State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa was named Border Texan of the Year Thursday night in recognition of more than 20 years of work in the state Legislature.
Hinojosa, who served in the state House before his election to the Senate, said he was honored and humbled to receive the award. He told the crowd at Thursday's banquet about his background growing up with other Hispanics on one side of Mission's railroad tracks -- segregated from his Anglo friends -- and when he was deported to Mexico with his mother when a Border Patrol office stopped them while they harvested crops.
Hinojosa said it was in the hot cotton fields that he decided he wanted to escape the hard labor by getting an education, which he called "the great equalizer."
"From the cotton fields of Penitas to the halls of the Texas Capitol, here we are," Hinojosa said. "The lesson I've learned is that success is not handed to you on a silver platter. You have to set your goals and push because nobody will do it for you."
The annual award honors a civic leader who works to better the region. Past recipients include the late business leader Mike Allen, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, South Texas College President Shirley Reed and Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz.
Hinojosa was introduced by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, a Republican appointee to his post, who championed the senator for understanding how to work beyond partisan politics. Sam Susser, the president of the holding corporations that owns the convenience store chain Stripes, said Hinojosa is a "master of the art of politics." State Rep. Veronica Gonzales, a close Hinojosa ally in the House, told the crowd he has "been very effective over the years."
A native of Mission, Hinojosa served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War before returning home, where he earned a law degree from Georgetown University. He served two stints as a state representative before being elected to the Texas Senate in 2002.
The McAllen Democrat helped South Texas College win approval to offer bachelor's degrees in applied technology and allow the community college to work with local high schools on dropout recovery programs. In the 2011 legislative session, he was a vocal advocate for restoring funds cut from public education.
He also worked to kill anti-immigration legislation he deemed unfit for Texas, including the state's controversial sanctuary cities bill.
The presentation of the award to Hinojosa marked the official start to BorderFest, Hidalgo's annual music and cultural festival. McAllen City Commissioner Jim Darling presented Hinojosa a key to his city during the banquet, and the Valley's delegation also presented Hinojosa proclamations in his honor.
Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz received a loud round of applause early in the night when he took the microphone. Franz, who resigned from office last month amid questions about his legal residency, told the group he is still the mayor of Hidalgo and "always will" be.
"You know, Senator," Franz told the crowd, "I missed a couple of city meetings, but I'm not going to miss this dinner."
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