unfortunately, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. I think after my Father’s death it played an impact on some of the people who were most critical of him. There was a lot of bad blood and serious anger within himself and other individuals and I ‘d like to say that ended upon his death. Some of these individuals I have seen their negative views have shifted. I do believe that in one way or another, these same people who were really angry with the family in general see it differently now.
HOST: What does your future look like? Your term is?
LITA: Four years.
HOST: What do you plan on doing after that? Do you plan on re-election? What are your goals?
LITA: I am taking one day at a time. Often times I have been asked, OK after this, do that, do this and at this moment I want to get comfortable in my seat. Get to know the office a little better. As I mentioned I am lucky to be able to come into a stable office in which I transitioned pretty smoothly. I would like to get to know my role as County Treasurer a lot better. I have only been in there a month. As they say: You really don’t know what you are getting into until you get in there. Its one thing to have an understanding. It’s like a job description that functions really well, but now you are getting to understand them and getting to do the work. My plan is just to serve my four years, possibly another four years. Hopefully it won’t be as difficult and challenging as it was the first time. Stay involved in my community, with the people. As I said I continue the tradition of my Father’s policy: open door. I have been getting a few phone calls. Anything I can assist with beyond my office. The office of the treasurer is more administrative, not really constituent based. We don’t write policy; we don’t build roads or pave roads that is. However, it is a step closer to these issues perhaps. I cannot personally help an individual. I can guide them in the right direction or pick up the phone and make that personal phone call on behalf of this individual and do my best to serve the needs of these individuals.
HOST: Is there anything else you would like to say to anyone out there who might not be as familiar with the Leo family?
LITA: Well, obviously I am definitely proud of my roots. I take great pride in the legacy just like a lot of my cousins do as well. Remember this, that the legacy of the Leo family tried their best at the same time I know that everywhere public officials and elected officials are held to a higher standard. My Father definitely was not perfect. We are human and have been known to make mistakes. We don’t always make the best decisions but would like it known that it was always what they believed to be in the best interests of the people of their community. It was not a self-centered cause. It wasn’t for their own personal gain. We just want to serve our community in the best way possible and shed a positive light on our community. In the case of La Joya, we wanted to grow, we want our students to do well and go off and do great things, hopefully come back. But if they don’t well, I understand there is a whole new world out there. But maybe in one way or another come back and help your community and continue to serve in one way or another. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in politics, maybe just come be a teacher or get involved in local causes. Sometimes we have a couple of issues that come about and just contribute if at all possible.
HOST: I would just like to say as a disclaimer at the museum we try to highlight our history. Even working at a museum is perfect if anybody out there has a story to tell we would love to hear it. And definitely volunteer at the museum, that’s also a great way. You know there is a lot of families in the Valley that have very politically involved families. How would you want people that are not part of those families to view you?
LITA: I’m sure that some of the things I mentioned other families sons, daughters even nieces and nephews have gone through this, We take great pride in the family but believe it or not we are just normal individuals and I do not believe we are above anyone else just because we are involved. Everyone I believe has a story to tell. We are not superheroes as some people like to say about several of our public officials. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses. We are normal individuals, just because I hold this office, or just because my family is spoken of so often and as they say legacy that is definitely a great word, but it doesn’t mean that we are powerful and above anyone else.
HOST: Thank you so much Leta for being here and I hope that people listen to your story and that they appreciate it.
LITA: Thank you very much.
This podcast was produced by me, Pamela Morales and in collaboration with Shan Rankin the Executive Director at the Museum of South Texas History. The song is Carpe Diem by Kevin McCloud, licensed under creative commons. Follow us on Anchor to hear more about Stories from the Rio Grande. Send your questions through the Anchor App. You can also subscribe to this podcast through the Apple Podcast App or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thank you for listening to MOSTHistory: Stories from the Rio Grande.
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Host: Pamela Morales
Guest: Ruben Villarreal
OPENING ID WITH BACKGROUND MUSIC
The Museum of South Texas History preserves and presents the borderland heritage of South Texas and North Eastern Mexico by telling the stories from the Rio Grande.
HOST – INTRODUCTION
Welcome to Stories from the Rio Grande, I’m Pamela Morales the Communications officer for the Museum of South Texas History. I sat down with former Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villareal, the son of Basilio Villareal who became the first Mayor of Rio Grande City after the town was reincorporated in the 1990s. For those of you who might not know, Rio Grande City is a border city, so Ruben shared fond memories of this bicultural and border city and how his father’s values of hard work, family and community service inspired him to pursue a career in public service. Here’s Ruben.
HOST: Hello, and welcome to Stories from the Rio Grande and I am Pamela Morales and I am here with?
RUBEN: Hi I’m Ruben Villareal, former Mayor of Rio Grande City, former resident of Rio Grande City, now living in Edinburg Texas and working out of McAllen.
HOST: Before we talk about your political life, I wanted to know a little bit more about you, so our listeners know who you are and your family of course. Who were your parents, and do you have any siblings, and could you give a little bit of insight of your childhood and maybe any fond memories?
RUBEN: Let me tell you that I am the youngest of five brothers and sisters. My father is Basilio Villareal from Rio Grande City, originally from Zapata, actually from Cruza Mujer Mexico. My mother is born and raised here in the Rio Grande Valley; she also spent some time up in San Antonio. We’ve lived in Rio Grande City as a family, my mom is 93 years old and still lives there. We’ve been there for something like 70 years by now. Of the family, my brother and myself, Basilio is also his name and myself, became the political ones. Strangely we’re brothers, but we both had very different routes that we took to public service. As far as education is concerned, I’m very proud of the fact of my education: I am a product of public schools in Rio Grande City, I am a product of Pan American University here in Edinburg Texas, I graduated there in 1986. Anything you here me say or do, or if you’ve read anything about me, you got to throw Pan American in. I’m a little proud of that fact and as far as my upbringing, fond memories, I want to tell you right now with all the talk about immigration and about the river and about our border wall that’s actually a fence my fondest memories probably have to do with the actual river. I‘ve grown with a particular closeness to it because now the river that I once knew is gone and if you grew up anywhere along the border here in the Rio Grande Valley and I mean along the border, Edinburg and McAllen are a little detached, but if you grew up for example, Roma, Rio Grande City, Brownsville, Hidalgo, Texas places where a port of entry was, a river runs through you. Its not just a river that’s a boundary, but it’s a river that runs through you in very different ways. The first time I ever jumped into the water to learn how to swim, it was in the river. The first time I went hunting was along the river. The fact that the river is a border and it has become the topic of big news, it runs in our blood stream and I’m very proud of that fact as well.
HOST: The first time I heard about you, was in the primary election for U.S. Representative District 15. Vicente Gonzalez was the one that won that seat, but I saw you at that forum, and I was somewhat surprised and not, because the assumption that I grew up with was that Starr County is full of Republicans.
HOST: Well, that is my assumption.
RUBEN: The opposite is true. I can probably count the number of Republicans that call themselves Republicans in Starr County on one hand. The rest may be, but they hide around the bushes and under the bed. They don’t want to be known as Republicans; they call themselves registered Democrats for the simple fact of the matter that you are registered nowhere. My tract to becoming a Republican has a lot to do with Business, a lot to do with Constitution, a lot to do with small government. My father was extremely successful in business and all his ventures and I want to say that when I was growing up, my father was Republican and didn’t have to wear it on his sleeve. He made it apparent through his financial contributions to presidents. I don’t mind telling this story, but there used to be this wall full of pictures in our house and it had pictures of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and Ronald Regan and Republicans that he would, back then sign a check, put it in an envelope, lick the envelope; lick the stamp; send it off and they would send him these 8”X10” glossies Thank you for your contributions to our cause Mr. Villareal and my father would put them on his wall. And I would see them on the wall. I want to tell you that probably the last one I remember during his lifetime was probably Ronald Regan. In a funny sort of way you always say I am not going to become my parent I’m not going to become my Dad, so, yeah, you know what I wanted to be cutting edge and I wanted to be more on the side of exploring political beliefs and structure. I call myself an independent, which many people actually do but I will tell you that my father and probably a hand full of other people that I know for a fact call themselves Republicans, the rest of them, oh my god, you know are all Democrats. Starr County is historically blue. And the fact that a Republican came out of there, I still get the questions once and a while that say: “You’re from Starr County and you’re a Republican?”
HOST: The other thing that I’ve noticed about Rio Grande City, I’ve gone a couple of times to the Dies y seis de Septiembre celebration that you all have over there. The thing that really stood out was the strong relations ship between Camargo/Roma. This celebration is having the schools and the officials from those cities come over to Rio Grande City and highlight the relationship.
RUBEN: The abrazo, you are talking about the abrazo ceremony. Actually you are right, that is a very long held tradition that was done, My father has pictures on his wall where he was a young man and he would walk across the bridge and he would meet half way across the bridge and he would exchange pleasantries and would commit to each other’s prosperity in a very serious and emotional way. The thing about, people forget about border communities that have a community across the border, you may be divided by a border, but back then, because business used to be on this side and on that side because we would go shop over there, they would shop over here so having those strong communications were great for international trade. Its changed somewhat, but those traditions still exist, you still have the abrazo you still meet half way along the river and you express to your counterparts in Mexico, how much you appreciate them and how much you look forward to future business and future relationships with them.
HOST: That’s one thing at the museum we try to highlight and tell in our exhibits that we here on the American side also depend on the Mexican side and the Mexican side (depends on us)
RUBEN: We always will. I have my own reason for discussions, my own talking points about the border fence you know, they are based on something different but some people’s apprehension and disregard for having a fence has to do with that spiritual connection that you have to your neighboring community. It was nurtured for so many decades and it was passed on from father to son and from daughter to mother to make sure that your neighbors across the way in Mexico were close kin to you because you had an existence that was tied not just by last names or by language because hablo español but it was tied by a need to make sure that commerce was important to both parts and the relationships of family. Many people still have family in Mexico so those barriers that people want to construct now still find opposition because its an emotional and spiritual connection that will be terminated the minute that wall goes up.
HOST: You mentioned that your family has been in Rio Grande City for 70+ years and your father built that relationship doing the abrazo and all of that. The other thing that I did while doing my research was find that your family still owns Grande Butane?
RUBEN: That is correct, Grande Butane has been around since 1958 in Rio Grande City. It might be either the first or second oldest small business that still exists, owned by the original family. Everybody else has passed on and businesses have shut down. Right now, Grande Butane Co. Inc. is run by my brother Basilio who still runs that operation daily, but my father started in 1958 and yes, it is still around, and it still services the public of Starr County. Its been a lot of years. Again, I did that myself in that framework of business for 26 years, so I learned the family business also and getting into politics was, let me put it this way, it became a family tradition. It wasn’t always that way, business always was a family tradition. Small business and entrepreneurship but politics wasn’t always a philosophy that ran deep in our family. In fact, it was probably the opposite for a very long time.
HOST: When did you realize that your father’s politics or when did you realize, as you said politics was not in your DNA, so do you think your father’s politics influenced that subconsciously?
RUBEN: I Think it always was in our DNA, when I said before that my father was, maybe I didn’t mention it, but early in his career, when he was building his business he discouraged us from getting involved in politics. I never thought about it, I think my brother thought about it more than I did and he thought about it too but he discouraged it because its bad for business, it’s bad for business, it’s bad for business. If you are a small businessperson in a small community like Rio Grande City and you’re going to run for politics, you’re going to have political enemies and it’s not good for business. That changed around 1993, he was probably in his 60s and his perspective changed. He was very grateful, my father wasn’t a citizen of the United States of America, he came here and became a citizen in 1948 I believe. I didn’t realize it until I was an adult that he wasn’t born here. It never occurred to me because he had such a passion for this country, he always said that this country made him who he was and gave him the opportunity to succeed. When he was in his 60s in 1993, they were talking about finding a mayor for Rio Grande City after not being a city since ’33, I think during the depression, my father threw his hat into the ring literally. My Dad wore hats, we all wear hats and my brother, and I were shocked. We were like are you sure you want to do this? And he was like yeah, I’m going to do this. Yo se lo que estoy haciendo. Este pueblo me ayudo bastante, me dio la oportunidad. Ahora ahi que pagar la deuda. In his mind he was paying back the debt that the community had allowed him. We have five brothers and sisters, one of my sisters passed away from cancer but we all graduated with college degrees, that was my fathers dream and he attributed that fact that a small business Rio Grande City gave his kids the opportunity to graduate from college, so he was very grateful and in 1993 he threw his hat in the ring for mayor of Rio Grande city, of the newly incorporated Rio Grande City and to make a long story short, he was successful in a run-off and he became Rio Grande City’s first mayor in modern times in 1993 and that’s the original mayor, Basilio Villareal, Mayor Villareal that started it all.
HOST: Rio Grande City was incorporated before 1933 so did the depression really take a hit in Rio Grande City?
RUBEN: Oh, of course. It was a city in the 1920s I believe and then in 1933 if I remember history correctly, they went belly up during the depression. It’s a classic case of living within your means and spending the money you have. Its one thing that I will tell you that my brother, my self and my father brought to politics was a business model where you operate within the realms of money you have to spend. You don’t assume that more money is going to come in. you don’t assume that you can afford something when you can’t. Numbers don’t lie, so that’s the way that we conducted our political dealings within the structure of government, having to do everything with business so, when my father ran and he was successful, he brought in his business model that worked very effectively and he was successful, he created a police department and he started the structure of the city and when he finally retired from politics and life if you will he left the city with maybe over one and a half million dollars, which back then was a lot of money, still is a lot money now, but it was more back then. He was successful in anything he applied his efforts to. Let me fast forward a little bit, when my brother decided to run for school board right after, my father kind of opened that door, and my brother became a school board member and he was a school board member for about 20 years. He thought he’d retire, and then he decided to come back about 3 years ago, he ran again, and I think he was unsuccessful but he just became a school board member again last year so he’s still in the political structure. Myself, as far as my political experiences and road it did lead me to being mayor, but I also ran for congress in 2015. It was a memorable moment that I will always cherish because it didn’t just deal with the Rio Grande Valley, it dealt with places like Cibolo and Schertz and Seguin and I did a lot of campaigning in Central Texas and I made dear friends in that area.
HOST: I want to clarify, you mentioned that the city was re-incorporated in 1993 and then your father won and became mayor. When I did my research it said that he passed away in 1996?
RUBEN: That is correct. My father was the mayor, there is something called type A general law, when you create a city you have aldermen. You can’t have city councilmen you can’t have commissioners for that and I’m going to get very technical, but you have to create a city charter so my father the first mayor was so determined to be successful in the city and like a lot of very traditional older gentlemen of the time, he didn’t believe very much in doctors, he actually had colon cancer. He knew for probably a year and some change that he had a condition, he just refused to go to a Doctor and by the time we knew, my brother and I took him to go seek medical help it had metastasized into other parts of his body and that was his exit to Heaven. I don’t think he would have had it any other way. He was so caught up, my brother had him on one arm and I had him on the other arm. And he said: “But I have things to do.” He kept that philosophy for his entire life. He never retired; he just didn’t have that in him. As I am getting older, I don’t think that I’ll ever retire either. But yes, he passed from cancer and like I mentioned before, my family has been touched by cancer in several ways. My sister passed from cancer also, she was 37, 38 I think, and I was 36 or something like that so, those types of experiences do change you if you’re a close family like we were. They make you strive harder and strive further and look for more opportunity. To some extent I do want to say that when I ran for Congress, I did have them in the back of my mind. Because we only live once and if you leave anything undone you will have regrets. And I have none.
HOST: Your father passed in 1996, when did you really start to get involved? Was it after that, was it a few years?
RUBEN: The trek to my experiences in Government started really when I became a volunteer in the community. My Dad was that too, a very passionate Lions Club member, he believed in community and he believed in community organizations. Again, I saw that in him and as I look back the more, I realize that our lives mirrored each other. I became a volunteer in the community, I organized everything from Christmas parades to BBQs for people that were ill. We had the first Feast of Sharing in Starr County was done with a group that I worked with. We did scholarship golf tournaments through the City Jay Cees. I just started doing a lot of volunteer work and if I told you that philosophically that I had all these thoughts for being in politics, the reason that I ran into politics was because when I got involved with these organizations for community work and for good, I started to see a lot of bad public servants. I started telling people that I can do better than that. I can do better than them. Till someone said well then why don’t you run for something? And I’m like, you know I am going to run for something so, my trek to my political experiences started more from volunteer work and knowing that I had an ability to organize and to create some good and I did it because I wanted to serve my community in a bigger way. I did believe I could do a better job than that bozo who was doing a terrible job.
HOST: When did you become Mayor and make those things happen?
RUBEN: in 2001, I think it was in November. November of 2001, I ran my very first election. It was for an alderman, its just like a city councilman. I ran for the very first time and I won with a comfortable margin. I was very happy, I wanted to make an impact, but when you get in there and you start getting influenced, the funny thing I will tell you Pamela is the first two years in office were confusing, were difficult. I won’t say they were unproductive by my standards and I wasn’t ready to do it again. When my two year term was up, I really didn’t see any sense in it because when I got there in 2001 and I was doing my first stint as a City Alderman, I would talk to everyone else whom had more experience than I did in city government and government, all they would talk about was getting re-elected. The gold ring of success was all about getting re-elected. Get re-elected, get re-elected. I accepted that as conventional wisdom that makes you a better public servant, so I ran a second time and again I was successful a second time. But I wasn’t satisfied, I wasn’t happy with myself. Shortly into my second term I made a big decision not to worry about getting re-elected. I was going to worry about leaving a mark, a legacy. Producing infrastructure and producing better ways of life for people to enjoy my community and if that meant me doing something that was unpopular, that wouldn’t get me re-elected, I was OK with it. I enjoyed my public service experience after that. I let go, I was flying the trapeze without a net and I was doing as good as I possibly could with the best of intention, and it became a joy. It became a joy, I ended up serving the City of Rio Grande City as an Alderman, a city Councilman, economic development President with Director duties and I was even the interim City Manager and I was a Mayor pro-tem and I was the Mayor for Rio Grande City. It’s funny you have all this equipment here; I know about equipment audio visual because I also ran the Pay Channel Public in Education Government channel. The late great, I love the guy, his name was Juan Perez, the great camera man johnny and I we ran RGCN 12 for about three years. I did it all through volunteer work because I wanted to impact my community and do something that was nice to look at and that would create a good emotional experience for everybody as well as good infrastructure.
HOST: It sounds like your father left an impression on you especially about values and morals and all these virtues as you describe all this volunteerism. During your time growing up, you might of mentioned this earlier, no one wants to grow up to be like their parents, but during this time, you ran your volunteer work and then political office, was there anything in particular that changed your view? Do you feel like your views shifted from growing up to then becoming politically involved?
RUBEN: I had such a joy; it was an adrenaline rush. It sounds kind of weird, but it was a joy and an adrenaline rush. It was a joy when I would see a park being built, because we didn’t have a park system. Under my administration we created a park system, we created a solid waste program. People take for granted. You know the bins that you roll out into the street and then the trucks come in and picks them up? Rio Grande City didn’t have them. We paved every road in the city. About 90% of them. We built a water treatment plant that’s going to satisfy the needs of Rio Grande City for about the next 15 years. It was about accomplishments; it was about leaving a legacy. The legacy was not about let me beat my drum and pat my back, on the contrary, the legacy will be for others to judge. Even a library, we didn’t have a library of reference that I could tell you and we created a library system. Yes, it has all to do with my father and his teachings. I’m going to tell you that I fought it every step of the way. I was young, I was energetic I was stubborn, and I wasn’t going to listen to what my Dad said because he was old fashioned, and I knew better because I was young. The exuberance of youth is great, but it doesn’t give you a lot of wisdom. My father’s determination to continue teaching me and in spite of me was something I am very grateful for and in a lot ways I became him, which is the inspiration that I use to tell people that even to the point of being Republican, because my Dad was Republican. I understood later because we were businesspeople. We didn’t want government to overextend into our lives. Give us the opportunity to create our life. Don’t expect the government to create a better life for you because you’re the one that can create a good life for yourself. Those values have everything to do with my father.
HOST: You’ve mentioned a lot about the political stuff and your family business, is there or was there a misconception about your family? I’m getting the impression that your family was a big deal in Rio Grande City or probably still is. Is there a misconception there? A lot of people of would say, well he was mayor and his brother is on the school board, they’re just power hungry.
RUBEN: That absolutely happened. At one point I was the Economic Development President with director duties, I was the mayor, my brother was the school board president and yes, they absolutely said that. That was more of just the circumstance of our hard work and dedication to our community and you go back and you look at those times and our community and I don’t mind saying it now, because I can go back and I can show you projects that I worked on that are there that are still serving the community. I don’t care if it’s a water treatment plant or a wastewater collection system or if it’s a park system or roads that we paved under our administration. The schools that my brother built as a School Board President. You can go and grab those and see those. What I will tell you is that, and I have to explain, and people will listen to this and I still have to say, people will come to me once in a while, young people and say “hey Mayor, I’m thinking of running, what advice can you give me?” That still happens and the first piece of advice that I give them, I ask them: Do you have your family’s support? And if they say “yes”, I say go for it. If they say, “Well my wife and I are talking about it, I think its OK.” Don’t do it. It will create so many difficult moments within your family. If your family is not in it from day one, day negative one, you must have your family behind you 150,000%. Everything from your seven-year-old if you have one to your seventeen-year-old to your wife, has to be with you because the minute you have that doubt, it creates a lot of problems in your family. It will do that. Luckily, again I’m going to tell you about my father’s upbringing. My father raised me with a cast iron outer skin that I still have today and I’m grateful for it because nothing that was ever said on social media about me was said. “Oh, you’re taking bribes.” You know what? If you have the information, take it to the FBI, have the Texas Rangers come look for me have them do an investigation. Because, you know what? If you have proof, bring it, if not, Shut Up! 100% of the time, they had nothing because I know how I lived, I know how I conducted myself, with an extremely high regard for community and an extremely high regard for what’s right in Government. I think that legacy has followed me even today. Because I just had somebody on social media say, “Hey Mayor, you did a really good job in Rio Grande City.” I appreciate everybody on social media who tells me that. I still have my detractors, we always will, but I want to tell you I know how I lived, I know how I conducted myself. I know what I did and didn’t do so I don’t worry about a thing. Every night my pillow is comfort and confidence and God’s blessings that put me here today. I have no issues with my run-in government.
HOST: Do you think that your legacy and your family’s legacy is important to remember?
RUBEN: Of course. Anybody who serves the public and served them well. Legacy is important part of a family and how they will be remembered. In fact, I’ve told people that I’ve met that I might have left water plants and I might have left parks and I might have left new streets. I might have left a library system, I might have left a structure that has millions of dollars in purchases, which Rio Grande City did. But the legacy you leave behind is the hallmark that other generations after you can follow. It’s a path, you cut it, created it and if they want to know how it’s done, they don’t have to go and reinvent the wheel. They can go and find a wheel that worked once upon a time and that’s what a legacy is. It’s a wheel that rolls beautifully across the landscape of your community and it rolls with the intent of good and that’s why a legacy is important and needs to be protected and encouraged. Like I said, if you get there, running for office, I don’t care if it’s a judge or a school board member or mayor like myself or a state representative or a congressman. If you do it with the utmost intent to create good to leave more than you take because you take nothing, you’ll do a good job for your community. That’s one thing I think, if you’re going to get into the role, especially city government, school boards are run differently, but I know city government, if you’re going to get into city government, if you are going to go to Austin or Washington and ask them for help from your state representatives and congressmen for projects that you’re working on because you need funding, number one the first thing you have to ask yourself is don’t expect the government to do it for you, you got to do for yourself first. Don’t expect the government to give you a blank check, that’s not going to happen. Do for yourself and walk in with the attitude that I just need a little bit of help. That is a very important thing. Secondly, I will tell you that when you get in that role. If you’re a mayor, a mayor pro-tem or a city commissioner, you say “We hired lobbyists to go to Austin to work on projects, BULL! You get your butt to Austin; you go lobby for your own projects because that community is yours. Those lobbyists and those consultants? You’re one of maybe a dozen. But there is only one you and nobody is going to have more passion, drive and dedication to make sure a community prospers and yourself. Make yourself known in the halls of Austin Texas, in the Capital and in Washington and remember those buildings don’t belong to them. It belongs to the taxpayers of this country. And yes, we are taxpayers, so it belongs to us. So, go out there and own it.
HOST: Is there anything else you would like to say about your father, your family, Rio Grande City? Any misconceptions over there? As I said I made a misconception that everyone over there is a Republican.
RUBEN: I thought your misconception was going to be that everyone wears a Cowboy hat, and looks like something out of a John Wayne movie, which we do get often. I’m going to talk about the Valley, because you know that is something that I am passionate about. Keep in mind that when I ran for Congress, I understood the value of a regional approach and how people look at us once we pass that checkpoint. I worked the areas of Central Texas extensively. I think myself and a partner of mine Wayne Layman who was running for something, we touched on 4,000 doors in that Central Texas area and I understood quickly how they view us. Meaning us here in the Rio Grande Valley. I want to encourage everyone who listens to this to be proud where you are from. To be proud about the fact you have extended families and have grandfathers and uncles and aunts that showed you a better way of doing things. Be proud of the fact que somos Latinos, que somos Mexicanos, temenos la abilidad de communicar en dos idiomas. Mi papa me enseño como hablar en español y yo, de joven no queria aprender. Yo pensaba que hablar en ingles era mejor todo el tiempo. Pero sit e digo que mi abiliidad de hablar en español y mi cultura me ah servido como oro en mis experiencias. What I said in a nutshell was my biculturalism is a part of my Superman cape. I want to encourage everyone in this Valley to see their value. If they have a bicultural, they can be something else. They can be Irish French; they could be Filipino Mexican it doesn’t matter. Or all Filipino, whatever your ethnicity is, be proud of who you are because when you walk into important offices, I learned really quickly, in Austin or Washington, if you walked in with confidence you walked in there with a sense of respect for the world and yourself, they will treat you as such. I credit my father for giving me that ability, because he would tell me early on, he would say “Son sometimes all there are in this world is there are good people and bad people dumb people and smart people.” He broke it down that way and those words would replay themselves in the back of my mind. I want to encourage everyone in the Rio Grande Valley that if you want to become a fashion designer in New York City, I mean I was in New York for the first time. I had a stint over there; it was the border culture community expert on a show called border lives and I did three amazing weeks talking about border affairs, border law enforcement and border communities. I was in New York City among all those different cultures and I adapted extremely well and some of the people that were part of the show and they said: “You adapted really well to New York.” And I said I will adapt anywhere because I am so proud of where I’m from and one thing that I know is that the Rio Grande Valley is a special place and it provides us a wealth of knowledge and experience. The kind of experience now, because immigration is talked about so often, that is absolutely golden on so many different levels. I won’t say follow your dreams. No, no. You pick your goals, work hard for those goals and don’t be unrealistic. If it means sacrifice, sacrifice. If it means a long marathon, run that marathon. Take every single step and they will add up, do not hold yourself back. Do not have fear. One thing that I will tell you, I was once asked by someone at the Texas Tribune what I thought the greatest disadvantage someone from the Valley had. It had nothing to do with family or biculturalism, but I think too many of us from the Valley can be timid at times. We’re timid. Here is what I want to tell everyone who is listening to this podcast about coming from the Valley. I am a product of this Valley 100,000%. Every single bit of me, every word that comes out of me, every thought every innovative idea I ever had I know came from my upbringing in these communities. I want to ask you that you choose your goals, make them big, make them bold. Work hard, make no excuses, work hard and don’t ever look back and if it means going to New York City or going to Los Angeles or going to Paris France or going to Brussels. Whatever it is, you can do it with the gifts that God gave you. And with the upbringing that this Valley has also provide to you. Go after it, grab it. What are you waiting for?
HOST: At the Museum of South Texas History, that’s what we want people to know about. This museum really highlights the bicultural region. One of the things I like to say is we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.
RUBEN: It’s very true. I’ve used that very same line. I want to tell you that I’m not a big historian in our family but one of my relatives is and they sent me a picture of my great, great grandfather, he had a big ‘ol mustache like I do and he had more hair than I do, because I’m bald now, I’m the only one in my family who is that way. But he had a big mustache like mine because I sport a handlebar mustache, the only picture that I have seen of my great, great grandfather, he is carrying what looks to be a Winchester and a holster with a pistol and wearing his boots and you have the sense of who he was. If that’s who you are, then that’s who you are. That’s who I am and now I still walk around with my Cowboy boots and my hat and my big buckles but that’s who I am. Sometimes, its easier to be somebody else than who you are. I do want to say that my wife and I are married 11 years now. She has given me a lot of inspiration to be myself. If anyone ever meets me or has seen me in a picture or seen me on TV before, I got a lot going on. I got a big mustache; I got a big beard; I got a bald head; I wear funny glasses; I wear a hat; I wear faded jeans. That’s who I am. My wife encourages me everyday to be more of myself. Even to the point I look at her and say should I just trim the beard? Or should I just trim back the mustache? And she says, if that’s you, that’s you. We all need that inspiration. We all need to have someone in our lives that encourages us to be more of ourselves. The easiest thing to be in this world is to not be yourself, conform. If you are in the mold of that conformed person that you sense, that’s fine, that’s who you are, but if you’re not then express yourself.
HOST: Thank you so much Ruben, for participating in this podcast, Stories from the Rio Grande. Don’t forget at the Museum of South Texas History, we have some collections here at the archives. If you want to learn more about the region stop by. Thank you for listening.
RUBEN: Bye bye, thank you.
This episode was produced and edited by me, Pamela Morales. The song is Carpe Diem by Kevin McCloud, licensed under creative commons. Follow us on Anchor to hear more Stories from the Rio Grande and send your questions through the Anchor App. You can also subscribe to this podcast through the Apple Podcast App or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thank you for listening to MOSTHistory: Stories from the Rio Grande.
SONG – END
Host: Pamela Morales
Guest: Ramírez Brothers
OPENING ID WITH BACKGROUND MUSIC
The Museum of South Texas History preserves and presents the borderland heritage of South Texas and North Eastern Mexico by telling the stories from the Rio Grande.
HOST – INTRODUCTION
Welcome to Stories from the Rio Grande, I’m Pamela Morales the Communications officer for the Museum of South Texas History. It’s only been a couple of episodes so far this season, but I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about political families in the Rio Grande Valley. It’s interesting to hear the political dynamics and its impact on families and communities. In this episode, I spoke with the sons of Alfonso “Al” Ramirez, the first Hispanic Mayor of Edinburg. He ran for Mayor in the 1960s, most of the stories told by the Ramirez brothers are about overcoming stereo types. What do I mean by that? Let’s take a listen.
HOST: Hello, and welcome to Stories from the Rio Grande, I am Pamela Morales and I am here with the Ramirez Brothers. I am going to ask for their names and how old they are, if they don’t mind telling me?
BROTHERS: Robert Ramirez and I’ll be 70 in September. Daniel Ramirez and I’m 61 years old. Steven Ramirez, I’m 67 almost 68. David Ramirez, I’ll be 74 next month.
HOST: I brought in the Ramirez brothers because they are all sons of the first native Edinburg born and Hispanic Mayor of Edinburg which I think is a very interesting thing because he was elected Mayor in the 1960s. We’re going to talk about his political life and how that has affected the sons. Another thing about their father whose name is commonly known as Al Ramirez, was also involved in education, and he was also in the military, in the Army. We will talk a little about that, but mostly about his political life. First off, if each brother could each describe their perspective of what it was like growing up with a Mayor?
BROTHERS: (Steven) The best part of my experience was being able to go the movies for free. (laughter)
Something I never heard about. You?
(Daniel) The only experience I had, I was in grade school, everyone made fun of me because my Dad was Mayor and they would tell me how privileged I was.
(Robert) I was in Junior High, by then I was very much involved in baseball, it was something I loved to do but it was also something I just naturally gravitated towards it because it was outside the house. I stayed away from the house quite a bit and I was in a way very disconnected from the fact that he was running for Mayor. We didn’t have home conversations about it, there was no discussion about it. I went out and played baseball until it got dark, so it was not really something that was central to my life in a way even though he was my father and we lived in the same house together.
H0ST: David, do you have anything to say?
BROTHERS: (David) This is going to sound like an oxymoron, but I was barely aware that he was running, and I was not. All the things that people said, were years later. Yeah, I knew he was running but he never told us. He said, “If I win, I’m going to be the first Mexican American Mayor of Edinburg.” I don’t know if it meant anything to me, and probably not. I remember bits and pieces, like his father telling him “There’s no way you’re going to win.” Some of the white Anglo Men told him that Edinburg is not ready for a Mexican Mayor. I wasn’t aware of it, and this is going to sound like I’m complaining, and I’m not, I’m just telling you the truth, what really happened. Our father hardly ever talked to us. There was no conversation going on such as “What did you do today? What did you learn in School? Nothing like that. Yes, I knew he was running and yet at the same time I didn’t because it didn’t mean anything to me.
HOST: It sounds like he as a Man of few words? While he didn’t talk about it, was there a time when you realized that him becoming the first Hispanic Mayor of Edinburg, when did you realize that was a big deal?
BROTHERS: (David) I don’t know that I ever heard that mentioned really. I was a Junior in High School when he ran, when he won. The night that he won; I didn’t know anything about it. The next morning my biology teacher said “Congratulations, your Dad won.” I was like OK, so what? I do remember some strange things that happened. He would get phone calls from parents saying “Well, you’re the Mayor and my daughter has to walk a block to the school bus, so what are you going to do about it?” You know that kind of thing. Like I said, I was aware of it and not aware of it, if that makes sense?
HOST: Maybe later on in life, did you, you know as kids maybe you thought oh well my parents are not cool, they don’t know anything but then when you get older, you start to appreciate some of the things that they did at home and maybe outside the home.
BROTHERS: (David) That might be one of the questions I thought you were going to ask. What did he do that I thought was meaningful? I guess the first thing was, he introduced bilingual education to elementary schools. He, Carol Perkins and other people, they used to make film strips and videos and I don’t know what, he would deliver them to the schools. The other thing that’s not related to that, that he did and this was toward the end of his life, the Rio Grande Valley Orchestra had a Polish Conductor who was from Chicago, now I don’t know if you know this but in McCook, there are about 10 or 15 families that immigrated in 1925 from I believe Panna Maria, and they were all Polish and they spoke Polish at home like the Mexican Americans speak Spanish at home. What he did was, he got some school busses and he went out there to see if they were interested in going to the first concert.
BROTHERS: (Robert) One of the things, as I said, I was unaware, I don’t know about you, but I want to find out from Steven, but were you aware that there was a campaign going on and were you involved in any way?
(Steven) Yes, I did door to door campaigning. I was just telling Danny, a couple of blocks up the street from where we lived, I knocked on the door and a lady came to the door and said “I’ll never vote for him!” and I thought: OK? What are you supposed to say? But most people wanted to vote for him.
(Robert) I was playing baseball, that’s all I knew. One time I remember, he stopped me at the front door, I was in junior high, one of my classmates, was in all of my classes was Edinburg attorney Gary Hendrickson, and Gary’s father was the incumbent Mayor and we didn’t talk about it. We were in (Boy) Scouts together for a while, but it wasn’t, politics was not an item that was being discussed and Gary didn’t play baseball, so we didn’t even talk that much at all. But my Dad stopped me once at the front door and just kind of caught me up short and said, “You are going to support me, aren’t you?” (laughter) and I was like, support you? You know I was like; I didn’t even know what to say? This topic does not have anything to do with baseball, so I don’t know what you are talking about. (more laughter) And the other thing is even though I lived in the same house I didn’t know Steven was out campaigning. This is one of the reasons I…
(David): I didn’t either.
(Robert) I’m glad that we’re here to have this conversation. I do want to say that one of the geneses in part of how he decided to run for Mayor was when he was working for the school district and we lived out West of town on Mon Mack Road, in a house that’s still there as a matter of fact. He got a visit from one of the power brokers in town and they asked him what he would you think about running for City commission? Apparently, there was a Gentleman’s agreement that they would have at least one Mexican American on the City commission so that things would at least look a little OK with respect to representation of the people, by the people. So, they said, “Al we came to see what you think about running for office of City commission?” He said “What? I don’t know anything about that; I don’t have any money; I’m not a political person; I work for the school district.” And they said “Well don’t worry about that. If you say yes, you’ll get elected.” What goes along with that is, you’ll also vote the way we want you to vote.” So, he politely told the guy it was time to leave. Then a couple of years later, he and couple of his friends were coming back from the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla or the 150th, which ever it would have been in the late 50s early 60s and that’s when he proposed to them: “What do you guys think about running for office?” That’s how he decided I guess, and he was a very modern campaigner in a way. He got Tide chemical company, which was on Schunior street and they had a computer and they got the voting roles and they computerized all the cards of all the people that had voted in the previous election so they knew which houses had more than one vote and he would go door to door first of all at the houses with the most votes and it was a very diligently run and scientifically run campaign. Again, all of this you find out later, when I no longer played baseball.
(David) Here’s another aside about his running: This is probably right before your time but there was only one Men’s store down on the Square. He told our Dad, “Look I can’t publicly support you because all the Anglos in town won’t buy clothes from me and shoes from me.” But he gave him a couple of rolls of stamps. “He said I can help you in this way, but I cannot say yes, I am for you publicly.”
(David) And back to what Robert said about them offering him City Council or County Commissioner, they just wanted a token Mexicano so they could say “Well look, we have one here.” Our father was very smart, and he realized what they were up to. He probably told them politely “You know what? You can take that and shove it.”
HOST: How long was he Mayor?
BROTHERS: (Robert) he was Mayor for two terms, four years I believe ’63-’67. He won the second time by a 2-1 margin, so he must have been doing something right.
BROTHERS: (David) I’ll tell you one ore thing about his being Mayor, at the first City council meeting that they had, they had a bar, with a ton of beer and whiskey and wine and everybody got steaks and he asked, “Who’s paying for this?” They said, “Well, the City is.” And he said, “This is the last time you are going to do this. It’s a needless expense.” I’m sure it pissed off a lot of those guys, but he believed in doing the right thing, no matter what the consequences were.
HOST: What is one thing that your father did that makes you all proud?
BROTHERS: (David) OK, here’s one thing. There was a famous basketball player that played for the (Pan American) Broncos, Lucius Jackson was his name. Back then, the one swimming pool that Edinburg had was in South Park and African Americans could not go swim there. There was a little, six or seven-year-old girl that wanted to go swimming and they said, “no you can’t come in here.” So, what he did, was he got Lucius Jacksons and he was like seven feet tall. He went out there to the swimming pool and said, “This little girl wants to come in and swim.” And they said, “OK, sure.”
(Robert) It was built with Federal funds, so discrimination was illegal. When he asked about it, they said he had to go talk to the Parks Director: Johnny Economedes. He talked to the Parks Director and then Johnny said he had to go talk to somebody else. They were all enforcing this discrimination, illegal discrimination but not owning up to it. They eventually integrated the pool and that was an important day and as a matter of fact the Black community in Edinburg as small as it was, was a community that he went to and asked for their support the first time he ran.
(Daniel) He threatened Federal intervention if they didn’t let the black kids into the swimming pool and that’s when they caved.
(Robert) He bluffed them and that’s when he said I’ve got two lawyers with the ACLU ready to fly in here from New York City and file suit against Edinburg if you don’t obey the law. So, he bluffed them into obeying the law. What were the two things that you had?
(Steven) That was one of them, the second one was when he met the Melon Strikers in Edinburg. They had marched from Rio Grande City and they were in San Juan and there we no Mayors in any of the towns that they passed through that would welcome them or even see them. He had been in a wreck where he dislocated his, broke his hip and had surgery and was in a cast from his chest to his toe nails and they put him on a litter, put him in the back of our pick up truck and they drove him out to meet these marchers. I was there, Eugene Nelson, he was sent from California by Cesar Chavez to work with these guys, that had a big impact on the marchers and on everybody that was there.
(Robert) Unfortunately, we have no pictures of that
(Daniel) I remember when he was in that accident, when he had broken and was in that cast and we put him in the back of the truck. We drove around town and he was waving to everyone and saying hello to everybody and getting support from everyone.
HOST: This next question I’m thinking Steven should answer. Did his politics affect your personal life and you view of the Valley and the world? I’m asking Steven because he mentioned that he campaigned for his Dad.
BROTHERS: (Steven) I know that when he was Mayor, the City got a new Police Chief. They worked together closely. Chief Gonzalez was his name, the first Police Chief trained by the FBI. As I was telling you earlier about Edinburg being a sleepy little town, the Chief of Police before Chief Gonzalez was Leroy Easton, his son was a friend of mine. I used to go to every type of crime scene available because that chief would go everywhere. This new chief was trained by the FBI, it brought my understanding of how important City police and government was. Before that, it just seemed like a sleepy little town and then all of a sudden, we came into the real world.
BROTHERS (Daniel) This story relates to your previous question about being proud. A real simple direct way of doing the right thing. When he went to these houses that I told you about where there would be these multiple voters, he would ask them, “Do you know anybody down at City Hall? Do you know who the Mayor is or any of the City commissioners?” and of course Many of them had no idea. “Don’t you think it would be nice if you ever needed anything at City Hall you would know somebody you could call?” and of course the answer would be “yes” and he would say “Well, how convenient, I’m running for office.” and he would give them a card. Anyway, he gets a phone call at the house from a father who says, “My Son has been arrested and they are holding him down at the City Jail.” The father didn’t know why, so my Dad goes down to the City Jail to find out what’s going on and gets the Police Chief who at that time was Leroy Easton. The Chief had arrested this young Man because as the Chief said to my Dad, “Well this young Man was a witness to a crime.” There was a bar fight or something or other and this young Man was a witness, so they put him in Jail as a witness, so they could hold onto him so that he could testify. Of course, my Dad was dumbfounded he said, “You can’t arrest people who are witnesses to a crime.” Just like he would tell us, “Don’t do that again.” This was kind of the thing, making fundamental changes in what you might say is a simple way but in a very important way, it affected the enforcement of Justice and the application of Justice in the City. There were I’m sure Many examples like that, like when they wanted to change the name of Country Club Drive. They wanted to change it to name it after a Medal of Honor winner, Freddy Gonzalez and people were all upset that their property values were going to go down if they changed the name of the street to somebody who had a Z in their last name. I don’t remember if he was Mayor at the time, or if he just went before the City Commission, but he was putting each of the Commissioners on the spot, “Are you opposing that?” in other words, facing people and holding them accountable in important ways, however small.
(David) I don’t think he was Mayor then because this would be around 1967 or ’68 When Freddy Gonzalez was killed in Vietnam. Anyway, that didn’t matter because when he saw a miscarriage of Justice, if he knew about it, he tried to straighten it out.
HOST: I think that’s what a lot of people think of your father, him being this person who would fight for the little Man. Are there any misconceptions that people might have about your Dad?
BROTHERS (David) I can’t think of anything, like I said we never communicated. When I was a Senior in High School, we had a three- or four-word conversation, that was it. He said, “Well what are you going to do?” and I said, “Well I’m not ready for College, I might never be ready for College so I’m going to go into the Military.” They had the draft then, so if you weren’t in College or didn’t have a draft deferment, they were going to draft you. Since I wanted to go, I wanted to be the one that chooses where I’m going to go.
HOST: Do you all think that his legacy is important to remember?
BROTHERS (David) His being the first Hispanic Mayor certainly opens the door for others and there have been quite a few. I have lived here in the Austin area longer than I’ve lived in Edinburg so about the only time I get news from Edinburg is when somebody breaks the law and gets caught. That’s about the only time I hear anything from Edinburg.
(Robert) You know when you talk about doing the right thing. That is a legacy that can never be out worn. I have a photocopy of a talk that he gave at the McAllen Rotary, early on after being elected Mayor and it had to do with Pan Americanism, it referenced the fact that we have two border cities. There’s not a better place in the world to practice internationalism and being a good neighbor than here right on the border and if we can’t do it here how can we ever expect to do it anywhere else. Having that sense of Justice and that sense of doing the right thing is again a legacy that everyone should, it’s something that should be carried on from administration to administration and generation to generation so it should never be out worn.
HOST: How are each of you continuing his legacy? Are you part of politics or do you have some of his stuff and are donating it to the Museum? We do have some of his stuff in our collections.
BROTHERS (Steven) I’m not involved, I do have a lot of stuff I would like to give to the Museum but aside from that I’m not involved in anything really.
(David) What you’re doing with the kids, you are continuing what Dad started, so in that sense, his legacy is going to remain alive forever because he started that a long time ago and you are continuing that, which is great.
HOST: Yes, the bilingual education, what is the name of the books?
BROTHERS (Robert) Originally, they were called Spanish ROLL and English ROLL. Role stands for Region One Literacy Lessons. It was a two-year reading program to teach native Spanish speakers to read in their own language and vocabulary and very importantly, their writing skills. The second year they would begin to learn more about reading in English and all that time an essential part of that program was the writing component. It’s called The Language Experience Approach. When they tested these kids in the third grade for example, the control group would be the Spanish speaking kids who had gone through a regular educational program and they would see how well those kids could write in English and how well they could write in Spanish versus the kids that went through this particular program. The kids that did not go through the program could barely write a sentence in Spanish whereas these other kids were able to write quite a bit in English and in Spanish. I’ve taken those materials and put a new cover on some of them adapted others made them more Teacher friendly, also I’m digitizing quite a bit. Also, at some point I hope in the next few years to have a completely online, a digital curriculum for teaching experience. We haven’t touched the English yet; it’s all focused on Spanish reading. That has been occupying a lot of my time and energy and resources over the last few years and it’s a rewarding activity.
(Steven) Do you know when Dad was principal at Lincoln? How long ago that was? In the 50s?
(Steven) At any rate, at Lincoln School, which at that time was the edge of the Universe on the East side of Edinburg, Mexicano town, he talked them into getting a printing press and started printing all sorts of things and I remember he had some ancient types of printing things at the house and I would play with. Later, he had a print shop here in Edinburg, University Printing and published my grandmother’s book Ranch Life in Hidalgo County, which Robert republished and I’m publishing now as well, so in that respect, I’m carrying on his legacy. Still running his incorporation Omni Media.
HOST: Final question, is there anything that you would like to add? Anything that wasn’t asked, and you feel is important to say?
BROTHERS (Daniel) When I was in the sixth or seventh grade back then, I remember he used to do a lot of traveling, he’d always be gone, flying here and there, flying all over the place. I asked him one day, what was it like to do that? There was an airline company here in the Valley called Rio Airways, and he told me “Why don’t you write them a letter and tell them that your Dad flies all over the place and it would be nice if younger people could fly.” They sent me a letter back and said that they would, they flew me all over the state for free. I thought that was pretty nice.
(Robert) So Steven got fee movie tickets and Daniel got Free airline tickets and I got to play baseball.
(Steven) My Wife Valerie says that in 1993 my father brought Edinburg’s Black Cemetery to the Public’s attention. He was there in 2008 when it received a Texas Historical Marker. He cared about equality and supported the Juneteenth observances. One year he read a letter he received from the son of Thorogood Marshall after writing to tell him about our observances. She thought that was very important.
HOST: Thank you so much for stopping by the Museum of South Texas History. As Steven mentioned, Robert’s book: Ranch Life in Hidalgo County after 1850, we do have copies for purchase in the Museum store, if anyone is interested you can pick that up. We also have a few items of the Al Ramirez Collection here in the Archives. Researches can stop by and study the life of Al Ramirez. Once again thank you Ramirez Brothers for participating.
BROTHERS(Daniel) Thanks for inviting us.
(Robert) Thanks for having us.
(Daniel) Thanks for the invite.
This episode was produced and edited by me, Pamela Morales. Song is Carpe Diem by Kevin McCloud, licensed under creative commons. Follow us on Anchor to hear more about Stories from the Rio Grande and send your questions through the Anchor App. You can also subscribe to this podcast through the Apple Podcast App or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thank you for listening to MOSTHistory: Stories from the Rio Grande.
SONG – END
Host: Pamela Morales
Guest: Reba Cardenas McNair
OPENING ID WITH BACKGROUND MUSIC
The Museum of South Texas History preserves and presents the borderland heritage of South Texas and North Eastern Mexico by telling the stories from the Rio Grande.
HOST – INTRODUCTION
Welcome to Stories from the Rio Grande, I’m your host Pamela Morales the Communications officer for the Museum of South Texas History. I would like to apologize for the delay, but it has been busy here at the museum. We’ve had several major events and special programing, but we are back to the podcasting world. On this episode we are going to Cameron County where Reba Cardenas McNair lives. Shei is the daughter of Reynato and Mary Rose Cardenas both of whom were involved in Brownsville politics. Both of her parents left a remarkable impression on her and the City of Brownsville, lets take a listen.
HOST: Hello, and welcome to Stories from the Rio Grande, I am Pamela Morales and I am here with Reba from Brownsville. Hi Reba.
REBA: Hi Pamela, how are you?
HOST: I’m doing well, I’m very excited about this interview. Could you tell us your full name?
REBA: My full name is Reba Cardenas McNair.
HOST: What exactly is your profession?
REBA: I am a Real Estate Developer. I run a family owned company that builds residential subdivisions in Cameron County.
HOST: Has this always been your profession?
REBA: No, no I stared out as a Newspaper Reporter at the Corpus Christy Caller then I went to work in press relations for Texas Instruments and after that I married and moved to Brownsville where I started working at this family owned business.
HOST: What is the name of the family owned business?
REBA: I run Cardenas Development Company Inc. which is the land development company. My father and mother have owned car dealerships. My father is now passed away, but my mother owns Cardenas motors in Brownsville and Cardenas Metroplex Mercedes Benz in Harlingen and Cardenas Ford in Raymondville. And my brother has a Mazda and BMW dealer ship in Harlingen. My Dad started in the car business in the 60s, in 1969 he started residential subdivisions.
HOST: Could you describe a little bit more about your parents? You mentioned your parents had a car dealership and then your Dad started up the development company, but what else did they do exactly?
REBA: My father served as a City Commissioner starting in 1975, he was elected as part of a slate and it included Ruben Edelstein who owned a chain of furniture stores in the Valley, my Dad, who was a car dealer, Justo Barrientes who is a restaurant owner and it included Mr. Jack Moser who owned a grocery store and it included Mr. Bobby Duffy who was a Bank President. So that was the Slate that was elected in 1975. My Dad’s group stayed close all their lives and they continued to meet for lunch once a month at Mr. Barrientes’ restaurant. They hired a new City Manager whose name was Leo Hayman and even the City Secretary who was in her 90s sometimes would come to lunch and the former City Attorney would attend. My Dad died two years ago and up until his death, the group still met at Mr. Barrientes’ restaurant. Even though Mr. Moser and Mr. Edelstein had passed the group still met. I don’t know if they still meet now, but they kept meeting once a month for the rest of their lives.
HOST: What is the name of the restaurant?
REBA: The Oyster Bar.
HOST: Besides the lunch, did he continue to be politically involved in Brownsville politics?
REBA: He stayed involved as a supporter of people that ran, he wasn’t an active campaigner type person. My mother was good about helping on phone banks, she was always helping, and would work on phone banks for people that she supported for office. She did it for a friend of ours, Tony Garza was running for County Judge, I think she ran his phone bank for him and when my husband ran for City Commissioner, she ran his phone bank for him. She used to do it for people that ran for the school board. She liked doing that, she liked calling people and talking to them and of course when you’re talking about the 70s and 80s Brownsville was a much smaller city and my mother had worked at the credit bureau, which was the Equifax, the local Equifax back in the day so my mother knew a lot of people because when you wanted to get a loan, you went to the local credit bureau to get your credit rating and what made you credit worthy and because of that, she knew a lot of people in town. As a matter of fact, because she worked at the credit bureau is how she met my Dad. He was looking to get a Bank loan and you had to go the credit bureau to get a credit score and that’s how she met him. In essence she felt like she was calling her friends to talk to them about the people she was supporting. Later, in ’84 she ran for office to be on the local College board. She ran for the Texas Southmost College Board of Trustees because she had a friend named Gene Ecof and Mrs. Ecof wanted to get more like-minded people who wanted change at the local college board. So, she recruited my Mother and a man named Michael Putgnat and they ran against people that had been there a long time and were entrenched on the board and weren’t being innovated, people didn’t consider them being innovative. She ran with Mr. Putgnant and they won, and my mother stayed on the board for 22 years on the local college board after that. She resigned so that they could appoint someone that she hoped would have a leg up because they had some experience the next time they ran.
HOST: If they were doing this in the 70s and 80s, how old were you?
REBA: I was a sophomore in college when my father ran for office, so I wasn’t involved in that. I was getting married, I helped when my mother was running for office, and she was running against someone who was very entrenched and I remember counseling my brothers and sisters because I didn’t know if she was going to win or not. I remember telling my brothers and sisters, no matter what we’re going to be cheerful, because win or lose we’re going to be cheerful. She ran and if she loses, we’re going to be happy and if she wins, we’re going to be happy and we’re not going to act like it’s some big tragedy if she doesn’t win. But she won. (laughter)
HOST: When your mother ran, what was the feel of the political atmosphere there?
REBA: The irony is that the man that she ran against, his sister and she had been close friends in High school. She had known him a long, long time. He’s a nice man and he came up to her one time and he wasn’t considered good looking and my mother was overweight and he came up to her and said, “I just want you to know that I’m going to run a clean campaign.” And my mother who sometime can be sharp, she said to him; “What can you say dirty about me, except I’m fat? and if you say I’m fat, I’m going to say that you are ugly.” (laughter) That wasn’t very nice, but she didn’t respond well to him saying he was going to keep it a clean campaign because in her estimation there was nothing you could say about her. That could be destructive or disparaging to her except her weight. There was strife afterwards because my mother had always run the offices for my Dad, even when she worked at the Credit Bureau and my Dad started out owning a gasoline station, she did the books for him so when she started out as a College Trustee she felt like their controls were not sufficient as far as credit cards use and other things and so they started initiating a lot of controls for the office and setting a lot of Board policies about how the money could be spent and what level had to be approved by the board and they felt like after she had been there a year, they came to the conclusion that the board president was not being innovative enough and was not changing the culture enough so they offered him to be President Emeritus and they were going to hire somebody else and he didn’t want to resign. He had a lot of influential people that supported him, and it became very controversial. People picketed the board meetings and one guy actually spat at my mother. It was really distressing. Finally, the change occurred, and progress was made, and they kept making changes and they hired Dr. Juiet Garica who was the first Hispanic Woman College President in the United States. Of any college of university, she was the first. They hired her and made changes and grew and then my mother, through my own fathers experiences, my Dad had gone off to serve during the Korean war and had come back and had done odd jobs, found whatever work he could. He stared school under the GI Bill, and he had a lot of friends that were in the same boat, working part time and going to school and he finished at Texas Southmost College with his Associates Degree. The only opportunity to get a bachelor’s was in Edinburg. Back then there was no highway so you had to take Military road, which was 281, which is a two lane road and they would take it and it would take an hour and a half to go from Brownsville to Edinburg. He would drive with three friends and he had the car and they would each pay him a dollar for gasoline money, and they would leave at 6:00 in the morning to get there in time to make an 8 o’clock class. They would go to school from 8:00 to 12:00 and then they would come home, my Dad would have a quick lunch and then he would start working at 2:00 and he would work until 10:00. He would get home around 10:15, have a quick dinner, study till midnight, go to sleep and wake up at 6:00. He kept that up for about two years, maybe a year and a half and its 1959 and my mother is pregnant, and my mother says we just can’t keep up this life that we’re living. They had some savings, and they decided to buy a gasoline station. Back then the gasoline stations were service stations and you had repair services there and it was full service and people came and put the gasoline in the your car and everything, but believe it or not gasoline stations closed at 6:00. They opened at 7:00 but they closed at 6:00 so he would have a home life, he could be home by 6:05 or 6:10 and I remember as a small child we would go we would have dinner together, by this time I had two brothers so this would be like after 1962 and my brothers would be crawling on the floor and my little sister would be there and I would be there and they would go back and tally up the days receipts and do a little book keeping. We would have dinner; they would go back into the office of the service station and they would do the tally and whatever they needed to do for half an hour or however long it took them and we would go back and be put to bed. My mother always regretted that she told my father she couldn’t keep up with having two children and it was the schedule that he had, there was no home life, so she regretted that. And my father would have been able to graduate but what happened was that he was a chemistry major because his afternoon job was working in a chemical lab and they did a thing with minerals and so he was studying to be a chemist and he discovered that all the chemistry labs in Edinburg were in the afternoon, well he couldn’t stay for the afternoon labs because he had a job so he asked them what he could switch his major to where he would loose the minimum number of hours. They said business so he switched his major to business so that he wouldn’t have to take afternoon labs. That also delayed his graduation he had to change majors because the labs were in the afternoon and he had an afternoon job. In my mother’s heart she had always known that my father had not been able to complete his education because of the distance it took, how cumbersome it was to take three hours out of your day to travel to get to school to get to university for upper division courses. She was determined. Pan Am had a small upper division here in Brownsville housed in Texas Southmost College. It was only, you could get a business degree and an education degree. Those were the two degree plans you could get in Brownsville. There were very narrow options unless you wanted to travel to Edinburg, which in my mother’s own experience was very hard on a family and costly in both time and money. Edinburg is in talks with UT System to have UT come and make it UT Pan Am and there is talk that UT System will shut down this upper division in Brownsville so my mother and her board decide that they were going to start their own talks with UT because they didn’t want this upper division shut down. As a matter of fact they wanted to expand it so there would be a lot more options available to students in Cameron County and avoid the time and money it costs to travel an hour or if you are from the island it would be an hour and forty five minutes to get to school in Edinburg so they started talks and she asked Senator Eddie Lucio Sr. to bring down the Chancellor of the UT system. His name is Dr. Hans Mark and Dr. Hans Mark you can look it up, he’s very distinguished I think he was an assistant secretary of the Army and he has a lot of, I think he worked at NASA, he’s very distinguished and very intellectual and very tall and my mother is 5’ 1” in heels and she’s small but energetic and he came in and they had talks and they were going to have this discussion about instead of UT closing this upper division thing, expanding it and so she was talking to him and saying how the need was now and how they needed these opportunities for these students here locally now. He started to tell her that it would be 20 or 30 and he didn’t get to finish his sentence because she interrupted him and said “we cannot wait any longer, we need this now. How about if we hire UT to come and we partner, and we hire you to teach the upper division courses? We would pay you to teach the upper division courses?” He was intrigued and promised to follow up and they did followed up and they formed a partnership that was the first in Texas I think, I don’t know if it was first in the Nation but I think It was the first in Texas where the local community college partnered with a university system which was UT and hired the UT System to teach upper division courses. once that started the number of degree plans available really expanded and during that plan for instance they introduced a physics department. That physics department I believe now with UTRGV graduates either the most or the second most number of Hispanic Physics Majors in the nation and it started with this program at UTB and then they hired people and they have the Astro Physics there and I know people were questioning why we need Astro Physicists and Gravitational wave and then when Space X was looking for a new place to launch from they were really impressed that UT had this Astro Physics department. I think it was one of the points in Brownsville favor that made Space X locate here. Because these students were here. These physics majors and Astro Physics majors were here located right at hand and UT now has partnered with Space X and they have a program called Star Gate you can just point back and say we needed this partnership we needed more opportunities we needed more degree plans and they expanded it and it included this and because it included this it made Brownsville more attractive to Space X and now Space X is here.
HOST: Basically, your mom brought UT, She created the University of Texas?
REBA: There is video of Dr. Hans Mark and he ended up just like Mr. Hernandez and Dr. Mark she interrupted Dr. Mark she’s sharp with Mr. Hernandez but because she is only doing something for what she believes is right but no one ever holds it against her, so Dr. Mark ended up loving my mother and when he turned 85 he invited my mother to his birthday party and so they formed a partnership and the partnership was overseen by three members of the Texas Southmost Board of Trustees and three members of the Board of Regents of the UT System. The chancellors ended up having to report to her on the progress of the partnership. I don’t know if you know but the UT system of Regents it’s one of the best appointments in the state. People really enjoy and are eager to be UT Regents. Usually its big donors that get appointed although that’s changing a little bit. It used to be big donors so it would be politically active supporters of the Governor that would usually get appointed and people treat them very well and they get boxes at the UT Games and they get to fly to every university graduation. They get treated well, it’s a nice appointment and people really actively seek it, but when they come to the first meeting with my mother, my mother doesn’t want them to think somehow that they are not equals on this board and she is not going to allow them to think that her voice is not going to count, so my mother ends up saying to them ”I want you to know I’m an elected official and you are appointed by one man so on this board I out rank you.”
HOST: WOW! The guts?
REBA: Yes, because she doesn’t want them to think don’t come here thinking you’re all that because you are UT Regents because on this board that governs this partnership we are all equal and as a matter of act I’m an elected official.
HOST: Are these stories that your mom told you afterward?
REBA: Oh, yes, I grew up with my mother is outspoken there is no, she would tell the story and her board when she talked to Hans Mark and she would press him, let’s work on this and they would get it done and everything and they did it and in an unbelievably short amount of time because the UT System no one ever moves fast enough for my mother and so she would bug Dr. Mark, he was friends with Bobby Duffy who had served on the City Commission with my Father and was also my parents banker. And my mother and Bobby Duffy had gone to High School together and Bobby Duffy says that he passed Spanish because my mother tutored him. You know that kind of small community. Well Bobby Duffy had been on the development board for the business school at UT and he knew Dr. Mark and Bobby Duffy had also been President of the Texas Bankers Association, so he was a prominent person in the state and he knew Dr. Mark so Dr. Mark tells this story I don’t know what they were celebrating but I went to the event and they have it on video tape somewhere. Dr. Mark tells this story, as my mother didn’t know it, Dr. Mark calls Bobby Duffy and says, “What do I do to get Mary Rose, you know Mary Rose Cardenas?” he says, “Yes, I know her very well.” He says, “well what do I do to get her off my back?” And Bobby Duffy tells Hans Mark, “You know what Hans? if you want Mary Rose to get off your back my best advice is to do what she says.” That’s the little ripple effect of talking to Dr. Mark about a partnership ended up years and years later Space X comes because of the students that graduate because of that partnership. How can someone with Spanish in High school years and years and years latter let that person tell the Chancellor of the UT System, just do what she says?
HOST: WOW! Was your mom the same way at home?
REBA: (Laughter) YES! My mother is very driven. She tells stories like this; “You’ll never be as smart as I am because you will never have lived as long as I have.” She has these little golden nuggets. She is a force.
HOST: You mentioned that you left to work at the Caller Times in Corpus Christy?
REBA: Yes, I went to UT undergraduate and I went to Columbia for Graduate school.
HOST: When you left did any of your mom’s golden nuggets or your parents’ wisdom, did you take that with you when you left the Valley?
REBA: I’ll tell you a story, I went to Columbia and I had an old school professor who was really mean. In fact, when I was going there, I had written to a previous UT graduate who is now a Professor UT Austin. She was there and I asked her for recommendations, and she gave me the name of this professor who was considered the best professor which everyone had taken him, but she had not taken his course. So, I sign up for his course. I had to apply to get in and you were on a wait list and I got in and he was mean. Really mean, like awful. I had never been treated like that by a professor or teacher, ever. Not in K-12, not in College. When I came home at Christmas and I told my parents how he was. I didn’t have to take him the next semester, but he really had soured me on maybe I didn’t really want to finish. That’s how he had affected me, I was thinking that, I have never been a quitter and I had always done well in school. My mother and father said, I needed to go back, you’re not going to deal with him anymore, it doesn’t matter what he says, you are better than what he says. I went back, I didn’t have to take him and when graduation came around, my parents and my friend’s parents were hanging around and they meet Professor Mensior. Mrs. Williams comes to grab my father and says Mr. Cardenas, Mr. Cardenas, you need to come and get your wife, I think she’s going to punch Professor Mensior. But she wasn’t, but she told him, she told him in very stark terms that what he had done to me was not right and that’s not the way you treat students, and then at the end she told him this: because he was very short, he was a very, very short man and believe it or not he and my mother were about the same height and he was slim, but he was a slim man and my mother told him I believe Professor Mensior if you had known my size and I had known yours my daughter would have had a completely different experience in your class.
HOST: Sassy, very sassy.
REBA: (laughter) Yes and Mrs. Williams thought my mother was going to punch him, but she wasn’t. But she did make her feelings known to him.
HOST: Is there a particular time or moment where you realized that your mom was a very big deal?
REBA: My parents were both really friendly and nice to people and remember when they grew up in Brownsville when it was very small, my father was born in ’30 and my mother was born in ’31. Brownsville was very small, people knew each other, and as Brownsville grew and my mother worked at the credit bureau she knew where your grandparents lived, where your parents lived, who your brothers and sisters were. My father grew up in Matamoros until the age of 11 and then he came to live in the United States when he was 11. It’s a long story, but his mother died when he was 18 months old, in 1932 there was no idea of a single father raising a child alone so my grandfather gave his son to his in-laws to raise and then my father’s grandmother dies and the grandfather dies and the spinster Aunt dies and by the time he’s 11, he’s brought over to the united States to live with an Aunt who is an Aunt and so my father has been an only child this whole time and he is sent to live with an Aunt that is a widow with three girls who marries a widower with four sons and my father comes to be child number eight. Then they have a child together so it’s nine in the family and it’s a small house and so it’s a big adjustment, but my father has learned to make adjustments in his life because he’s had so many people die on him. It’s a big adjustment and then he goes to live with an Aunt that only has two children. He came over and they put him in first grade because there was no such thing as bilingual education, so they put him in first grade because he didn’t speak a word of English but he was very good at math, so the next year they put him in fourth grade. But they never jumped him again, so he was a 17-year old freshman in High School, and he didn’t like it, he hated being so far behind. So, he ends up joining to go to Korea, and he gets his GED. Because he quit school and he gets his GED and then when he comes back he starts college.
HOST: Do you think that your mom’s determination and your dad’s willingness to do better, do you think that has affected you?
REBA: I think all of us believe in community service and all of us have our different charitable endeavors and we really do work to help our community. One of my brothers was a volunteer basketball coach at his Catholic High School for 17 years. Then they decided to hire a real coach so then he went to be a volunteer coach at the Marine Military Academy. He does work for people who he believes in getting elected. My other brother is involved in organizations like Hooked for Life that teaches children about being outdoors and learning to love being outdoors by fishing and he helped organize, for years charity golf tournaments for his Catholic High School, the same Catholic High School. My other sister has served on so many different boards also to help the community and I have too. I have sat on many different boards to help our community. I remember even as a very young child, my mother served at the local school district would give free English classes in the evening and my mother served as a volunteer to teach adults English. This was probably 1962, I remember my mother doing that. I was very, very young and I remember my mother leaving and it would be twice a week in the evening, and she would go to teach English at the local elementary school to parents that didn’t speak English. My father was in the Kiwanis, when I was little. I remember he would have to go, and I forget what the Kiwanis would do but I remember him having to leave and go be a volunteer for the Kiwanis. Yes, I remember my parents volunteering and I think it affected all their children. We all volunteer. My sister in laws, I have a sister that’s an attorney in Austin and she volunteers for different things. She is in a group that brings children to the Symphony in Austin so that they get exposed to culture and sponsors elementary school children from around the Austin area to come and listen to the symphony. They have fund raisers and pay for it so all the children can learn about the symphony and enjoy the symphony. We all do what we can to help.
HOST: Do you think that’s something that is also preserving the family legacy in a way?
REBA: My mother has always said “We eat from this community so if we want to continue eating, we need to make sure that this community thrives and progresses.”
HOST: Did your dad, when he was a City Commissioner, where there any big changes during his time?
REBA: I think they started the Community Development Corporation. The only thing I can tell you that I remember well is the Community Development Corporation which was originally designed to get ride of people having outhouses within the city. It started as a non-profit, and there were government grants that would go into their homes and connect them to the city sewer system. Get rid of the outhouses and build a bathroom. That was the first thing that the community development corporation did. Then it became about housing and improving the housing stock in Brownsville and building affordable housing for the community. The first order of business was removing outhouses throughout the city.
HOST: You mentioned that when your parents were growing up Brownsville was a small town.
REBA: It was a small town and my mother’s family, her father became ill when she was a teenager, really ill and he couldn’t work anymore. They had to go live in a housing project for a time. When her father became ill, both she and her brother started working to help sustain the family when they were still teenagers.
HOST: You said that in putting everything together, connecting the dots. Its sounds like your parents really… I believe Brownsville is now twice the size of McAllen in population and city limits. Do you think their involvement in the community has made Brownsville for the better?
REBA: Definitely, yes. It’s a giant quilt. I would definitely say my parents helped weave that quilt and make it a better quilt and I would say my husband did too and I would say my father in law did too. They worked to help their community.
HOST: You have mentioned that your husband and his father were both part of the Brownsville City Commission, correct?
REBA: Yes, my father in law was a city commissioner and mayor in the early 60s, and my husband was a city commissioner starting in ’85 and then he was elected to two other terms but one of them was nonconsecutive.
HOST: The real question then is when are you running for City Commissioner?
REBA: I will tell you that I believe my efforts are better spent in the activities I’m involved in now. I’m chairman of the board of IDEA Public Schools which is a public school system that started in the Rio Grande Valley, that has 50,000 students, but is a Charter School organization and it has Charter schools in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso, Baton Rouge and this year we will be opening schools in Ft. Worth and New Orleans, and in 2022 we’ll open up schools in Florida and Cincinnati. It is particularly geared towards making sure that children from low social economic households get through high school and into college and finish college. I’m on another board that is looking to make data available to colleges and junior colleges to avoid remediation of students this will give you the data that will show depending on what their high school curriculum is, no matter if you have a placement test that says they need remediation, the high school grade point average is a greater indicator of success in college than any placement test because there are some people that don’t do well on placement tests. I’m on Driscoll Children’s Hospital board which is about helping children to have good health. That’s based in Corpus Christy, but we have Clinics in Brownsville, Harling and McAllen. My father started a Hospital years ago. A non-profit Hospital with some other friends. They tried to make a go, because we had one Hospital. It was run by the Nuns. The Nuns were selling it and now we’re going to have a Corporate Hospital back then in the 70s there was no law that required the Hospitals to take care of people that walked in the door. People were afraid that they would get refused by a for profit Hospital. My father and some friends started a non-profit Hospital and they ran it for 10 years but they never could make a profit because so they had so many people with no insurance and no way to pay so the paying customers were enough to pay for the non-paying customers so they sold it. With the money from that sale they formed a foundation called the Brownsville Foundation for Health and Education. My Dad started that, and he served on it until his death. He would say “If you have your health and you have a good education then its all up to you after that.”
HOST: Very powerful
REBA: I serve on that board now. I just got appointed last year. We give grants to non-profits that are working for health and education in Brownsville.
HOST: Definitely no time to be a City Commissioner.
REBA: (Laughter) Not if I want to work too.
HOST: That’s true yes. I have only been to Brownsville a couple of times. I am always amazed by the building there. The area, that used to be, they were going to build something called wonder? Fun?
HOST: Amigoland, that’s what it was called. Besides that, just going to Brownsville and seeing all the old building there, is nice.
REBA: There is an architectural historian, he teaches at both Rice and University of Houston. His name is Steven Fox, he says Brownsville has the greatest collection of Civil War era buildings still intact in the State. Texas Southmost College’s main building is the Hospital built for Fort Brown and the downtown Historic District just got National historic recognition.
HOST: It’s a very beautiful downtown.
REBA: My Husband serves as Chairman of the board for the local historic museum. They have the old City Hall is now the Museum. They have the Stillman house and they have the Historic Brownsville Museum and then they have the lonesome Building, so they have a lot of Buildings to manage.
HOST: We love historic Building over here at the museum, so we are all for that.
REBA: I used to serve on the Heritage Council for the city of Brownsville for years I served on that council. Helping people save what they own.
HOST: Preserving the history and presenting the history.
REBA: Do you know about the Robert Runion collection of photographs?
HOST: I believe we have some of his photographs in our collection.
REBA: I don’t know how it happened, but when he died, somehow the collection went to UT and UT to their credit put it online. A lot of the photographs are online. I don’t think all of them but a lot of them. It is a shame that we didn’t get to keep it here locally.
HOST: He took a lot of photos in Brownsville.
REBA: He was a Mayor of Brownsville.
HOST: The Museum of South Texas History is doing videos and as I mentioned earlier trying to preserve the history, through our podcast and interviewing people and trying to tell stories that normally other people wouldn’t know about. I’ve been to the Stillman house lot of great overview of the region, but sometimes you want to hear those little stories about particular events or history of people and things like that. I appreciate you coming on and doing this interview.
REBA: Yes, we all play our part, in my parents case, they played a part in something that is for instance the foundation will go on, my father’s legacy will go on because he is the one that co-founded the hospital and he co-founded the foundation, so that legacy will go on and UTRGV in Brownsville will go on and my mother was instrumental in making sure it was established and we are so fortunate because students have the opportunity to go and finish their college education in their own community and not have to travel to get the degree, especially I don’t remember the percentage but it is high the number of students at UTRGV that work and go to school. I think It is over 70%, you need to have it close at hand to make it convenient. My mother and father new that from their own experience.
HOST: I think a lot of people are very grateful for that, so Thank You.
REBA: When you have hardships in life, you work later in life to rectify them so that other people don’t suffer those same hardships. That’s a good thing to take your experiences and make it better for others.
HOST: Awesome, thank you so much. As I mentioned people can stop by the Museum of South Texas History, learn a little bit more about their heritage and the history of the region and of course thank you so much Reba for participating in this interview.
REBA: Thank You Pamela for Asking.
HOST: No Problem, I hope to see you around.
REBA: Yes, I look forward to meeting you.
This episode was produced and edited by me, Pamela Morales. Song is Carpe Diem by Kevin McCloud, licensed under creative commons. Follow us on Anchor to hear more about Stories from the Rio Grande and send your questions through the Anchor App. You can also subscribe to this podcast through the Apple Podcast App or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thank you for listening to MOSTHistory: Stories from the Rio Grande.
SONG – END
Host: Pamela Morales
Guest: Eddie Lucio III
OPENING ID WITH BACKGROUND MUSIC
The Museum of South Texas History preserves and presents the borderland heritage of South Texas and North Eastern Mexico by telling the stories from the Rio Grande.
HOST – INTRODUCTION
Welcome to Stories from the Rio Grande, I’m your host Pamela Morales the Communications officer for the Museum of South Texas History. It’s the final episode of Season 2. Its been so great to get to know the sons and daughters of local politicians. Whose stories shape the region and leave a legacy that future generations can enjoy. In this final episode I spoke with Eddie Lucio III a Texas State Representative He lives and works in Brownsville his Dad is Texas State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. You’ll get to hear the memories and dynamics of their Father and son relationship.
HOST: Hello, I’m Pamela Morales the Communications officer for the Museum of South Texas History and I am here in Brownsville with a local State Rep and also lawyer in the Valley and I’m going to have him introduce himself.
EDDIE: It’s a pleasure to join you today, my name is Eddie Lucio III I am a State Representative. I have served the Texas Legislature since 2007 and as mentioned I am an attorney and Entrepreneur.
HOST: One of the reasons I felt that it would be a great time to interview you is both you and your Father are involved in Valley politics, in the Brownsville area. Could you give a background of how you became a political family?
EDDIE: My Father is State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. He first got elected to the Texas Legislature in 1986. Before that he served as a County Commissioner and County Treasurer. He was the one that kicked off the politics road or what we do now in our family. He comes from a big family. One of ten. My Grandfather was a Deputy Sheriff for a long time and my Dad visited him at the County Courthouse growing up. Some people are born with the desire to serve, that fondness intrigue of the political process and that was my Dad, he really loved the excitement around policy making an politic and from an early age declared to his family that he was going to grow up and run for office. My Dad has served a long time. My whole childhood is filled with memories of being on the campaign trail with Dad, meeting a lot of folks and interesting enough, back then I wasn’t interested in Politics at all.
HOST: One of the things that Leta Leo, one of the first that we spoke with, she mentioned that at eight years old she remembers being exploited on the campaign trail. Was that something similar that happened to you?
EDDIE: You know not so much on the campaign trail, but I remember I was just being a kid, I was in elementary School and I talked a lot. Imagine that, I was an active, full of energy little kid and the teacher says, “Lucio, settle down, you should know better, given who your Dad is.” I thought that was a little harsh. At the time I appreciate that my Dad did something different that most Dads didn’t do but that I was being held to a different standard because of him. It was a reality check that I had at a young age. Then the pressure only grew more from there as I became a teenage and so on and so forth.
HOST: What sort of pressures did you encounter?
EDDIE: At a young age I knew. I had friends who acted up, got in trouble, got sent to the principal’s office. Some more serious and I knew I couldn’t be part of that. It wasn’t just about getting in trouble myself but putting my Dad’s career at stake or my family’s ability to maintain the good will of the public at stake. For a 13-year old who is just trying to find himself, that’s tough. It’s funny because now that I am in politics I haven’t thought of that for some time and now that my kids are 10 and 6 and my daughter is entering that stage in her life, it made me aware that I have to talk to them and be careful about those perceived pressures that kids feel when they grow up in this environment.
HOST: Was there ever a time when you were a teenage where you were just like I just can’t stand this anymore?
EDDIE: Politics can take its toll on families I feel like I handle it better at home but that’s because I had experience growing up around it. I knew about the good things that he did, the things that my Mom and Dad struggled with that impacted their relationship, so I try to do it better. That should be the case no matter the context, business, education if you grow up around your parents that did what you are now doing, you learn and hopefully do it better. But there were times that I read things in the newspaper about my Dad that I knew were an exaggeration or just flat out not true. It was the early stage of blogging and it was done via print, but it was blogs at a very early stage and just unleashed horrible conversations, accusations. As a kid that takes its toll and you think the whole world is looking at you and they’re really not, everybody is dealing with their own stuff. That’s how you feel and so there Is a little bit of that but on the flip side everyday its seemed like when I was with my Dad or even by myself and people recognize me or who my Dad was or my Mom they would express how appreciative they were of all the things my Dad did for the community and the Man he was and the help he provided my Dad rushed to help people if they got sick and they needed to get treatment for cancer, he rushed to help. If they had trouble paying their light bill, he rushed to help. Whatever it was and when I finally learned to realize that it changed my feelings about politics.
HOST: On that topic is there anything in particular that growing up you thought, not to say that your Dad is wrong or a bad person but is there any policy or political thing or moral value that at the time you felt, it could go both ways, where you felt he was right all along and now that you are older you’re just like actually he’s kind of wrong?
EDDIE: I am experiencing this now with my kids. You want to engrain in your children that they have beliefs like your and they like the things you like but everyone is their own person especially kids. The more you push kids to do things you want them to do, the more they’re not going to want to do it. My Dad and I have had a competitive relationship as far as I can remember. We are both golfers, he raised me playing golf and I always wanted to beat him, and he never wanted me to win. We never took it easy on one another, we almost purposely would root for different sports teams. It was that kind of competitive environment. He appreciated that I liked certain things that he didn’t like or that I rooted for teams he didn’t like. When we got into politics people thought we were going to be very hard on one another when we had different political stances, but I’ll tell you for as close as my family is, we’ve been respectful about it. We have very different opinions on some very tough issues that are close to the community and sometimes I think well I have it right and everybody back home thinks the way I do and then I get back home and they’re like we really appreciate your Dad taking that stance and vice versa. We learn from one another. Someone whose been politically viable as long as my Dad has, he has a lot to share. Someone who has grown up in a different generation like I have and has a different perspective also has a lot to share. We are doing what is intended and communicating openly we can learn a lot from one another.
HOST: One of the big issues on abortion, your Dad identifies as a Democrat and he is pro-life, and you are pro-choice so that became a hot topic for a while.
EDDIE: That is a hot topic, it’s a tough issue and when you sit down with people and you take the, its almost impossible, but if you try to just limit the emotions involved and just have a very straight forward conversation. Everybody wants to do the right thing. When a woman chooses to terminate her pregnancy at least anyone that I have come across, has to make that decision, has made that decision they made it sincerely. They thought about what they were doing and the people who like my Dad believe the way they believe it comes from, I hope and I know my Dad but the rest, I hope also it comes from a sincere place. I try not to push him on it. He has a right to be independent. I have a right to be independent. One of the things in my first campaign, that my opponents campaigned on was that I was just going to be an extension of my Father. I guess they didn’t know me very well. I am a very outspoken, very independent thinking person and I’m raising my kids to be the same way. It is one of those things. Look we are at a time where we lack tolerance and patience and love in our county. It’s a scary time, I thought when I was in my early 20s that when I am 40 things are going to be so much better in terms of how we treat one another. But it seems to have gotten worse. Especially on those big issues we really must be tolerant and empathetic with each other about how we feel on those important issues.
HOST: What sort of legacy do you want people to know about your family?
EDDIE: If we left our community, if we contributed in a meaningful way in our community. If we spent the time that we were afforded well. We were inclusive and respectful of the people we work with its such a hard thing to define but if we were statesmen, I think that would be great. If I treat people well and people knew that, I gave everybody opportunity to say their peace. I took into consideration everyone’s opinion and ultimately maintained good working relationships with the people that frequent our office. That would be great. The world is going to go on there is going to be great people to serve after us. We are happy that during our time we did it well. There are some great things that Dad has done. He has been a leader of promoting medical education in South Texas since I was a little boy. I remember the rack being his call to action the rack tuned into the medical School and that’s going to be around for a very long time. When I am an old Man and no longer in politics, and I drive by and the infrastructure built by UTRGV for medical education I’ll take a little pride that we both and I have worked on it as well. I had a hand in that. Economic development and all the things happening, sometimes it’s hard to think about and put into perspective the things we get to work on that are an impact to South Texas
HOST: Your Parents, yourself any siblings?
EDDIE: I have a Sister who is in the background when it comes, well not in the background but she is quieter about her politics. She is an amazing Mother and an amazing Sister she is a public-School counselor, actually, at my kid’s School. She is the glue that keeps her family together that checks on all of us the most. We need somebody like that in our family. I’m the one that became political a public figure invested in business, went to law School but I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have the support of my Sister.
HOST: Has this ever happened to you where people say, “well he got elected and all these things are happening because of his Dad, that privilege”?
EDDIE: Absolutely. They are right to some extent. I came down here 26 years old and I had name ID that’s an amazing opportunity. I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that my Father’s good will gave me a leg up to come back and immediately participate in the political process it would be a dishonor to say anything otherwise. The only thing I have committed to and I hope I have fulfilled was that I was going to take full advantage of that opportunity and do good, be respectful, be grateful and help people. I hope that one day my kids will say “I owe success because of all the great things my Mom and Dad did for me.” That’s what family is for. Why else do it? I hope that I’ve stood on my own two feet and I’ve done everything that I can to honor the blessing in my life and they were Many. I never went without, so Many people can’t say that. My Dad paid for college. They helped with law School, helped minimize my debt coming out of School. They made sure I not only got into college but had everything I need to succeed. When I came home and wanted to get into politics my Dad worked hard to get me elected, just like I am working hard to get him elected now. We’ve done a lot of good things on our own and we’ve taken advantage of it. There are so Many people that I know that grew up with all the opportunities in the world and all the potential in the world and did not take advantage of it and squandered it. The upside of having all of that, it’s a tremendous amount of pressure. Right? It’s a tremendous amount of pressure, if I fail WOW! That’s an even bigger disappointment because it was mine to lose. I honor that I’m grateful, my Mom, I say Dad, Dad Dad, my Mom is an amazing Woman. My Dad was busy, frankly so buys that we didn’t really have a daily relationship until I was 11 or 12 year old and it was time to make me a Man I guess, so my Mom was the one who made sure I did my homework, I was an A student, I behaved in School, I was hanging out with the right people, I ate right, all those good things. I owe a tremendous amount to my Mother.
HOST: Has your family been in Brownsville for a long time?
EDDIE: Yes, I am blessed to have an Aunt who is a Historian and she has traced us back quite some time. We’ve been in Brownsville a long time, yes.
HOST: Do you think that your family has in some way and is still shaping the Brownsville community?
EDDIE: That’s a bold statement, for me to sit here and say that we’ve had a big hand in making Brownsville what it is today, we’re just a small part of it. There are so Many families out there, so Many folks behind the scene businessmen who daily write checks to charity, support our School district make sure kids can afford college. There are so Many unsung heroes. We are just a part of it. If you are going to get involved in politics, and you are going to fill a seat? Just do the best you can. We are not but in a very tiny way responsible for what Brownsville is today. All around me within several blocks of where we sit today there are people doing God’s work, they are teaching kids to read, they are providing services for the indigent, they are encouraging kids to go to college. We sit within walking distance of TSC who because of great entities like that are giving kids the skills they need to live a good quality of life. I don’t want to say that we had more than our very humble share in making Brownsville what it is today and Brownsville Is great, but our District expands a little bit beyond Brownsville. I represent Harlingen and San Benito and those communities are amazing and they have great leaders and great families that could tell stories as well. Dad’s district goes all the way over to McAllen and Kingsville. He’s had a relationship with those communities for some time now.
HOST: The museum has been around for 50 years now and one of the things we love to emphasize is the importance of family. How would you want people, besides the legacy, to remember and be inspired by the family dynamic that you have?
EDDIE: By my family dynamic? My Dad is part of a big family, of that group, everyone one of the little silos, the Brother and Sister have a little different philosophy. We were all taught, all my cousins, and I have over 40 on my Dad’s side alone. We were all taught that education was important. Doing the best we could was important. Contributing back. I have an uncle that is involved in Special Olympics, at the church he walks across Many times a week to help with the children and the refugee situation just south of our border. I learn from him and am inspired by him. I have other Uncles that love music and taught music and inspired people to express themselves in that way. We had love; we had each other’s back. We were tight knit growing up. My cousins and I were very close, like siblings. We always encouraged each other, always supported each other. I have cousins that I may not talk to for a year and then as soon as I am in need, maybe it’s a political race maybe it’s a business that I am opening, they are there and that’s beautiful. I think that might be getting lost a little bit. That sense of we’re blood, we got each other’s back. I think in our community it might be getting lost a little bit. As I get older it become more important to me. I want to, right now next door to me is my cousin who practices law. I wanted to bring him in under this roof because he’s blood. I got his back. My parents never wanted me to fall short of my potential. They never said I was special. It’s a double edge sword, If I brought home a 95 my Dad said, “Why is it not a 96?” If I got any accolades, they would let me celebrate for a blink of an eye and then said, “Alright what else are you going to do?” That drive, that hard work that was something that I hope people see.
HOST: Your Dad started in ’86, does he do anything else other than being a State Senator?
EDDIE: He’s had a Marketing firm; he’s done Business Development. He’s a survivor, he’s a teacher by education, taught, coached Two different phases of his life once before he started politics and once when he was out of office for a little bit. That’s when I was very young. He’s always found a way to make ends meet and do what he can to be a value to the people he works with and do the right thing and make ends meet.
HOST: He coached?
EDDIE: My Dad still thinks he can coach. He looks at the TV and tells the coaches at UT and Dallas Cowboys what they are doing wrong. Its kind of funny. He coached football, track, basketball at Faulk middle School and at Porter.
HOST: Are there any misconceptions about your family or your Dad in particular?
EDDIE: Maybe, usually the misconceptions are the people who haven’t taken the time to get to know us. I remember the time a couple of years back, the thing that I think bothers me is the thought of “Well he’s had it easy. Eddie’s had it easy.” Maybe I have, compared to lots and lots of people around the world but you must realize that everyone struggles. Meeting the expectation in my household was stressful as a young Man. It was never enough. That’s just withing the four walls of my household. The expectation I now define for myself are rough. When I meet someone and there’s a thought that “Oh you’ve had it easy, everything is easy for you.” It’s hard, it’s hard to serve in office. Its hard to serve in office and maintain a business and a family an fundraise for your campaign and grow your business and still be a good Dad. The fact is the life we’ve chosen is a hard one. I am not asking for sympathy. I hear some people talk abut what a sacrifice it is to serve in office. That’s not what I’m talking about I don’t want that sympathy. I want people to at least appreciate that if you’re thinking about running for office or you have a perception about politicians. Most of us, it is a hard life we’ve chose. It’s hard on our families, its hard on our businesses. We live in the public eye. If you go to Starbucks and you’re grumpy, there’s people watching. It’s a hard life. The misconception, the one thing I want people to understand is the realities of serving in office. It’s a tremendous blessing but at the same time it’s extremely challenging.
HOST: You mentioned your Dad is going to run again. Do you think he’s still going to keep going?
EDDIE: My Dad is 73, he still has fire. I like that. I hope that I am still setting goals at 73 and have his energy and his abilities. I don’t want to limit that. People tell me when are you going to run? I’m 40 I may or may not have more time. I want Dad to retire on his own terms without any pressure from me. If at that time I talk to my wife and my children and my businesses are in a place where they need to be and if its time to run, its time to run. I mentioned it to Dad, just FYI, I’m 40, and ready to run for the Senate. But only when you are ready to retire, and he told me “I’m not ready to retire.” All right let’s go get re-elected. Ill tell you if I felt like my Father didn’t have the abilities to do what needs to get done for the benefit of the people, that he represents I would make sure he did not run. But I don’t believe that. I believe he can do it at the Highest level.
HOST: WOW! 73. Is there anything else you would like to add? Especially about your Dad, what you want people to know specifically?
EDDIE: I hope this comes through, but I have never met a Man who cares more about the sanctity of life. Wen we talked about the abortion issue, that’s only a fraction of it. I love that my Dad is consistent when it comes to the sanctity of life, from the Moment they are born until they die, they should be given every opportunity to succeed all the respect, all the Human dignity they should be feed, they should be educated, they should be supported, they should be loved. He really believes that. That’s why he is involved in the Church, he loves the principles of the Church. My Dad would have a universal feeding program so that every child doesn’t have to worry about their next meal. He doesn’t believe in the death penalty because of the sanctity of life. The complications with the people that commit those heinous crimes, are they even in their right mind to appreciate what we are doing. I love that my Dad is consistent. He gets knocked on some of those social issues. Even I get frustrated with him from time to time but he is learning even at 73. He’s trying to find middle ground it doesn’t come from any judgment or hate it’s just a different perspective and if people were to approach him with an understanding of that like I try to you have much more of an impact to win his love and support.
HOST: On the way over here, I saw that the Highway is named after your Dad. That’s one of Many things named after your Dad?
EDDIE: Yes, it’s neat. My kids are like “Hey that’s Grandpa’s road.” He has a Junior High School named after him in Brownsville, a building at TSTC in Harlingen and I’m sure there are a few things I am forgetting. That aside, I want to commend you on what you are doing, this is great. I did a podcast. I had about six or seven episodes. It’s a lot of fun, even if it impacts just a few people or inspires them to go out and get involved themselves, you’ve made a difference. This is awesome.
HOST: Thank You. The Museum of South Texas History is in Edinburg and people think that it’s the Edinburg Museum but it’s the whole Valley’s. It’s great that we came out here and had the opportunity to interview you.
EDDIE: We support you, let us know what we can do.
HOST: Thank You.
EDDIE: Thank You.
HOST: That is a wrap for Season 2. If you haven’t heard, the museum of South Texas History is celebrating 50 years in 2020. It’s here and we’re ready to talk about all things golden. Stay tuned to Stories from the Rio Grande. Season 3 will feature the stories and memories of the Rio Grande Valley’s premiere museum. Until next time.
This episode was produced and edited by me, Pamela Morales. The song is Carpe Diem by Kevin McCloud, licensed under creative commons. Follow us on Anchor to hear more about Stories from the Rio Grande and send your questions through the Anchor App. You can also subscribe to this podcast through the Apple Podcast App or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thank you for listening to MOSTHistory: Stories from the Rio Grande.
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