Barrera, Cayetano II (1895–1947)

By: Amy M. Hay

Type: Biography

Published: August 11, 2021

Updated: August 11, 2021

Cayetano E. Barrera II, physician, was born in Encinal, Brooks County, Texas, on December 14, 1895. He was the son of Cayetano Barrera and Crisanta (Guerra) Barrera, both of Mier, Mexico. Just three years later, the Barrera and Guerra families moved to the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, where they established La Reforma Ranch in present-day Starr County. Barrera received his education at a private ranch school, Colegio Altamirano, in Hebbronville and at Ateneo Fuentes in Saltillo, Mexico. He went to Mexico City to attend medical school, but his training was cut short by the Mexican Revolution that began in 1910. Barrera tried to transfer to Baylor University’s medical program where he was denied admittance because he was Mexican American. He persisted and was admitted to Baylor University in 1914 and its School of Medicine in 1916; he graduated in 1920. He was the first Mexican American to graduate from a Texas medical school.

Upon graduation, Barrera set up practice in Mission, Texas, where he was one of two physicians (the other was Carlos Ballí of Mexico) of Hispanic ethnicity doctoring in the area. Denied practice privileges at the new McAllen Municipal Hospital because he was Hispanic, by 1926 Barrera built a small hospital in Mission. Located next to the Barrera Pharmacy, the hospital had an operating room, a delivery room, six to eight beds, and a laboratory. Here Barrera could see patients, perform minor surgeries, do his own lab tests, and fill prescriptions.

Cayetano Barrera married twice. He married Josephine Bennet by 1920, when the couple was recorded on the 1920 federal census as living in Dallas while Barrera attended medical school. They had five children—Alma, Anna, Luis, and adopted sisters Olga and Velia. They divorced in the early 1930s. On September 12, 1933, he married Simona de la Garza, with whom he had three children, daughters Aida and Tula, and son Cayetano Barrera III, who went on to practice medicine in the McAllen area. Barrera was known for his love of his family and often brought his children along when he made house calls. Family stories recall his emphasis on education and a strong work ethic, such as when he made his children pick and sell beans to earn money for new bicycles. Along with his medical practice, Barrera’s interests included history, ranching, carpentry, growing fruit trees, and listening to classical music. In 1943 he contracted tuberculosis and retired from practice to his San Jose Ranch near Mission in Hidalgo County. Cayetano E. Barrera II died at Valley Baptist Hospital in Harlingen, Texas, on March 22, 1947. His son, Cayetano Barrera III, was elected president of the medical staff at McAllen General Hospital in 1976, fifty years after his father was denied privileges there.

Eileen Mattei, For the Good of My Patients: The History of Medicine in the Rio Grande Valley (Harlingen Texas: South Texas Medical Foundation Publications, 2012). McAllen Monitor, March 24, 1947; January 29, 1976; November 24, 1910.

  • Health and Medicine
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • General Practitioners
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • South Texas
  • Valley Area

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

Amy M. Hay, “Barrera, Cayetano II,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 24, 2022,

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August 11, 2021
August 11, 2021

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