The mid-seventies were a time that brings to mind Presidential impeachment, Patty Hearst & the Symbionese Liberation Army, and a brand-new face on the national political horizon, a peanut farmer from Georgia, Jimmy Carter. In Texas, Dolph Briscoe, a Democrat, a rancher from Uvalde was Texas Governor.
In Brownsville, Mr. Ruben Edelstein was running for mayor. He and his brother, Mr. Ben, were the proprietors of Edelstein’s Better Furniture, a valley wide furniture store chain, and my Mom’s employers. The Edelsteins were huge proponents of education and collaborative community efforts. Mr. Ruben was always the first to arrive to work and last to leave after a long day’s work. My Mom often spoke about how Mr. Ruben was still at the office, many times writing to our State leadership or Congressman about what Brownsville needed for progress and infrastructure. It was Mr. Ruben who was my Mom’s biggest cheerleader in her journey to attaining her college Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
In 1974, Mr. Ruben was running for mayor and he leaned on my Mom to help him organize barrio Pachangas. The Pachangas always included music, beer and tamales. A timeless recipe for success in politics then and now. My Mom would spend countless hours on the phone looking for musicos, finding a speaker and mic or a bullhorn, ordering tamales or getting them donated, then getting the word out to the neighborhood and her friends about the Pachanga to make sure Mr. Ruben had a good grassroots crowd in attendance. I would help my Mom, even at the tender age of 9, to get organized, carry things, pass out flyers, making phone calls, whatever she needed . . . it was my first real exposure and participation in politics and I fell in love with it, all of it.
I remember the Pachanga at Garfield Park on the concrete slab that was the park’s basketball court. It was one of several my Mom helped organize. There were Pachangas at Lincoln Park and Ringgold Park, too.
The one at Garfield Park was special because it was across the street from our house with the people of our neighborhood. Everyone came out to hear Mr. Ruben speak and do his stump speech. He may not have had a deep, resonating voice, but his voice was full of hope and passion for “le gente” de Brownsville. His secret weapon and most valuable asset was that he spoke Spanish and he spoke it well. The barrio folks went nuts for him. It was then that I started to realize that one person can create positive change for many more than just themselves.
Mr. Ruben went on to be elected Mayor of Brownsville from 1975-1979. He was also one of the founders of United Way of Southern Cameron County and help found the local utilities board. Mom was proud to have worked for him, prouder to have had a role in his political success and even more proud to be able to call him her mentor and friend.
His politics were inclusive. His politics were for the masses. He was a true champion of the people. Thinking of that time and of him kicks in melancholy feelings for days past when folks worked for the betterment of communities and not just individual pursuits (like obsessing about how many people attended their swearing in ceremony, feeding their ego or ensuring that “tweets” go out every night to distract the masses from the real issues at hand).
Bring back Pachangas, musicos, tamales and beer and I promise the America we are meant to be will soon reappear.