Tejano Monument coverage: 'I'm a strong believer in pulling, not pushing'

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

March 26, 2012 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated March 25, 2012 at 10:26 p.m.

Seen here wearing his bolo tie, Emilio Vargas, of Goliad, was influential in the process of getting the Tejano monument installed at the Texas Capitol.

Seen here wearing his bolo tie, Emilio Vargas, of Goliad, was influential in the process of getting the Tejano monument installed at the Texas Capitol.   Jonathan Hinderliter for The Victoria Advocate

GOLIAD - Jiggling a key into the large double-framed wooden doors of the Goliad Courthouse, Emilio Vargas Jr. paused, refraining from turning the key to unlatch his future.

The still of the pre-dawn rural Texas morning comforted him, wafting him away into a flashback of a time when his people were not even allowed through this door.

"Now I have a key to this," Vargas told himself proudly. "I can come and go any time I please."

Turning the key and cracking open the door, he was ready to take on what the people of Goliad entrusted him to do - be the Precinct 1 justice of the peace.

Taking the front door

Vargas' first step into the Goliad Courthouse almost 17 years ago was much more symbolic than just his well-known stature in Goliad County as an active resident and justice of the peace.

His steps so far in life have reached two Mexican presidents, five U.S. presidents and most recently, his joint effort with three other Goliad residents to push for a Tejano Monument on the state Capitol grounds.

And not just anywhere on the grounds, but on the south lawn, where thousands of cars march up Congress Street toward the magnificent off-white structure.

"I'm very proud to be part of that ... to leave that legacy for my children, grandchildren and the people from Texas and from all over the world," he said.

Vargas was raised in Goliad, where his father migrated to Texas from Mexico. Vargas graduated from Goliad High School in 1954 and joined the Air Force and served until he was discharged in 1958.

With only a high school education, Vargas didn't have many options, but he never stopped working, taking any odd job around town.

It was soon that Vargas found he had been born with his passion - the passion to help others and fight for justice.

He thought about how he was raised. He went to segregated school and still recalls separate water fountains.

Even today, his father's words resonate in his head.

"My father always said, 'Never forget you are an American first, but never forget your culture,'" Vargas said.

Vargas went on to work for the Department of State Health Services for more than 30 years, but he never stopped his passion for equality.

Vargas took his early life experiences to heart and soon joined a group of older Mexican-Americans involved in the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations.

The groups, which emerged from the Viva Kennedy-Viva Johnson clubs of the 1960 presidential campaign, existed in several cities in the Crossroads.

His political involvement soon introduced him to many of the key movers and shakers.

While at a ranch in Berclair, Vargas met former President George H. W. Bush. Later, he also met George W. Bush. Before that, he met former presidents Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford and Lyndon B. Johnson.

A photo album in his home library has pages of his political experiences. A bookshelf behind him has loads of books about Texas-Mexico history.

For Vargas, this is more than just a day job; it's a lifelong passion.

"I'm a strong believer in pulling, not pushing," Vargas said about his efforts for equality.

Enter the Tejano Monument

Having lived in Goliad most of his life, Vargas became familiar with the three key players on the Tejano Monument Advisory Board who were part of his community.

"I have always been involved in this community," he said. "I have been very fortunate"

It was not long before he heard from Benny Martinez, one of the men who has been strong behind the push for a monument.

Vargas was invited to several of the meetings, but was not a member. Vargas supported the movement from its start but was not heavily involved.

Vargas was more involved about the time that the board pushed to change the state Legislature's mind to have the monument on the front lawn.

The Legislature originally planned to have the monument on the back lawn.

But again, Vargas took the front door, just as he did the first time he entered the courthouse.

"Mr. Chairman," Vargas said. "May I say something?"

The chairman allowed him to speak.

"We owe it to these Tejanos, who were the architects of Texas. ... They were the frontrunners," he told them. "I am one of those people who was told to walk through the back door and instead walked through the front door to the future. We must must never, ever again go to the back."

When the board convened after a quick break in the meeting, Vargas was unanimously voted onto the board.

For Vargas, it's just another check on his checklist of accomplishments for equality.

"We should never again be ignored," he said. "This Tejano Monument, it's going to be there for as long as there is a United States."



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