John Treviño, Jr., Austin’s first Mexican American city councilmember, was born on October 18, 1938, in Austin, Texas, to Salome (Torres) Treviño and Juan Treviño. Treviño’s life of service began early. At the age of seven he became an altar server in his local Catholic parish and traveled with the priest to nearby Spanish-speaking communities. At age seventeen Treviño enlisted in the United States Army and served in the Eighty-second Airborne Division as a paratrooper. Treviño said that while he was in the army, his captain “forced” him to attend classes to earn his high school equivalency diploma. He later returned to Austin and worked various jobs before a priest, noting his natural leadership abilities, pressed him to do more.
In 1965 Treviño led an anti-poverty initiative that brought Internal Revenue Service staff to East Austin to volunteer their services to assist poor residents in filling out their tax forms. He helped establish health clinics in low-income communities and neighborhood clean-up measures that became the city’s bulk trash collection during this time. He also coordinated the volunteer efforts of University of Texas School of Social Work students and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) workers to create the Austin Tenant’s Council and a Meals on Wheels program. He was an officer in the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). In 1968 the Ford Foundation awarded him an all-expense paid trip to Europe for his outstanding community service work. Through his work with VISTA, Treviño became acquainted with Richard Moya and later served as campaign manager for Moya when he ran for and won the Travis County commissioner seat in 1970.
Inspired by his advocacy and successful community activism, Treviño was encouraged to run for a seat on the Austin city council. In 1973 he ran against Lowell Lebermann for the Place 4 seat. In his 1973 campaign, Treviño called on the city to better inform citizens on the energy crisis by including energy conservation information in utility bills, cooperating with Austin schools to distribute conservation literature to school children, and working with church and civic groups to help educate their members. He also supported a newspaper recycling program and called for public hearings on any city business which may affect the environment. Treviño lost against Lebermann in 1973 but ran again in 1975 for the Place 5 seat. He defeated businessman Jay Johnson in a runoff. After winning in 1975, Treviño noted that representing a minority community presented a two-fold problem: “Not only do we have to convince the general public that even though we are Mexican-American we can still be sensible and responsible people. But it is also important for our folks to realize that even though you are a chicano or a chicana, it shouldn’t be an obstacle and you should develop to the fullest of your potential.” Observing that his community was “in a better position now,” Treviño stated that he looked forward to “when my kids grow up and it won’t be a novelty that a chicano is in public office.” In the early 1970s journalists named Treviño, Richard Moya, Gus García, and future state senator Gonzalo Barrientos the “Young Turks” and the “Brown Machine.” Treviño and this cohort joined a coalition composed of African Americans, labor activists, and young voters that disrupted the traditional Austin political establishment, which previously had been captained exclusively by Anglo businessmen.
In 1979 Treviño co-founded a tailor shop, St. Francis Tailors, on the fourth floor of the Littlefield Building with Francisca F. Childress. During his third term on the council in 1981 he also served as the city’s mayor pro tem and later became interim mayor when that post opened in 1983. As a council member, Treviño consistently advocated awarding city business contracts to women and minorities, encouraged infrastructure improvements and economic development in minority neighborhoods, and led the initiative to diversify city staff; he personally ensured that women and minorities were included on city boards and commissions. Treviño founded several sister city programs and represented the city on the Capital Metro board of directors from 1997 to 2009. After leaving city hall in 1988, he worked at the University of Texas at Austin, where he helped the Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) Program until he retired in 2016. In 2006 the city of Austin named a 320-acre tract John Treviño Jr. Metropolitan Park at Morrison Ranch in his honor.
Treviño married Connie Loya on September 4, 1955. The couple had eight children: John, Paul, Mary Theresa, Peter, Michael, Mark, Patricia, and Jesse. They divorced in 1980. John Treviño, Jr., passed away at the age of seventy-eight on April 4, 2017, after a short illness. He is buried at Assumption Cemetery in Austin.