In 2018, the Wittliff Collection at Texas State University acquired San Antonio native Ramon Hernandez’s vast archives and music memorabilia documenting Tejano music. The collection includes historic photographs, vintage concert posters, rare recordings, performance clothing, artifacts, and instruments of legendary performers such as Freddy Fender, Selena, “Little Joe” Hernandez, and Lydia Mendoza.
Ramon Hernandez’s passion for Tejano music dates back to the 1950s when as a teenager he listened to music known in San Antonio as “Westside Soul.” The most notable live performers of this genre in Latino dance halls at the time were Sunny and the Sunglows, the Royal Jesters, and the Sir Douglas Quintet.
A love for music led Hernandez to form a band and religiously attend all the rock concerts at the San Antonio City Auditorium. The more memorable performances he recalled at the Auditorium included those of James Brown, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino. His total absorption of music led to his collection of the recordings of his favorite artists, but more importantly, he amassed an amazing collection of the music of Mexican, Latin American, and Tejano bands.
Many San Antonio Latino teenagers joined the military when they finished high school, and Hernandez was no different. He signed up with the Navy when he determined that good jobs would be scarce in San Antonio for young men and women without technical skills. The city’s better-paying jobs such as teaching, nursing, and law required a college degree. For many Black and Brown teens, the cost of college and the lack of information about how to apply to college made it unlikely for them to attend.
Hernandez’s life in the Navy began at the San Diego Naval Training Center after his high school graduation in 1960. His love of music followed him to different Armed Forces bases where he became a popular AFRTS disc jockey. Hernandez also bought a camera and gained proficiency as a photographer. After serving twenty-three years as a U.S. Navy communication specialist, he retired as a Chief Petty Officer in May of 1983.
When the Navy stationed him in Washington, D.C., he worked part-time in the office of Texas Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez and covered the 1973 U.S. Senate Watergate Hearings in his free time for a major Guam Daily Post, a major Guam newspaper. Upon an Honorable
Discharge from the Navy, Hernandez wrote a music column for the San Antonio Express-News and worked as a publicist for several Tejano music stars.
Since the mid-1980s, Hernadez has been the premier collector of Tejano recordings, instruments, costumes,
event posters, and videos. Hernandez’s journey to become a recognized musicologist, historian of Latin American music, and superb interpreter of Latino music is an impressive Latino success story
Teodoro and Susanna Hernandez from the San Antonio Westside and their daughter Simona provided a loving family setting and raised Ramon Hernandez when his unmarried seventeen-year-old biological mother gave
him up. Teodoro and Susanna were in their early eighties when they adopted the newly-born infant. Teodoro and Susanna raised young Ramon and served as his first step-parents. Their daughter Simona assumed the role of second stepmother with her husband Dario Obregon as stepfather when Teodoro and Susanna died.
I first met Ramon Hernadez when I was about twelve years old and briefly joined his postage stamp collection club. He was four years older than I was and he became the leader of our two-person club. I did not last long as a stamp collector because my dad needed me to help him in our family-owned grocery store. I lost track of Hernandez and only recently learned that four years after our stamp-collecting meeting he had graduated from Brackenridge High School and enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
Hernandez’s first stepfather, Don Teodoro, loved Mexican cinema and music and went almost daily to one of his five favorite Westside Spanish-language theaters, Alameda, Nacional, and Zaragoza, at the edge of downtown, and the Guadalupe and Teatro Progreso across from each other on Guadalupe Street. Young Hernandez joined him as often as possible in the post-war years 1945-1950. His second stepfather Dario Obregon also loved music and took young Ramon to the Alameda Theater to hear the great Mexican bands and singers. Music became part of Hernandez’s DNA.
Soon after retiring from Navy life, Hernandez returned to San Antonio and met the popular Tejana singer, Patsy Torres. Torres did not have a publicist or photographer, and she asked Hernandez to help her promote her shows. Two years later Hernandez met Selena, the
sixteen-year-old singing star of Los Dinos from Corpus Christi. Selena’s dad Abraham Quintanilla handled all her bookings and Al Rendon of San Antonio became Selena’s principal photographer.
From the late 1980s to recent times, Hernandez traveled across Texas photographing Latino and Tejano performers. He helped the great Tejano stars, Emilio Navaira and Ram Herrera, with their early efforts by promoting their events in the media and with local radio stations. Hernandez also wrote a weekly column for the San Antonio Express-News in the 1980s and interviewed and became friends with Freddy Fender and Vicente Fernandez. His photographs of Selena appeared in a special Newsweek edition and People Magazine.
In the 1990s, Hernandez set aside time to promote the preservation of the popular Mexican Alameda Theater. Hernandez remembered visiting the popular Alameda every week as a young boy with his stepfather whose friendships with the theater manager gained them access
to backstage dressing rooms. On some of those visits, he met Mexico’s most famous singers, Pedro Infante and Jose Alfredo Jimenez. In the 1990s San Antonio city planners sought to demolish the Latino landmark and create new parking spaces. Hernandez’s campaign to preserve the theater appealed to many Latino music lovers, and, as resistance built, the Alameda was saved.
Hernandez continues his research on Latino musicians and singers. He recently wrote a book titled Redneck Meskin Cowboy: The Story of Little Joe and wrote the timelines for the book on Freddy Fender [Freddy Fender: Wasted Days and Wasted Nights]. His music archives acquired by Texas State University will be a treasure for researchers and historians who explore the importance of Latino music and culture in the U.S. Southwest and beyond.