Important People of Brownsville History
CORTINA, JUAN NEPOMUCENO (1824-1894)
Juan Nepomuceno(Cheno) Cortina (Cortinas), Mexican folk hero, was born on May 16, 1824, in Camargo, Tamaulipas, the son of Estéfana and Trinidad Cortina. His aristocratic mother was one of the heirs of a large land grant in the lower Rio Grande valley, including the area that surrounded Brownsville. The family moved to that land when Cortina was still young. In the Mexican War Cortina served as a part of an irregular cavalry during the battles of Resaca de la Palma and Palo Alto under Gen. Mariano Arista of the Tamaulipas Brigade. After the war he returned to the north bank of the river, where he was indicted at least twice by a Cameron County grand jury for stealing cattle. Although Cortina frequently appeared in public, his political influence among Mexicans prevented him from being arrested.
The Robin Hood of the Rio Grande led a colorful life, click here to find out more
FORD, JOHN SALMON (1815-1897).
John Salmon (Rip)Ford, soldier, elected official, and newspaper editor, son of William and Harriet (Salmon) Ford, was born in Greenville District, South Carolina, on May 26, 1815. He moved to Texas in June 1836 and served in the Texas army until 1838, rising to the rank of first lieutenant under John Coffee (Jack) Hays. Ford settled in San Augustine and practiced medicine there until 1844, when he was elected to the House of the Ninth Congress, where he introduced the resolution to accept the terms of annexation to the United States. In 1845 he moved to Austin and became editor of the Austin Texas Democrat; he was later in partnership with Michael Cronican.
Read how Rip became a legend in Brownsville and Texas by clicking here.
GARCIA, Dr. JULIET
Dr. Juliet Garcia, president of the University of Texas at Brownsville is the first Mexican American woman in the US to serve as president of a college or university. Dr. Juliet V. García joined The University of Texas System as President of The University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) in 1992 after serving as President of Texas Southmost College (TSC) for six years. During her tenure as president of UTB/TSC, the campus has grown from 47 acres to over 330 acres, with assets worth over $136 million. During her 25-year career in higher education administration, Dr. García has received numerous honors and awards. Dr. García received her Ph.D. in Communication and Linguistics from The University of Texas at Austin and her M.A. and B.A. in Speech and English from The University of Houston. Her postdoctoral studies include work at the Institute for Educational Management and the JFK School of Government at Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the London School of Business Study for International Business Fellows program.
To learn more about Dr. Juliet Garcia click here.
GARZA, JUDGE REYNALDO (1915-2004)
Born in Brownsville, Texas, in 1915, Reynaldo Garza was the fourth child of immigrants. As a student at the University of Texas, he showed ease in gaining the trust of Anglos in an environment that was still strongly divided by racism. He also got involved in campus politics, managing John B. Connally's campaign for student body president and thus forging a tie that later brought him into contact with important Democratic party figures such as Lloyd Bentsen and LBJ. At the urging of Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy nominated Reynaldo G.Garza to the U.S. District Court bench in South Texas. For more than three and half decades after that 1961appointment, Judge Garza's service marked many more firsts. As an increasingly renowned attorney in Brownsville and an emerging power broker in the predominantly Anglo establishment of the state, Garza personified the new elite in the Mexican American community and in the Democratic party. In 1979, Garza became the first Mexican American appointed to the United States Court of Appeals. President Carter invited him to become U.S. Attorney general, which would have made him the first Mexican American member of a presidential cabinet had he accepted the appointment.
To learn more about Judge Reynaldo Garza click here.
When elected Cameron County judge in 1988, he defeated a well-known Democrat who had been county judge for twelve years. Garza became at age 28 the youngest person and the first Hispanic Republican in the state to win a countywide office along the vast Texas-Mexico border. Garza served in that capacity until 1994, when he made an unsuccessful bid for state attorney general. In 1995, he became Governor Bush's first appointee as secretary of state and one of Bush's select few senior advisors, particularly on border and Mexico-related issues. Mr. Garza was elected Texas' 41st Railroad Commissioner in 1998. He became the first Hispanic Republican elected to statewide office in the history of Texas. Since November 2002 he has been Ambassador to Mexico.
To learn more about Tony Garza click here.
LUCIO, JR., EDUARDO
Educated and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, Senator Lucio today works diligently to promote educational and employment advancements, among other critical needs, for District 27. He is currently chairman of the Senate Committee on Border Affairs. Senator Lucio and his wife Herminia (Minnie) Cerda have two children, Lynda Anne and Eddie III. He was the youngest County Treasurer ever elected in Texas, at the age of 25. He was born in Brownsville, Texas, on January 20, 1946, to Eduardo and Josefa Lucio
To learn more about Senator Eddie Lucio click here.
PAREDES, AMERICO (1915-1999)
Americo Paredes was an eminent folklorist and song writer. From a poor family, he did not expect to attend college. He credited J.W. Irvine, assistant dean of Brownsville Junior College in 1934, with helping him by arranging for a student job. He graduated from Brownsville Junior College in 1936. The 28 graduates included five Hispanic names. He was financially unable to continue his education. He served in the military and worked at various jobs. In 1950, at age 35, he enrolled at The University of Texas. After graduation he joined the faculty at the university, and began a career as a teacher, author and song writer. His work has helped preserve the Hispanic cultural legacy. He was also a Professor Emeritus of English and Anthropology at The University of Texas in Austin.
To learn more about Americo Paredes click here.
Ben Reyna was appointed by President George W. Bush, after confirmation by the U.S. Senate, to serve as Director of the federal government's oldest law enforcement agency - the United States Marshals Service - on October 29, 2001. Director Reyna began his law enforcement career in 1976 with the Brownsville Police Department in the City of Brownsville, Texas. During his 25-year career he rose through the ranks and held several key positions including Commander of Professional Standards and Emergency Management Coordinator. His service to the City of Brownsville culminated in serving six years as Chief of Police.
VELA, JUDGE FILEMON B. (1935-2004)
Judge Filemon B. Vela, a Texas Southmost College graduate, succeeded Judge Reynaldo Garza on the bench in Brownsville when Judge Garza became an appeals court judge. The eighth of nine children, Vela said TSC represented opportunity to him as a young man – the only chance he had to go to college. With the support of teachers here, he went on to The University of Texas at Austin, and, after Army service, to St. Mary’s University Law School. After practicing as an attorney in Harlingen and Brownsville, he was elected as a state district judge for Cameron and Willacy Counties in 1975, then nominated to the federal bench in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter.