by Zabdi Salazar
George Rodriguez is a former Reagan and Bush White House appointee, who is currently a nationally syndicated conservative columnist, commentator, and webcaster. He was also the former Tea Party leader of San Antonio and headed the South Texas Political Alliance. He strongly adheres to conservative principles, dedicating his life to sharing these values with fellow Americans.
Rodriguez was born in Laredo, Texas and raised in San Antonio. As the first person in his family to attend and graduate from college, he earned a Political Science degree from Brigham Young University, certificates in Community Planning from De Paul University and Harvard University, and a Public Administration certificate from West Virginia University. I spoke with Mr. Rodriguez concerning his conservative principles and the Hispanic community, his life experiences leading to his involvement in public policy, his involvement with the Justice Department, and his experience as the Tea Party leader in San Antonio.
What do you think the conservative ideology stands for today?
The conservative ideology stands for traditional thinking that is based on a morality and a type of ethic of self-sufficiency. It is an ideology of personal liberty and freedom, as well as personal responsibility.
How has conservatism changed in recent decades?
I don’t think conservatism has changed. I think that the view of the world on conservatism has changed. It has made it a negative. There is nothing wrong with someone wanting to be self-sufficient, wanting to exercise their own personal freedoms, but somehow we’re supposed to do group-think now. We’re supposed to go along now with what the culture says is proper. If I disagree with the culture, I won’t go with it.
What are some of the major misconceptions that people have on conservatism?
Definitely that we are racists, misogynists, antagonistic towards progress, liberty and freedom. Those are all big misconceptions made by the Left. They are just not true.
Considering your extended involvement with government relations and affairs throughout your career, what inspired you to pursue that path?
I started out when I was in High School during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the Chicano movement was very prominent. I was involved in the Chicano movement. I got to meet a lot of the big Chicano movement leaders that have become historical figures, like Jose Angel Gutierrez, Mario Compean, and Willie Velasquez. All of these people, I got to meet. They influenced me, and I recognized that there was discrimination and that there were problems. However, again, their point of view was rooted on groupthink. The idea that we’ve got to advance the whole group.
The problem is that not everyone can advance or walk at the same pace. Not everyone can learn at the same pace. And if you are trying to push people, you are going to have a problem. And that is exactly what I had seen happen. I have seen since the 1960s, trillions of dollars poured into Mexican-American, Hispanic, Black, minority communities. Yet, we still have poverty. Why do you have poverty? Because you have folks that don’t know how to take advantage of the opportunity. That’s the problem. Instead of preaching about personal opportunity and advancement, they talk about the advancement of the whole group. That is impossible. I learned that very quickly.
I had two opportunities that really affected me. First, I got to serve a two year mission in Mexico for the Mormon church. And it was during that period that I was in Mexico, I recognized that I wasn’t a Mexican. I’m an American. It did not matter what I looked like. I’m a Yank. I would get all emotional when I would hear the Star Spangled Banner song. I missed my flag, my music, and speaking English. I missed fried chicken. I missed pizza. And I was living in Mexico, in rural communities with Mexicans. Many people looked at me, and thought I was Mexican, but the minute I opened my mouth, they recognized that I was not. The second thing that I learned, not just that I was an American, was that that there’s a great deal of envy towards Americans. It is envy based on the accomplishments of the Americans. When you have that envy, you always have people justifying that envy by saying that such accomplishments are at our cost. Now, picture this. You are in a classroom, you are studying and doing the best you can. And somebody gets mad because you get an A. Well, you know, I’m sorry.
The second opportunity that made an impact on me was when I went to Washington as a Junior in college as an intern. I went to work in the Justice Department, as a fellowship intern. I got to see Washington, and how it worked. I was dismayed. I was shocked because I was under the impression that everyone was honest, loving, and they were not. And people, politicians would say anything to get elected, and they will do whatever they can to get elected. Once I realized my own self-identity and how the system works, I began to recognize what I could do and what I needed to do for myself.
I needed to feel comfortable about the things that I was doing in my career. If I am happy in my career, then I’m happy. And if I am happy in my career, and helping somebody, that is even better. That is how the evolution took place of community relations to public relations. I had majored in Political Science and Journalism, areas that interested me the most. Journalism taught me how to read and write. What we hear from folks, is not really what they are telling us. You have to read between the lines. These were the things that really influenced me.
How did you align yourself with the conservative ideology through your experiences in various movements and under different administrations?
I really didn’t become a raging conservative until the third year that I was working for President Reagan. I was a Republican, but then I began to realize that politicians tried to solve people’s problems, instead of letting people solve their own problems and then giving them the opportunity to do that. And this is the problem that we have. It is health care right now, everyone wants people to be healthy, but that’s not possible. Not everyone is healthy. My health is good. I’m going to my 50th High School reunion in May, and I have never drank alcohol or smoked. Yet, I see some of my friends that have, same age, and they look like they’re 80 years old. Now, we need to take care of people in some form or fashion, but that should come out of a charity, not the government forcing me to do it. That’s number one, the government shouldn’t force me to take care of anybody. Government shouldn’t force you to do anything.
Secondly, we’ve got to teach people to be responsible for themselves so that they can then reap the benefits of their own life. And we don’t do that. We don’t teach people to be responsible. We tell people that everything is going to be fine. And it is not. There are tragedies and problems. I worked on the Katrina recovery program and there are some people who lost everything. People need the help when there is a really great tragedy. But to help them on a daily basis, that is something different.
For example, I have homeowner’s insurance, and I have never used it until recently when we had that storm in San Antonio that came through. There are things that go wrong around my house, like the water faucet breaks, the rug gets dirty, but I take care of that. I don not call the insurance company to come take care of it. We are looking at a situation now where people want the government to take care of everything. The smallest thing, government should do something about it. That is impossible, expensive, and unrealistic. That is why I had to become a conservative. I feel strongly about the importance of personal responsibility. Unfortunately, as a society, we often do not talk talk about individual responsibilities.
The Austin American Statesman calls Hispanics “The Silent Majority,” or the “Sleeping Giant” because, despite our booming growth, we are extremely underrepresented in local politics in Texas. Although we make up about 38% of Texas’ population, only 10% of mayors and county judges are Hispanic. In some counties, such as Deaf Smith, with a Hispanic population of over 70%, they have no representation in the Commissioner’s court. What is your opinion about why there is a lack of civic engagement among the Hispanic population, or why our community has been characterized as such?
In my opinion, based on my experience, there are two major factors for this problem. First, having been involved in the Chicano movement for so long and dealing with Hispanic politics, I learned that not all Hispanics are the same and this influences policies. There are Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans that just crossed the border, Mexican-Americans that have been here, like my family and part of my family has been in Texas since the 1820s.
Second, is the culture in the Mexican-American community. We are talking about the Mexican-Americans in Texas, but we need to talk about the Mexican community, the influx of Mexican culture. In my opinion, the culture can be fatalistic, in the sense that you have an attitude that well, there’s nothing you can do about the way your life is. You have that a lot.
There is a sense of feudalism within the Mexican community quite often that allows the political bosses to take advantage of large groups of people. Anywhere you go, where there is a substantial large majority of Hispanics or Mexican-Americans in Texas, you will always find political bosses running the place. Always Democrats, never Republicans. And they take care of their people, you hear that phrase a lot.
One of the big farces that occurred two years ago, was when a state representative here in Texas was demanding that there should be Hispanic congressional districts drawn up. Now, what he was demanding was segregation. He was demanding for these Hispanic districts to exist so that him and his friends could get elected. The reason is that they claimed they were able to take care of them better. I mean, I don’t need anybody taking care of me. That should really fly in the face of citizens. There are liberal leftist Hispanics that are constantly trying to find reasons to take care of their people rather than allow them to progress. The worse nightmare for a Mexican-American Democrat politician is a Mexican-American that doesn’t need help financially nor politically.
Someone who is free, can make their own decisions, and has the ability to move up and out. Let’s say you have got a barrio in San Antonio that is not under a feudal system. You can always move out of there at some point in your life. However, if somebody wants to control that barrio, do you want to let them move out? No, of course not. Why would you want them to leave? On the contrary, you are going to want them to stay. You are going to want them to build a business there. That’s fine. But what if the business is victimized by robbery and no one ever buys? We need to focus on upward mobility and opportunity.
I am very proud of being of Mexican descent. Still, I always describe myself as American first, and then of Mexican descent. That is secondary, because I am not really Mexican. Identifying as an American is more about the ideals rather than race or ethnicity.
As a Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush appointee, you worked with the Department of Justice in community relations and immigration outreach. Can you describe your experiences in such positions, and what were your major contributions?
In the Justice Department during the Reagan years one of my major contributions was working on the immigration reform act of 1986. I got to implement it. The idea was to not exclude people but to control and regulate immigration. For the past 20 years, I have seen the 1986 law undermined, ignored, and destroyed under the Obama years. Everything that people wanted to see in regards to the control of immigration was in that act. Unfortunately it has been decimated.
Secondly, is that I got to see the nastiness of politics. I was nominated by Mr.Reagan to a position in the Justice Department in 1984. Because I was conservative Hispanic, the democrats came after me with anonymous letters and the Washington Post as well as New York Times writing editorials on me. A reporter that did those stories for the New York Times, used a nonofficial anonymous memo, that was fabricated, to write a damaging story about me, attacking my politics. I realized at that point, how vicious politics can be, and I was Hispanic.
The problem was that I was not of their party. That’s the irony of it. It is not just a question of being Hispanic, but you have to be a liberal and a democrat as well. Everyone was always accusing that the Reagan administration didn’t have enough Hispanics. Well I was one that was being promoted to a directorship. However, politics got in the way. In politics, people are not sincere about advancing the Hispanic community. They are only sincere about the Hispanics who are going to advance their own agenda and politics. That is what I learned. Since that time, I have dared to tell people to be careful.
What were some of your major challenges as the former President of the Texas Tea Party movement in San Antonio?
Everyone always talks about how representation of Hispanics in politics needed to be more diverse. Well, I was Hispanic, conservative, and the Tea Party president. One of the first in the nation, and I was attacked. I was called a Nazi in a forum at the Josephine theater. Then, when I did my various testimonies on Capitol Hill, the things that I’ve done, all of the time I’ve been mocked and berated. These people are always talking about minority and Hispanic unity, but this is only for people who agree with them. I still love it, because I feel that I only talk about common sense and truth.
What advice would you give to conservative students on college campuses?
Don’t be scared nor be intimidated. Question your professors in public or in a private setting. You must ensure they are truly embracing and celebrating diversity by allowing all perspectives and viewpoints in discussions. Many conservative minority students are silenced and they are not recognized on college campuses. That is not fair or nice. What you preach, you have to practice as well. That holds true for everyone.
Zabdi Salazar is a sophomore Political Science and Business Administration major, as well as the Director of Business operations for The Contemporary. Email Zabdi: firstname.lastname@example.org
This interview has been edited and condensed. The views expressed in this article are those of the interviewers or interviewee. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.
The photos above were taken by Daniel Matthewson.