MEMOIR / BIOGRAPHY
February 1, 2024
Mi Carnal Frank (My Brother Frank), by San Antonio writer Juan Tejeda, is an engaging and often eye-opening look at both his family's roots and the life of his older brother, U.S. Representative Frank Mariano Tejeda Jr. The congressman's legislative career in Texas and Washington had been productive and his political fortunes were still rising when he died in office in 1997 at age 51.
Frank Tejeda had been born into poverty in 1945, had trouble staying in school, got into frequent fights, and was almost lost to violent gang life in San Antonio's Southside barrios. Just before it was too late, Frank created a new future for himself—first in the military, then in law school, and finally in public service. "Frank changed when he enlisted in the Marine Corps," Juan writes. "Maybe he had to prove something to himself, and to others: that he was just as good, if not better, than anyone else, regardless of ethnicity. The Marine Corps leveled the playing field, so to speak, and gave Frank this opportunity to prove himself."
In Vietnam combat, the young Marine sergeant was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart. In civilian life once again, he graduated from the University of California's Berkeley Law School in 1974 and soon was a rising force in the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin. He had decided to immerse himself in Texas politics, and he did. Frank Tejeda served multiple terms in the Texas House of Representatives and then in the Texas Senate, all while earning master's degrees from Harvard University and Yale Law School. Along the way, he was promoted to the rank of major in the Marine Corps Reserve, and he built up and led a powerful grassroots alliance of elected officials that helped reshape political power in San Antonio. His initial goals had been to defend and promote the rights of the poor and his own Mexican American community. But he likewise became a strong advocate for social, economic, and environmental justice, as well as veterans' care, Juan Tejeda explains in his well-written book.
In 1992, Texas state senator Frank Tejeda was elected to the U.S. Congress, representing the 28th Congressional District of Texas. He had received an impressive 87 percent of the votes cast. A bright and powerful political future now awaited as he joined the Armed Services Committee and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and took part in numerous legislative battles and procedures on Capitol Hill. Then tragedy struck in 1996. The diagnosis: terminal brain cancer. Congressman Tejeda continued to serve as long as he could, but early in his third congressional term, he died from pneumonia and was buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.
Following Congressman Tejeda's death, there were numerous outpourings of praise for his military and political service and for his accomplishments and stances in Congress. In Texas, several schools, a post office, parks, a veterans' home, and a section of highway were renamed in his honor. But a San Antonio journalist, Rick Casey, summed up Frank Mariano Tejeda Jr.'s political career with the most clarity and brevity. He noted simply: "Tejeda combined Ivy degrees with fast fists."
Fans of Tejano and Conjunto music likely will recognize the author of this book, Juan Tejeda, who is a well-known musician and organizer of the Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio. He has written other books as well and co-edited Puro Conjunto: An Album in Words and Pictures/Writings, Posters, and Photographs from the Tejano Conjunto Festival en San Antonio, 1982-1998.
In Mi Carnal Frank, he draws from a rich collection of sources, including interviews with family members and friends of Frank, as well as newspaper articles, a variety of documents, and his own childhood memories. The book recounts and explains many of Congressman Tejeda's key political initiatives and battles in Texas and on Capitol Hill, including how he pushed back against President Clinton over military funding levels and planned base closures. During his efforts to help save San Antonio's Kelly Air Force Base from being shut down, Congressman Tejeda declared: “I do not walk lockstep with anyone, whether it’s the Democratic Party or whether it’s the president.”
Mi Carnal Frank offers engrossing insights into Mexican American family life and the importance placed on roots, honor, and traditions. It also represents a significant addition to the historical accounts of twentieth-century Texas and national politics.
Juan Tejeda is a musician, writer, ex-jefe danzante Mexica-Azteca, arts administrator, educator, activist, editor and publisher. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Chicano Studies from the University of Texas at Austin and his Master of Arts degree in Bicultural Studies from the University of Texas at San Antonio.