By Mia Garza McCord, President. September 15, 2021
With the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, I wanted to take a step back from where I am now to talk about how I got here. I am proud of my background, my upbringing, my parents, and what I will forever call my hometown no matter how long I live in Central Texas.
I was born in the early 80s in Mercy Hospital in Laredo, Texas. My mother, Gloria or Gigi, was a teacher, and my father, Arnoldo, or, as most people know him, Nuni, laid cement. My parents lived their entire lives in the small community of Hebbronville, the county seat of Jim Hogg County. Our town is truly in the middle of nowhere, but if you have spent any time at all traveling through South Texas, I can guarantee you have gone through the middle of our town.
My mother is one of 6 siblings, plus three bonus siblings that became part of their family when my grandmother’s sister and brother-in-law passed away. My grandfather, Concepcion, or Chonito, was a World War II Veteran and drove trucks (he also served briefly as a County Commissioner), and my grandmother worked in various retail locations in the town like the dress shop and the Piggly Wiggly.
My father is also one of 6 siblings born to Emma and Arnoldo Garza, Sr.. My grandfather, a Korean War vet, ran the local weigh station, delivered the Laredo Times newspaper in his old Jeep in the mornings, and served our community as Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace for nearly 30 years. My grandmother cared for her family and had her own in-home childcare business. They own a very small ranch in Brooks County that they named CALLE D after their children, Carlos, Arnoldo Jr., Laida, Lydia, Eddie, and my uncle David who passed in the early 80s. My grandparents loved that ranch. Every day at 5pm, they would load up, drive 15 miles, and work the property until the sun went down. I spent many evenings sitting with my grandfather as he sipped his cup of coffee and smoked his cigar watching the sun set and the cows graze.
I talk about my grandparents because I never remember them complaining about anything, especially money. As an adult I absolutely understand how hard it must have been to raise large families on small salaries. I never remember them talking about being tired. Both sets of grandparents worked from sunup until sundown and still found time to help the community. Most importantly, my grandparents never met a stranger. They were the first to visit a grieving widow, the first in line to check on an ill friend and would drop everything if they received a phone call about a distressed community member.
Like my grandparents, my parents worked hard their entire lives. My mother served as a public-school teacher for almost 40 years before retiring, and even upon her retirement is drawn back to the public school system to help struggling students or substitute teach. My dad has labored his whole life laying cement, preparing someone else’s ranch land for a good hunting season, or working tirelessly in the hot sun doing highway maintenance for the Texas Department of Transportation. Also like my grandparents, the work did not stop at 5pm. Even in his recent retirement, dad is working land jobs and never hesitates to take in one more lawn mower repair for a friend in the evenings.
Up until I was in high school and we upgraded to a double-wide, my two brothers and I were raised in a two-bedroom trailer home that was on the same property as my paternal grandparents. It never bothered me that we lived in a trailer home or that my friends had pretty brick homes and I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t learn that it was something to be ashamed about until I got to college. My parents worked so hard to make sure we did not lack anything we needed, and often sacrificed to get us the things we wanted.
I mimicked my grandparents’ and parents’ work ethic. I was babysitting by 12 years old, if not younger, then I cleaned the houses and ironed the clothes of family friends and worked as a lifeguard in the summer in order to pay for my school clothes for the year.
We had family barbeques on Saturdays and woke up to go to Catholic mass on Sundays. Birthdays, holidays, and “just because” family gatherings were my favorite. We honestly didn’t really need a reason to get together. It was not uncommon for 20 kids and 10-15 adults to be in and out of our small two-bedroom trailer on Thanksgiving and Christmas. When I turned 15, my aunts and uncles pulled together to get me traditional jewelry and gifts because we could not afford a quinceñera. When I graduated Valedictorian of my little 3A high school (a whole 86 graduates big), my grandmother recycled invitations she would receive from other graduates to send out to more of our extended family and friends to invite them to our backyard party after the ceremony. My Aunt Gina and Uncle Eddie bought me my very first computer to take to UT Austin. I still remember how excited I was when that Gateway box arrived. It was even wired for internet!
And, when I arrived in Austin, I quickly learned that the scholarships from my 4 years of hard work in high school would only get me through my first year of school and living expenses. We didn’t qualify for financial aid or work study, so I did what I had done since I was a teenager. I got a job. I went to school full time in the morning and worked all afternoon, picking up overtime when I could. Nothing will motivate you to get your degree faster than having to pay for school on your own! I highly recommend it!
After I graduated, I was given the opportunity to intern through the Moreno Rangel Legislative Leadership Program through the Texas Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC). Because the internship offered a stipend, I was able to accept, and was immediately drawn into politics. I will never forget the day I received the call that I was being placed in a (gasp) Republican office for the internship. I remember the apologies and explanation that MALC was a non-partisan organization.
To be honest, it didn’t bother me. I had grown up in a conservative democrat community and at the time didn’t care one way or the other. However, by the end of that legislative session, there was no doubt I had decided that my views more closely aligned with conservatism. Life was hard as a young staff member with a small salary and student debt coming due. I didn’t have the connections, or the political savvy that many of my new capitol friends possessed, but boy was I in love with the process. That is why we all do this, right?
I always felt a little inapt in the conservative world. My values lined up and there were so many great people and mentors in conservative policy and politics, but often, the rhetoric was a little offensive and hardly anyone ever looked like me. I’ll never forget writing down a political strategy to recruit Hispanics to the movement, presenting it to a party official, and being told that Hispanics were not who they were going to focus on at that moment. Their plan instead was to focus on the evangelical African American community. While I cannot seem to find a copy of that plan, I remember specifically talking about the values of the community I grew up in being those of the GOP. If only we would spend more time in the community, become part of the community, and listen to what was important to that community, they would come to find a home in the conservative movement.
Heartbroken, I walked away from that plan and continued forward with my legislative career. I got married to a man of a different culture than mine (again, gasp) and we had our first son. After the scary 122 days of not knowing if we would ever bring him home from the NICU, we did. It was a glorious day, and a day where the surmounting hospital and specialist debt crushed us. My husband’s grandparents had left him their house to sell so he could afford a down payment on his first home. Well, that money went straight to the doctors, facilities, DME providers who saved our son, and we were so grateful to hand it all over in exchange for our beautiful miracle boy.
It wasn’t until March of 2017 that our family was able to save for and purchase our very first home, 13 years after I graduated from college. I would call my career climb steady, sometimes slow, oftentimes frustrating, but always steady. But here we are today, a happy family of four, in a home that in a couple decades we will own outright, but it is nonetheless, our home. We sacrifice big vacations, extravagant vehicles, and those shoes and purses I always dreamt of for a quality Christian private education for our two children. We are in a good place. You could even say, we have accomplished the American Dream. But it didn’t happen overnight. God had a plan, and still does, but it has taken decades of hard work, determination, and shear stubbornness to even see a glimpse of what that plan will reveal itself to ultimately be.
This is my story. So, you can label me, poll me, statistic me to death, but at the end of the day, a conservative Tejana is who I choose to be, and I didn’t have to change a thing I believed in to find my political home.