Border Studies at EPCC
NW Library and EPCC Links
Other Local Libraries
We do NOT have the resources to assist with genealogical research.
For GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH please contact:
*El Paso Genealogical Society
First Hispanic Mayor Elected in 1957
Article first published in Vol. 14, 1996.
By Sara Padilla and Lorraine Salazar
Federico Peña is Secretary of Transportation and former mayor of Denver. Henry Cisneros is Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former San Antonio mayor. Catalina Vasquez Villalpando served as U.S. Treasurer. Today, it is not unusual to find Hispanics at all levels of government in the U.S.
Portrait of Mayor Raymond L. Telles hangs in City Hall (Photographer unknown). Photo by Ray M. Pierce
Forty years ago, this was not the case. In El Paso, one man blazed the trial for other Hispanics to follow and succeed in politics: Raymond L. Telles, county clerk, mayor, U.S. Diplomat.
Raymond Telles was born in El Paso, Texas, on September 5, 1915. His parents' families came from Spain and Mexico, although his father and mother were born in the El Paso area. He had two brothers, Richard and Joe.
Though his father was a brick layer and the family was not wealthy, they valued education, and Richard attended parochial school, graduating from Cathedral High School in 1933. Telles graduated from the International Business College, and in 1934, he took a job as an accountant for the United States Department of Justice, a job he held for eight years. Telles enrolled in the Texas College of Mines but withdrew when he was drafted in 1941.
After a year in the Army, Telles then served in the U.S. Air Force where he became Chief of the Lend-Lease Program for Central and South America. The young Telles received the Peruvian Flying Cross, the Order of the Southern Cross from Brazil, the Mexican Legion of Merit and Columbian wings in recognition of this work.
Telles had entered the service as a buck private and left the rank of major. From 1943 through 1945, Telles served as an aide to several presidents and high dignitaries from Latin America and Mexico who were visiting the United States. He also acted as military aide to both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower on their visits to Mexico City.
His service record was just one of the reasons Telles ran for county clerk in 1948. In 1975, Telles spoke to historian Oscar J. Martinez, saying, "It was the first time in the history of El Paso that anyone with the Spanish name would even dare consider the idea of launching a campaign for any major county office."
Telles recalls that his opponents watched his every move after he was elected county clerk, but Telles just encouraged that by moving his desk out of a private office into an open area where everybody who came in could see him.
In 1951, Telles was recalled by the Air Force during the Korean Conflict and served as Executive Officer of the 67th Tactical and Reconnaissance Group.
In 1957, Telles' father encouraged his son to run for mayor, something no Hispanic had ever done. The young Telles and his friends created what they called "The People's Ticket," the goal was to appeal to everyone, not just one group.
Among those on the ticket running for aldermen were Ted Bender, a local television and radio personality, who publicized Telles every day on his shows; Jack White, who worked for Ford agencies in the service department; Ernie Craigo, a close friend who had served in the military with Telles; and Ralph Seitsinger, owner of a small store in the Lower Valley.
The young men walked to various areas of the city, personally meeting as many people as possible. The Telles ticket had an advantage because they could speak to potential voters in both Spanish and English while their opponent, Tom Rogers, and his supporters could not.
Richard Telles, the candidate's brother, used a number of inventive tactics in the campaign, including using mock voting booths made of empty refrigerator boxes to help people feel more comfortable doing something they had never done before - voting. They also collected donations to pay the $1.75 poll tax some potential voters could not afford. And on election day, they provided transportation for voters who needed rides.
Voters turned out in record numbers. The People's Ticket won by a margin of 5,000 to 6,000 votes. It was Raymond L. Telles' outstanding qualifications, along with the hard work that he and his supporters put forth, which helped him become the first Mexican-American mayor in El Paso.
Telles explained that he really enjoyed being mayor because he tried to implement equality, especially by opening doors for Hispanics who were qualified for various work positions and who sought a place in politics.
During his two terms as mayor, the fire and police departments began hiring Hispanics, and Telles appointed a Hispanic city engineer and several Hispanic assistant city attorneys.
As mayor, Telles stayed busy, rising each day by 6:30 a.m. and holding breakfast conferences, accomplishing more than if he held only regular office hours, and often attended three to four functions a night.
Telles began important city programs in flood control and urban renewal. Streets were opened and paved, recreation centers were built and the El Paso Museum of Art was established.
Telles ran unopposed for a second term and was planning a third term in 1961 when he was appointed by President Kennedy to be the first Mexican-American Ambassador from the U.S. to serve in a Latin American Country, Costa Rica. After his appointment, other Hispanics began receiving diplomatic appointments.
Telles was showered with awards from different groups as the city bade him farewell. Among other things, he received the Silver Merit award of the VFW, given in recognition of his contributions to Americanism and outstanding service. The employees of the Sanitation Department gave him a gift in appreciation of the manner in which he conducted office business.
Fort Bliss honored him with a formal Guard of Honor and a special retreat ceremony. He received the Air Defense Center plaque for his friendship, personal interest, and cooperation. A banner was displayed outside of Elmer's Drive-In restaurant which read, "Raymond Telles - diplomat and gentleman - vaya con dios." When his service in Costa Rica ended in 1967, he was appointed chairman of the U.S.-Mexican Border Commission by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The purpose of this commission was to inspect the border area for incidents of friction between the United States and Mexico.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed him chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In this position, Telles was responsible for eliminating discrimination in employment throughout the country.
Raymond L. Telles is proud that he was a key element in uniting the Mexican-American community, and, as his nephew Raymond said, "que un Mexicano puede," (that a Mexican can succeed). Telles was a pioneer in the tough world of politics, but his success encouraged other Mexican-Americans to get the education and experience public service demands and to work hard to obtain the American dream.