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20120602 KIKA STATUE UNVEILING jb 0354-featureMISSION — Eligio “Kika” de la Garza II’s first job was as a newspaper boy in the 1930’s, earning one penny for every five-cent copy of The Monitor he sold at the unpaved intersection of Conway Avenue and Business 83.

Nearly 80 years later, city leaders and community members joined forces to ensure that the former congressman will be remembered for his service.

The City of Mission and the Upper Valley Art League held a ceremony June 2 to unveil an eight-foot statue of his likeness in Rotary Park, overlooking a spot that represents the former congressman’s humble beginnings.

“I appreciate it, undeserving as I may be,” de la Garza said after taking the podium at the event. “Hopefully this will be a reminder to all the kids that pass through here that you too can be part of this statue because it not only represents me and my family, but all who touched my life along the way. ”

De la Garza won his district’s bid for the Texas House of Representatives in 1952, where he spent 12 years. He went on to spend 32 years in Congress before retiring in 1997.

During his time in office, de la Garza helped author legislation to establish crop insurance for farmers, created the first state-funded head start program and helped usher in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“Kika has done so much for us,” said Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas, who lauded de la Garza’s service to the Rio Grande Valley and Mexico. “This honor that we’re doing here today will always send a message to the future that what we have here was a great man.”

Robert Nelsen, president of the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA), honored de la Garza with a proclamation from the UTPA Foundation. The former congressman signed the law making Pan American College a university and helped the school become part of the UT System.

Nelsen praised de la Garza for showing dedication to his constituents while in office.

“He really is an icon,” Nelsen said. “It isn’t all about dollars. It isn’t all about bills. It’s about stopping that car at any restaurant, at any little store, and going in and talking to the people.”

The bronze sculpture captured de la Garza’s smiling visage and signature glasses, two characteristics that people across the world became familiar with during his 13 years as chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture.

“This is in his hometown, that’s what makes it special,” said Jorge de la Garza, the former congressman’s son. “He’s been all over the world, seen the Pope, seen the president of Russia, all these world leaders, and he always says, ‘Hi, I’m Kika de la Garza from Mission, Texas.’ So all these foreign people, they know about Mission, and that’s all he ever wanted, really.”

For Gen Long, a former Mission City Council member and former mayor pro-tem, the day was 20 years in the making. Long began working with de la Garza as a member of Texas Agri Women in 1984 and has sought a way to honor him since becoming part of city leadership in 1992.

“Having worked with Kika for so many years and seeing the success he had for farming, people really did not know and appreciate [him],” she said. “I’m hope the families will take the children to see Kika.”

Salinas shared his experience witnessing one of de la Garza’s projects across the border while they were traveling together in Mexico.

“I saw one of the most beautiful projects, a dairy that he had been part of when he was chairman of the Agriculture [Committee],” Salinas recalled. “And it was a special afternoon, for me to see that so many people admire him not only here but in Mexico.”

Maxilou Link, president of the Upper Valley Art League, said it was an emotional experience to see the completed statue unveiled. UVAL members and students from the UTPA spent about three years planning and constructing the sculpture.

“Words fail me,” she said. “We’re proud of Kika. He did so much. The younger generation should know that. Set your goals or have a dream. It’s possible.”

De la Garza thanked all involved in making the homage to him possible.

“It’s been a beautiful journey, and I’m appreciative of the fact that Gen and other people made the effort to establish this,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to be tall. Now you’ve made it for me.”

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