The Congressional Papers Collection of former U.S. Congressman Eligio "Kika" de la Garza, who served Texas' District 15 from 1965-1997, was unveiled Nov. 9 at The University of Texas-Pan American Library, where the extensive archive will be permanently housed.
"We had several requests throughout the nation (for the archive) but we chose Pan American because this is home. This is where I started," said de la Garza, who attended Edinburg Junior College - now UT Pan American.
De la Garza, who served in both the U.S. Navy and Army, went on to earn a law degree from St. Mary's University. He was a representative in the Texas State Legislature from 1952-1964 before serving as a U.S. Congressman in presidential administrations spanning from Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton. During his congressional terms, he was a founding member in 1976 of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and as chair of the Agriculture Committee from 1981-1994. As one of the first Hispanics to head a major committee in Congress, he oversaw significant agricultural legislation to assist farmers and encourage rural economic development not only in South Texas but nationwide. He was also integral in the passage of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).
"You may think that you are short, but you are a giant of a man," said UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen. who praised de la Garza's expansive impact on the community, including his role in the University's transition into The University of Texas System. "He was also the first to bring work study to students here and adult education for migrant workers in the Valley. He was a man of the people and they respected him."
The task of processing the almost 400 linear feet of archival materials gained momentum with the receipt in 2010 of a nearly $62,000 grant from the National Historical Publication and Records Commission.
The library also began work three years ago on an oral history project consisting of videotaped interviews with de la Garza covering different periods of his life and career. Support for the oral history project came from UTPA Foundation Board member Edward Muñoz, who described during the event how his life was impacted by de la Garza's dedicated efforts to serve his constituents and region.
Muñoz said during a visit by the congressman to Kingsville 32 years ago, de la Garza urged local political leaders there to push local businesses, including the Celanese Corporation plant, to hire Hispanic workers. That visit, Muñoz said, subsequently led Celanese to hire its first Mexican-American professional employee in 1967.
"In the following 32 years, that Mexican-American went through the organization, finally ending up as president of one of its most profitable divisions and a member of the board of management," Muñoz said. "I'm personally very thankful for that since I was that individual."
Years later, when he heard that the papers de la Garza donated had been gathering dust because of lack of funding for personnel and materials to process them, Muñoz said he "took that to heart."
"He was one of the first Hispanics who had a strong footprint in the Hispanic community and culture while still navigating his way through the U.S. Congress," Munoz said. "He was a role model for Hispanics and what they can achieve."
UTPA Archivist Diane Tyink, who obtained the grant to help process the papers and conducted the oral history interviews with de la Garza, said the papers are an excellent primary source for UTPA students, faculty, scholars, historians, journalists and other researchers interested in the Rio Grande Valley's history and development from the mid'1960's to mid-1990's.
She said the collection is organized into a number of categories such as departmental files related, for example, to Mexico/Border relations and military base closures; legislative files including campaign materials, scrapbooks and appointment books; general files containing correspondence with constituents; and legislative files which hold materials related to committees and bills. Tyink and her team of assistants digitized de la Garza's Congressional newsletters, which she described as very informative and great place for students to begin their research.
The "man of the people," who was more often referred to as "Kika" by his constituents than Congressman, said he hopes students who investigate the collection are "inspired to aspire" and remember that this is the place where he came from.
"I appreciate that you (UTPA) will be the caretaker of 32 years of my life. Years from now, the students here will say 'Kika de la Garza pasó por aquí (came through here),'" he said.
Those interested in accessing the archive, contact Tyink at firstname.lastname@example.org or (956) 665-2766.