Leo, Leo J. (1917–1981)

By: Hubert J. Miller

Type: Biography

Published: March 1, 1995

Updated: November 9, 2019

Leo J. Leo, political leader, was born in Mission, Texas, on March 14, 1917, the son of John Adrian and Dolores Isidora (Garcia) Leo. He and his twin brother, Alejandro, were the second oldest of six children. The family moved to nearby La Joya. At an early age Leo worked as a janitor to help support the family. He received his high school diploma in 1935 and attended Edinburg Junior College, the forerunner of the University of Texas-Pan American, and Texas A&I University. He received his teaching certificate in 1937. His first teaching assignment was in Zapata, Texas, where he met Feliz Bustamante, whom he married on May 26, 1940. They had five children. During World War II Leo held a supervisory post at the Laredo Army Airfield (see LAREDO AIR FORCE BASE), and after the war he returned to La Joya, where he started a grocery business. In 1965 he was elected mayor. He provided public notary services to file citizenship papers for Mexican immigrants and served on boards of directors of Great Society poverty programs to provide jobs, housing, food assistance, dental services, summer youth programs, and legal aid. His outspoken defense of these programs, such as those provided by the Associated City and County Economic Development Corporation, frequently involved him in controversy. Leo championed farm workers' strikes in the late 1960s and helped organize the Hidalgo County Political League, a loose federation of Mexican-American and Anglo-American liberal Democrats. His work with the Viva Kennedy Clubs in the 1960 elections received special commendation from President John F. Kennedy. In 1960 Leo and other Mexican-American political leaders organized the Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations. Leo chaired the Hidalgo County PASSO Chapter, which with its 1,000 members was the largest in the state. He died in McAllen, Texas, on July 14, 1981.

Austin American-Statesman, May 4, 1990. Leo J. Leo Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas at Austin. Hubert J. Miller, "Oral History: A Tool for the Study of Mexican American History in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas," Oral History Review 15 (Fall 1987).

  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Activists
  • Politics and Government

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Hubert J. Miller, “Leo, Leo J.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/leo-leo-j.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1995
November 9, 2019

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