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Joe Bernal was born José María Bernal, Jr., in San Antonio, Texas in 1927. He graduated from Lanier High School in 1944 where he was a member of the student council. He served in the U.S. Army from 1945 to 1946. He earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology in 1950 from Trinity University, a Master of Education Degree in 1956 at Our Lady of the Lake College, and a Ph.D. in 1978 at the University of Texas in Austin. He married Mary Esther Martínez and taught in the Edgewood and San Antonio Independent School Districts. He was chairman of the Mexican American Democrats of Texas (MAD), won his first election as a Democratic Party precinct chair in 1950, and campaigned for Ralph W. Yarborough. He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1964 and to the Texas Senate in 1966, serving until he was defeated in his 1972 bid for reelection. A proponent of bilingual education, he worked in school administration in the Edgewood and Harlandale Independent School Districts before his election in 1996 to the Texas State Board of Education where he served through 2006.
Joe Bernal begins with his family history and his perspective of the Catholic relgious culture in San Antonio. He recalls his brothers working for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression on projects which included the Alazan-Apache Courts and the San Antonio River Walk (now the Paseo del Rio). He tells about the family's survival after his father's death, discusses the negative effect of school pressure to speak only English, relates an incident of early gang violence, and praises the sports program at the Mexican Christian Institute (later the Inman Christian Center of the Disciples of Christ). He shares his experiences with race discrimination under a training program at Texas Tech University prior to his induction into the U.S. Army and his transfer to the Pacific Air Command, United States Army (PACUSA). He recounts his experiences in Manila, the Philippines, and in Tokyo, Japan, including Emperor Hirohito's daily meeting with General Douglas MacArthur. Dr. Bernal elaborates on his post-war educational choices and attributes efforts of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) for higher education opportunities in Texas for Mexican Americans. He points to the Good Government League in convincing him to run for public office and to redistricting for aiding his election. He provides details on his election campaigns and campaign finances, and comments on his election opponents David Carter, David Evans, Frank Lombardino, and Nelson Wolfe [sic, Wolff] to whom he lost his senate election in 1972. Dr. Bernal talks about leaving state politics and returning to school administration prior to his election to the Texas State Board of Education. He reports on his meeting in Rio Grande City with Benito Rodríguez who was assaulted by Texas Ranger Captain Alfred Y. Allee, cites the court case against the Texas Rangers in the abuse of United Farm Workers organizer Francisco 'Pancho' Medrano in South Texas, and describes his own confrontation with Allee. He explains the formation of the Mexican American Democrats of Texas (MAD) and of the Tejano Democrats and discusses the Raza Unida party. He mentions such prominent Mexican Americans as Henry B. Gonzalez, Juan Maldonado, Tony Sanchez, Albert Peña, and José Luís Tovar.
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