All Rise
Reynaldo G. Garza, the First Mexican American Federal Judge
Mexican American Studies - Texas History
6 x 9, 240 pp.
10 b&w photos.
Pub Date: 09/01/1996
Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University
Price:        $32.95


Published by Texas A&M University Press

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All Rise

Reynaldo G. Garza, the First Mexican American Federal Judge

By Louise Ann Fisch

In 1961, Reynaldo G. Garza, of Brownsville, Texas, became the first Mexican American federal judge in U.S. history. A Kennedy nominee, Garza had risen from the obscurity of his humble South Texas beginnings to become a major player in Democratic politics. The careers of fellow Texans and political giants Lyndon B. Johnson and Lloyd Bentsen would become linked with his own. As an emerging power broker in the predominantly Anglo establishment, Garza personified the new elite in the Mexican American community and in the Democratic Party.

Garza's long and storied tenure as a federal judge was marked by many more firsts. He became the first Mexican American chief judge of a federal district court, and, in 1979, Garza became the first Mexican American appointed to the United States Court of Appeals. President Carter invited him to become U.S. Attorney General, which would have made him the first Mexican American member of a presidential cabinet had he accepted the appointment.

Louise Ann Fisch argues that Garza's long list of successes comprises a story of American achievement that had much to do with one man's ability to retain his heritage while forging ahead in an Anglo-dominated society. A product of the cross-border culture of Brownsville, where class and ethnic lines fell differently than even elsewhere along the Rio Grande, Garza integrated himself into the mainstream of American life, successfully balancing the Mexican and American parts of his dual identity. Fisch keenly

analyzes the impact of ethnic identity on how he conducted his professional and personal life and looks specifically at the judicial issues he faced which confronted cultural dichotomy.

Relying on interviews with Garza, his family and associates, verified through extensive archival and documentary work--including unrestricted access to the judge's papers--Fisch has written a book that is as much a careful examination of the rise of the Mexican American middle class in the twentieth century as it is a portrait of one pioneering man. Students and scholars of Mexican American culture, Borderlands studies, American politics, and judicial history will find in this biography an invaluable resource. Readers will be captivated by Fisch's probing look into the mythos that underlies tales of political power and the American Dream.

Louise Ann Fisch, a native of Brownsville, Texas, received a bachelor of journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. in history from Tulane University. She currently works as a writer in Washington, D.C.

What Readers Are Saying:

". . . valuable for what it reveals about upwardly mobile middle-class Mexican Americans growing up in Texas . . ." --Library Journal

“ . . . it helps you understand the person and his or her times—how the circumstances in which he or she lived affected the possibilities for that person’s life and thought.” --Texas Law Review

“. . . Her treatment of Garza’s early life is both thorough and enlightening, and makes good use of numerous oral history interviews with Garza, his family, and friends, supplemented by contemporary newspaper accounts. . . .” --H-Net Reviews

“...Fisch has brought to light an important figure in Mexican American and American history that illustrates the significance of leadership in American ethnic history.” --Western Historical Quarterly

“ . . . Fisch demonstrates her regard for the reader with her clear and illustrative writing style. . . . --The Journal of Southern History
Fisch has produced an excellent addition to the few biographical studies that have been written on Mexican Americans.” --The Journal of Southern History

“. . . Garza has had a ‘lifetime of firsts’ (p. 175), and they are faithfully recorded in this pleasing and personal biography. . . .Garza is worthy of a biography and he is well served by Louis Ann Fisch. This is a friendly biography, descriptive rather than critical. . . . This is a personal biography, one in which we have a very readable account of Garza as lawyer, political campaigner, community activist, and judge, but of equal prominence is Garza as family man: son, husband and father. This book also provides an interesting and informative look at what it meant to be a middle class Mexican American in the dual cultures of South Texas in the first half of this century. . . .” --American Journal of Legal History


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