In 1961, Reynaldo G. Garza, of Brownsville, Texas, became the first Mexican American federal judge in U.S. history. A Kennedy nominee, Garza had risen from the obscurity of his humble South Texas beginnings to become a major player in Democratic politics. The careers of fellow Texans and political giants Lyndon B. Johnson and Lloyd Bentsen would become linked with his own. As an emerging power broker in the predominantly Anglo establishment, Garza personified the new elite in the Mexican American community and in the Democratic Party. Garza's long and storied tenure as a federal judge was marked by many more firsts. He became the first Mexican American chief judge of a federal district court, and, in 1979, Garza became the first Mexican American appointed to the United States Court of Appeals. President Carter invited him to become U.S. Attorney General, which would have made him the first Mexican American member of a presidential cabinet had he accepted the appointment.
Louise Ann Fisch argues that Garza's long list of successes comprises a story of American achievement that had much to do with one man's ability to retain his heritage while forging ahead in an Anglo-dominated society. A product of the cross-border culture of Brownsville, where class and ethnic lines fell differently than even elsewhere along the Rio Grande, Garza integrated himself into the mainstream of American life, successfully balancing the Mexican and American parts of his dual identity. Fisch keenly
analyzes the impact of ethnic identity on how he conducted his professional and personal life and looks specifically at the judicial issues he faced which confronted cultural dichotomy.
Relying on interviews with Garza, his family and associates, verified through extensive archival and documentary work--including unrestricted access to the judge's papers--Fisch has written a book that is as much a careful examination of the rise of the Mexican American middle class in the twentieth century as it is a portrait of one pioneering man. Students and scholars of Mexican American culture, Borderlands studies, American politics, and judicial history will find in this biography an invaluable resource. Readers will be captivated by Fisch's probing look into the mythos that underlies tales of political power and the American Dream.