Irma Rangel’s name is well known in many Texas towns. In Dallas, there is the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School; in College Station and Kingsville there is the Irma Rangel School of Pharmacy; and in Austin, the University of Texas is home to the Irma Rangel Public Policy Institute. Although Rangel, a longtime Texas state representative, is memorialized by institutions across the state, her legacy of promoting social justice and dismantling structural inequality in Texas has remained hidden from the general public.
As a public servant, Rangel demonstrated that leadership can be a tool for advocacy and empowerment, and against inequality. She left a flamboyant legacy as a leader not only for the Democratic Party, but also for Mexican American civil rights. Through education, labor, and social rights bills, Rangel has advocated for people of color, women, seniors, and created more opportunity for underserved constituencies in his district and across the country. the ruling state. She placed humanity at the center of good governance. Thanks to his fierce grasp of politics, the Texas legislature has become a space for protest and activism. When she died of cancer in March 2003, she had served in the Legislative Assembly for 26 years. Her colleagues remembered her as a “mother legislative lair”, and a representative who carefully examined the proposed legislation, questioning, “Will this help or hurt?voters
Rangel was born in the farming and ranching town of Kingsville, South Texas on May 15, 1931, the youngest of three daughters. His parents, Preciliano Martinez Rangel and Herminia Lerma were self-made entrepreneurs who instilled a love of social justice, politics, and hard work in Rangel and his sisters. Her father was prominent in business and government, and her mother owned a well-known clothing store in Kingsville. Rangel once said that “his family took it all in strideand when they were discriminated against, they would say:Don’t get angry, don’t get bitter. Get an education and make things better.”
Rangel understood the impact of education both in its ability to create upward social mobility and to enable underserved populations to access a wider range of opportunities. In 1952, she earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration and a teaching certificate from Texas A&I University, now Texas A&M University, Kingsville. After graduating, she worked as a teacher in Texas, California, and Caracas, Venezuela.
Inspired by her educational career, Rangel enrolled in law school at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio in 1969. She “wanted to serve people like his parents didand a law degree has empowered her to advocate for others and help create system-wide change. After graduating from law school, Rangel received an offer as an assistant district attorney in Corpus Christi. She “turned down the offer until they offered equal pay to her male counterparts.” They agreed and she became the first Mexican-American woman. Corpus Christi attorney. She then moved to Kingsville, opened her own law firm and became involved in local politics.
Rangel was a pioneer in many ways. She was the first Mexican American woman elected to the presidency of the Kleberg County Democratic Party, a local political role that opened the door to the Women in Public Life conference at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas to Austin. Texas, 1975. More than a thousand prominent feminist figures such as Martha Cotera, Representative Barbara Jordan, Liz Carpenter, Billie Carr, as well as Vice President Nelson Rockefeller attended the conference. Among the attendees were forward-thinking Chicanas making “movidas” in both the Chicano movement and the women’s movement. Some of those Chicanas who were also involved in the Texas Women’s Political Caucus strongly encouraged Rangel to run for office at the state level. As she recalled to “The Monitor”, in November 1994, “They decided I was going to have to run for state representative.,” and “then the Women’s Political Caucus approached me and said they would support me. That’s how I got there.”
Encouraged by her family and trusted confidants, Rangel launched her campaign for the Texas State Legislature, revealing the power behind grassroots mobilization in politics. Beyond family ties, she rallied support from migrant workers in South Texas and underserved voters in Kleberg County. She won election in 1976. In 1977, she became the first Mexican American woman to serve in the Texas State Legislature for District 49. Months later, she was chosen as commissioner for International Women’s Year 1977 and delegate for the National Women’s Conference.
Rangel was also a strong advocate for higher education. In her first full year in office, she passed a welfare and education bill that distributed financial support to Single mothers.. She was known to argue:What affects Mexican Americans educationally and economically in Texas affects everyone,” and, “If there is better access to higher education, it benefits Anglo-Americans and Mexican-Americans. If the economy improves, it helps everyone.” Former Texas House Speaker Gibb Lewis fondly recalled that Rangel was his “favorite person” in the legislature and that “She almost drove me crazy promoting higher education in South Texas.”
In 1993, she became the first Mexican-American woman to lead the US-Mexico Legislative Caucus. A year later, Governor Ann Richards selected her for induction into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, an honor that stems from her long career in civic and volunteer leadership. In 1995, Rangel was a seasoned member of the legislature and chairman of the House Committee on Education.
During his career, Rangel radically reshaped higher education in Texas. In 1997, she was the main sponsor of House Bill 588, often called the Texas Top 10 Percent Plan. The college admissions bill granted high school students in the top ten percent of their class automatic admission to the state’s top public universities. The bill was intended to challenge legacy programs and help low-income students and students of color have the opportunity to get into top universities. The bill combated the discriminatory admissions practices often seen in higher education. At the time, Rangel headed the House Higher Education Committee and worked alongside an academic team from the University of Texas to implement the bill. The Top 10 percent plan remains in effect in Texas today.
Rangel spent his life as a public servant who eliminated structural inequalities. Although politicians, educators and activists have credited Rangel with his radical activities in power, his story is far better known in Texas than outside the state. To this day, Rangel’s statue stands in front of the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy at Texas A&M University in her hometown of Kingsville. There’s a Spanish saying, “Dime tu number y te diré quién ires”, “Tell me your name and I’ll tell you who you are”, which epitomizes the kind of person someone is. Rangel was a fighter for the causes of women, children, Latina/os, the poor and working class, and the elderly. His name is a source of inspiration and hope for those who want to carry the banner of social justice through the halls of government. May his name and his legacy reverberate far beyond Texas.