Austin’s first Mexican American City Council member did not initially see himself in a political life – until his parish priest nudged him into “doing more.”
Born in Austin on Oct. 18, 1938, some of John Treviño’s earliest memories were of watching his family struggle to make ends meet.
“My parents had split when I was young, so I didn’t have a father at home,” Treviño said. “My mother had to work all the time, you know, to support us.”
But Treviño and his four siblings also worked. They picked cotton and John worked as a busboy as a child. Throughout his teen years, he also worked at a store and delivered bank telegrams on a bicycle.
When he was 16, Treviño married Connie Loya, and the couple was soon expecting a baby. Treviño felt he had few options to support his family, so he dropped out of school at 17 and joined the Army, where he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, Ga. After being discharged, the 20-year-old Treviño returned home to Austin and began working as a delivery truck driver.
Treviño also volunteered at his Catholic parish, and his parish priest was the one who saw his true potential. On one occasion, they sat down for a serious talk.
“In Spanish he said, ‘You’re capable of much more – Eres capaz de mas.’ ” Treviño said. “Nobody had ever told me that in my life.”
So Treviño began to do more. He was later sought out as an expert on Austin’s War on Poverty program, helping to create programs to help low-income communities. His passion for politics was sparked.
“All of this, all of these things that people were complaining about … the remedy was at City Hall,” Treviño said.
He became a campaign manager for Travis County’s first Mexican American commissioner. In 1973, Treviño ran for City Council but lost.
“We didn’t have experience. We didn’t have any money,” Treviño said. “And we were afraid.”
Two years later, Treviño had more experience, and they were no longer afraid. He became the first Mexican American on the council and served for 13 years, later serving as mayor pro tem.
Throughout his career, he helped create the Austin Tenants Council, as well as the Head Start and Meals on Wheels programs. Treviño also advocated for education, better infrastructure and supporting minority-owned businesses before his death on April 4, 2017.