Frank Mariano Tejeda, Jr., congressman, was born in San Antonio, Texas, on October 2, 1945. He was the son of Frank Tejeda and Lillie (Cisneros) Tejeda. Growing up in the slums of the South Side of San Antonio, young Frank experienced the difficulties of being poor. Still, he served as an altar boy at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church and attended St. Leo the Great Catholic School, played Little League athletics, participated in the Boy Scouts, and worked with his parents to earn money. As a teenager, Tejeda appeared difficult and often found himself in trouble with authorities. An indifferent student, he skipped classes, fought with school authorities, and associated himself with a tough gang. At the age of seventeen in 1963, Tejeda quit Harlandale High School and joined the United States Marine Corps.
Frank Tejeda served on active duty in the Marine Corps from 1963 to 1967, and the experience changed his life. While serving in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966, Tejeda excelled in combat and demonstrated leadership abilities. In one incident that occurred on January 17, 1966, Sergeant Tejeda was recognized for his efforts near Da Nang when his troops managed to take an enemy position. For his performance in this action, Tejeda was awarded the Bronze Star. He also received a Purple Heart for a wound he suffered in combat a month before his tour of duty ended in 1966. In 1996 Secretary of the Navy John Dalton ordered the Navy Secretary Awards Board to review Tejeda’s record in Vietnam. The board concluded that Tejeda’s effort at the risk of his own life to save a fallen Marine in a rice paddy under fire merited awarding the Silver Star. Backed by President Bill Clinton, the Silver Star was posthumously awarded to Tejeda’s family in 1997. Before his enlistment ended in 1967, Tejeda also earned a high school equivalency diploma. After leaving active duty, he continued his military career and later attained the rank of major in the Marine Reserves. In 1972 he attended Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Camp Quantico, Virginia, where he established records in academic and athletic activities and received the Commandant’s Trophy for achieving a superior academic average. For the rest of his life, Tejeda credited the Marine Corps for providing him discipline and a purpose.
After receiving his discharge in 1967, Tejeda returned to Texas. He enrolled in St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and received his B.A. degree in 1970. From Texas, Tejeda went to California where he earned a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1974. After launching his political career, he earned a master’s in public administration degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1980 and a master of law from Yale University in 1989.
Having an interest in politics going back to Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty programs of the Great Society in the 1960s, Tejeda sought a career in public office. Running as a Democrat in San Antonio, Tejeda was elected to a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1976. Later described as a “conservative, pro-business Democrat with a ‘streak of social activism’,” Tejeda, with his quiet but strong manner, would be known for garnering bipartisan support throughout his political career. Serving five sessions in the House from 1977 to 1987, he emerged as a vocal opponent of pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing and the establishment of a state lottery. In Austin, he found success in sponsoring a crime victim’s bill of rights and bills creating the Texas Veteran Housing Assistance program and the Texas Research Park. In 1986 Tejeda used his position as chairman of the House Judicial Affairs Committee to launch a series of hearings on the questionable behavior of some justices of the Texas Supreme Court.
Elected to the Texas Senate in 1986, he served there from 1987 through 1992. In the early 1990s the Texas legislature redrew the state’s congressional districts. In the aftermath of their efforts, a new Twenty-eighth District was created that took most of its votes from Hispanic sections in South San Antonio and Bexar County. Senator Tejeda fought to determine the boundaries and constituents of the new district. In September 1991 he announced he would run as a candidate in the new district. Facing no opposition in the primary and the Republicans’ refusal to field a candidate, the popular Tejeda easily defeated Libertarian David Slatter in the general election in November 1992.
As a member of the new Congress in 1993, Frank Tejeda was assigned to the House Armed Services and the Veterans Affairs committees. In Washington, he devoted much of his efforts to veterans issues and the hardships that came with cuts in defense spending that affected the military bases in the San Antonio area. Tejeda joined Republicans against efforts to close Brooks and Kelly Air Force bases in Texas. He also endorsed the North American Free Trade Agreement but supported government aid to displaced workers.
During his second term in Congress, Tejeda learned he had cancer. On October 3, 1995, he underwent brain surgery in an effort to have the tumor removed. Although most of the tumor was removed, doctors failed to remove all of it. In 1996 Tejeda was reelected, but his health continued to decline. In December he quit granting interviews after his speech impairment grew worse and doctors determined the tumor’s growth. Unable to return to Washington for the beginning of his third term, Frank Tejeda died at the age of fifty-one in San Antonio on January 30, 1997. Former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros praised Tejeda as a “warrior for our country and.…He was a warrior for his neighborhood, a warrior for San Antonio and a warrior in Congress….”
At the time of his death, Congressman Tejeda was survived by his three children, Marisa, Sonya, and Frank Tejeda III; and his mother; three brothers, Juan, Richard, and Ernest; and sister Mary Alice Lara. His marriage to Celia Tejeda had ended in divorce. His funeral Mass at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church on San Antonio’s Southwest Side was attended by 2,500 mourners. The Vietnam War hero was buried with full military honors, including a Texas National Guard “missing man” formation flyover, at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. The Marine Corps Reserve Association established the Frank M. Tejeda Leadership Award to be presented to congressional members who demonstrate strong commitment to national defense, leadership, and service to country. The Frank M. Tejeda VA Outpatient Clinic, the Frank Tejeda Academy, the Frank Tejeda Post Office Building, and the Frank Tejeda Park, all in San Antonio, as well as the Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home in Floresville were named in honor of the former Marine hero and Texas congressman.