by BRAD ROLLINS
In 1949, Celestino Mendez Jr. made it through a San Marcos school system he says was designed to make sure he and other Latinos dropped out.
After a stint in the Air Force during which he was assigned to the U.S. Strategic Air Command, Mendez returned to San Marcos to go to college, graduating in early 1957. He also set out to change the school system he says had ignored the 1954 Supreme Court edict to racially integrate public schools.
“They had separate white, black and Hispanic schools at the early grade levels. When you got to Hernandez, they did everything they could to push the Mexican kids out. I graduated anyway but alot of them didn’t,” Mendez said.
For the next decade, Mendez worked to achieve integrated and equal education in San Marcos first through the veterans issues group the American GI Forum then during two terms on the school board starting in 1963. Latinos were integrated first, in the early 60s, followed by the closing of the black Dunbar school in 1965.
“It was a time for change. At first, San Marcos was not ready for it but by everyone working together we got through it,” Mendez said.
In an election season centered around who is best to bring about change, Mendez’s resume appears made to order as he challenges Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe for the Democratic Party nomination. Running for her fourth term, Ingalsbe is fending off charges that she is indecisive and weak especially in fighting for her generally poorer, majority-minority constituency. The bulk of precinct 1 lies east of Interstate 35 and encompasses large chunks of San Marcos and Kyle.
The faceoff is drawing tortured lines in the city’s Latino community. Many of Ingalsbe’s and Mendez’s supporters are longtime allies on a range of issues split finally over the question of who is best fit to represent the precinct’s often-unheeded infrastructure and social service needs.
On the one hand, Ingalsbe is a scion of the city’s celebrated and infamous Gonzales family, whose patriarch, Rafael Gonzales, was at the center of a thriving patron system as the precinct’s commissioner before being sent to federal prison for tax evasion in 1990. On the other, Mendez, with similarly deep roots in the community, says Ingalsbe is a nice lady who has not been aggressive enough in a commissioners court often under the sway of western Hays County’s more affluent, more rural residents.
“I have nothing bad to say about Ms. Ingalsbe except that she has not been a leader,” Mendez said in an interview on Friday. Ingalsbe did not respond to an interview request for this article.Email | Print