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ONE DAY IN HISTORY: Carmen Rodríguez Anaya

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Photograph, portrait of Carmen Anaya hanging at the Carmen Anaya Elementary School in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District. Image courtesy of the school district.
Photograph, portrait of Carmen Anaya hanging at the Carmen Anaya Elementary School in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District. Image courtesy of the school district.
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CARMEN RODRÍGUEZ ANAYA, (1926–2006). Carmen Rodríguez Anaya, Mexican American activist and community leader, daughter of José Rodríguez, was born near Hualahuises, Nuevo León, México, on October 15, 1926. About 1947 Anaya immigrated to Hidalgo County, Texas, where she studied teaching. In 1950 she married José Anaya. The couple had six children—four girls and two boys. The family owned a 500-acre farm in Hidalgo County but lost it about 1962 after several bad frosts. For nearly twenty years afterwards, they worked as migrant farm workers, which included picking sugar beets in North Dakota, tomatoes in California, and cherries in Michigan. In 1979 the family bought and operated the Anaya General Store in Las Milpas, Hidalgo County, Texas.

Anaya’s foray into politics and community leadership started in the wake of a torrential downpour while she was living in Las Milpas. As a colonia, the houses in Las Milpas lacked basic services, regulations, and infrastructure. Many homeowners had only outhouses that overflowed from the rain and pushed black water, toxic waste, and worms into the streets. The lack of adequate sanitation caused children to get rashes and fall ill. Anaya, outraged by the uncooperative attitude of local officials, decided to take direct action. Already heavily involved in her local church, Nuestro Señor Catholic Mission, in 1982 she participated in the founding of Valley Interfaith, a nonprofit coalition representing nearly 60,000 families in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (see also TEXAS IAF NETWORK). The coalition formed at the urging of Brownsville Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick and included about forty churches. The organization devoted itself to aiding the impoverished colonia communities and keeping elected local and state officials true to their word. Some of the conditions that Valley Interfaith determined to fix were the unpaved roads, lack of running water, and outhouses that were very outdated for 1980s America. Anaya helped to organize meetings between local and state political leaders such as Governors Mark White and Ann Richards, as well as Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby, Jr. She was also able to get support from Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Governor George W. Bush.

As a community organizer and leader within Las Milpas and other Hidalgo County communities, Anaya raised funding from political leaders and secured state and federal government grants to pave roads and install modern plumbing, drainage, and sewage systems. By the late 1980s, her efforts resulted in clean drinking water and sanitation systems for at least 160,000 people. In addition, Anaya took part in the creation of a job-training program for area people, and she fought for living-wage ordinances that raised wages for thousands. A devout Catholic, she focused her life goals and achievements on helping the poor and downtrodden. Moreover, the high level of visibility she received for her work raised local, state, and national awareness of the issues affecting colonias statewide and led to positive change and development in countless other communities. Anaya died in Pharr, Texas, on May 12, 2006. In recognition of her work on behalf of local residents, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District named Carmen Anaya Elementary School in her honor.

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By Julia Schoolenberg, Handbook of Texas Online

Published by the Texas State Historical Association

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