Bernardo (Ben) F. Garza, civic leader and businessman, the first president general of the League of United Latin American Citizens, was born on June 22, 1892, in Brownsville, Texas, to Bernardo and María de Jesús Flores de la Garza. He grew up in Rockport and attended Rockport public schools, where he received a sixth-grade education. His father died in 1908, so he quit school to work at odd jobs to help support his seven brothers and sisters. He married Adelaida Carrilles on December 18, 1918; they had five children. In 1914 Garza moved to Corpus Christi, where he worked as a waiter. He returned to Rockport during World War I and was employed in the government shipyards on a construction crew.
In 1920 Garza, Santos Benavides, and two other men bought the Metropolitan Cafe in downtown Corpus Christi. The cafe was open all night and became a popular place for a middle-class business clientele. Garza became active in the Chamber of Commerce and the Salvation Army Advisory Board. In 1926 he served as president of the Woodmen of the World, and in 1928 the Vasconcelos for President Club selected him as its leader. Garza was also involved in a McAllen committee to promote education, and he worked to organize similar committees in Robstown, Alice, Kingsville, and Beeville.
He played his most important role in the founding of LULAC. He joined the Order of Sons of America around August 1924 and served as its president from December 1926 until it merged into LULAC. In August 1927 he called a meeting with various Mexican-American organization leaders—M. C. Gonzales, John C. Solís, Alonso S. Perales, J. Luz Saenz, Mauro Machado, and Felipe Herrera-to discuss organizational unity, but they were unable to agree on the formation of a single organization. On August 4, 1928, Garza served on a similar committee, which issued a proclamation for unity. His council seceded from the parent OSA chapter in San Antonio and called for unification on February 17, 1929, in Corpus Christi, where the United League of American Citizens, later known as LULAC, was formed. Garza presided over the meeting, was selected permanent chairman of the statewide organization, and became president of the local chapter. He also served as chairman of the convention committee that organized the meeting of May 18 and 19, 1929, where the LULAC constitution was written and approved. He presided over this meeting and was unanimously elected first president general of LULAC (for 1929–30). During his administration he testified at hearings on immigration in the United States House Committee on Immigration (1930), where he argued that the restriction of Mexican immigration would adversely affect both local growers and Mexican workers. After the hearing he became a friend of John Nance Garner and Senator Morris Sheppard. During his administration Garza appointed organizers to establish local councils, and by January 1930 LULAC had nineteen councils and 2,000 members.
His health began deteriorating, and in 1928 he moved to Arizona, but the effect of the Great Depression on his business took him back to Corpus Christi. He took a job in 1933 with the employment office at Southern Alkali Corporation. In 1933, 1935, and 1937 he went to Kerrville to seek treatment for tuberculosis. Two months before he died, he had cleared the title to the Metropolitan Cafe property. He died on February 21, 1937, and the Corpus Christi City Hall and the courthouse closed for his funeral. He was a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. One hundred honorary pallbearers took part in his burial at Rose Hill Cemetery. To honor Garza the city council passed a resolution of respect, and on March 5, 1939, the city dedicated a park, Ben Garza Park, in his honor.
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Ben Garza Collection, LULAC Archives, Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin. Moises Sandoval, Our Legacy: The First Fifty Years (Washington: LULAC, 1979). U.S. Congress, House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, Hearings on Western Hemisphere Immigration (71st Cong., 2d sess., 1930). O. Douglas Weeks, "The League of United Latin-American Citizens," Southwestern Political and Social Science Quarterly 10 (December 1929).
Activism and Social Reform
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Cynthia E. Orozco,
“Garza, Bernardo F.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 25, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
March 7, 2012
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: