Article first published in Vol. 30, 2012-2013
By Ana Villela and Madison Simone Moore
When he was a teen, he had to enter the Hotel Cortez through the back door for his job as a busboy because he was Mexican. Decades later, he entered the hotel through the front door as Director of the Job Corps. In between, he had earned two college degrees, served in the U.S. Navy, coached a university basketball team to a national championship and had a career with the State Department in South America.
Image caption: David L. Carrasco was the first director of the Job Corps Center in El Paso. (Photo courtesy of the David L. Carrasco Job Corps Center
One of three children, David Livingston Carrasco was born in El Paso on December 29, 1919, on South Tays Street, just feet from the area in which the Chamizal National Memorial now is located. In an interview with Tom Hoggan in 1973 for the University of Texas at El Paso Institute of Oral History, Carrasco related that his parents came to the United States during their teenage years from Chihuahua, Mexico. He said that coming from poverty, his parents strived to furnish their children with educational opportunities.
Carrasco attended Vilas Elementary and El Paso High School. Throughout school, he competed in many sports including basketball, football, track and boxing. His family encouraged outdoor sports, and Carrasco, his brothers and cousins grew up in a competitive atmosphere. He developed a strong desire to succeed and later admitted to being a “ferocious competitor.” He obtained a bachelor of arts in education in 1943 from the Texas College of Mines, known today as the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), while being very involved in sports.
During the summers, Carrasco played for the Chihuahua Dorados, the national Mexican basketball team known throughout Latin America. He later received a master’s degree in education from the University of Maryland. In an Institute of Oral History interview by Magdaleno Cisneros in 1976, Carrasco revealed that he also had studied for a doctorate in education but did not complete the required dissertation.
Carrasco began his teaching career in the Segundo Barrio at Aoy Elementary as a physical education teacher. In 1943, the 6-foot-4-inch Carrasco became a physical education teacher and basketball coach at Bowie High School. Jim Conley reported in an article for the El Paso Times that Carrasco coached Bowie’s team to the Texas State Basketball Championship round “as a rookie … coach.” This result of his competitive spirit and striving for excellence in his teaching and coaching would be repeated over and over as he worked with young people.
With World War II escalating, Carrasco decided to join the U.S. Navy, serving for about three years during the war. While in the Navy, he worked in Special Services, playing competitive sports and coaching. His main duty was recruit training, a job Carrasco likened to teaching. Carrasco was stationed in various places such as San Diego, Calif., Norfolk, Va., and Cambridge, Md. While in Maryland, he met and married Marjorie Partin. They had one son, David Lee Carrasco, currently a renowned professor of Latin American Studies at the Harvard Divinity School.
After being discharged from the Navy, Carrasco believed he would resume his coaching position at Bowie, but he had been replaced. The Carrascos returned to the Washington, D.C., area, living there until 1964. Carrasco went back to teaching and coaching, this time at a junior high school in Montgomery County, Md. Four years later, he went to the large suburban Montgomery Blair High School, where he led its basketball team to three state championships in five years. Then the successful coach became the athletic director and head basketball coach at American University, the first Mexican-American coach of a southern university.
The bilingual Carrasco traveled to Latin America during the summer beginning in 1959 to participate in a program sponsored by the State Department called “American Specialist.” He assisted American embassies in different capitals in Latin America and conducted clinics and conferences in physical education and basketball. Working in almost every South American capital, Carrasco counted these experiences representing the U. S. Government as one of the “highlights” of his life.
In 1964, Carrasco resigned from American University, where he was a tenured professor as well as coach, and joined the Peace Corps where he worked as the director of a youth development program in Ecuador. The Peace Corps was officially established by President John F. Kennedy on March 1, 1961. It attracted many young people to share their education and expertise with other, less fortunate people in many countries in the fields of agriculture, education, health and others. One of Carrasco’s brothers headed the Peace Corps in Chile.
In the interview with Tom Hoggan, Carrasco said that he greatly admired President Kennedy and believed that the Peace Corps had another purpose of immense profundity: the fact that these volunteers “were going into foreign countries with a new concept of foreign service.” Carrasco added, “The Peace Corps was never very popular with the established tradition of the Foreign Service because the volunteers did not live in nice homes; they did not have money, they had very limited allowances; they lived in the poor areas, the barrios; consequently they worked right with the people.” He also said that the volunteers under his supervision were a great group of highly committed individuals. Carrasco worked for the Peace Corps for three years.
Following the Olympics, Carrasco was transferred by the State Department back to El Paso. He was appointed a regional director of the U.S. Commission for Border Development and Friendship with Mexico, representing parts of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Carrasco told Hoggan that the commission was established by President Johnson and was a bi-national operation between the Mexican foreign office and the U.S. State Department. The commission dealt with many different kinds of problems in education, commerce, agriculture, immigration, health and much more. In his interview with Cisneros, Carrasco said that he felt the commission brought fresh optimism to the prospect of solving the many problems between the United States and Mexico. Unfortunately, due to a shortage of funds, the commission was dissolved after one year.
The Department of Labor was set to open a Job Corps center in El Paso in 1970. The contract was given to the Texas Educational Foundation to establish and operate the center. It contacted David Carrasco and asked him to be the director of the center. As Carrasco told Hoggan, the Job Corps embodied “the concept of providing a second opportunity to youngsters who are economically and socially disadvantaged and it is just wonderful.” According to the Handbook of Texas Online, published by the Texas State Historical Association, the original Job Corps was housed in the old Hotel Cortez in downtown El Paso, a homecoming of sorts for Carrasco who at one time had had to use the back door because he was “a Mexican busboy,” as Intress wrote in 1977.
The center opened with 50 students. Aged 16 to 24, they received technical knowledge and work experience which allowed them to acquire worthwhile employment upon completion. Students could choose from many different vocational programs such as automotive, heating and cooling, welding, office administration, and nursing assistant, among others. General education courses were offered to those who wanted to obtain a GED, equivalent to a high school diploma.
According to the Job Corps website, not only does the program offer technical and general education today, but also drivers education and readiness programs. Courses in social and life skills are offered to help the transition to the workplace. The Advanced Career Training program is offered to students with the skills and motivation to succeed in college. Students attend classes at El Paso Community College while enrolled with the Job Corps. In 1979, the center moved to a five-acre campus on the east side, located at 11155 Gateway West.
Carrasco told Hoggan that the center here in El Paso had the greatest number of graduates compared with other centers in the United States. The Job Corps Center allowed Carrasco to return to his first love: teaching. In the article by Intress, Carrasco said, “Some people say I now have a small town job compared to my more glamorous jobs with the State Department. But I view it as a big time job because I’m helping shape lives.” Working every day and up to 60 hours per week, he helped more than 9,000 low income students, mostly high school dropouts. He told Jim Conley, “I’ve always been for the underdog. The greatest emotion is when I see these kids doing well.”
Besides job skills and other educational and life skills, Carrasco’s students learned compassion. In one case, Carrasco and his students took in an abandoned dog they found tied to a tree with a chain. Named “Charlie,” he became the Job Corps mascot and an inspiration to the youth who cared for him. Lorenza Jurado Franco, Job Corps alumnus, said that the students formed a “Charlie Club,” charged with feeding and caring for the dog. El Paso Times reporter Luz Cruz wrote that students felt as if they were trapped by invisible chains and that Charlie reminded them that education was their way to break free of those chains. Charlie was the second animal to be inducted into the Animal Hall of Fame at the El Paso Zoo’s Garden of Recognition.
Image caption: A mural on the Center’s grounds honors Carrasco and the Job Corps, including their canine mascots. Note the statue of Charlie, the dog rescued by the Center’s students. (Photo by Ana Villela)
Carrasco worked with the Job Corps until his death on October 16, 1990, from an apparent suicide after being on medical leave. More than 1,000 people attended a memorial for him at the Job Corps Center.
Carrasco received many honors and awards during his career of service. He was named to the El Paso Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978 and Outstanding Youth Educator of El Paso by the League of Latin American Citizens in 1980. He was honored as Citizen of the Year in 1981 by the Military Order of Foreign Wars. The mayor of El Paso gave him the Conquistador Award in 1984 and the city named a street on the eastside after him in 1987. In 1991, he was nominated by the City of El Paso to receive the Lewis Hine Award for his outstanding service to youth. In 1998, he was inducted into the American University Hall of Fame.
One tribute that perhaps would have meant the most to him was the El Paso Job Corps Center being renamed in 1991 to honor him. It is now called the David L. Carrasco Job Corps Center. A colorful mural honoring him was painted by Carlos Rosas and “renewed” by the late Benito Colorado, former art teacher and residential adviser of the Center, according to Franco. It is easily visible from Interstate-10 in both directions.
Carrasco’s love of sports and teaching highlighted his nearly 50-year career. He told Intress, “In sports, when running a race, everyone starts at the same line and finishes there. Whatever track record you have from another day doesn’t matter in today’s race. Guess that’s my philosophy of life and why I like sports—everyone is equal.”
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