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Chicano Teens Tee-off on 50s Texas Racism

Book details golfing miracle of the San Felipe High School Mustangs

By Andy Porras
Published on LatinoLA: March 3, 2011


Chicano Teens Tee-off on 50s Texas Racism


Armed with nothing more than used clubs and golf balls rescued from a slimy death in the San Felipe Creek, five Chicano teens took on the Texas high school golfing establishment (read: 99 rich white kids) and captured the 1957 Texas State High School Golf Championship.

Playing for the purple and gold of the San Felipe High School Mustangs, Lupe Felan, Joe Trevi??o, Phil Romero, Mario Lomas and Gene Vasquez, stroked their way into the history books of Texas school sports. Now, another San Felipe High product, attorney at law, Humberto Garcia, reveals the Cinderallesque story in his book "Mustang Miracle."

In the book title, Mustangs is obvious. It's the 'miracle' that reminds us of our not-so-perfect country, back in white America's 'good-ol-days' and, historically speaking, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision determining that "segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other 'tangible' factors may be equal, deprive[s] the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities."

It would take another ten years or so to fully implement the new law of the land, but at least racial barriers begin to disappear. Slowly.

The year, 1957, is also about the time the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was introduced in President Eisenhower's administration and was the act that kick-started the civil rights legislative program that was to include the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Not that the Eisenhower had not been known for his support of the civil rights movement, but Del Rio liked Ike for a different reason. He visited the area for a chat with his Mexican counterpart, Lopez Mateos, to discuss the building of Amistad Dam, about 12 miles upstream from Del Rio on the Rio Grande. (Years later, in 1969, President Richard Nixon would also visit the area to dedicate the dam.)

About the only Latinos on the Texas links during the 50s, were those hired as caddies. That's what led the San Felipe five to learn the game that would lead them to high school golf fame.

"That and the tutoring of a U.S. Air Force base civil servant and ardent golfer, Hiram Valdez," Garcia points out in his book. "Our superintendent of schools, J. B Pe??a also played a key role in the development of these golfers."

Practicing in empty barrio sandlots or arid and rocky areas of San Felipe, the golfers gained an upper hand at their game of choice. Once on perfectly manicured greens, the guys considered the surface a piece of cake, friends remember.

"I recall (Mario) Lomas telling me years later," said Homer Martinez, former San Felipe High athlete and teacher." How easy it was to putt with no rocks or discarded cans to get in the way!"

Yet despite not having decent practice areas, playing with outdated and inferior equipment not receiving any professional lessons, they took on the area's adult golfers and left them in the Del Rio dust.

Once formed into an official high school team, it was time to prove their mettle on the state's golf courses. And they did.

"One of the guys, Joe (Trevi??o), told me that he begin to feel sorry for the sons of the men he caddied for," said Martinez. "You see, these kids were given lessons, they had the best equipment their dads could buy them, and still our guys, with borrowed or crooked clubs would embarrass them each and every time!"

Martinez and other former SFHS students agree it was time to tell their story for all Texans to enjoy.

"No matter what color they are!" added Martinez.

Author Garcia, was born and raised in San Felipe and attended the schools in the San Felipe Independent School District and would have graduated from San Felipe High School in 1972 but for the consolidation of the district with the Del Rio Independent School District by a federal court order in the summer of 1971.

"In fact," said Garcia recently at a book signing event. " Witnessing of the events in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas involving the battle between the San Felipe and Del Rio school officials served as a factor in me seeking a legal education."

Following graduation from high school, he attended the University of Texas at Austin where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Government in 1975. He then attended the University of Texas, School of Law and received his Doctorate of Jurisprudence in 1978.

While in law school, he developed a strong interest in golf, having been introduced to the game by two of his study partners. He is quite familiar with golf as he has competed in several professional tournaments and continues to do so today. As an undergraduate he took several courses in Mexican-American studies where he learned the history of the treatment of Chicanos/Latinos by American society.

"I also experienced first hand some discrimination and unfair treatment while growing up as a migrant farm worker with my family, " said Garcia. "My tripartite knowledge of the subjects covered in this book gave me a unique perspective into the experience of the San Felipe High School 1957 Golf Team."

It is with the clear understanding of this experience that he is able to describe the significance of a bright moment in American history for a people who were otherwise deprived of an equal opportunity.

Fore!

About Andy Porras:
Syndicated columnist Porras is a graduate of San Felipe High in Del Rio, TX
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