top of page
< Back

Mi Carnal Frank

There is an old adage, attributed to everyone from Otto von Bismark to Mark Twain, that people who enjoy sausage and legislation should never watch either being made. Yet lawmaking and politics can be fascinating, as Mi Carnal Frank demonstrates. This biography is an interesting portrait of a well-loved Texas politician.

Frank Tejeda (1945-1997) was a trail blazing Democratic legislator from the Southside of San Antonio. As a kid, he was a fighter, often involved in confrontations with Anglo bullies, and once he even assaulted the assistant principal at his high school. Tejeda took this pugilistic attitude with him when he ran for public office. Over the course of his career as a State Representative, State Senator, and then Congressman, he was never afraid to physically challenge his opponents.

Tejeda was born in San Antonio into a family with long roots in the area, tracing their ancestors back to the time before Europeans came to this part of the world. Much of his childhood reflects the conditions in Mexican San Antonio: low incomes and limited economic opportunities, racist teachers and Anglo neighbors, and a large strong family that protected and nurtured him. He was the son of a veteran, went to schools and college in San Antonio, and then graduated from UC Berkeley Law School. A strong believer in education, he also attended Harvard and Yale as well as taught law school. He fought to get others educated; school funding was always one of his legislative priorities.

Frank’s intelligence shines through the book. He connected his violent tendencies to alcohol and gave up drinking and smoking at an early age. To change the course of his life, he joined the marines, served in Vietnam, and was a proud veteran until the end of his life, helping his fellow vets access health care and mortgages. He also had a strong moral streak, opposing efforts to legalize gambling in Texas, fighting the pernicious effects of money on the state’s court system, and never bending once his mind was made up on an issue.

Tejeda was by no means progressive or liberal. He supported capital punishment, opposed abortion, voted against gun control, and was against gays serving in the military. But his constituents loved him; he never lost an election and usually won by a large margin. Part of this came from his ability to forge a broad coalition of support from among his constituents and political allies, a loose group his opponents called “the Southside Machine.” His family was also key to his success. Two hundred family and friends traveled by bus to attend his first swearing in as a senator.

Frank was sometimes threatened with ruin and humiliation, and he returned these attacks in kind. Politics in this part of the world can be tough, bare-knuckles affairs. A Tejeda ally accused one of Frank’s opponent of kidnapping his ex-wife (the ex-wife vigorously denied this). The opponent, in turn, falsely accused Tejeda of stealing money from a little league team. But Tejeda was incorruptible, at one point a newspaper found he was one of the least wealthy political office holders in the region. Altogether, he served six terms in the Texas House and one term as a state senator before running for a newly created congressional district.

Juan Tejeda, Frank’s brother, wrote this biography. Juan retired in 2016 as a professor of Mexican American Studies and Music at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas. A writer, musician, and educator, he founded and directed the annual Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio. He is the button accordionist for the Conjunto Aztlan, and along with his wife, Anisa Onofre, is the publisher of Aztlan Libre Press, a small, independent publishing company based in Yanawana that is dedicated to the publishing, promotion, and free expression of Indigenous/Xicanx literature and art.

The book is well written and easy to read, methodical and affectionate. Even those who don’t enjoy political histories will find it valuable in its portrayal of the postwar Mexican American experience. The books’ only drawback is that it might have provided more information on what was going on in San Antonio during the decades of Tejeda’s life. The city plays such an important role in shaping Tejeda’s experiences that it would have been interesting to know how it was growing and changing in a era it grew into one of the largest cities in the country.

Tragically, Tejeda died of a brain tumor at the age of fifty-one, barely into his third term as a congressman. One can only wonder what he might have accomplished if he had more time.

Mi Carnal Frank: A Family Memoir and Biography of U.S. Congressman Frank Mariano Tejeda Jr., 1945-1997, by Juan Tejeda
Flowersong Press

Mi Carnal Frank
bottom of page