Adelfa Botello Callejo, lawyer, activist, and community leader, was born on June 10, 1923, in Millett, La Salle County, Texas. Callejo was one of five children of Felix and Guadalupe (Guerra) Botello. Her Mexican American mother worked as a laundress, and her Mexican father picked cotton and worked in the sulfur mines in South Texas. After some time, the Botellos opened a small grocery store in their hometown to sustain the family. Her parents’ emphasis on the value of education and social justice influenced young Adelfa to challenge inequality and help her community for the rest of her life. At the age of nine, she marched with her father to protest discrimination in the local school and served as interpreter for her father. Her mother helped establish a Mexican American Parent Teacher Association. Adelfa knew from an early age that she wanted to become a lawyer and defend the rights of people. In 1939 she graduated from Cotulla High School and moved to Dallas with her family.
Adelfa Botello moved to California and started her own export-import business. There she met her husband William “Bill” Fernando Callejo. They married about 1946 and lived in Mexico City and New York before moving to Dallas in 1951. Upon her return to Dallas, Callejo worked as a secretary in the day and at night attended Southern Methodist University. In 1961 she earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree; she became the first Mexican American woman to graduate from SMU Dedman School of Law. Unable to find employment, she opened her own law office and established herself as the first Mexican American woman to practice law in the city. Her husband joined Callejo after he earned a law degree from SMU Dedman School of Law in 1966, and together they established the Callejo and Callejo law firm. Their firm focused on family, personal injury, immigration, and criminal law.
By the 1970s Callejo had emerged as an influential community activist and lawyer in Dallas. In 1973 she protested against the killing of Santos Rodriguez by a Dallas police officer. In 1982 she led demonstrations against the deportation of Mexican parents in Oak Cliff, a predominantly Mexican neighborhood in Dallas. She fervently filed lawsuits to prevent the breakup of families because of deportations. Callejo’s tenacious spirit led her to fight and advocate the rights of Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans. Her success in the courtroom provided the financial basis to assist in educational endeavors and community programs and to aid low-income clients. In the 1990s she challenged at-large elections and helped established single-member districts in Dallas, which allowed community residents to campaign and represent their neighborhoods at city hall as city council members. Therefore, single-member districts helped launch the political careers of many African Americans and Mexican Americans in Dallas.
In 2004 she and her husband donated more than a million dollars to SMU’s Dedman School of Law to help establish the Adelfa Botello Callejo Leadership and Latino Studies Institute. In recognition of her activism in fighting racial and educational injustice to the Latino people, she received the Dallas Bar Association’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Justice Award; the League of United Latin American Citizens Hispanic Entrepreneurship Award; the Mexican American Bar Association of Texas Lifetime Achievement Award; and the Sandra Day O’Conner Award. She was founder and president of the Mexican American Bar Association of Texas, president of the Dallas County Criminal Bar Association, director of the State Bar of Texas, and regional president of the Hispanic National Bar Association. Callejo served on the board of directors for a number of organizations, including the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund (MALDEF), Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas Housing Authority, the Hispanic Leadership Forum, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Dallas, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Dallas, and the Mexican American Business and Professional Women’s Association. She was named one of twelve Texas Legal Legends by the State Bar of Texas. Callejo participated in a protest march in Dallas as late as 2010 and regularly practiced law and worked in her office into 2012. In 2013 the Dallas Independent School District dedicated an elementary school in her honor by naming it the Adelfa Botello Callejo Elementary School.
Adelfa Botello Callejo passed away on January 25, 2014, in Dallas, Texas, after a lengthy battle with brain cancer. She had previously fought and survived breast and colon cancer. Callejo, a Catholic, was survived by her husband. They had no children. A funeral Mass was held at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Dallas, and she was buried in Restland Memorial Park in the city. Dallas residents remembered Callejo as “La Madrina” or “godmother” of her community.