John Ben Shepperd: Texas Regional Convention of the League of the United Latin American Citizens

January 31, 1953

Texas Regional Convention of the League of the United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) – (San Antonio, Texas)

Because of the many Latin friends I have, I have often asked myself the question, “What does it mean to be a Spanish-speaking Texan?” Although I am sure you can answer that question better than I can, I would like to tell you how it appears to me, and how it appears to many of my Spanish-speaking friends who have talked to me about it.

The Spanish-speaking people of Texas are a unique group of people, for many reasons. You have certain economic problems that all Texans do not share. You have a language problem, which I am happy to say is steadily diminishing, but which is still prominent enough to bring with it also an educational problem and a social one.

These problems are among those that I had in mind when I made my inaugural address as Attorney General on January 1, in which I said the people of Texas have many and varied problems, a number of which would come before the Attorney General for his attention and action. I said then, and I say now, that all of the problems brought up during my term in office, and requiring my attention, will get it promptly.

However, you know as well as I that the solution to most problems does not lie in the field of legislation. There is not man or group of men in office powerful enough to eradicate them with a stroke of the pen. For the most part, your problems, like those of all Texans, can be solved only by you.

This is one thing that it means to be a Spanish-speaking Texan: that with your particular problems comes also a particular responsibility—the responsibility of superior citizenship.

What do I mean by superior citizenship? I do not mean simply obeying the laws and paying taxes. We all do that. I do not mean banding together in pressure groups to influence government. I do not mean “boss-ism”, demagoguery, and high-powered politics designed to life some people and push down others. Superior citizenship is a matter of individual thought, action, and responsibility.

I want to ask each of you a personal question. When I ask it, I am not speaking to you as LULACS, nor as Spanish-speaking people or Latin-Americans. I don’t like that term. I don’t believe in applying a hyphenated name to any fellow Texan of mine—any fellow worker in the cause of good government and good Americanism. I am speaking to you as fellow citizens of Texas when I ask, “What are you doing in your government?” Superior citizenship demands your personal and individual participation in all community and governmental affairs, from the precinct to the presidency.

If this country is going to survive the age that Communism and the atom bomb have brought us into, we must have more than people who obey laws and pay taxes . . . we must have people who vote in every election . . . people who write their congressman and legislator on public issues . . . who go to the meetings of local governmental bodies: the City Council, the County Commissioners Court, and the School Board . . . people who are active in civic clubs, people who are willing to serve on civic committees . . . people who will go to meetings of the PTA, serve as Scoutmasters, and do other things to help the teacher give our children brains and responsibility . . . people who will visit their public office holders and offer them their help and counsel . . . people who will make known their talents, abilities, and willingness as well as their complaints and problems . . . people who realize that they are the public and are responsible for government.

I realize that many of you feel that your fellow Texans do not give you equal opportunity to serve your community, that they do not meet you half way in resolving the differences between you and them, which keep you from being as thoroughly integrated into our society as you have the right to be. In other words, many of you feel that you are doing everything, while the rest of the people of Texas are doing less than nothing to help you be superior citizens.

That problem can only be solved with a superior kind of Christian patience. If you feel that others are not meeting you half way, you must go more than half way, remembering our Lord’s commandment: “If any man shall require you to go a mile, go with him two miles.” Christian love is the magic key which opens many doors. Genuine love is always answered with love, and yours will not go unanswered.

But I don’t have to tell you about Christian love. And you don’t have to tell me that you know how to be superior citizens; I know you too well. I’ve lived among you, worked with you, and fought beside you. I’ve been in your homes and seen the wonderful family love that binds you together . . . I’ve seen what a profound Christian respect you have for your elders . . . . very seldom have I ever seen Spanish-speaking men and women in the divorce court . . . I’ve been in your shops and offices and seen how hard you work to strengthen our American system of private enterprise . . . I have been in your churches and seen how the love of God motivates your lives . . . I’ve seen how the Communists thought the Spanish-speaking people would be willing tools through which to foment Communism in this country, and how you repelled them like a brick wall . . . I have been in the Armed Forces and seen the Latin names written in the rolls of winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor: Marcario Garcia, Cleto Rodriguez from San Marcos, Jose M. Lopez of Mission, and many others. Nobody can tell you about patriotism or heroism. Nobody loves God and this country better than you do.

The Spanish-speaking people of Texas have always been of tremendous importance to this State. But your greatest importance lies in the future. You are the link between two great cultures which meet on Texas soil. You are the key to the future solidarity and prosperity of the Western Hemisphere.

God has placed you in a unique position—one which demands of you a supreme effort in citizenship and Christian living. You will find that the rewards of your faithful execution of your duty will increase day by day, but your real reward will come one day when the giver of all good gifts lays His nail-scarred hands on your shoulders and says, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, well done!”

Please note: The views expressed in these speeches were those of John Ben Shepperd, and do not necessarily represent the views of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute or the University of Texas Permian Basin.