Who was Carmen Anaya?
"Carmen Anaya was born October 15, 1927 in Hualahuises, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. In her early teens, her family moved to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon where she went to school. At the eage of 18, she started working as a secretary for the Social Security Administration for one year, and then started her career as an elementary school teacher.
"In 1948, at the age of 21, she accompanied her father to a short trip to the United STates where destiny followed, and she met Jose Anaya. One year later, they got married in Monterrey and traveled to Texas to settle in Las Milpas, a colonia south of Pharr.
"Jose and Carmen had six children. Due to the extreme economic times of the early 1960s, the Anaya Family started migrating to the northern states as agricultural field workers, a job they had for about 12 years. During this time of hardship, Carmen and Jose encouraged their children to make education their priority. During the late 1960s, Carmen and Jose decided that it was important that they remain in the Valley so that their children could continue their college education. Around this time, the Anaya's also opened the Anaya General Store in Las Milpasz, a store that was part of the community for 30 years. It was during her time at the store that Carmen Anaya would often hear stories of the problems some Las Milpas residents faced.
"She continued dedicating her life to raising her children and participating in the local parish where she led the choir, served as Dama Católica, Eucharistic Minister, Lector, and helped organized fundraisers in order to realize the community's dream of having a Catholic Church in Las Milpas. Thanks to her hard work and that of many of her peers, construction for St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Church started November 29, 1999.
"During the 1970s, Carmen started working as a community organizer to have the community's voice heard and problems fixed. Carmen would notice that during rainy days in the winter months, children would often miss school because the buses would often get stuck as they tried to cruise through the muddy streets. She witnessed children wearing plastic bags on their shoes to walk up to half a mile and reach the end of the road to catch the bus. Carmen knew that education was the key to getting out of poverty and was determined to confront this problem head-on. As a community organizer she started an effort to have the streets fixed so that children could be picked up in front of their homes.
"In the early 1980s, Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick asked her and other community church leaders to launch Valley Interfaith, a community church-based organized group that would work tirelessly to bring equalization in funding to public schools and help address problems in colonias.
"Through Valley Interfaith, Carmen started to gather members of her community in what she called comunidad de base or 'house meetings.' Carmen put education and the colonia issue in the forefront of things that needed to be dealt with. Las Milpas had many needs, including the lack of clean water, drainage, sewer, paving, and lights. As a result, Carmen and Valley Interfaith brough equalization in funding to local public schools and worked to pass House Bill 72 in the mid 1980s. In 1989, the Colonia Bill was passed, which included a statewide referendum to amend the State Constitution, which eventually brough millions of dollars to address the problems of the colonias.
"In 1990, Las Milpas started its transformation. The Texas Water Development Board invested grants, thanks to the Colonia bill, of over $30 million for water and sewer projects in the Las Milpas area. These projects included infrastructure for the schools now built today and directly affected more than 40,000 people.
"Carmen continued on the executive committee of Valley Interfaith and worked on organizing various communities throughout the Rio Grande Valley. She was recognized for her efforts by Texas Monthly, PBS, and several books mentioned her skills of organizing a community and how her work changed the lives of many.
"Through her work in Valley Interfaith, Carmen was known as a fearless leader and an inspiration to many, especially to the second generation of Valley Interfaith leaders and to the Las Milpas residents. Carmen's leadership is instilled in others and through them he work continues today.
"Carmen Anaya passed away at her home at the age of 79 on May 12, 2006. She was a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother who unselfishly volunteered countless hours in the process of improving living conditions for all colonia residents. She is forever remembered as an exceptional community leader and champion of the rights and privileges entitled to all residents." (from the PSJA-ISD Dedication Ceremony for Carmen Anaya Elementary)
On May 7, 2003, Hidalgo County recognized Carmen Anaya's lifetime of work by declaring "Carmen Anaya Day." In 2013, our school --formerly South Pharr Elementary-- was dedicated as Carmen Anaya Elementary School. Each year in October, our school celebrates Mrs. Carmen Anaya's memory and living legacy with its own "Carmen Anaya Day" Celebration. On this day, we celebrate the history and the example of Mrs. Carmen Anaya through community service, public celebration, and community involvement.
Dedicated to Carmen Anaya, Dedicated to Excellence
A Living Legacy
Our students, staff, and parents carry on the fight for dignity that Carmen Anaya started. It is the philosophy of Carmen Anaya Elementary staff that educating children to become competent, responsible and ethical members of society will continue to lead change in the Las Milpas community. We honor the legacy of Carmen Anaya by:
- Annual "Carmen Anaya Day" celebration in October
- Student community involvement and outreach
- Community advocacy through civic partnerships
Carmen Anaya's legacy is also upheld by the ongoing work of Valley Interfaith.