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

Vicente Ximenes

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(93 pages)

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Mexican American civil rights advocate Vicente Ximenes was born in Floresville, Texas in 1919 and graduated from Floresville High School in 1939. After high school, he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and attended the University of Texas. He married Maria Castillo of San Antonio, Texas in 1943 and served in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1941-1947 as a decorated veteran of World War II. He retired with the rank of major and thereafter moved his family to Albuquerque, New Mexico. He obtained his bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in economics from the University of New Mexico (UNM) and worked as a research economist for UNM. He established the American G.I. Forum in New Mexico and a number of chapters in the western half of the United States and served as the Forum's national chairman. He served as program officer in Ecuador for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and as Director of the Viva Johnson Clubs for the 1964 presidential election. He was hired as an inspector general under Sargent Shriver for Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty and left that position to become Mission Director for the USAID in Panama. In 1967, he was appointed as Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Opportunity for the Spanish-Speaking and as Commissioner for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), serving in the EEOC until 1972. He served as vice president for field operations for the National Urban Coalition and as Commissioner of White House Fellows under Jimmy Carter. He was a cofounder and served as chairman of the New Mexico Youth Conservation Corps Commission (YCC).

Interview Summary:

Vicente Ximenes begins with his father's role in Floresville and South Texas politics in the 1930s and his work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He shares being a part of a Mexican American student co-op in Austin to help with college expenses at the University of Texas and recalls the group's lively debates on race discrimination. He reveals details of his military service at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and in the Mediterranean theater during World War II and gives details about his family and his affiliation with the University of New Mexico. He talks about his work with the American G.I. Forum and his friendship with Dr. Hector Garci´a in the 1950s and 1960s and points out the involvement of New Mexico Senator Joseph Montoya, California Senator Edward Roybal, and (James) Carlos McCormick in the Viva Kennedy Clubs. He mentions the presence of Robert F. Kennedy at the American G.I. Forum Convention in Chicago in 1960, and discusses the job he took with the Agency for International Development as a program officer in Quito, Ecuador. He highlights his work for President Lyndon B. Johnson as director of the Viva Johnson Clubs (funded by the Democratic National Committee) for the 1964 presidential election. He recounts his encounter with Chicago mayor Richard Daley's cronies during his effort to organize Viva Johnson Clubs across the U.S. and describes the frenzied efforts to distribute a campaign newspaper, 'El Nuevo Pin~on,' nationwide. He speaks of the political efforts of celebrities such as Ricardo Montalba´n and of drafting Mexico's Cantinflas for a political rally. He alludes to Sargent Shriver's role in the War on Poverty after Johnson's reelection as an obstacle to further Mexican American involvement in national politics, apart from the creation of the Cabinet Committee on Opportunity for the Spanish-Speaking (a.k.a. Mexican American Affairs). He tells of his efforts to organize the White House Conference slated for El Paso, Texas to address Mexican American issues and spells out his reasons for resigning from his position under Sargent Shriver to take a post in Panama. He relates the circumstances that brought him back to Washington, D.C. as Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and discloses his pivotal conversation with New Mexico Senator Clint Anderson. He explains the real power was not through his role as EEOC commissioner but rather his post as chairman of the Cabinet Committee, along with the help of committee member John Gardner, the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. Ximenes takes credit for the creation and initiation of Affirmative Action programs, and attributes the assistance of John Macy, head of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, for its success. He notes flying on Air Force One and provides logistical details of the White House Conferences planned for San Antonio, Albuquerque, and El Paso, the last of which included Mexico's president Gustavo Di´az Ordaz to orchestrate the cessioning of the Rio Grande's El Chamizal. He laments his failure to win over George Sa´nchez and Cesar Cha´vez and exposes the complexity of the politics involved. He covers the involvement and activities of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), the Political Association of Spanish-speaking Organizations (PASSO), and the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) during the conference. He disputes the alleged walkout during the conference in El Paso and chronicles the conference events from the introduction of Texas governor John Connally to the reception of then vice president Humbert H. Humphrey. He cites bilingual education and immigration as sources of political contention between Mexican Americans and African Americans and talks about the role of Louis Martin, an African American journalist and colleague of Cuban origin, in the Viva Johnson Clubs. He gives his opinions on the Democratic Party, comments on Mexican American politicos Henry B. Gonzales, Albert Pen~a, and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, and expresses his views on issues facing Mexican Americans.

Locations of residence or activity:

Floresville, Austin

Interview Date: