Listen to the interview
Leonel J. Castillo was born in 1939 in Victoria, Texas and raised in Galveston. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree cum laude in English in 1961 from St. Mary's University and his Master of Social Work in Community Organization in 1967 from the University of Pittsburgh. At St. Mary's, he headed the Young Democrats, the Young Students for Civil Liberty and the Student Government Association. From 1961-1965, he served in the Peace Corps. He was secretary for the Political Association of Spanish-speaking Organizations (PASSO), treasurer of the Democratic Party of Texas, and a member of the Southern Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He was the first paid director for SER-Jobs for Progress, Inc. and was director of the Catholic Council on Community Relations. He was a cofounder of Houston International University, or University Without Walls, and served as its president. He was the first Hispanic to be elected to city office as city controller of Houston in 1971, and he ran for mayor in 1979. In 1977, he was appointed Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), now called U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, under President Jimmy Carter.
Leonel Castillo begins the interview by detailing his family background and his family's involvement in unions and politics. He notes his own political activities while attending St. Mary's University and details his experiences while working for the Peace Corps in the Visayas Islands in the Philippines. He discusses his field work with the Citizens Against Slum Housing (CASH) and the United Negro Protest Committee (UNPC) while attending the University of Pittsburgh. He mentions his work under Felix Fraga upon his return to Houston in 1967, and talks about his involvement in the Political Association of Spanish-speaking Organizations (PASSO) and the Southern Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He talks about his activities on the 'Coalition,' a group led by Don Horn, consisting of labor, AFL-CIO, Teamsters, liberal Democrats, the Council of Organizations, and PASSO to screen and support political candidates for office, such as Barbara Jordan and Lauro Cruz. Mr. Castillo shares his view on his role in the Mexican American Education Council (MAEC) and the creation of Huelga (strike) schools in protest of the Houston Independent School District's deceptive desegregation tactics. He comments on his involvement in the founding of the Houston International University, or University Without Walls, and other nonprofit organizations in the Houston area. He reveals details of his campaign and election as city controller for the city of Houston and his work with the mayor, Louis Welch. He addresses his work under the Carter administration as Commissioner for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), refers to Victor Morales' U.S. Senate election campaign against incumbent Phil Gramm, and mentions such prominent Mexican Americans as Ben T. Reyes, Henry B. Gonzales, John Castillo, Frumencio Reyes, and Joe Bernal.
Locations of residence or activity: