HONORABLE ELIGIO “KIKA” DE LA GARZA born September 22, 1927, is a native of Mercedes, TX and graduated from Mission High School. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Justice de la Garza became the first Hispanic to chair a standing committee in the House of Representatives. While in this position, he promoted programs to strengthen and support U.S. agriculture.
Justice de la Garza served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 – 1946. Following this service, he went on to receive his undergraduate education at Edinburg Junior College and the U.S. Army Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Upon graduating he would go on to serve in the U.S. Army fighting in the Korean war as a second lieutenant from 1950 – 1952. It was not until after his time in the Army that he received his Law Degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law in 1951. He later received an honorary Doctor of Law also from St. Mary’s.
Justice de la Garza began his political career after his return from Korea when he won the election for the Texas House of Representatives where he served from 1952 – 1964. Justice de la Garza was involved with a number of significant changes including the transformation of Edinburg Junior College into Pan American University, now the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Additionally, he was involved in the creation of the Texas Water Commission, and was also influential in establishing the nation’s first state run system of English instructions for preschool children.
After leaving the Texas House of Representatives in 1964, Justice de la Garza was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he served until his retirement in 1996. During his role as a representative, de la Garza worked tirelessly in a number of areas. In 1971, Justice de la Garza worked to pass the Sugar Act Amendment of 1971. In 1977, he successfully amended the Food and Agricultural Act, as well as the Emergency Agricultural Act of 1978 which improved trade relations between the U.S. and Mexico. Most significant among his work was Justice de la Garza’s involvement in the passage of NAFTA and the expansion of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade of 1993.
In recognition of his accomplishments, Justice de la Garza received a number of awards including: Texas Agricultural Lifetime Achievement Award, Israel’s Vulcan Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Laredo’s Golden Eagle Award, the Excellence in Leadership Award from the International Women’s Board of the University of Texas Pan American Foundation, and the Order of the Aztec Eagle in 1978, the highest medal awarded by Mexico to a foreigner.
Justice de la Garza has been recognized on a number of occasions, to include, Mr. Mission (Misson, TX), Mr. Laredo (Laredo, TX), Citrus Fiesta King of the Texas Citrus Fiesta, Hidalgo BorderFest King, Border Texan of the Year (Hidalgo, TX), Señor Internacional (Laredo, TX), and Mr. South Texas.
The USDA also created the Kika de la Garza fellowship as well as named its research center the Kika de la Garza Subtropical Agricultural Research Center.
Kika de la Garza died in March of 2017 at the age of 89. At his memorial, donations were asked to be made in his name to the E. “Kika” de la Garza endowed scholarship fund at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
By John Cadena, St. Mary’s University Law Fellows in Public History (2018).
ObitTree, Congressman Eligio “Kika” de la Garza (2019).
History, Art & Archives: United States House of Representatives, de la Garza, Eligio, II (Kika).
City of Mission, About Mission Famous People (2018).