Category Archives: RIP


Sara Ines, Stace, and Carlos at TDP '10

Solo los recuerdos quedan, as they say.

I’ll talk about that in a later post. For now, it’s about letting this sink in.

I will provide some comic relief from his retirement/farewell article in the San Antonio Express-News.

And I have relished retelling tales about people like “Chano,” who booked two wedding receptions at the same time in the hall he managed — each “a gift” to the two sets of unsuspecting newlyweds — and then collected a fat fee from a gubernatorial candidate for the rally with the “guaranteed crowd” he’d promised.

So many stories.

RIP Arthur Gochman

I was saddened to hear the news of the passing of Lawyer-Businessman Arthur Gochman. Some in Houston will remember him as a staunch Democrat, but some of us South Texans will remember him as a hero for equitable funding for public schools in Texas.

The case stemmed from the financial gulf between the heavily Hispanic Edgewood school district, where taxable property value per pupil stood at $6,000, and affluent districts such as the Alamo Heights district, with almost $50,000 taxable value per student.

Even with state stipends designed to level the playing field between rich and poor districts, those such as Edgewood invariably were disadvantaged.

“There was a lot of political pressure,” recalled University of California System president Mark Yudof, who, as a law professor at the University of Texas, also assisted Gochman. “School finance reform was for fools and radicals, but he saw it through. … It’s hard to put words in his mouth, but he saw it as a grave injustice.”

Gochman lost the case on a 5-4 split but was heartened by a letter from U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who admitted the court’s decision was one of the most disappointing in his 37-year career on the bench.

To this day the case remains a point of study for students of constitutional law. The case also set the stage for legislation in 1993 that sought to equalize funding among Texas schools and came to be known as Robin Hood.

Obviously, the battles for equitable funding of our public schools continue. Whether we fight Republicans in Austin or we fight wealthy interests who want to fund tax dodges locally, the life of Arthur Gochman will serve as an example for generations to come that the fight must continue.

Learning of his sudden death, his longtime friend, former state Rep. Frances “Sissy” Farenthold said: “I really feel like a candle has gone out.”

RIP: Mario G. Obledo, Co-Founder of MALDEF, Civil Rights Leader


LOS ANGELES, CA – Civil rights pioneer and MALDEF Co-Founder Mario G. Obledo passed away in Sacramento on Wednesday August 18, 2010 at the age of 78.  Obledo was Co-Founder of MALDEF, “the law firm of the Latino community.”

A long-time leader in fighting for Latino empowerment, furthering humanitarian efforts and protecting civil rights, Obledo was currently serving as the President of the National Coalition of Hispanic Organizations, and previously served as former California Governor Jerry Brown’s Secretary of Health and Welfare from 1975 to 1982.  As Secretary, Obledo is credited with opening access for positions of government service to countless Latinos and other minorities.  In addition to being a Co-Founder of MALDEF, the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization, Obledo also co-founded the Hispanic National Bar Association and served as National President of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).  For Obledo’s efforts and accomplishments in law, advocacy and civil rights, in 1998 President Clinton awarded Obledo the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award, the nation’s highest civilian award.

Mario G. Obledo is survived by his wife Keda Alcala-Obledo.

From the NYT Article:

During the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown, he became the first Hispanic chief of a California state agency: health and welfare, the largest in both budget and workers. In 1982, he was the first Hispanic citizen to mount a serious run for governor of California.

When President Bill Clinton presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998, the citation said Mr. Obledo had “created a powerful chorus for justice and equality.” He was called the “Godfather of the Latino Movement” in the United States.

His approach was as unsubtle as it was impassioned. He created a national commotion in the 1990s by protesting the stereotypical Mexican accent of the Chihuahua in Taco Bell commercials. When someone put up a sign at the California border saying, “Illegal Immigration State,” he threatened to burn it down personally.

Condolences and contributions can be sent to:
National Coalition of Hispanic Organizations
PO Box 1026
Sacramento, CA 95812

RIP: Esteban “Steve” Jordan, Acordeonista y Musico

My friend and writer Carlos Guerra wrote this piece on the passing of his friend, the legendary accordionist and musician Esteban “Steve” Jordan.

Esteban Jordan by Carlos Guerra

Oddly enough, it was my classically trained violinist father who turned me on to Esteban Jordán when I was a teen.

Dad wasn’t much of a fan of any popular music, especially conjunto, but he had a special appreciation for great musicianship, and early in his career, Esteban was already showing off his incredibley acrobatic skills as a player.

Pay attention to this player, Dad said, because he is a true musician.

Steve got little notice, initially, until he recorded “Squeezebox Man,” which combined Steve’s unique conjunto stylings with rock — turning it into a frerenetically infectuous 45 rpm classic. From then on, Esteban would live a tumultuous professional — and personal– life full of wildly varying ups and downs.

Of course, like many masters, he wasn’t the easiest guy to get along with. He was often an autocrat on stage, could be a tyrant with his sidemen, and could be irritating with his friends. And as he aged, he became increasingly paranoid of business associates and promoters, more than a few of whom took advantage of his gifts for their own gain.

One apocryphal tale has Steve showing up with his band to a hotel in a large midwestern city, telling the desk clerk he wanted the two best rooms in the house. After booking them, he took the second-best room and dispatched his band to share the other. When they complained about being so crowded, Steve supposedly responded, “What are you complaing about? You got the best room in the house!”

But at various times, Esteban also showed his social consciousness, playing free concerts for civil rights groups and organizing incredible ensembles of crack Chicano musicians all too ready to play with him.

It was at these, in the early 1970s, that I got to know him better.

Still, he was distrustful of politics and politicians, advising me once in the 1970s, “Salte de la política, bro’, la política es pa’ las putas (get out of politics, bro’, politics is for whores).

Born into a migrant farm-worker family, a midwife mistakingly dropping a caustic substance into his infant eyes left him virtually blind for life. Dragged from field to field by his family, he couldn’t work, so he would stay at the labor camps, where he began to listen to the music of a fellow-traveler, Valerio Longoria, who became a mentor. But he also listened to radio, which in many places, was English-only, as country-and-western developed, and programming became infused with rock and blues.

He once told me he had never weighed more than 100 pounds, but you would never know it from the way he handled himself on stage, animatedly personifying what he was playing. He also had a penchant for outrageously colorful stage dress and always wore his patch, once rebuking me for publishing a picture of him in sunglasses.

Over the years, he played in the classic conjunto ensemble of accordion, bajo sexto, bass and drums, but at various times blended in electric guitars (which he played well), keyboards, all manner of horn and rythmn sections, mariachis and who knows what else. Esteban relished experimentation and innovation, and in many recordings, he played all the instruments.

At his prime, Jordan’s fingers were lightning quick, and his bellows work infectuous. And he also had great talent in writing lyrics, often depicting the everyday lives of working-class Chicanos with a poetic flourish that was often exceptional, masterfully weaving plausible plots with colorful street Spanish, stories of romantic conquests and of bitter disappointments, and even a few chronicles of major Chicano cultural events.

And hearing him for the first time at one of the Conjunto Festivals, the president of Hoener Accordions, a German, proclaimed him to be, “Perhaps the greatest diatonic-accordion player of all times.” He also arranged for Steve to travel to Germany and had a special three-row accordion built to his specifications as a special gift.

He leaves a rich discography, much of which is yet to be released, with numerous recording companies.

Esteban Jordán, en paz descanses, bro’

Additional Links:

Review of Jordan’s most recent recording, Carta Espiritual.

Austin360 Article on the passing of Esteban.

An NPR report.

RIP: Ruben Vela-Conjunto Legend

Service Details (Thanks to my friend

A viewing is scheduled at Faith Please Gods Church (956) 412-5600, 4501 West Expressway 83 in Harlingen at 3-9 p .m Thursday with a regular service to follow at 7 p.m.

Another viewing and service is set for 8-noon Friday at the same church with funeral service to follow at 1 p.mj. Heavenly Grace Memorial Cemetary on rural Route 2 in La Feria. (956) 797-5614 sends condolences to the family of Ruben Vela, Conjunto music legend and pioneer.  From his MySpace page:

Ruben Vela was born May 10, 1937. Although he was born in San Antonio, he spent most of his youth in the Rio Grande Valley, growing up in cities like Relampago and Mercedes. While he and his family were living in Mercedes, Ruben’s mother presented 11year-old Ruben with his first accordion – a brand new two row Hohner. Even though the $70 she spent was a lot of money for that time, she soon realized, it was money well spent. Ruben was so delighted that he could now play with his 9 brothers and 1 sister, all musicians, he practiced non-stop. And at the tender age of 12, Ruben decided he was ready for his first public performance. Ruben had such talent and his music was so well received, that by 1956, he became a regular on the KGBT Martin Rosales radio show in the Valley. Rosales was so impressed with young Ruben that he introduced him to the owner of Discos Falcon in McAllen. There, Ruben recorded his first song, and instrumental called “Adolorido,” a compilation, based on two old traditional Mexican songs, “Adolorido” and “El Abandonado.” It became an instant hit. So, in 1959, with his first hit in hand, Ruben decided it was time to start touring. Since then, he has recorded many other memorable hits, including, “Te Regalo El Corazon,” “Mire Amigo,” and “El Oso Negro.” Ruben also recorded the beloved, “El Pajuelazo” and “El Tiroteo.” Throughout the years, Ruben has recorded on such labels as, Bego, Freddie, Dina, Joey, and Hacienda, and Crown. Throughout the years, Ruben Vela’s music has touched the hearts and souls of Tejano fans around the world. In 1983 he was honored for these outstanding contributions to the world of Conjunto music and inducted into the Conjunto Hall of Fame at the world famous Conjunto Festival in San Antonio. But who would have guessed that things would only get better? After forty years of entertaining audiences, Ruben Vela and his Conjunto had their biggest hit of all, a power cumbia called “El Coco Rayado ñ Powermix.” Not only did “El Coco Rayado” get heavy rotation throughout the Valley, it received impressive play in tough northern markets, as well. But the real surprise came in 1997, when the follow-up “La Papaya” earned Ruben a nomination for three Tejano Music Awards. This super-charged cumbia, not only earned Ruben a nomination for Song of the Year, but for Album of the year, as well. So, at an age when most people are contemplating retirement, Ruben dealt with a hectic touring schedule, the likes of which he had never before seen.

In fact, a search through YouTube will uncover several videos of performances, including one from less than a year ago.  There is also one posted this year, but I don’t have confirmation if the performance was this year.  In that video, one sees that the aging musico is assisted by a stand to hold up his accordion, but still plays as perfectly as ever.  Ruben Vela’s was a legendary career that boosted the careers of all those that came after him in the Conjunto Tejano genre.

Here’s a performance at Tejano Conjunto Festival in 2009.

RIP: Juan Patlan

By Vianna Davila – Express-News

Even the week before he died, Juan Patlán was talking about ways to make a difference in his community.

That kind of dedication is what family and friends had come to expect from Patlán, a longtime community activist whose work with organizations like the Mexican American Unity Council and National Council of La Raza would eventually earn him invitations to meet with two sitting U.S. presidents.

“My dad was an honorable man,” said his oldest son, Dagoberto. “His politics were reflected in his life. He lived what he preached.”

Patlán died Sunday in San Antonio. He was 70.

The son of a migrant worker, he learned how to appreciate political activism and education at an early age. His father, Antero, was one of the first people to sign a lawsuit calling for the integration of schools in Carrizo Springs in the 1940s. Later, Patlán would help organize school walkouts in nearby Crystal City in response to a lack of bilingual education.

In San Antonio, he was a founding member of MAUC along with other notable activists, including Willie Velásquez and current St. Mary’s University President Charles Cotrell. Patlán operated as the unity council’s president and CEO from 1969 until 1983.

Under Patlán’s direction, the organization helped pave the way for Hispanic-owned businesses and fostered inner city economic development, spearheading a project along the River Walk that eventually would become the Hyatt Regency Hotel. What Patlán also possessed was an astute business sense and an ability to work with different kinds of people, even in difficult situations, said longtime friend and colleague Arnold Flores.

“He was always a real serious thinker, he always had good ideas,” Flores said. “And he always had guts enough to push his ideas to the board.”

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the board of the National Consumer Cooperative Bank. Patlán would return to the White House several times in his career, including when President Ronald Reagan named him to two task forces on inner city redevelopment and enterprise zones.

Even after he left MAUC, he would continue to pursue real estate throughout the years, working on affordable housing development here and in the Rio Grande Valley and was chairman of the board for San Antonio Water System from 1995 until 2001.

But what he’ll be remembered for most was the sense of service at the forefront of everything he did, his friend said.

“I think San Antonio is better off because of the work that Juan Patlán did,” Flores said.

R.I.P. Pedro G. Teran

Late last night I received word that my Uncle Pedro G. Teran, of Crystal City, TX, had ended his journey on this earth.  I’ve mentioned my Uncle Pete here several times.  In fact, he was my Great Uncle–brother of my Mom’s mom.  I grew up listening to his jokes, his singing and guitar strumming, and simply enjoying his mere existence.   He was always there for our familiy–during the good and bad times.  For that, I shall never forget him, and for that, I will always be indebted to my Tia Virginia, my primos Pete and Tony, and my primas, Alma, Norma, and Irma.

Here’s a post I did in 2007 in response to Ken Burns forgetting about Chicano/Latino vets in his WWII documentary (thanks to Carlos Guerra for providing the motivation).

Taking a page from Carlos’ stylebook, I have a WWII Tio to celebrate, as well. My Tio Pedro (Pete) Teran of Crystal City. Although this post is about Tio Pete, I must mention other WWII vets in the family, like Pete’s brothers Alfredo and Abraham, as well as my mom’s big brother, Rodolfo.

At 86, Tio Pete is still kickin’, although we’ve had a few scares these last few years. Still active and always a proud Vet, he was recognized earlier this year by Congressman Ciro Rodriguez for his many years of service as Historian for the Melecio Ortiz Post of the American Legion (photo above). He has also been one of those Vets that has been there to honor other Veteranos, either at funerals or during National holidays.

Tio Pete served in the Navy during WWII, having seen action in the Phillippines and other Pacific Islands. Being the history buff that I am, my main “failure” has been never getting him to talk about his experiences during the war. What we do know is that he was one of many who served in the Pacific Islands who was finally recognized for his service back in the 80s during the Reagan Administration. Still, war is ugly and I cannot blame him for not wanting to say much.

What we do know is that he has always been a family man. He and my Aunt Quina raised three daughters and two sons–all of them great kids who have done much to impact South Texas as long-time educators. Always a hard-worker, he retired from a local company which manufactured those huge gun and bank safes, as well as other steelworks. And he has enjoyed his retirement all these years, visiting relatives, and always hanging out with his friends at the downtown Gazebo in front of the HEB, or at a local convenience store where all the retirees enjoy the all-you-can drink coffee (and the all-you-can-say conversation/chisme).

Always the comedian, I live for every visit I make to Cristal because it never fails. Soon after arriving, Tio sits next to me and rattles off 8 to 10 jokes within a few minutes. The laughter never stops, whether it’s jokes or just remembering something funny that occured within the family.

I also remember Tio Pete for always being there for my family. In fact, he was right there with my mom at the hospital when my dad passed away, ensuring mom wasn’t by herself while she waited for our arrival from the cities in which we lived. And throughout much of the 17 years since my dad’s passing, he would visit the graves of all his relatives, ensuring they were visible and clean.

And he’s been there for so many others. Why he never ran for office is beyond me, but he would have made a great politician!

So, while Ken Burns didn’t even try to find these stories, the bottom line is that they do exist. Always a proud American, a proud voter, and yes, a proud Mexicano, Tio Pete Teran is part of our American History. And as Carlos mentions about his uncle and other WWII Vets:

I owe them all because they are why I am where I am, and I will never forget it.

RIP: Eriberto “Bob” Serna

We were saddened this week at the passing of my mom’s brother, Bob Serna, of Decatur, IN.  Tio Beto was a good, hard-working guy.  A retired cement mason who also served as the president of his labor union, he was also a good Democrat.  We will miss him.  The family of Flora Serna Medellin sends their love and condolences to our Tia Tommy and our Primas and Primos.

Below is the obit which appeared in the Decatur Daily Democrat.

Eriberto “Bob” Serna

Eriberto “Bob” Serna, 77, of Decatur, died at his residence, surrounded by his loving family, on December 8, 2009.
He was born November 2, 1932 to the late Jesus and Maria (Teran) Serna in Crystal City, Texas.

He married Tomasa G. Mendez on October 28, 1950.

Surviving are his wife, Tomasa G. Serna; two sons, Jesse J. Serna and James J. Serna of Decatur; three daughters, Mary (Ken) Bradford, Anna (Fred) Espinosa, and Linda (John) Amstutz, all of Decatur; four sisters, Flora Medellin of Lantana, Texas, and Mary (Louis) Espinola, Lupe Garza, and Herminia (Jose) Montalvo, all of Fort Wayne; four brothers, Jose Serna of Crystal City, Texas, and Jesse Serna Jr., Hector (Karen) Serna, and Louis (Consuelo) Serna, all of Decatur; 11 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by brothers Elias Caciano and Rudy Serna and sisters Aurora Serna and Maria Serna Ortiz.

Bob was a member of St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Decatur and its Holy Name Society.

He retired as a cement mason and was a member of the Cement Mason’s Union of Ft. Wayne and was a past president of that union.

Visitation will be from 5-8 p.m. on Friday, December 11, 2009, at Haggard and Sefton Funeral Home, Decatur, with reciting of the Holy Rosary at 4:30 p.m.

A prayer service will be held at 9 a.m. on Saturday, December 12, 2009, at the funeral home, followed by a 10 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church. Father Ben Kakwezi will officiate.

Burial will follow in St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery, Decatur.

RIP: Judge William Wayne Justice

Definitely one of the legal heroes of our time.  Will there be another like him?  Rest in peace, Justice.

William Wayne Justice, the federal judge who forced Texas to modernize its prisons and open its school doors to blacks and immigrant children, has died. He was 89.

Over more than 40 years on the bench, Justice issued landmark rulings on school desegregation, bilingual education, and juvenile justice.

The long-running Ruiz prison reform case led to a building boom that gave Texas one of the largest and most modern incarceration systems. He ordered many counties, including Harris, to relieve jail overcrowding.

Justice, who died Tuesday in Austin, also desegregated public housing in East Texas and required better treatment of juveniles in state institutions.

The sweeping rulings brought the mild-mannered jurist death threats and calls for impeachment. But he also received many accolades, including being the first honoree of the Morris Dees Justice Award in November 2006.

“I’m basically a very shy, retiring person, but fate has put me in a situation where I’ve been in the midst of controversy,” Justice told biographer Frank Kemerer in a 1991 book. “Controversy is now kind of a way of life with me.

But I have never particularly liked it.”

Kemerer wrote that Justice was “not averse to pushing the law beyond existing precedents to promote individual rights and to render a measure of human dignity for those most disfavored in society.”

He was one of the last of a small group of federal judges who helped bring the segregated South into the civil rights era, often long after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

“He’s literally been a front-line soldier in the battles that have shaped American justice for the last half century,” said Dees, the Alabama civil rights lawyer famous for suing the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison of Houston nominated Justice for the Dees award. The nomination letter was signed by 100 judges, lawyers, law school deans and professors from around the nation.

“He has lived through things that most people never, ever contemplate and even not many judges understand,” Ellison previously said.

Justice grew up in the East Texas town of Athens. He father was a successful criminal defense lawyer who represented blacks as well as whites.

A bout of childhood whopping cough left him with a slight stoop. To recover from that and other illnesses, he rode his bike around town observing the rigid segregation of the times.

He attended the University of Texas at Austin and served in India during World War II. After the war he practiced law with his dad, delved into Democratic politics and served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas for seven years before being appointed to the bench in 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

He had barely settled in Tyler when the controversies began. He shocked the conservative community with one of his first rulings, finding the local junior college ban against men having long hair unconstitutional.

In the early 1970s, he ordered the desegregation of nine all-black school districts and required the Texas Education Agency to stop approving discriminatory interdistrict student transfers.

He also ruled that Mexican-Americans were an identifiable minority group entitled to the same desegregation remedies as blacks. Spanish-speaking students often attended inferior “little Mexican schools” and often had been corporally punished and shamed for not speaking English.

The Legislature responded with a law requiring bilingual instruction in elementary schools.

The prison reform lawsuit began in 1972 as a handwritten complaint from inmate David Ruiz. In 1974, Justice combined the writs by Ruiz and other inmates to form a class-action lawsuit. The trial began in Houston in 1978 and was not concluded until 1979.

The following year, Justice ruled for the inmates and ordered extensive changes in the way prisons operated. Among the key changes were abolition of a “building tender” system in which certain inmates were used as auxiliary guards.

Justice ordered improvements in sanitation and fire safety, as well as new recreational facilities and better health care. He made sure inmates had access to courts.

The case didn’t end for 30 years despite efforts by state and federal lawmakers to wrest control from Justice. Finally in 2001 the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals told Justice to justify his continuing oversight or terminate the case. One year later, he signed an order ending the lawsuit.

Justice wrote in a June 2001 order that the case “has become a history unto itself.” But he lauded the state for making vast improvements in a system that “at one point was incapable of description — the conditions so pernicious, and the inmates’ pain and degradation so extensive.”

Texas spent billions of dollars building new prisons and making improvements. From 1972 to 2002, the number of prison beds increased from 18,000 to 150,000. Daily spending per prisoner went from $8 to $40.

Ruiz is viewed by many as the most successful prison reform case in the nation.

But the cost of complying with Justice’s orders angered many taxpayers and prompted Texas Monthly in a 1978 profile to proclaim him the “real governor of Texas.”

In 1998, Justice took senior status and moved with his wife Sue to Austin. The couple found a more hospitable environment after years of being ostracized by Tyler society.

In William Wayne Justice: a Judicial Biography, the judge said he always tried to allow the state to act before imposing his own remedy. “I’ve done that in every case, and in every case there has been an inadequate response,” he said, adding that the state usually denied it was violating the constitution.

Steve Bickerstaff, a constitutional law professor at the UT law school, defended the state in the bilingual and prison cases during the 1970s. He said that although Justice’s rulings often were overturned on appeal, they served to make the public aware of issues and caused the Legislature to react.

The rulings provided cover for lawmakers who might have faced political heat for spending money on prisons and bilingual education.

“Judge Justice was the most effective member of the federal judiciary in taking those issues and applying pressure on the state to cure a problem which otherwise could not be addressed by the courts,” said Bickerstaff.

Lalo Alcaraz Responds: Viva!