LAREDO, RGV – Longtime Texas Border Coalition standing committee member Blas Castañeda has retired from the organization due to ill health.
The former migrant worker, educator and business consultant has suffered from asthma-related illnesses for some years. He received phone calls from TBC leaders J.D. Salinas and Pete Saenz after recently returning from hospital.
“I am homebound right now but my spirit is still with TBC. I told the group, I do not want to stay and be unable to do my job,” Castañeda said. “It was great to receive calls from my friends, wishing me well and telling me I will be sorely missed.”
The Texas Border Coalition comprises cities, counties, economic development corporations, and private businesses from El Paso to Brownsville. Castañeda has chaired TBC’s education and workforce development committee for much of the last ten years. He was asked to serve in this capacity when then-Laredo Mayor Betty Flores chaired the TBC.
“I have worked with some great mayors and commissioners and superintendents while I have been with TBC. It has been an honor to serve,” Castañeda said. “For me, TBC has been one of the most critical leadership groups we have on the border. Our goal has been to make the border into one of the most vibrant, aggressive, proactive communities in North America. We still have a lot to do.”
Castañeda’s career included more than three decades in the higher education realm as Chief External Affairs/Economic Development Officer at Laredo Community College. Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to the Texas Workforce Investment Council. Gov. Ann Richards appointed him to the Texas Council on Workforce and Economic Competitiveness. He holds a Master’s and Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a concentration in International Trade. His resume includes an eight-year tenure as Laredo city councilmember and he was an active member of the Eagle Ford Consortium Tri-Chair Workforce of South Texas.
Castañeda said he wished to thank his colleagues on TBC for giving him a platform to help communities up and down the border region.
“They have allowed me to exert my passion, my dedication and willingness to serve. I have enjoyed working with the group. They gave me the playground in which to work. They gave me support, respect and credibility to work up and down the border.”
Asked what advice he would offer today’s TBC leaders, Castañeda said: “Try to keep politics out of things. Having been an educator, you never know who is going to come into your classroom. In the global economy we have to treat all the leaders we come across in the same way. We cannot begin to take sides. We have to work with everybody.”
When advocating for the Texas-Mexico border region, Castañeda has never focused solely on his hometown of Laredo. He always mentions places like Brownsville, Harlingen, Weslaco, McAllen, Rio Grande City, Eagle Pass and El Paso. “I might be from Laredo and Webb County but my heart is on the border, from Brownsville to El Paso. I work as hard for Brownsville as I do from El Paso, Rio Grande City, Weslaco, Eagle Pass.”
He said with collaboration and hard work, the region’s challenges can be overcome.
“We are now beginning to bring people from all over the globe to the border. And we are waiting to be discovered. When the investors come here not just to make money but also to cultivate their investments in the community it is a win-win for everybody.”
Asked what his proudest achievement with TBC has been, Castañeda said: “Education. We have so much youth with so much talent, but they have never had the resources to fulfill their potential. I have always said, we have some of the sharpest minds, the brightest kids in the country. They can match anyone around the globe. They needed access and TBC has helped improve that access. Things are getting better now. We now have UT, the health science center, Texas A&M. We need to pay our teachers well so they do not leave. The border region has suffered a brain drain, but we have stopped it to some extent, through education and training.”
Castañeda said going forward, he hopes TBC focuses more on health care.
“We have a lot of children and the elderly that need our help. We need our young people healthy so they can become the doctors and law enforcement we need in the future. If people are hungry to serve, we need to help them. Working together as a team we can find solutions.”
For many years, Castañeda worked in tandem with South Texas College’s Wanda Garza on workforce training issues. He said it was an honor to do so. “The only word I can find for my great partnership with Wanda Garza is wow. Wanda knows how to lead but she can also follow. She is one of my best friends. She helped build one of the most powerful colleges in Texas. Without doubt she is one of the most talented individuals you will find.”
Concluding his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Castañeda stated again his wish to see politics confined to the margins by border leaders.
“We need to get away from party labels. We need a united effort. The world is moving faster than ever. We do not have time to wait. We have to work together.”
But, while Castañeda says partisan politics should be left at the door, he does acknowledge TBC has had to be aggressive at times. “We were aggressive because we had to be. We do not have a lot of time on our hands,” he said.
Asked if there was anything else he wanted to add, Castañeda said: “I am still the guy you always knew, very aggressive, spiky, always looking ahead.”
Castañeda concluded the interview by wishing his successor on TBC’s education and workforce development committee good fortune. “Michael Gonzalez, of TAMIU’s small business department is going to do an outstanding job.”