McALLEN — A slew of politicians and government officials gathered outside a federal building on Hackberry Avenue on Wednesday to honor former U.S. Rep. Eligio “Kika” de la Garza.
The ceremony, honoring De la Garza with a building bearing his name, was déjà vu for many involved. A La Joya elementary school has already been named after the longtime congressman, and the new building replaces the old federal digs on North Main Street, which had previously been named in his honor.
“It’s very unusual to sit and listen to this presentation. It’s usually done when they bury you,” De la Garza joked. “Thank you all, I’m glad that I was here.”
During his remarks, De la Garza stressed the building is a credit to the people who supported him during 32 years in Congress. He recounted his journey from the Rio Grande to the Potomac, rising from a shoe-shine boy in Mission to head of the House Agriculture Committee.
U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, praised De la Garza’s tireless work on behalf of the Rio Grande Valley. A large contingent of federal public servants, including former Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, who now oversees the General Services Administration’s operations in the greater southwest, and high-ranking officials from the Labor Department and Internal Revenue Service.
The new, roughly 30,000-square foot building at 1101 E. Hackberry Ave. cost about $5 million, including land, according to information provided by the General Services Administration. Federal agencies began moving into the building in November, and completed the move last month.
Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz, who worked for De la Garza as a young man, recalled driving the then-congressman to the Zapata County Fair. After a long day shaking hands and meeting with what seemed like the entire county, they returned to the car and headed home.
Suddenly, De la Garza asked Franz to pull over at a roadside store, and got out to talk with the owner. After speaking for about 15 minutes and sharing a soda, they continued driving.
“And we’re driving home, and future law student here is thinking, ‘Ok, he just had about everybody in the county at the Zapata County Fair, everybody said hello to you, you don’t have to worry about getting the majority of votes in Zapata because everybody was there. You’re tired, we’re driving home, why are you stopping to talk to one person at a little store in the middle of nowhere?’” Franz said. “And he said, ‘That’s what I do.’ And that's when it hit me: That’s what public servants do.”
Dave Hendricks covers McAllen and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at (956) 683-4452.