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“Champion of the Underdog”

Thursday, September 14, 2017   (0 Comments)
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Vocal Human Rights Supporter, Brother Eligio "Kika” De La Garza, Passes

By Stephen Lee
Lewis University, ‘10

templeJohn F. Kennedy (WPI, ‘A). Paul Allen (Washington State University, ‘75). Keegan-Michael Key (University of Detroit Mercy).

These are all exceptional members of Phi Kappa Theta, names that roll off the tongue when we want to impress others.

Another name should be added to that list. A man who has schools and parks named after him. He even has his own statue.

He was a lawyer, politician, military veteran and brother of Phi Kappa Theta.

He served in the United States House of Representatives, was a vocal supporter of human rights in the crucial 1960’s, and fought hard for workers in the agriculture industry.

His name is Eligio "Kika” de la Garza (University of Texas at Austin, ‘A), and he joined Phi Kappa Theta in 1976. His family has a long lineage of Phi Kappa Theta brothers, which is how he got the connection.

Kika’s nephew, Eddie Lucio Jr., is a fellow Phi Kap who served in the Texas House of Representatives. He remembers his uncle as an amazing man and down to earth Texan.

"On a Wednesday, Kika would be in the White House having dinner. On Thursday, he’d be back in Texas enjoying a backyard barbecue with his constituents.”

Eligio "Kika” de la Garza passed away March 13, 2017, and many people paid their respects.

"He met everybody” said Eddie. "It’s hard to believe who he touched throughout his life. The funeral was just amazing, so many people showed up.”

Kika grew up in Mission, Texas, and enlisted in the US Navy at age 17, towards the end of World War II.

According to The Progress Times newspaper, "Upon returning home, he completed his high school courses and attended Edinburg Junior College. He transferred to St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and returned to serve his country during the Korean conflict as an artillery officer in the United States Army, as an aide to General Kenneth Cooper. After his service, he earned a law degree in 1951 from St. Mary’s University.”

At age 24, Kika ran for and won a seat in the Texas House of Representatives.

Eddie marveled at his uncle’s election to the house, and not just for his young age. "The year was 1952, and Kika was the only Hispanic in the state House. Can you imagine?”

Kika would serve for twenty-two years (6 consecutive terms) in the Texas House of Representatives. According to the City of Mission website:

"Among his accomplishments as a Texas Congressman were the absorption of Pan American University into the University of Texas system, the creation of the Texas Water Commission and the Reagan/de la Garza Coastal Wetlands and being a driving force behind legislation establishing the nation’s first state-run system of English language instruction for pre-school children.

In 1964, de la Garza was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent Texas’ 15th District and served until his retirement in 1996. During his tenure, de la Garza served as Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, which was the first time since 1917 that a Hispanic served as chair of a standing committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, became a founding member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which he chaired from 1989 to 1991 and worked diligently to improve relations and trade between the United States and Mexico, specifically the passage of both the North American Free Trade Agreement and the expansion of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. For his efforts, de la Garza was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor Mexico may bestow on a foreigner, in 1978.”

For this article, we reached a representative from Kika’s alma mater, St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. The following is a quote from Stephen M. Sheppard, J.S.D., Dean of the St. Mary’s University School of Law.

"St. Mary’s is immensely proud of Kika de la Garza’s service to the law and to the nation. His legacy was one of gentle but firm leadership for South Texas and its Mexican-American population, as well as the state and nation. His style of leading through listening, engagement and courtesy will be sorely missed.

It’s also important to recognize the threat to his legislative agenda that seems to be ever rising. His leadership is acknowledged by many as essential to improved trade relations between the United States and Mexico. His commitment to wetlands preservation and to ensuring our descendants have safe water is much less assured than it would have been were his sensibilities still able to dominate the United States House of Representatives as they once did.

Kika de la Garza now joins a pantheon of leaders of the Mexican-American bar and the bars of Texas and the United States. Champions of the underdog, protectors of the environment and ambassadors for a more peaceful world are a constant inspiration to the St. Mary’s University School of Law. It is my hope that our students carry the same fire to improve the future that forged the progress they enjoy.”

Eddie Lucio Jr. explained that April 28th is the "Speaker’s Day” in Texas, which is an annual reunion of current and former state Representatives. At this year’s event, Kika de la Garza will be honored. Fitting, considering Phi Kappa Theta’s Founder’s Day is the very next day. Let’s remember Kika by proudly informing our friends and family about our famous Brother.

Special thanks to Rene Farias (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, ‘75), Felix Rodriguez II (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, ‘09) and Luis Guajardo (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, ‘00) for contributing information for this article.

Image: Brother Eligio "Kika” de la Garza from the University of Texas at Austin, ‘76.

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