Hispanics in Government

Houston Institute for Culture 
By John P. Schmal

Fifty-third Session (1953)

In 1952, Eligio de la Garza (b. 1927), known affectionately as "Kika" de la Garza, would run as the next representative of the Hispanic community. Eligio was born in Mercedes, Hidalgo County, Texas, on September 22, 1927 as the son of Dario de la Garza and Elisa Villarreal. In 1945, at the age of 17, de la Garza enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving in World War II. When he returned from the war in 1946, he attended college, but was later recalled to serve his country during the Korean conflict.

      Page 1      
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Kika graduated from St. Mary's University with a law degree in 1952 and was admitted to the bar soon after. In 1952, friends and relatives persuaded Kika to run for office in the 38th District of Hidalgo County, recently created by the 1951 redistricting process. Because his family had already been involved in local politics, he accepted the candidacy and won the election. He would hold this office for five consecutive terms. In the 54th Legislature of 1955-1956, Eligio de la Garza became the only Hispanic legislator, after Arnold Vale's term had expired in 1954.

The First Tejano Mayor of El Paso

At another location along the border, Mexican American voters were able to pull off another electoral victory in 1957. Raymond L. Telles, Jr., a native of El Paso, became the first Mexican American to be elected as Mayor of El Paso and the first Hispanic to be elected mayor of a major American city.

The son of a bricklayer, Raymond was born in 1915 and attended school in the El Paso area and eventually took a job as an accountant for the U.S. Department of Justice, a job he held for eight years. In 1941, he was drafted into the armed serves and by 1945, had achieved the rank of major. From 1943 trough 1945, Telles served as an aide to several presidents and high dignitaries from Latin America and Mexico who were visiting the United States. He also acted as military aide to both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower on their visits to Mexico City.

His service record was just one of the reasons Telles ran for county clerk in 1948. In 1951, Telles was recalled by the Air Force during the Korean Conflict and served as Executive Officer of the 67th Tactical and Reconnaissance Group. In 1957, Telles and his friends created what they called "The People's Ticket," with the goal of appealing to all groups of people. Voters turned out in record numbers, sweeping Raymond L. Telles into office as Mayor El Paso.

Telles served as Mayor of El Paso from 1957 to 1961. After finishing his term as Mayor, Mr. Telles became the U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica (1961-1967). Not until 1977, was the next Hispanic Mayor of El Paso, Ray Salazar, able to take office (1977-1979).

Fifty-fifth Session (1957-1958)

In the 55th Legislative Session (1957-1958), Oscar M. Laurel joined Kika de la Garza in the House of Representatives, having won election to Laredošs 80th District in Webb County. He would serve two full sessions, leaving office in 1960. Oscar M. Laurel was a native of Laredo and a graduate of Loyola University of the South in New Orleans. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Oscar answered Uncle Sam's call and served in the U.S. Air force from 1941 to 1945. He received his law degree in Houston and practiced law in Laredo starting in 1948. In 1955 he was elected the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). He died on March 29, 2001 at the age of 80.

In 1956, Henry Barbosa Gonzalez (1916-2000) broke down another barrier to Mexican-American political representation. Enrique Barbosa Gonzalez was born in San Antonio as the son of Leonides Gonzalez and Genoveva Barbosa. His father Leonides had served as Mayor of Mapimi in Durango, Mexico, but fled the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution in 1911 and brought his family to San Antonio.

Henry B. Gonzalez had first run for state representative of San Antonio in the 1950 Democratic primaries. He actually advanced to a runoff election in San Antonio, but lost by 2,000 votes out of 33,000. Gonzalez had failed to gain the necessary support of Anglo precincts, thus losing in the runoff election. However, in his 1956 run for the Senate, Henry B. Gonzalez was successful, taking office in 1957 as the first Mexican American elected to the Texas Senate in the Twentieth Century. Senator Gonzalez would serve from the 26th Senatorial District from 1957 to 1958 and 1960 to 1961 (the 55th and 57th Legislative Sessions).

Fifty-Sixth Session (1959-1960)

In 1959, Kika de la Garza and Oscar M. Laurel were joined by another Chicano representative in the House. Mauro Rosas became El Paso's first Tejano representative to Austin during the Twentieth Century. Representing the 105th District, Position 3, Rosas would serve in this capacity for two legislative sessions.

In 1961 -- after the statistics for the 1960 Census had become available -- the Texas Legislature redistricted the House of Representatives. The House retained the maximum number of representatives, which was 150 as mandated by Article III, Section 2 of the 1876 Texas Constitution. In order to comply with this provision, the number of representatives' districts actually had to be decreased from 105 to 94, mainly because of a large increase in urban population. But large disparities existed between the various state districts. In the Representative districts, the smallest district had 33,987 persons, while the largest had 105,725.

In the Senate, the disparities were even more pronounced. The population of Texas (9,579,677), divided by 31 senatorial seats, yielded a senatorial population mean of 309,022. In theory, the thirty-one districts should have been approximately equal in population. But the population of the largest senatorial district (No. 6) had a population of 1,243,158, while the smallest (No. 16) had a population of only 147,454. The vote of the citizens in the essentially urban senatorial districts of 6, 8, 10, 26 and 29 was worth less than half the vote of the citizens in the 21 smallest districts [Robert B. McKay, "Reapportionment: The Law and Politics of Equal Representation," New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, 1965, p. 432].

To many political analysts, the Texas style of redistricting and reapportionment seemed to be unfairly rigged in favor of rural areas. A 1936 amendment to the Texas constitution had limited to seven the number of representatives that one county could have. So, Dallas, Bexar and Harris counties were limited in the growth potential of their representation in the House.

A suit was filed in Federal District Court on July 16, 1963 challenging the apportionment of both houses of the Texas Legislature. The "one county" senatorial restriction of Article III, Section 25 of the Texas Constitution was challenged, as was the provision limiting the representation of individual counties. On December 14, 1964, the three-judge Federal District Court held the existing apportionment to be unconstitutional and ruled that both houses must be apportioned by August 2, 1965. They further declared that the redrawing of the legislative districts should conform to the new "one person, one vote" rule. [KILGARIN V. MARTIN, Civil Action No. 63-H-390 (S.D. Texas 1964)].

The Court invalidated the sections of the Texas Constitution that had obstructed fair apportionment by limiting counties to one senator and establishing irrational population limits for House Districts. In May 1965, the Legislature, in response, reapportioned both houses in approximation of equality among the election districts.

The United States, in the Supreme Court Case, Reynolds v. Sims, 1964, required equally populated districts in both houses of a bicameral legislature. In this case, the Court summarized the principle of "one person, one vote" as follows: "[T]he fundamental principle of representative government in this country is one of equal representation for equal numbers of people, without regard to race, sex, economic status, or place of residence within a State." The Court had determined that a voter in a district having a population greater than most districts had less influence in electing a representative than a voter in a district having a smaller population [REYNOLDS v. SIMMS, 377 U.S. 568 (1964).].

When the 1957 Congressional redistricting took place, Texas had grown in population enough to receive another representative. This redistricting created a new "at-large" Congressional seat, District 6. In this unique situation, the candidate would be voted on in all twenty-one of the districts. This approach to redistricting allowed all incumbents' existing districts to remain intact and meant that the at-large candidate had to campaign across and represent the entire state. This policy also guaranteed that an Anglo would be elected to office.

Up to 1965, 22 Texas representatives to the U.S. Congress were elected from statutory districts, while one was elected at large. In Bush v. Martin, plaintiffs from two congressional districts asserted that the congressional districts in Texas were unconstitutional. The Federal District Court in Houston held Texas' Congressional Districting act to be unconstitutional and stated that the Texas Legislature must redraw the Texas Congressional Districts in compliance with Wesberry v. Sanders. [BUSH V. MARTIN, 224 F. Supp. 499 (S.D. Tex. 1963), affirmed, 376 U.S. 222 (1964)].

The three-judge Federal District Court found that the population disparity among Texas Congressional Districts -- ranging from 216,371 to 951,527 -- was "indeed spectacular" and noted that marked under-representation was "not surprisingly" found in metropolitan districts. Although Texas boasted a total of 254 counties, more than half of the population of the state was living in only eighteen counties and there were fifteen areas in the state that qualified for the label of "metropolitan."

Fifty-Seventh Session (1961-1962)

The Fifty-Seventh Legislative Session marked a turning point for Tejano political representation. From two representatives in the 55th Session, the Hispanic representation increased to six representatives. Including Senator Gonzalez, this meant that seven Tejanos were serving in the Texas Legislature during that session.

While Kika de la Garza continued to represent Hidalgo County and Rosas served from El Paso, four new representatives took their seats in the House. Two of the newly elected Representatives joined Senator Henry Gonzalez in representing the people of San Antonio and Bexar County. Vidal M. Trevino replaced Representative Laurel, serving the 80th District (Laredo, Webb County) during the 57th Session (1961-63).

Vidal Trevino had graduated from Martin High School in Laredo and had attended Texas A&I University in Kingsville, where he earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees. He served in the United States Army during World War II, after which, in 1950, he joined the Laredo Independent School District, where he became a classroom teacher. As a legislator, Representative Trevino served the constituents of District 80, comprising Webb and Zapata Counties. After leaving the legislature in 1963, Trevino rejoined the Laredo School District, eventually becoming Superintendent in 1973.

In 1960, when Johnny Alaniz ran for state representative from the 68th District, Position 7 (San Antonio, Bexar County), he was a young lawyer who had only recently passed his bar examination. After this election, Johnny became known as "the Giant Killer" because he had successfully defeated the incumbent Freites Seeligson, a well-established conservative leader in the Texas legislature. Representative Seeligson was a wealthy person who had money, experience and a great deal of Anglo support. Nevertheless, John C. Alaniz won the election against Seeligson by a 200-vote margin and took office in 1961 as the first Mexican-American elected as State Representative from Bexar County. Representative Alaniz served the people of the 68th District for three sessions, holding office from 1961 to 1967 (57th to 59th Sessions).

Representative Alaniz was the first author of the state bilingual education act in 1961. He also took a leading role in passing a law for single-member districts for the State House of Representatives and the State Senate and for eliminating the poll tax as a qualification for voting. In 1963, Representative Alaniz was the first Mexican-American to run for Speaker of the House of Representatives, but he won only nine votes out of 150 votes total. Representative John C. Alaniz died on March 26, 2001 at the age of 71.

Also in the 57th Session, Rudy Esquivel was elected as the Democratic representative from the 68th District, Position 2, also from San Antonio (Bexar County). Representative Esquivel would serve in the House for two sessions (57th and 58th) from 1961 to 1965.

During this session, Kika de la Garza would gain a new Tejano ally in the representation of Hidalgo County. In 1960, Raul L. Longoria won election as the Representative of the 38th District, Position 1 (Pharr, Hidalgo County). Raul L. Longoria was born in 1921 as the son of Andres Longoria and Maria Enriquetta. Born and raised in his familyšs ancestral home of La Grulla, Star County, Raul joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1942 and served in the European Theater of Operations of World War II for four years up to 1946. Under the G.I. Bill, Raul Longoria received his bachelor's degree in business administration in 1950 and a law degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 1952.

Longoria started practicing law in Edinburg, Texas before running for office in 1960. Representative Longoria served District 38-1 for six terms (1961-1963, 1965-1973). Then in 1972, he ran was elected to the Texas Senate where served from 1973 to 1981 (63rd to 66th Districts). In 1981, Longoria was elected as a Judge to the State District Court in Hidalgo County. He died in May 2001 in Houston.

Š Copyright, by John P. Schmal, All Rights Reserved. Read more articles by John Schmal.

John Schmal is an historian, genealogist, and lecturer. With his friend Donna Morales, he coauthored "Mexican-American Genealogical Research: Following the Paper Trail to Mexico" (Heritage Books, 2002). He has degrees in History (Loyola-Marymount University) and Geography (St. Cloud State University) and is a board member of the Society of Hispanic Historical Ancestral Research (SHHAR). He is an associate editor of SHHAR's online monthly newsletter, John is presently collaborating with illustrator Eddie Martinez on a manuscript entitled "Indigenous Mexico: Past and Present."