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Funded in part by a grant from TexTreasures and by the UT Arlington Library.

José Vela

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(102 pages)

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Born in 1944 in Laredo, Texas, attorney José 'Chito' Vela, Jr., was raised in Laredo and graduated from Martin High School in December 1960. He attended Laredo Junior College before continuing at Texas A&I-Kingsville, where he was president of the Laredo Club, receiving his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Government in 1965. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force upon graduating and worked as a Neighborhood Youth Community Field Coordinator for Southwest Texas State University. In 1968, he became the Model Cities Program Coordinator for the city of Waco, Texas, where he first met Ramsey Muñiz, and in 1969, he was appointed as Community Action Specialist for South Texas by Governor Preston Smith. He earned his law degree from the University of Houston in 1973 and joined the law firm of Huerta, Peña, and Muñiz in Corpus Christi, and worked in Austin for the Mexican American Council for Economic Progress in 1974 as legal counsel. He returned to Laredo to practice law in 1975. He was elected Justice of the Peace for Precinct 1 of Webb County, Texas in 1976, and was elected county commissioner for Precinct 3 in 1980. He continued his law practice until his death at the age of 55 in 1999, survived by his son, José Chito Vela III, who also became an attorney.

Interview Summary:

José 'Chito' Vela, Jr., begins with his political career, discussing his successful elections as justice of the peace and as county commissioner in Webb County, Texas, and his failed bid for district judge. He describes the procedural problems in investigating local deaths as a justice of the peace and the changes he instituted to eliminate local corruption between police and local businesses. He recalls his first law partner, Alberto Huerta, and their law office in Corpus Christi, where they were joined by Albert Peña and Raza Unida Party gubernatorial candidate Ramsey Muñiz, and reveals their office phone lines were wiretapped by the Texas Department of Public Safety. He explains his brief time in Austin followed by his decision to return to Laredo to work with Oscar Peña. He refers to the arrest of Ramsey Muñiz on drug charges connected to poppy growing in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, who was brought back to the United States by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He describes activities of the Raza Unida Party in Texas, reviews his family's history, and tells about to the coal mines in Laredo. He talks about his college years, an election selecting the first Mexican American homecoming queen at Texas A&I-Kingsville (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville), and his friendship with Kingsville Mayor James McCrocklin. He elaborates on the race discrimination he felt at Texas A&I and details the time he spent in the U.S. Air Force. He comments on fellow student William Leon Richey, an 'Anglo' American who changed from bigot to supporter of the Chicano Movement, and expresses his opinion on the isolated culture of Laredo. He contrasts the differing border policies of the United States and Mexico and their impact on the Laredo area and touches on the water pollution of the Rio Grande. He addresses the local banking interests of Tony Sanchez and Alberto Santos and the role of the local banks in providing political campaign funds, and refers to Sanchez's own newspaper which competed with the 'Laredo Times.' He deplores the Repubican Party stronghold in the court system in South Texas and notes an influx of African American minorities through the sports program at Laredo Junior College. He mentions such prominent individuals as African American Mickey Leland, Mexican American artist Armando Hinojosa, and Texas State Senator Judy Zaffirini.

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