Ramón (Raymond) Fernández, Houston community leader and president of the Club Cultural Recreativo México Bello and the local Comité Patriótico Mexicano, was born in Camargo, Chihuahua, Mexico, in 1900. His parents owned land in Camargo, where the family raised cattle, horses, and mules for sale in Mexico and the United States. The family also operated an import-export business in Juárez. Ramón's father became an important political leader in Mexico, and served as mayor of Camargo and secretary of state of Chihuahua. After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, he served as governor of Chihuahua until he was forced to go into exile in the United States. He remained in Texas for the rest of his life, first in Gonzales and later Houston, where he worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. He also wrote articles and editorials for the influential San Antonio newspaper La Prensa. He attended schools in Camargo, Torreón, and Monterrey, and attended the Universidad Nacional Autónoma in Mexico City. During his youth Ramón accompanied his father on business trips to Texas, which took them as far away as Presidio, Marfa, and Alpine. As a young man, he also competed as a boxer in various cities in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. His numerous injuries, however, cut his boxing career short.
After his graduation from the university in 1922, he joined his family in Houston and settled in the Fifth Ward, in the small but growing Mexican-American neighborhood known as the Northside. Thanks to his father's connections, he found employment at the Southern Pacific Railroad. He started in the machine shop and eventually moved to the drawing room, where he worked as a drafter, and later to the lay-out room, where he transferred the details of his drawings to the actual materials. He occupied several different positions during his forty-six-year tenure with the SP and supervised the work of dozens of employees. He retired in 1968.
Fernández was an early member of the Club Cultural Recreativo México Bello, an organization that sponsored social, cultural, and recreational activities for Houston Hispanics. He served as president of the club from 1926 to 1936, the longest term of any president in the club's history. As president, he played an important role in breaking down barriers of discrimination by getting local restaurants and banquet halls to rent to Mexican Americans. In 1926, Fernández founded the Houston Comité Patriótico Mexicano, a coalition of local social, cultural, civic, and political organizations that, together with the Mexican consul in Houston, organized activities for Mexican Americans that instilled pride in their cultural heritage. These included the annual celebration of fiestas patrias in the City Auditorium. Fernández served as Comité president from 1926 to 1936. He was also active in the Asamblea Mexicana and Council No. 60 of the League of United Latin American Citizens. He dropped out of the latter, however, because he refused to renounce his Mexican citizenship. He joined Council No. 2333 of the Woodmen of the World, also known as El Campo Laurel, and became the second Mexican American to be accepted in the local chapter of the Elks Lodge.
Fernández married his first wife, Helen, in 1934. She developed cancer early in their marriage, and in order to meet the medical expenses, Fernández took an additional job in the evenings working at Foley's Department Store downtown. After years of medical treatments and hospitalizations, Helen died in 1942. Fernández married his second wife, Alice, in 1951. He was a parishioner at various times of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, Holy Name Church, and St. Ambrose. He never became naturalized. He maintained property in Camargo during his lifetime and frequently visited family and friends there. He died in 1988.
Ramón Fernández, Oral History Interview by Thomas D. Kreneck, July 5, 1979, Houston Metropolitan Research Collection, Houston Public Library.
Activism and Social Reform
Texas in the 1920s
Upper Gulf Coast
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