Kika De La Garza was born on September 22, 1927 in Mercedes, Texas. He grew up in Mission, Texas, attending Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School and Mission High School. When he was 17, de la Garza enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served until 1946. He returned from the war and continued his education at Edinburg Junior College (now the University of Texas-Pan American) and later the U.S. Army Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He graduated from St. Mary’s University with a law degree in 1952 and later was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. In 1952, de la Garza, a Democrat, was elected to the Texas House of Representatives.
Among his accomplishments as a Texas Congressman were the absorption of Pan American University into the University of Texas system, the creation of the Texas Water Commission and the Reagan/de la Garza Coastal Wetlands, and being a driving force behind legislation establishing the nation’s first state-run system of English language instruction for pre-school children. In 1964, de la Garza was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent Texas’ 15th District and served until his retirement in 1996. During his tenure, de la Garza served as Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, which was the first time since 1917 that a Hispanic served as chair to a standing committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, became a founding member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which he chaired from 1989 to 1991, and worked diligently to improve relations and trade between the United States and Mexico, specifically the passage of both the North American Free Trade Agreement and the expansion of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. For his efforts, de la Garza was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor Mexico may bestow on a foreigner, in 1978.