Nino, Primitivo Leijo (1899–1989)

By: María-Cristina García

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1995

Updated: June 21, 2017

Primitivo L. Niño, Houston community leader and the first Mexican American to graduate from Rice University, was born in 1899 in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. His parents were sharecroppers; they cultivated corn and beans and tended a small herd of oxen. Isolated on the farm, Primitivo and his four brothers and sisters were unable to attend school. In 1911 the family moved to Edinburg, Texas, having left Mexico because of the Mexican revolution. In Edinburg Niño learned to read and write in both Spanish and English. He graduated from high school in 1922, having distinguished himself as an athlete in various sports. Subsequently he moved to Houston, where he attended the Rice Institute on a sports scholarship; he was the first member of his family to go to college. During his first two years at Rice he played on the basketball and baseball teams. To help pay for his books, room, and board, he also worked part-time at a series of jobs, among them as a bookkeeper and as a scoutmaster for a local Boy Scout troop. He also taught Spanish three nights a week at the Rusk Settlement House (see SETTLEMENT HOUSES), where he rented a small room. Unable to enter most restaurants near campus because he was of Mexican descent, Niño ate most of his meals at the Original Mexican Restaurant, where he befriended the young manager, Felix Tijerina, who became his lifelong friend. Niño graduated from the university in 1928 with a degree in engineering; he and his friend Francisco Chairez became the first two Mexican Americans to graduate from Rice. After graduation, Niño moved to Monterrey, Mexico, where he worked for the Comisión Nacional de Caminos; missing his girlfriend, however, he returned to Houston six months later. On September 8, 1929, he married Natividad Pérez at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in the Second Ward; they settled in Magnolia Park. They raised two sons and a daughter. Niño found employment as a mechanical engineer in the All in One Manufacturing and Supply Company, where he designed dry-cleaning equipment. His employers were able to draw patents on a washer, extractor, and flatwork iron that he designed specifically for the company. He resigned in 1934 to establish his own small business with his brother, Gumecindo. Niño Brothers installed, repaired, and maintained dry-cleaning equipment for various laundries around the city. In 1952 P. L. Niño also opened Niño's Auto Repair Shop.

In 1930 Niño was invited to join the Club Cultural Recreativo México Bello, from which he received a commemorative plaque for being the first Mexican American to graduate from Rice. As a member of Club México Bello, Niño helped organize social and cultural activities for the community, including lectures, musical programs, outdoor excursions, and dances and balls. In 1932 he joined the Sociedad Mutualista Obrera Mexicana, the second-oldest mutual aid society for Mexican Americans in Houston; he served as secretary of this organization. He joined Council No. 60 of the League of United Latin American Citizens in 1935, but was forced to resign because he was not an American citizen, which was a prerequisite for membership. When he became a naturalized citizen in 1937, he was again invited to join the council, but by this time he had grown disillusioned with LULAC's political activities and chose not to join. He was a member of the Port Houston Lion's Club for more than twenty-five years and served as its treasurer during the early 1960s. In 1979 Niño and his wife celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary with a wedding trip to his home state of San Luis Potosí. After his retirement from the family business, he divided his time between Houston and Edinburg, where most of his relatives resided. P. L. Niño died on August 29, 1989, in Harris County.

Isidro García and Primitivo L. Niño, Origins of Club Recreativo México Bello (Oral history interview by Thomas D. Kreneck, April 9, 1979, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library). Primitivo L. Niño, Oral history interview by Thomas D. Kreneck, March 16, 1979, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.

  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

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

María-Cristina García, “Nino, Primitivo Leijo,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

December 1, 1995
June 21, 2017

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: