Anaya, Carmen Rodríguez (1926–2006)

By: Julia Schoolenberg

Type: Biography

Published: March 31, 2016

Updated: June 23, 2016

Carmen Rodríguez Anaya, Mexican American activist and community leader, daughter of José Rodríguez, was born near Hualahuises, Nuevo León, México, on October 15, 1926. About 1947 Anaya immigrated to Hidalgo County, Texas, where she studied teaching. In 1950 she married José Anaya. The couple had six children—four girls and two boys. The family owned a 500-acre farm in Hidalgo County but lost it about 1962 after several bad frosts. For nearly twenty years afterwards, they worked as migrant farm workers, which included picking sugar beets in North Dakota, tomatoes in California, and cherries in Michigan. In 1979 the family bought and operated the Anaya General Store in Las Milpas, Hidalgo County, Texas.

Anaya’s foray into politics and community leadership started in the wake of a torrential downpour while she was living in Las Milpas. As a colonia, the houses in Las Milpas lacked basic services, regulations, and infrastructure. Many homeowners had only outhouses that overflowed from the rain and pushed black water, toxic waste, and worms into the streets. The lack of adequate sanitation caused children to get rashes and fall ill. Anaya, outraged by the uncooperative attitude of local officials, decided to take direct action. Already heavily involved in her local church, Nuestro Señor Catholic Mission, in 1982 she participated in the founding of Valley Interfaith, a nonprofit coalition representing nearly 60,000 families in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (see also TEXAS IAF NETWORK). The coalition formed at the urging of Brownsville Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick and included about forty churches. The organization devoted itself to aiding the impoverished colonia communities and keeping elected local and state officials true to their word. Some of the conditions that Valley Interfaith determined to fix were the unpaved roads, lack of running water, and outhouses that were very outdated for 1980s America. Anaya helped to organize meetings between local and state political leaders such as Governors Mark White and Ann Richards, as well as Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby, Jr. She was also able to get support from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Governor George W. Bush.

As a community organizer and leader within Las Milpas and other Hidalgo County communities, Anaya raised funding from political leaders and secured state and federal government grants to pave roads and install modern plumbing, drainage, and sewage systems. By the late 1980s, her efforts resulted in clean drinking water and sanitation systems for at least 160,000 people. In addition, Anaya took part in the creation of a job-training program for area people, and she fought for living-wage ordinances that raised wages for thousands. A devout Catholic, she focused her life goals and achievements on helping the poor and downtrodden. Moreover, the high level of visibility she received for her work raised local, state, and national awareness of the issues affecting colonias statewide and led to positive change and development in countless other communities. Anaya died in Pharr, Texas, on May 12, 2006. In recognition of her work on behalf of local residents, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District named Carmen Anaya Elementary School in her honor.

Visit the Texas Women Project's standalone website

The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.

Visit Website

“In Memory of Carmen Anaya,” SENATE RESOLUTION NO. 263 (, accessed March 29, 2016. “THE LEGACY AND LIFE OF CARMEN ANAYA,” Congressional Record, Volume 152, Number 64, May 22, 2006 (, accessed March 29, 2016. Texas Monthly, May 2005. Dennis Shirley, Valley Interfaith and School Reform: Organizing for Power in South Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002). Earl Shorris, Latinos: A Biography of the People (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1992).

  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Civic Leaders
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • South Texas
  • Valley Area

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Julia Schoolenberg, “Anaya, Carmen Rodríguez,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

March 31, 2016
June 23, 2016

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: