Hispanics in Government

Houston Institute for Culture 
By John P. Schmal

Dedication: This work is dedicated to the Tejanos who fought and died alongside their Anglo brothers in the great struggle against the tyranny of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan (1941-1945).

Special Acknowledgements: to Steve Bickerstaff of the University of Texas School of Law and Kathryn Woosterhausen of the Texas Legislative Library for their advice and contributions. Special thanks also goes to Eligio (Kika) de la Garza.
The state of Texas has an intriguing and diverse history stretching back hundreds of years. For more than two centuries, Texas was part of Spain's vast American empire. When Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1821, Texas became part of Mexico. Less than two decades later, Anglo and Mexicano Tejano residents of Texas engineered a rebellion against Mexican rule, which would lead -- in 1836 -- to the establishment of an independent Republic. Nine years later, Texas became part of the United States.

For the first few decades, some Tejanos shared the reigns of power with the Anglos in Texas. Gradually, as their percent of the population declined, Mexican-American representation nearly vanished from the Texas Legislature. And, by the end of the Nineteenth Century, only one Tejano representative was seated in the Texas House of the Representatives.

Thomas A. Rodriguez (1839-1903) was a native of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas who had served in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Politically active in San Antonio for a period of time, Rodriguez would eventually serve three terms as the Representative for parts of Atascosa, Karnes, and San Patricio Counties. With the end of Representative Rodriguez's term of office, the political representation of Tejanos outside of Cameron County effectively ended for several decades.

The Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1870, promised "the rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." In theory this amendment gave Mexican-American Tejanos reassurances that their voice would be heard in both local and national politics. In practice, however, the Amendment was flagrantly violated for the next few decades.

The Poll Tax (1902)

During the first half of the Twentieth Century, the influx of immigrants from Mexico continued to steadily increase, as the need for cheap labor in the commercial agriculture industries of Texas grew. The resulting increase in the Hispanic population of Texas, however, did not lead to increased political representation. One obstacle to Latino participation in Texas during this time was the poll tax amendment. Six attempts to pass poll tax legislation had failed between 1879 and 1899, but in 1901, the Texas Legislature finally passed the poll tax, requiring voters to pay $1.75 at the voting booth. Such an expense was effective in keeping poor Latinos from participating in the electoral process. In November 1902, Texas voters ratified the poll tax by a two-to-one margin.

José T. Canales and Augustine Celaya

Early in the Twentieth Century, the millionaire José Tomas Canales of Brownsville would serve five terms in the Texas House of Representatives (1905-1910, 1917-1920). Representative Canales was a native of Nueces County and a lawyer by trade. Through his mother, José was descended from José Salvador de la Garza, the owner of a large Spanish land grant that occupied a large portion of Cameron County. With the support of the Cameron County Democratic machine under the control of James B. Wells, Jr., he served from 1905 to 1910 in the Texas House of Representatives as a representative for the 95th District (Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Zapata counties).

For a time, Canales served as the County Superintendent of public schools in Cameron County. But, in 1917, he returned to the Texas House of Representatives as the delegate of the Seventy-seventh District, which extended through Cameron and Willacy counties, He served in this capacity to 1920 and won fame for defending the rights of Mexican Americans against the abuses of the Texas Rangers. By embracing prohibition and women's suffrage, he had received widespread support from his Anglo constituency.

Over the years José T. Canales was extremely influential in the League of United Latin American Citizens. He addressed its founding meeting in 1929 and took part in writing its first constitution. He also became President of LULAC in 1932-33. Representative Canales died on March 30, 1976 in Brownsville.

In 1933, Augustine F. Celaya became the second Mexican American to run for the Texas House of Representatives in the Twentieth Century. Celaya served as the Representative of the 72nd District (Brownsville, Cameron County) from 1933 to 1949 (the 43rd to 50th Legislatures). The third Hispanic person to serve in the Texas Legislature was John Charles Hoyo, who served the 78th District (San Antonio, Bexar County) from 1941 to 1946 (the 47th to the 49th Legislatures). Hoyo was born in 1891 in Weimar, Texas and had served with the U.S. Navy during World War I. He had become a lawyer and a district court judge in Bexar County before taking office as a legislator in 1941.

Diminished Representation

For the first half of the Twentieth Century, Hispanic representation remained very limited, partly because the Mexican-American population of most counties did not make up a majority of most communities. However, in addition to the poll tax, the primary means of limiting minority representation in Texas and other states was the process of gerrymandering. In many states, legislatures would divide a county or city into oddly shaped representational districts to give political advantage to one group or another in elections.

Gerrymandering resulted in voter dilution, in which the political representation of a political unified minority was diminished or altogether obstructed. As a result, even districts containing a majority of Latinos in some parts of the United States frequently found themselves without proper representation thanks to vote dilution. In Texas, gerrymandering of the Latino vote was manifested in the nature of legislative redistricting and reapportionment.

Apportionment or reapportionment, according to law professor, Steve Bickerstaff, "refer to the result of the process of allocating members of a legislative body among areas or political subdivisions." For example, the U.S. Congress "apportions" Congressional seats among the states. In contrast, however, Professor Bickerstaff points out that districting or redistricting entail "the actual drawing of the boundaries of the election districts from which members of the federal or state legislative bodies will be elected."

Legislative Redistricting

Since 1876, the apportionment of legislative districts had been required by Article III, Section 28 of the Texas Constitution to take place following each federal decennial census. This reapportionment took place on a regular basis up to 1921, when the 37th Legislature redrew district lines based on the 1920 census.

However, the Texas political establishment chose to avoid a redrawing of election districts after the 1930 and 1940 census. So, although the 1930 and 1940 census schedules were available for the purpose of reapportionment and redistricting of voting districts, the powers that be decided to protect the people in power and continued to use the districts that had been drawn in 1921. The 1921 districts, therefore, remained in effect until 1951.

One of the reasons to avoid redistricting had to do with the enormous growth of urban areas in Texas during the 1920 to 1950 period. In 1920, two-thirds of the Texas population of 4,700,000 was still rural. However, from this point, the urban areas experienced a dramatic and sustained increase. From 1940 to 1950, the urban population increased 58.4%, while the number of people in rural areas decreased 11.6%. In the 1940s, 146 out of 254 Texas counties lost population, resulting in great discrepancies among the populations of the various districts (Malcolm Jewell, 1962, p. 121).

Congressional redistricting followed the same course as that of the state legislature. In fact, the last redistricting to determine the number of representatives that Texas would send to the U.S. Congress took place in 1933, using the figures from the 1930 census. But Texas did not redistrict the Congressional Districts for 24 years after that and continued to use the 1930 census even though the 1940 and 1950 census figures were available.

Finally, in 1957, Texas reapportioned its Congressional Districts. By that time, Texas had grown in population enough to receive another representative, but rather than adding another district, the legislature created an "at large" seat. That candidate would be voted on in all twenty-one of the districts. In addition, a 1936 amendment to Article III, Section 26(a) of the Texas Constitution had limited to the number of representatives that one county could have to seven. Only when a county's population reached 700,000 would it get an additional representative. Such practices were blatant violations of the principle of equally populated districts.

As a result of this provision, Texas's four most populous counties combined were awarded one representative for each 81,000 people in 1951, while most other counties were receiving one for each 45,000 to 50,000. Thus, Dallas, Bexar and Harris counties were limited in the growth potential of their representation. Article III, Section 25 of the Texas Constitution also did not permit more than one senator to represent a county. Not until 1962, did the U.S. Supreme Court, in Baker v. Carr, declare that these population inequities denied voters "equal protection of the law" guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution [BAKER v. CARR, 369 U.S. 186 (1962)].

In 1947 the Texas Legislature passed a proposed constitutional amendment providing for creation of the Legislative Redistricting Board, which would be composed of five high executive officers. The failure of the Legislature to redistrict in 1931 and 1941 had troubled some lawmakers, so the Board was set up to redistrict should the legislature fail to do so during the first regular session after federal census data become available. In 1948, the voters ratified this proposed amendment.

A New Breed

In the devastation and uncertainty of World War II (1939-1945), a new breed of Tejano was created. Fighting alongside their Anglo brothers, hundreds of thousands of young Mexican-Americans had taken part in the battle against the tyranny and oppression of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. With the end of the war, these young Mexican-American veterans came home to a state where their rights as citizens were not always recognized and -- in some cases -- blatantly violated. These proud young veterans, having fought to defend their native land, believed it was time to assert their rights as American citizens.

Former Representative Eligio (Kika) de la Garza, in a telephone interview with the author, explained that World War II changed the dynamics of Latino representation in Texas. Even in Kika's small hometown of Mission, Texas (Hidalgo County), young Mexican Americans quickly enlisted to do their duty. In Mission alone, some forty to fifty boys volunteered and went off to serve their country. Seven of these young men died in the service of their country. Kika's maternal uncle, Roberto Villarreal, flew 54 missions as a gunner but died in an air accident upon returning home.

The pride and joy of Mission was Army Sgt. José Lopez, a native son of the town, who saved his entire company from being surrounded by enemy troops in Belgium in 1945. For his service, Lopez won the Medal of Honor. As Kika explains it, the pride of these young men in having defended their native soil was tremendous. And this service was repeated in small towns throughout Texas.

But added to that pride was the reward that survivors were given for their wartime service. It is Kika's view that the G.I. Bill made it possible for thousands of Tejano veterans to attend college and make a better life for themselves. The G.I. Bill Act of June 22, 1944 -- or the Servicemen's Readjustment Act [Public Law 346, 78th Congress, Title III, 500-503, 58 Stat. 284, 291-293 (1944)] -- put higher education within the reach of thousands of Mexican-American veterans.

The Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1952 [Public Law 550, 82nd Congress, July 16, 1952, Ch. 875, 66 Stat. 663, 38 U.S.C. 997] provided similar privileges to Korean War veterans. Over the next decade, Mexican-American veterans attended local and nationwide colleges and universities to obtain college degrees. In many cases, these vets were the first members of their families to receive a higher education. Armed with the weapon of education, many of these veterans became the Chicano leaders of the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1947, the Pan American Progressive Association was founded in order to stress leadership and economic interests among Latinos. The American G.I. Forum, founded March 1948, was organized by returning Mexican American veterans from the war. When a funeral home denied use of its facilities for the wake of a decorated veteran, Felix Z. Longoria, the incident received national coverage and helped the G.I. Forum to consolidate its power base and grow into a national organization.

Stressing their patriotism and service to country, the Forum campaigned to increase electoral participation in the political arena. In 1949 and 1950, they initiated local "pay your poll tax" drives to register Tejano voters. Although they failed in repeated efforts to repeal the tax, a 1955-56 drive in the Rio Grande Valley resulted in the first majority Mexican American electorate in the area.

One of the early pioneers of Hispanic representation in the Texas Legislature was Arnold J. Vale. From 1937 to 1947, Representative Vale had represented the 74th District (Rio Grande City, Starr County). In 1949 he represented the same district for three more sessions from 1949 to 1955.

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.

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 Laredo's 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 family's 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.

Eighty-Seventh U.S. Congress (1961-1962)

In 1958, Senator Henry B. Gonzales ran for the office of Governor in the Democratic primary, but lost. However, in 1961, Congressman Paul Kilday, a Democrat, was appointed to the federal bench by President John F. Kennedy. This left his congressional seat with the 20th District vacant. In 1961, Henry B. Gonzalez was elected in a special election to fill this position and won by a margin of 10,000 votes, becoming the first Mexican-American representative to Congress from Texas in the Twentieth Century.

In his subsequent reelection bids, Congressman Gonzalez faced very little opposition, usually winning at least eighty percent of the vote and running unopposed a number of times. Although he supported and initiated legislation for the welfare of Hispanic Americans, Gonzalez avoided running on a Chicano platform. He served as a congressional representative from 1961 to 1999 (the 87th to the 105th Congresses).

Fifty-Eighth Session (1963-1964)

Tejano representation in the 58th Session dropped from six representatives to five. In addition, with Henry Gonzalez having moved from the Texas Senate to the U.S. Congress, no Tejanos held office in the Upper House.

Representatives Alaniz, de la Garza, and Esquivel all continued to represent their constituencies in Bexar and Hidalgo Counties. Joining them in the House was Amando F. Canales of San Diego, Duval County, who represented the 70th District. He would serve through two sessions from 1963 to 1967.

Joining the others in the House was the Laredo native, Honore Ligarde. Born in 1920 as the son of Amedee Ligarde and Sara Saenz, Honore had been raised in the Laredo area. He entered the service in 1941 as an Aviation Cadet with the Air Force and left the service in 1945 after serving in the 321st Bomb Group, 12th Air Force. For his service, Ligarde had received the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters and the Presidential Unit Citation. Honore Ligarde was elected as the Representative of the 59th District of Laredo, Webb County. Representative Ligarde would serve in five sessions from 1963 to 1973.

In 1964, an important piece of federal legislation would bring about the end of the Texas poll tax. On January 23, 1964, the U.S. Congress ratified the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- originally proposed on August 27, 1962. The 24th Amendment banned the use of poll taxes in federal elections, stating that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."

For two more years, the poll tax still existed for state and local elections in Texas. For this reason, different ballots had to be provided for voters qualified for all elections and for those voting only in federal elections. But, early in 1966, in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966), the Supreme Court held Virginia's poll tax to be unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. This ruling judicially invalidated the poll tax for all state and local elections.

On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 2 of this act prohibited any state or political subdivision of a state from using any "standard, practice, or procedure," including a redistricting plan, "which results in denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color" or membership in a protected language minority group. On a Federal Level, this Act made illegal the Texas redistricting policies of recent decades.

Eighty-Ninth U.S. Congress (1965-1966)

After serving six consecutive terms as a representative in Austin, Kika de la Garza was elected in 1964 to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent Texas' 15th Congressional District, which primarily included McAllen and Edinburg (Hidalgo County) and Kingsville (Kleberg County). When the 89th Congress convened in 1965, Representative de la Garza took his seat as a Democrat, effectively ending a thirteen-year career in the Texas House of Representatives. Kika would served in Congress from January 3, 1965 until the January 3, 1997 (the 89th to 104th Congresses).

Because he hailed from a district with a large agricultural base, de la Garza became a member of the Committee on Agriculture. In 1967 he served as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Department Operations and Foreign Agriculture. And from 1981 to 1994, Congressman de la Garza was the Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, becoming the first Hispanic since 1917 to be the Chairman of a standing committee in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Fifty-Ninth Session (1965-1966)

After Kika de la Garza moved to the U.S. Congress, his seat in 38th District, Position 3 (Hidalgo County) elected an Anglo named A.C. "Bud" Atwood to replace him. However, even with the loss of Kika's District, the number of Latinos serving in the Texas House of Representatives increased from five in the 58th Legislature to nine in the 59th Legislature.

In the new session, Representative Alaniz continued to represent San Antonio, while Ligarde continued to represent his people in Laredo. In the meantime, two more Hispanic representatives came onto the scene as a delegate from Bexar County. Joseph J. Bernal (born 1927) was born in San Antonio and attended public schools in the area. He joined the infantry in 1945, taking part in World War II. After he was honorably discharged in 1946, Mr. Bernal took advantage of the GI Bill of Rights and obtained a bachelor's degree in education at Trinity University in San Antonio. A few years later, he started a 13-year teaching career in San Antonio.

In 1964, Joe Bernal defeated Rudy Esquivel, a Democrat, in the election for District 68, Position 2 (San Antonio, Bexar County). After serving for one session, Representative Bernal was elected in 1966 to the Texas Senate, where he served from 1967 to 1973. During his years in the Senate, Mr. Bernal was the primary author of several bills. He authorized the first minimum wage law in Texas and expunged from state statute all laws supporting segregation of the races.

The third Tejano representing San Antonio in the 59th Session was R. L. (Bob) Vale. Born in Roma, Texas in 1931 to Joseph J. Vale and Maria Garcia and the nephew of Arnold Vale, Robert Lee Vale attended law school and served as a Lieutenant in the Army during and after the Korean War (1954-1956). After practicing law in San Antonio, Mr. Vale ran for Representative of District 68-6, replacing C. Jim Segrest. Bob Vale would have a long career in politics, representing the 68-6 District from 1965 to 1979 through seven terms.

When Bob Vale left the House after 14 years, he was ranked eighth in seniority of the 150 members. In 1979, Representative Vale began serving in the Senate from 1979 to 1985, representing District 26 (Bexar County) for another three terms. Senator Vale died in 1992.

In Nueces County, the attorney Tony Bonilla broke new ground with his election as a Democratic representative to District 38-1 in November 1964. Born in Calvert, Texas in 1936, Tony Bonilla had attended college in Corpus Christi before receiving his law degree from the University of Houston. After his election, Tony Bonilla stated, "I am very proud to be today the first state representative of Mexican ancestry to be elected in Nueces County." But, he added, "I am cognizant of the additional responsibility such a privilege places upon me. I will represent all the citizens."

While Amando Canales continued to represent Duvall County, Honore Ligarde represented Laredo. Although Raul Longoria stood up for Hidalgo County, a new Tejano came onto the scene, also as a representative from Hidalgo County. Gregory F. Montoya was elected to serve District 38-2 (Elsa, Hidalgo County), replacing William Coughran in office. Mr. Montoya was served his district off and on for more than a decade.

In the 59th Legislative Session, El Paso once again sent a Tejano representative to Austin. Born in Floresville, Texas in 1932 as the son of Raul R. Muniz and Beatrice Trevino, Raul F. Muniz had served in the Army's 97th Engineers during the 1950s. When he took office as the Representative of District 74-4 (El Paso) in 1965, he replaced Malcolm McGregor. Muniz would serve the 74th District from 1965 to 1971 (59th to 61st sessions).

Sixtieth Session (1967-1968)

In the 60th Legislative Session, the number of Mexican American legislators in Austin increased to eleven: ten representatives and one senator (Bernal). While Ligarde continued to represent Laredo, Longoria still represented part of Hidalgo County and Muniz stood up for El Paso. Bob Vale continued to represent San Antonio, and Joseph J. Bernal moved to the Senate. In the meantime, Kika de la Garza and Henry Gonzalez represented the only two Tejanos to represent Texas in the U.S. Congress.

However, a whole generation of freshmen delegates now entered the Texas House of Representatives for the first time. Joining Raul Muniz in representing the people of El Paso County were Paul Moreno and H. Tati Santiesteban. Humberto Tati Santiesteban was born in 1934 as the son of Ricardo Santiesteban, Jr. and Carmen Leyva. A native of El Paso, he attended the New Mexico Military Institute and was on active duty with the Army from 1956 to 1959. He attended in law school, and in 1967 became a member of the House, representing District 67-1 of El Paso. Santiesteban would serve in the House from 1967 to 1973 and in the Texas Senate from 1973 to 1991.

Paul Moreno, a native of Alamogordo, New Mexico, was raised in El Paso. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for six years and was decorated for his service in the Korean War. Paul Moreno was first elected to the Texas House in November 1966, taking office the next year as the Representative of District 67-3. Representative Moreno has embraced this job and was reelected in 2002 to serve his eighteenth two-year term in the House.

J.A. Garcia, Jr. was elected to represent the 48-F District (Raymondville, Willacy County) for the Sixtieth Legislature. Joseph Alexander Garcia, Jr., was born in Brownsville in 1936 as the son of Joseph Alexander Garcia, Sr. and Bertha Champion. He would serve the people of Willacy County for three sessions until 1972.

Henry Sanchez, Jr. was elected to represent District 47-2 (Brownsville, Cameron County) and served for four sessions from 1967 to 1975. Henry Sanchez had served four years in the United States Air Force. As the owner of a weekly newspaper, he had become a civic leader and activist in the Brownsville area. He died suddenly in 1995 at the age of 63. Representative Sanchez became the first Hispanic to represent Cameron County in many years.

In the 60th Session, Oscar Carrillo, Sr. became the Duval County's second Tejano representative, following Amando Canales. Born in 1921 in Hebbronville (Jim Hogg County) as the son of David Carrillo Chapa and Emma Peña, Mr. Carrillo served in the U.S. Army during World War II, winning the Bronze Star for his service. In 1947 at age 21, Carrillo became the youngest Mayor of the City of Benavides. Although he was proud to be a rancher and farmer in Duval County, Mr. Carrillo ran for Representative in 1966. He was elected to serve as Representative of District 50 (Benavidez, Duval County) and held that position through three sessions from 1967 to 1973. Representative Carrillo died in 2003 at the age of 81.

The major eastern urban area of Houston was also able to gain a Hispanic legislator in the 60th Legislative District. Born in 1933 in Beaumont, Texas, Lauro Cruz was the son of Manuel Cruz and Margarita Menchaca. He attended the University of Houston and served in the Marines during the Korean War (1950-1953). With the support of LULAC and the GI Forum, Lauro Cruz ran for the position of District 23-5 and won, making him the first Mexican-American to win representation in Houston.

Sixty-First Session (1969-1970)

In the Sixty-First Legislative Session, all ten of the incumbent Tejanos held onto their respective seats in the House, while Senator Joseph Bernal continued to serve in the Senate as the lone Tejano voice in that chamber.

However, the Latino representation in this session increased to a total of 12 (counting Bernal in the Senate). The lone newcomer to the House was Carlos F. Truan. A native of Kingsville, Truan had earned a business degree at Texas A&I University in 1959. In 1968, Truan was elected to serve District 45-2 (Corpus Christi, Nueces County), succeeding Travis A. Peeler in that position.

Representative Truan would have an illustrious career in the Texas Legislature, first serving four terms in the House (1969-1977), then moving on to the Texas Senate where he served from 1977 to 2003. As the representative of Senate District 21, he served a constituency of eight counties and 650,000 people and, by the end of his career, had become the longest serving member of the Texas Senate. In the 69th Legislature, his colleagues in the Senate had elected him to the post of Senate President Pro Tempore during three sessions. Truan himself felt great pride in the fact that he had sponsored the Texas Bilingual Education Act and the Texas Adult Education Act.

Sixty-Second Session (1971-1972)

The 62nd Legislature saw a drop in the number of Tejano representatives. From an all-time high of eleven, the Tejanos saw their numbers drop to nine in the House, while Senator Bernal continued to hold onto his Senatorial Seat.

During this session, many of the Representatives from the 61st Session continued to serve in their districts in Houston, El Paso and Hidalgo County. The one notable addition was that of Dr. Martin E. Garcia, who succeeded J.A. Garcia as Representative of District 46-3 during this session.

In 1971, with the 1970 census data available, the Texas House and Senate both prepared for a new redistricting effort. The 62nd Legislature turned out to be a very turbulent period in Texas Legislative History, especially after Speaker Gus Mutscher and the House leadership were challenged by a reform coalition of Republicans and liberal Democrats known as the "Dirty Thirty," which included El Paso representative, Paul Moreno, and San Antonio representative, Bob Vale.

Mutscher and his political allies sought to "purge" their opponents in the House Redistricting plan. Although Mutscher and his partners claimed that their redistricting schemes were unavoidable and accidental, most legislators knew better. Mutscher was soon ousted from power and found guilty of accepting a bribe. While the House of Representatives fought over redistricting, the Texas Senate failed to reach agreement on a redistricting plan, so the Legislative Redistricting Board had to be activated to do the job.

In 1972, the reapportionment plan for the senatorial districts in Harris County (Houston) was challenged in Graves v. Barnes. In this case, the plaintiffs challenged the state plan on the grounds that the senatorial districts were racially gerrymandered [GRAVES v. BARNES, 405 U.S. 1201 (1972)].

Then, on June 18, 1973, a three-judge Federal District Court invalidated the House redistricting plan, stating that the proposed reapportionment plan "contained constitutionally impermissible deviations from population equality, and that the multimember districts provided for Bexar and Dallas Counties invidiously discriminated against cognizable racial or ethnic groups" [WHITE v. REGESTER, 412 U.S. 755 (1973)].

The District Court's order requiring disestablishment of the multimember districts in Dallas and Bexar Counties was warranted in view of the long history of political discrimination against both African Americans and Mexican Americans in those counties. Having surveyed the historical condition of Mexican Americans in Bexar County, the Court observed that the Bexar community, along with other Mexican-Americans in Texas had, for a long time, "suffered from, and continues to suffer from, the results and effects of invidious discrimination and treatment in the fields of education, employment, economics, health, politics and others."

The Court further stated that cultural and linguistic barriers made the participation of Mexican Americans difficult. This "cultural incompatibility," the Court declared, "conjoined with the poll tax and the most restrictive voter registration procedures in the nation have operated to effectively deny Mexican-Americans access to the political processes in Texas even longer than the Blacks were formally denied access." As a result, the Court wrote, only five Mexican-Americans since 1880 had served in the Texas Legislature from Bexar County, and only two of these had come from the San Antonio Barrio. With these observations, the Court said that single-member districts would remedy "the effects of past and present discrimination against Mexican-Americans."

However, although the House plan was declared invalid, the Court did permit its use for the 1972 election, except for the injunction order requiring the two county multimember districts to be reconstituted into single-member districts. The White v. Regester litigation represents, even today, one of the most important decisions in Texas history relating to Tejano representation.

Sixty-Third Session (1973-1974)

When the 63rd Texas Legislature convened in 1973, ten Tejano legislators took their seats in the House of Representatives, while Raul Longoria and Tati Santiesteban took their new seats in the Senate. Joe Bernal's tenure in the Senate had ended with the previous session, but the total number of Hispanics in both Chambers had once again reached 12 (as in the 61st Legislature). However, of the ten representatives in the lower chamber, five were newcomers, and Gregory Montoya was a returning delegate.

The first newcomer, Terry Canales, became the first Hispanic person to become the Representative of District 58 (Premont, Jim Wells County) in 1973. Canales served through two terms (1973-1977) and moved on to become a four-term District Court Judge for the 79th Judicial District of South Texas (Jim Wells and Brooks Counties). His daughter, Gabi Canales, later followed in his footsteps as a state representative.

Another Tejano freshman in the House was William N. (Billy) Hall, Jr., who essentially took on Honore Ligarde's former post as a Tejano Representative from Laredo. Billy Hall was elected to serve the 57th District (Laredo, Webb County) and served through seven consecutive sessions (1973-1987).

A new Tejano representative also came on to the scene from the San Antonio area. Joining Representative Vale in representing Bexar County, Joe Hernandez was elected to serve from District 57-J (San Antonio, Bexar County). Representative Hernandez would hold this seat in the Texas House through six consecutive sessions from 1973 to 1985.

Another Tejano representative from San Antonio also took office in the 63rd Legislature. Frank Madla, a native of Helotes, Texas (just outside of San Antonio) had received B.A and M.A. Degrees in Government from St. Mary's University in San Antonio. Mr. Madla started out as a Junior High School teacher. However, in 1973, he took office as the elected representative of District 57-A (San Antonio).

Representative Madla would serve through ten consecutive sessions (1973-1993), and in 1993, moved to the Texas Senate, where he continues to serve. Representative and Senator Madla has gained a reputation as an outspoken advocate for health care and education issues.

Thanks to recently drawn single member districts, Ben T. Reyes took his seat as Representative of District 87 (Houston, Harris County). A twenty-five-year-old Vietnam veteran, Reyes replaced Lauro Cruz, who had resigned his position to run for Texas State Treasurer. He served through four sessions (1973-1980), representing Houston's Second and Third Wards, Magnolia, and Northside. Gregory Montoya, who had left the House in 1967 returned as the Representative of District 49 (Elsa, Hidalgo County) to serve two more sessions.

In the Senate, Raul L. Longoria moved from the House to serve as the State Senator representing the Rio Grande Valley, becoming the first Tejano to represent south Texas as Senator. He served as State Senator until 1981 when he was elected to the State District Court in Hidalgo County. He served as District Judge for thirteen years until his retirement in 1994.

In 1972, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) was established as a non-profit, non-partisan organization of all the Hispanic members of the Texas House of Representatives and Senate. In 1977, Tejano Senators started their own organization. According to the MALC Constitution, the purpose of the organization was committed "to represent the interests of the Mexican American community of Texas before the Legislature." By 1991/1992, MALC had 26 members, representing about a fifth of the House vote. In 2001, MALC's membership reached 41, representing just over one fourth of the House vote.

Sixty-Fourth Session (1975-1976)

The 64th Legislative Session saw the largest number of Tejano legislators take their seats in both chambers: Sixteen in all. While Senators Longoria and Santiesteban returned to their seats in the Upper Chamber, fourteen Tejano Representatives took their place in the Lower Chamber.

Although many of the Representatives were holdovers from the previous session, several new delegates took their seats. Born in Galveston in 1941, Gonzalo Barrientos grew up in Bastrop and attended the University of Texas at Austin. In 1974, he was elected as the first Mexican-American to represent District 37-4 (Austin, Travis County). He took office in 1975 and served through five sessions until 1984. Then, in November 1984, Representative Barrientos was elected to the Texas Senate, representing District 14, which included most of Travis County and part of Hays County.

Sixty-Fifth Session (1977-1978)

The Sixty-Fifth Legislative Session represented a milestone in the representation of Tejanos in the Texas Legislature. For the first time ever, three Mexican Americans took their seats in the Texas House: Longoria, Santiesteban, Truan.

A milestone of gender proportions was also reached when Irma Rangel was elected as the first Mexican-American female lawmaker in the Texas Legislature. Born in 1931 in Kingsville, Kleberg County, Irma Rangel had become a schoolteacher and, later, a lawyer. Then in 1976, she became the first Mexican-American woman elected to the Texas House of Representatives as the delegate from District 49 (Kingsville). Irma Rangel served from the 65th to the 78th Sessions (1977-2003), but died in office in 2003.

Another freshman Representative in the House was Frank Mariano Tejeda. Born in San Antonio in 1945, Frank had dropped out of high school to join the Marines (1963-1967). Serving in the Vietnam War, Tejeda earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals. After leaving the service, he continued his education, getting degrees from UC Berkeley, Yale and Harvard Universities.

In 1976, Frank Tejeda was elected to represent the people of District 57-B (San Antonio, Texas) and served through five sessions (1977-1987). He the moved over to the Texas Senate, serving from District 19 (Bexar County) from 1987 to 1992. By 1992, Senator Tejeda had become so popular that no one challenged him when he decided to run for U.S. Congress, as the representative of the 28th District. He served in Congress from 1993 to 1997, when he died in office.

Later Sessions

As the decade of the 1980s began, the number of Tejano elected officials stabilized. Not until the 70th Legislature (1987-1988) did the number of Hispanic legislators in Austin reach 25. With 19 Representatives in the House and six senators in the Upper Chamber, Latinos now felt that they had a strong voice in their own destiny, even though there was a belief that redistricting in some parts of Texas was still not favorable to minorities.

Probably the most notable addition to the Legislature in the 70th Legislature was election of Judith Zaffirini as the first Mexican-American woman to serve in the Texas Senate. Representing District 21 (Bexar County and several border counties), Senator Zaffirini would be reelected three times. She achieved a perfect attendance record and voting record, casting more than 15,000 consecutive votes during six regular and 12 special sessions. As a result, she was honored with more than 250 awards for her professional and legislative performance.

At the first election following the turn of the century (November 2000), Hispanic representatives from the State of Texas to the U.S. Congress numbered six delegates (five Democrats and one Republican). The number of Hispanics in the Texas Senate had increased to seven, while the number of Tejano Representatives in the House reached 28. In the next election (November 2002), the number of Tejanos in the House would reach a new milestone: 30 Representatives.

The struggle for Tejano Representation in Texas has been a long drawn-out affair. The gains of Mexican American Texans in both the Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress were, for the most part, achieved by individuals who had already served their country as soldiers fighting for freedom. These soldiers, as veterans, returned home to take part in a new struggle for freedom: the struggle for representation.

(c) Copyright, by John P. Schmal, All Rights Reserved. Read more articles by
John Schmal.


Steve Bickerstaff, "Effects of the Voting Rights Act on Reapportionment and Hispanic Voting Strength in Texas," Texas Hispanic Journal of Law & Policy (The University of Texas School of Law), Vol. 6, No. 1 (Summer 2001), 99-122.

Robert Cuellar, A Social and Political History of the Mexican American Population of Texas, 1929-1963 (San Francisco: R and E Research Associates, 1974).

Leroy Hardy, Alan Heslop and Stuart Anderson (eds.), Reapportionment Politics: The History of Redistricting in the 50 States (Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1981).

Malcolm E. Jewell, The Politics of Reapportionment (New York: Atherton Press, 1962).

Al Luna, The Mexican-American Legislative Caucus (Austin: Texas Legislative Counsel, 1987).

Robert B. McKay, Reapportionment: The Law and Politics of Equal Representation (New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, 1965).

Useful Website:
[Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995: Table of Contents]

John Schmal is an historian, genealogist, and lecturer. With his friend Donna Morales, he recently 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 Eddie Martinez -- a graphics illustrator -- on a manuscript entitled "Indigenous Mexico: Past and Present."