Victor Manuel Cruz-Aedo was an educator, school administrator, and pioneer in bilingual education in the United States. He was the director of the first bilingual education program in the Laredo United Consolidated School District, which was the first in Texas public schools. He was born on September 23, 1912, in Guadalajara, Mexico, to Romana and Tiburcio Cruz-Aedo, and spent his early years in Mexico City. Cruz-Aedo was orphaned before the age of five, and he and several siblings were brought to Texas by an older sister in 1921. He attended public schools in Eagle Pass and San Antonio but was forced to repeat the first grade several times due to his lack of English-language skills, despite having already passed the third grade in Mexico. When his sister remarried, Cruz-Aedo was sent to the Methodist Home for Children in Waco. He later returned to San Antonio and eventually graduated from Wesleyan Institute, a private Methodist school that specialized in ministerial education for Mexican and Mexican American boys.
Cruz-Aedo attended Westmoorland Junior College (now part of Trinity University) but left in 1934 due to economic hardship. Unable to find work in San Antonio, he traveled to Mexico City to work for his brother’s company. He returned to San Antonio nine years later and received a B.S. in mathematics from Trinity University in 1946 and subsequently earned a master’s in education from Southern Methodist University in 1955, with additional postgraduate work at Our Lady of the Lake University and Yale University. After graduating from Trinity University, Cruz-Aedo spent one year as a math and science teacher at the Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso. While there, he met his wife of fifty-six years, María Magdalena Verver. They married in Dallas, Texas, on August 3, 1947. The couple had five children: Priscilla, Jorge, Hector, Ricardo, and Eduardo.
Cruz-Aedo moved to Laredo, Texas, in 1948 to teach at the Holding Institute, a Methodist school with a bilingual-bicultural approach that hosted a significant number of international students, mostly from Latin America. The Holding strategy consisted of utilizing Spanish as the mode of instruction until students learned the English language. He was appointed superintendent of the school in 1954. That same year the campus, which sat on the north bank of the Rio Grande, was almost completely destroyed by flooding. Over the next ten years, Cruz-Aedo oversaw the total reconstruction of the school on a new, sixty-three-acre campus north of the original site. During this time, Cruz-Aedo also became a prominent lay leader in the Rio Grande Conference of the United Methodist Church. In addition to serving as president of the local board of stewards, a lay delegate to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, and a member of the Board of Lay Activities for the Southern District of the Rio Grande Conference, Cruz-Aedo also served on the board of education for both the South Central Jurisdiction and the Rio Grande Conference. In 1961 he was elected to the board of the Nye Common School District in Webb County. Shortly thereafter, Nye merged with the Cactus and Johnson common school districts to form United Consolidated Independent School District (now United Independent School District), serving parts of Laredo and rural Webb County—an area with a historically high number of Spanish-speaking students.
In 1964 a design and implementation effort for a pioneer bilingual program for the first grade was created in Texas. This was the collaborative result of the United ISD administration and school board, Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials, and professors in the foreign language and education departments at the University of Texas at Austin. The drafters determined to implement such a program at Nye Elementary in Laredo. United ISD Superintendent Harold Brantley, who lobbied for local funding and support for bilingual education, recognized Cruz-Aedo’s accomplishments at the Holding Institute and offered him the directorial position of this new program in 1964. Accepting, Cruz-Aedo resigned from the Holding Institute and the United ISD school board and became the first director of bilingual education for United ISD.
Under the direction of Cruz-Aedo and Brantley, Spanish-speaking students were no longer punished for using their native language on public school grounds. In the classroom, both Anglo and Mexican American students were instructed in roughly equal amounts of English and Spanish with no attempt to segregate the children on any basis. Additionally, United ISD teachers were no longer reprimanded for speaking Spanish on campus. Over the next four years the program—the second of its kind in the United States—was gradually extended beyond the first grade and expanded to other schools in the district. When federal support for bilingual education became widely available as a result of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, school districts throughout Texas began their own programs based on the methods developed by United ISD. As program director, Cruz-Aedo’s primary role was to develop program outlines and curriculum, supervise classroom instruction, and develop teaching aids. He also conducted numerous research trips to Mexico to locate texts, manuals, teaching aids, and testing materials, many of them based on inexpensive texts supplied by the Mexican government. In 1968 Cruz-Aedo became a consultant for the Laredo Independent School District after that district decided to implement its own bilingual education program using Title VII federal funding. That summer he also worked with Theodore Andersson at the University of Texas at Austin’s first Bilingual Institute to help train teachers planning to use bilingual teaching methods in the coming school year. In 1969 Cruz-Aedo relocated to Austin to work for the Texas Education Agency as a consultant and program director in the Office of International and Bilingual Education. In this capacity he traveled the state to conduct workshops and professional development seminars, evaluate the implementation of bilingual programs by local school districts, and develop statewide bilingual curriculum. His efforts to compile and present reports on the subject to state policymakers was instrumental in the passage of the Bilingual Education and Training Act of 1973, which required all Texas elementary public schools with twenty or more children of limited English ability to provide bilingual instruction.
Cruz-Aedo retired from the TEA in the early 1970s but continued to work part-time as a bilingual education consultant and as an adjunct at Southern Methodist University and Texas A&M University–Commerce. He continued to give lectures at SMU until 1992. Over the course of his career, Cruz-Aedo’s professional memberships included the National Association for Bilingual Education, the National Education Association, the Southwest Council for Bilingual Education, and the Texas Association for Bilingual Education. In addition, he was a member of the International Good Neighbor Council and president of the Laredo chapter of Optimist International. He received various recognitions and honors for his work in the field of education, including a lifetime achievement award from the Texas Association for Bilingual Education.
Victor Manuel Cruz-Aedo died on September 16, 2003, only four hours after his wife. Funeral services were held at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, and he was buried at Cook-Walden/Forest Oaks Memorial Park in Austin.