John C. Alaniz, Mexican American attorney and state representative, son of Pedro Alaniz and Louisa (Cardenas) Alaniz, was born in Mercedes, Texas, on June 4, 1929. Alaniz was raised in the Denver Heights neighborhood of San Antonio where he graduated from Brackenridge High School in 1948. He then attended San Antonio College before transferring to Texas A&M University to study pre-law. In 1957 Alaniz graduated from St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio, where he was an officer in Delta Theta Phi law fraternity. That same year he was admitted to the State Bar of Texas and went into private practice with offices in downtown San Antonio. In 1951 Alaniz married Sylvia Grace Moreno in Seguin, Texas. The couple had eight children—five sons and three daughters.
In 1960, after just three years in private practice, Alaniz decided to seek election as state representative for District 68, Place 7 in San Antonio. His campaign received support from the Bexar County Democratic Coalition, a liberal coalition organized by close friend and political ally Albert Peña, Jr., to challenge the long-standing political dominance of the conservative, majority-Anglo Good Government League in Bexar County. Alaniz was subsequently elected after he narrowly defeated conservative incumbent Frates Seeligson. This upset victory over the wealthy, well-connected Seeligson earned Alaniz the nickname “the Giant Killer.” It also earned him distinction as the first Mexican American state representative from Bexar County in the twentieth century and just the second Mexican American to represent Bexar County in the state legislature during the twentieth century (after state senator and U.S. Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez). Further, his victory underscored the viability of a liberal campaign by a Mexican American candidate.
Alaniz served as state representative from 1961 to 1967 in the Fifty-seventh, Fifty-eighth, and Fifty-ninth Texas legislatures. He sat on a number of legislative committees, including the House committees on banks and banking, public health, federal regulations, and constitutional amendments. He was also named to a special advisory committee that examined Texas public school textbooks after numerous complaints about their contents were lodged by the John Birch Society and several other conservative, anti-communist organizations.
Alaniz earned a reputation for his confrontational style and a progressive agenda that included support for labor unions, educational reform, and civil rights legislation. While in office he authored, sponsored, or supported bills to curb predatory lending practices, establish a medical school in South Texas, create the Texas Commission on the Arts, expand the San Antonio River Authority, consolidate special district and bond elections, and discontinue the issuance of home rule charters. Alaniz was also the first author of the state Bilingual Education Act of 1961, and he took a leading role in passing a law to create single-member legislative districts. Additionally, Alaniz introduced several bills at the state level that mirrored much of the federal civil rights legislation passed in the 1960s. This included legislation to eliminate poll taxes, create a fair employment practices commission in Texas, establish a state minimum wage, and participate in the federal food stamp program. He also proposed an equal rights amendment to the state constitution and was the first state legislator of the twentieth century to hire an African American staffer. In 1963 Alaniz became the first Mexican American to run for speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. Although he failed to win the election, the effort encouraged other Mexican American legislators to later campaign for leadership positions in the Texas legislature.
Alaniz also used his political position to advance the cause of Mexican American civil rights. As a leading member of the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations (PASSO), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and a board member of the Federation for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (FAMA), he publicly supported the Crystal City Revolts of 1963 and 1969 and led a rally in Austin at the conclusion of the Farmworkers March of 1966 (see STARR COUNTY STRIKE). Likewise, he made repeated calls for bicultural and bilingual education programs amid the Chicano student walkouts of the late 1960s. As a devout Catholic and third-degree member of the Knights of Columbus, Alaniz also pursued avenues for Mexican American advancement within the Catholic Church. In 1970 he was appointed chair of the San Antonio Archdiocese Commission for Mexican American Affairs.
Alaniz left the legislature in 1966 to seek election to the Bexar County Commissioners Court but was narrowly defeated in a run-off against conservative incumbent Ollie Wurzbach. He remained active in Bexar County politics, however, as a convention delegate and a member of the Joe Freeman Coliseum Advisory Board. He also lobbied on behalf of HemisFair ’68 and served as U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough’s special representative on Mexican American affairs. In 1968 Alaniz attempted to run for Bexar County Democratic chairman but was again defeated. Afterwards, he returned to private practice in San Antonio, where he specialized primarily in labor dispute resolution and took on a number of high-profile police misconduct cases. His clients included various union locals, civil rights organizations such as LULAC, and the San Antonio Independent School District. In addition, he served on the board of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and was secretary of the Catholic Lawyers Guild of San Antonio.
Alaniz passed away in San Antonio on March 26, 2001, and was buried at San Fernando Cemetery No. 2.