Mexican American Odyssey
Felix Tijerina, Entrepreneur and Civic Leader, 1905-1965
Mexican American Studies - Texas History
6.125 x 9.25, 440 pp.
22 b&w photos.
Pub Date: 03/01/2001
University of Houston Series in Mexican American Studies, Sponsored by the Center for Mexican American Studies
  cloth
Price:        $39.95 s

978-0-89096-936-6

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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2001 Award of Merit Runner-up for Best Book Published on Texas History in 2001, presented by the Philosophical Society of Texas

Mexican American Odyssey

Felix Tijerina, Entrepreneur and Civic Leader, 1905-1965

By Thomas H. Kreneck

In Mexican American Odyssey, Thomas H. Kreneck not only traces the influential life of Houston entrepreneur and civic leader Felix Tijerina as an individual but illustrates how Tijerina reflected many trends in Mexican American development during the decades he lived, years that were crucial for the Hispanic community today. Kreneck outlines a pattern of identity and assimilation that has been traced in bold, broader terms by other scholars, who have called Tijerina’s contemporaries the “Mexican American Generation.”

Felix Tijerina was born in 1905 in Mexico, although he publicly claimed to have been born in Texas. He worked his way from busboy and waiter to owner of a profitable, well-known chain of Mexican restaurants. The story of his economic success parallels that of other self-made American business leaders. But his contribution did not end there. He was an active leader of local, state, and national Mexican American organizations, and in those groups he worked to advance the Hispanic community and promote social harmony. Moreover, Kreneck demonstrates how Tijerina’s life and efforts symbolized the history of a people who, by the time Tijerina died in the mid-1960s, were no longer numerically inundated and ineffectual.

Emerging as a leader in such mainstream groups and boards as Rotary International and the Houston Housing Authority, Tijerina was a pioneer in Mexican American interaction with Anglos. He was particularly noted for his efforts on behalf of Mexican American education. While serving an unprecedented four terms as national president of LULAC, from 1956 to 1960, he launched an internationally acclaimed educational initiative called the Little School of the 400, to teach English to preschool Spanish-speaking children.

Through Tijerina’s life, Kreneck illustrates the intricate relations between Anglos and Mexican Americans during the early and middle years of the century. He identifies both prejudice and opportunity in Tijerina’s environment and analyzes the qualities that allowed the man to flourish within those circumstances. He also shows how Tijerina and his colleagues responded to the black civil rights movement that swept the South in the later years of his life, marking the complex psycho-cultural balance his generation often tried to strike.

Mexican American Odyssey thus portrays a significant individual and places him within a larger context that is only now being studied by scholars, and the impact of which is now being felt in society at large.

Thomas H. Kreneck is head of Special Collections and Archives at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi. A specialist in developing local research resources, Kreneck founded the Mexican American archival component at the Houston Metropolitan Research Center.

What Readers Are Saying:

“ . . . the writing is crisp, meticulous, and emotionally touching . . . we learn much about the diversity of the ‘Mexican American Generation’ from the discussion of philosophical stands that competed with [Felix] Tijerina’s own conservative brand.”--Arnoldo De León, author, Ethnicity in the Sunbelt: A History of Mexican Americans in Houston

“The work is very impressive and will be recognized as an important contribution, especially in the field of Mexican American biography.” --Emilio Zamora, author, The World of the Mexican Worker in Texas

“Thomas Kreneck’s new biography of Tijerina, Mexican American Odyssey, ought to be mandatory reading in these environs. For, understanding Tijerina, says Kreneck, means understanding Houston, and vice versa.” --Houston Chronicle

“Kreneck does an admirable job putting Tijerina in the context of his times, exploring his ‘biculturization’ as he moved back and forth between the Mexican American and Anglo American words of Houston.” --SMRC Revista

“Kreneck has contributed greatly to our knowledge of local, ethnic, and business history, as well as to the conflicted individual whom he aptly describes as ‘a decent man.’” --Journal of Southern History

“. . .is a welcome departure from the majority of writings on Chicano history. Kreneck as written both an individual biography of a fascinating rags-to-riches Mexican American and a collective biography because the study also provides an excellent history of Houston’s Mexican American community leadership. It is an important piece of work. The scholarship is excellent and thorough.” --Journal of American History

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