"We're going to fight for those people who did let us into schools. We're going to fight for the teachers who did help us and did reward us when we did well. We're going to fight for the Aggies and the people who gave us scholarships, who let us into a major American university. And we're going to fight for those people who defended our rights and allowed us to grab at the big American pie. These are the people, and these are the institutions we're going to fight to defend.”
- Albert Tijerina, ‘65

 

Becoming Aggie
The Tijerina Brothers, Albert ’65 and Andrés ‘67
By Andrés Tijerina, Ph.D.

Before coming from West Texas to Texas A&M University, my brother Albert and I had known poverty and the gross discrimination usually reserved for African Americans in the South.  My first year at A & M, Albert was a junior in the band, and I still expected to encounter discrimination. Instead, I quickly began to experience the Aggie transformation. For Aggies, above all else, identify themselves as Texas Aggies, and the measure of acceptance at Texas A&M is not how white you are nor even how wealthy your parents are.  The seniors used to tell us, "Don't bring us your high school rings and jackets. Earn your Aggie ring.”

My roommate for three and a half years at A & M, Jim Ross Davidson from Poteet, accepted me as a Texas Aggie without question. We learned together, Roommate and I. We became equally proficient in doing push-ups and whipping out. Oh yes, we sometimes studied books.  Jim Ross saw me as an Aggie. And I always wanted to be like him, an Aggie.

Albert Tijerina, Class of ‘65

I could see now why Albert loved A & M.  Albert was Class of ‘65, a distinguished student on a math scholarship. He was a student senator on Corps Staff.  He was President of the San Angelo West Texas Hometown Club, and Combined Band Head Drum Major of the world famous Fightin' Texas Aggie Band. That's my outfit. Oh yes, Albert was an R.V., Albert was the corps bugler, and every time I hear Silver Taps today, I can't believe it isn't Albert, still leading the Silver Taps bugle team at the top of the Academic Building.

Passing the Aggie Torch

In 1965, Albert and I were talking about the inevitable tour of duty we were going to do in Vietnam, and he explained how he felt about our role in America, regardless of past discrimination.  He said, "We're going to fight for those people who did let us into schools. We're going to fight for the teachers who did help us and did reward us when we did well. We're going to fight for the Aggies and the people who gave us scholarships, who let us into a major American university. And we're going to fight for those people who defended our rights and allowed us to grab at the big American pie. These are the people, and these are the institutions we're going to fight to defend.”

"The commission you and I are going to get is the same commission George Washington held, and he didn't stop to ask if this is the right war. You and I are going to defend the same principles in the Constitution that he did - liberty and justice for all.”

"And when we come back, Andy, you and I are going to fight side-by-side. You're going to be a Ph.D. and I'm going to be a lawyer, and we’re going to whip all those people who are abusing other Americans. We're going to defend and strengthen this nation."

That was the last time I ever doubted what I was going to do in life. It was a mission that we had, and that's what I went to Vietnam with. It would be easy for us to say that this was not the right war. But we both went, merely to do our duty. What a great honor it is to share common bonds with Aggies who served this nation in combat. To claim an undying kinship with the names that now consecrate the Review Field, the flags around Kyle Field, and the Memorial Student Center. They paid the price.

And now it is our turn to pay due respect, and to pay our price as Texas Aggies.

I realize now, that that day before Albert went to Vietnam, he was no longer talking to me as his little brother. Albert was a Texas Aggie senior, and he was charging me with the same call to service that all Texas Aggies have answered. In his words, Albert spoke for all Aggies, and his charge was not limited to any one ethnic group. It was national in scope, and it invoked Constitutional principles.

The Texas Aggie senior was passing the torch.

My Brother:  The Aggie Senior

Albert and I were both Air Force pilots. He also earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal. But I lived to wear mine. Albert was killed in action over Northern Laos. We lost him. We lost his Aggie ring; and a promising young American.

This world hardly got to know Albert. They didn't know he was going to be a lawyer. I often thought Albert was too big for this world.

But I soon heard that the San Angelo A & M Club now had a scholarship in his name. Then I learned that Albert's name was on a plaque at the old quad where we lived on the campus. I began to realize that A&M could not forget Albert, because he was a Texas Aggie.  “That's right,” I thought, “the Aggies knew Albert.”   Some of his Aggie buddies knew him better than I did in some ways. He was an R.V., class of 1965.  The Aggie Muster is the one place where I could go and hear his voice answer - along with the Men of Corregidor - "Here. Still Fighting."

Albert was not too big for A & M.  Because he is part of the Texas Aggie brotherhood.  He is just another one of the many Ags we will always remember in the A & M tradition.  Because that's what the Aggie Spirit does to you.  The Spirit of Aggieland embraces the student.  It is an inclusive spirit that fulfills all the promise of this land of the free. I am proud to see that as large as our great university has grown, we still have the Aggie Muster that honors every fallen Texas Aggie as it did my brother.

Texas Aggies:  Not Female Aggies, Not Mexican Aggies

The Spirit of Aggieland is a meritocracy. It is an inclusive culture that is open to Hispanics, African Americans, women, rich, and poor.

A&M does not ask a person to deny their heritage, but to achieve new heights. Indeed, it does not ask a person to quickly shed even their old prejudices, only to judge and act by new standards - fair standards based on merit, on service, and on universal human values.
I can't say that my Aggie buddies did not come to A&M without old prejudices. But I can say that A & M was the first place I ever went to where I was always judged on my merit with no regard to my ethnicity, color, or income level. You may not believe this, but A& M was once a poor boy's college.

Hispanic Role Models

A&M nurtured our talents and developed our leadership skills. Of all the Texas Aggies that I knew to be of Hispanic heritage here as a student, all of them received distinguished honors at A&M. Many of them went on to achieve distinction after graduation.

I owe a lot to the Hispanic role models that I knew and saw as Texas Aggies at Texas A&M.  Even before I enrolled, I got to meet Abelardo Valdez, an R.V. who went on to be the American Ambassador to the O.A.S. under President Jimmy Carter and Cesar Guerra, who was drum major of the Aggie Band in 1961.  It seemed natural to follow their examples and my own brother, Albert’s, footsteps as a leader in the Aggie Band.  All of my own Class of 1967 Hispanic fellow Aggies were distinguished students like Pedro Garza, Art Esquivel, and Manuel Piña, who is now a distinguished scholar on the A & M faculty.  Following my class were Héctor Gutierrez, Corps commander, Henry Cisneros, Commander of the Combined Texas Aggie Band, and Adrian Arriaga, commanding my old outfit.  They were distinguished students, loyal Texas Aggies, and superior cadets. 

They went on to have distinguished records in the U.S. Armed Forces as well as in their professional careers.   I’m always very proud, that frequently when people learn that I’m a Texas Aggie, they ask me if I know Héctor Gutierrez, Lalo Valdez, or Henry Cisneros.  Or, as one young Texas Aggie asked me: “You’re not kin to Al Tijerina, the drum major, are you?”  I’m proud to be associated with them. 

My most important observation about the Hispanics I knew at A&M is that they are all confident, assertive, highly effective leaders.  I learned, for example, the first touchdown ever scored by the A & M football team was scored by N. Valdez, Class of 1897 on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 1894 in a 14-0 victory over Galveston.  Another observation is that Hispanics have some of the longest family legacies at Texas A & M University.  Roberto and Rachel González of San Antonio, for example, count several generations of Texas Aggies in their family throughout the twentieth century.  In addition to that, Rachel is a Standard Bearer for the statewide Aggie Moms Club.  In these and many ways, Texas A&M offered us the forum for leadership, the access to professional networks, and a lifelong fellowship as Texas Aggies.  I wish I had taken the time to record the names and accomplishments of these important role models, but frankly, no one was counting. We were not Hispanics or Blacks or Anglos. There's only one kind of Aggie and that’s a Texas Aggie. 

In all the time I was a student, I never once experienced an act of racial discrimination. I never once saw a Hispanic or a black demeaned or denied in any way on the basis of ethnicity. I'll admit that some Old Army Ags grumbled about women being admitted for the first time. I never saw or heard such protests about African Americans, who were first admitted during my senior year.  The Aggie Spirit transforms and changes your life forever. It makes you part of that magnificent fighting spirit of San Jacinto. It binds you to Texas Aggies everywhere.  I did later receive degrees from Texas Tech and Texas University, but those only gave me a diploma.  At A&M, I took a diploma, and I became a Texas Aggie.

The Spirit of Diversity

The Spirit of Aggieland is the sum total of the human costs that have been paid in excellence, in dedication, and in combat for that high station that A & M holds among military schools; for the leadership it continually displays in higher education; for the respect it commands in a cynical world; and for the blood that Texas Aggies have shed for international peace.  The university guards recruitment and enrollment figures carefully, and I would like to see more Mexican Americans on this campus. I would hope that the doors of A & M remain equally open to all Texans and those who have a burning desire to become Texas Aggies.  Let them know that the Spirit of Aggieland is an inclusive culture, but make them know that we have our standards; for the Aggie record of excellence has not come cheap. As freshmen, we were constantly reminded that Hwy. 6 runs both ways—you can come in and you can go out.

Students are coming to A & M in unprecedented numbers to share in the Aggie pride, to obtain a valuable diploma, and to wear the A & M name. But they should not come to this university simply to inherit the legacy; for pride is not a commodity to be bought for the price of college tuition.  It must be earned.

After all, students don't come here for just a degree, just another diploma. If that's all they wanted, there are many other state funded colleges that can give that. They want the A & M name and the Aggie pride.  And we must remind them of the costs that have been paid to make A & M that great institution.   Enduring respect for the A & M tradition is the Spirit of Aggieland.

I am amazed to see how much of the old small-college atmosphere the campus has retained, despite the tremendous growth.  It proves that A & M can take its traditions intact into the next century.

 



Cushing Memorial Library & Archives • Texas A&M University Libraries