Augustine Celaya, Jr., rancher, real estate developer, and state representative, first son of Augustine Celaya, Sr., and Laura (Scanlan) Celaya, was born in Brownsville, Texas, on April 26, 1894. Celaya’s grandfather, Simón Celaya, was a Spanish vice-consul who immigrated to Brownsville in the mid-nineteenth century. He established himself there as a wealthy merchant and later organized the Rio Grande Railroad. Augustine Jr.’s father, Augustine Celaya, Sr., was a prominent local businessman, attorney, and judge. Augustine Celaya, Jr., was raised in Brownsville and later attended Georgetown Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., before dropping out to pursue other passions. He eventually graduated from Brownsville High School in 1913. Although he was accepted to West Point Military Academy in 1914, he chose not to attend. Celaya worked briefly as a mechanic before enlisting in the United States Army in 1917. Originally assigned to the Ninetieth Infantry Division at San Antonio, he was later transferred to a motor transport company stationed at Fort Bliss. He was discharged with the rank of first lieutenant in September 1919. After the war, Celaya worked as a farmer and real estate developer. In 1924 he married Maria del Carmen Pardo Barreda at her father’s home in Cienfuegos, Cuba. The couple had two children—Augustine III and Carmelita.
In 1933 Celaya was elected to represent Texas House District 72 (Cameron County) after a special election was held to fill the seat vacated by newly-elected U.S. Congressman Milton H. West. This made Celaya just the second Hispanic elected to the state legislature in the twentieth century, after José Tomás Canales. Celaya, a Democrat, eventually served eight consecutive terms and represented Cameron County from 1933 to 1949.
During his time in the legislature, Celaya was closely tied to real estate and commercial farming interests in the Rio Grande Valley. He chaired the State Affairs Committee, Conservation and Reclamation Committee, and Liquor Regulation Committee, and was a member of the Oil, Gas, and Mining Committee. One of Celaya’s first accomplishments as legislator was to obtain emergency relief funds in the wake of the 1933 Cuba–Brownsville hurricane (see HURRICANES). He also lobbied successfully to secure federal funds for the construction of the Port of Brownsville. In 1935 Celaya was named chair of a special committee formed to investigate the “hot oil” issue, and he introduced measures to improve record-keeping and reduce fraud in the East Texas oilfield. Additionally, Celaya authored or supported legislation related to trucking and transportation, water improvement districts, wild game management, and local option alcohol laws. Because he co-authored the Texas Engineering Practice Act, he was recognized by the Texas Society of Professional Engineers in Austin, Texas, in 1938. Celaya also supported H.B. 909 (1941) and H.C.R. 105 (1943)—two efforts to prevent discrimination against Mexican Americans in public accommodations by affirming their legal status as Caucasian.
In 1948 Celaya left the Texas legislature to seek election to the U.S. Congress. He intended to succeed his predecessor in the state legislature, Milton H. West, as representative of the Fifteenth U.S. Congressional District but was unsuccessful. Afterwards, he opened a beverage distribution business in Brownsville, dealt in land speculation, and worked for the Texas Real Estate Commission in San Antonio. Celaya died of a stroke on June 28, 1980, in Brownsville and was interred there at Buena Vista Burial Park.