Domingo Garcia's ('80) major political career began as a 19-year-old student at UNT when he ran for Denton City Council.
He lost the election, but he went on to become a Dallas city councilman, a Texas state representative and now the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). As the leader of the oldest and largest organization for Hispanics, Garcia wants to raise LULAC's profile and membership as it works to increase voting rights and help migrants crossing the border. He believes in fighting for others so they, too, have the opportunity to achieve the American dream.
"I've always been interested in politics and how you can use it to change the world for the better," Garcia says. "It's just about helping the people who have been marginalized and left behind by the economy and the political system. Material things don't mean as much as helping others achieve the American dream."
He knows from his own experience. His parents, both farmworkers who immigrated from Mexico, never got past the second grade.
"I never took 'no' for an answer," he says. "If you have motivation and willpower, you can work your way through any obstacle."
When he flunked his English class at North Texas, he was determined to improve his writing skills -- so he minored in English. He majored in political science, working as a waiter and bartender during the school year and in construction during the summer to pay for classes.
Garcia DJed at the Rock Bottom Lounge in the Union, and he hosted La Onda Tejano, the Tejano music radio show on KNTU that also ran as La Pura Onda until it ended this year. He founded and served as president of the organization La CAUSA, Chicanos Actively United for Social Advancement, and was a member of Delta Sigma Phi and an intern for the Intracultural Services Office.
But politics was his main interest. He ran for the Denton City Council with the slogan of "It Can Be Done," on a platform of decriminalizing marijuana and extending the hours for nightclubs. He came in third place, but it was the beginning of a long and sometimes controversial career in public service.
He earned his law degree from Texas Southern University in Houston in 1983, then worked as a personal injury lawyer. He built up the law firm, which now boasts four offices across the state and more than 200 employees. By age 30, he was a millionaire.
And in 1991, at age 33, Garcia became the youngest member of the Dallas City Council. He was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1996, where he oversaw his greatest accomplishment: the Texas Dream Act, passed in 2001, which made undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state college tuition rates.
Though he lost his bid for Dallas mayor in 2002, it didn't dampen his desire to make a difference. As president of LULAC, Garcia wants to raise membership to a million members and increase its profile to that of other national organizations, such as the ACLU and NAACP. Recently, LULAC opened new councils in Alabama and Alaska, and its national convention in July hosted many of the Democratic presidential hopefuls. He also has visited migrant camps in Clint, Texas, and fought for greater voting access.
Garcia, who has established a scholarship fund at UNT in his name for political science students, encourages students to get into politics.
"That's how you can make a difference," he says. "That's how you open doors."