I was born in Orange Grove, Texas, of a mother and father born in Texas. I grew up all over Texas. We were migrant workers. Yearly we packed our belongings and headed to West Texas looking for work in the cotton fields. Most of the times, we got paid a dollar to a dollar fifty per hundred. My last year I could pick one thousand pounds a day, so I earned over ten dollars a day. That worked fine until one day the cotton-picking machine appeared and then there was no more cotton to pick. With no more cotton to pick we went, like many migrant workers, to the city. We settled in San Antonio. Life was tough in San Antonio. My father had taken a correspondence course in electronics and he tried to make a living repairing radios and televisions but at minimum wage he could not support the family with such low wages. I became a scavenger looking for scrap metal to sell. Then I sold fruits and vegetables door to door. I did not make much but it helped. Our neighbor next door had a business collecting used tires and selling them in Mexico for guaraches. I helped him cut the sides of the tires off so he could transport them.
I went to school in the Edgewood ISD. I attended Burleson Elementary and Roosevelt Junior HS. President Harry S. Truman is probably the only president that ever set foot in a school in Edgewood ISD, and I was there and played "Hail to the Chief". He inaugurated Roosevelt. I attended Edgewood HS. While I was in high school I decided to follow in my big brothers’ footsteps and joined the Naval Reserve. I could see me traveling all over the world. Most of the time I did not have the dime it took to ride the bus to school and I had to walk. Those who could not afford to pay for their lunch could volunteer to serve the food and wash the pots and pans afterward. I was a volunteer.
All was well with my education and I could see my dream becoming a reality until one day I was called into the office of the Dean of Boys informed that I was being suspended from school for playing hooky. I recall that day - the day someone dared to care about my education. I was livid. When I was working in the cotton fields no one came to the fields and told my father that I had to be sent to school. No one cared about my education then, why should this man care now? Going to school was a challenge. In between cotton fields, I would get early, go to the bus stop, enroll myself, dis-enroll myself at school and I did this 24 times in 5 years. I have fond memories of my mother, getting up early to prepare my tacos for lunch. She never asked me where I was going. She just handed me the bag and off I went to school. Tacos at school was a curious event for the other students that saw me eating something, that was not a sandwich. There was always the offer to trade, which I did. I introduced a lot of young kids to Mexican food or at least tacos.
I dis-enrolled from Edgewood HS that day. A few days later my dream of traveling around the world in the Navy ended when I joined the Army and I was off to Fort Carson, Colorado. Six and a half years later, I left the Army and within a month I was in the Air Force. I spent twenty-one years in the Air Force. I still traveled to many parts of the world, just not in the Navy.
My brothers and sisters followed me into the military. My younger sister once commented: “you joined the military and we all followed you.” Imagine if you had gone to college instead. The Director of Bands had a way to get scholarships for his band students and he was always asking me which university I wanted to attend, St. Mary's or Trinity. So my sister has a good point. This is my message to teachers and administrators – what you do does matter and it can be a life changing event.
I had a diverse and challenging career in the military. In the Army I started as a clerk-typist and worked my way to personnel management specialist. I separated from the Army as a Staff Sergeant a rank that I attained in five years. To be promoted to Non-Commissioned Officer E6, was an achievement given that I was Hispanic. But I was fortunate that my first assignment was at a headquarters that needed clerk-typists to type their super secret war plans. I had a clean record so I was able to get a Top Secret Clearance promptly. The combination of a Top Secret Clearance, a good skill and a soldierly prescense amongst senior officers made me welcomed by all the officers. In my branch I was the only enlisted. My rank was Private. This is where I get the expression, "if you are a leader, you have to think like a general". A general does not worry about the little things. there are no bullets flying where colonels and generals gather. But if you are a sergeant or a lieutenant in the front lines, you have to worry about bullets. In a way, I was a Private thinking like a general. My problem was that there was a general in the headquarters who took a liking to me and he would come in to the office frequently to just speak to me. There was some jealousy by some officers because they had to stand at attention when the general was present. One day he wanted to know why I was still a Private First Class. That was not a good question and the colonel had to come and explain to him that I had been submitted for promotion but there were no allocations (stripes). He went to Hq 7th Army, found out that I was on schedule for promotion and next month, I was promoted to Specialist Fourth Class. It was that easy. Yes, it does pay to have friends in high places.