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Born in 1931, Irma Lerma Rangel was raised in Kingsville, Texas where her parents were the first Mexican Americans to build their home in a traditionally Anglo-American neighborhood. In 1952, Ms. Rangel acquired her Bachelor's degree in Business Administration and a teaching certificate from Texas A&I-Kingsville. She taught for 14 years, 9 of which were in Venezuela. She returned to the U.S. to attend St. Mary's University, obtaining her law degree in 1969. She was the first woman to work as an assistant district attorney in Corpus Christi and, in 1973, she was the first Mexican American woman to open a law office in Kingsville. She was the first woman elected as chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and, in 1974, the first Mexican American woman elected as chairman of the Kleberg County Democratic Party. Irma Rangel chose to remain single, devoting herself to her career in law and politics. In 1976, she became the first Mexican American woman to be elected to the Texas Legislature and continuously represented the Forty-ninth Legislative District in the Texas House of Representatives for 26 years. At the time of the interview she had been reelected for her 11th term and was chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. Among other honors, she was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame in 1994. She died in 2003.
The interview begins with Irma Lerma Rangel providing her family background and details of her early life in Kingsville, Texas. She notes her father's involvement in the Good Government League and his friendship with Gustavio C. García. She talks about her teaching career and the years she spent in Venezuela before returning to the U.S. to pursue her degree in law. She recalls clerking for Judge Adrian Spears in San Antonio and serving as an assistant district attorney in Corpus Christi before she opened her law practice in Kingsville, Texas with law partner Hector García in 1973. She describes her efforts to continue both the practice and her political activities after his death in 1983 and her decision to close the office in 1993. She discusses her alliance with the Democratic Party rather than with the Raza Unida Party in Texas. She elaborates upon the encouragement she received to run for office, her first campaign for election as state representative against incumbent Greg Montoya, and her response to questions of sexual orientation made during the campaign because she was not married. She touches on her campaign finances, the grass roots tactics of her campaigns, and the effects of congressional redistricting on the growth of her district. She talks at length about legislation she spearheaded and her advocacy for women's rights, including her stance on abortion. She notes her work on the House Higher Education Committee and the role of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) in facilitating change in Texas. She refers to the accomplishments of her sisters, Olga Rangel Lomley and Minnie Rangel Henderson, and also mentions such prominent Mexican Americans as Gonzales Barrientos, Lupe Angiano, Victor Morales, Rudy Garza, Tony Canales, and Roberto Alonzo.
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