MCALLEN, RGV – The wife of the late Jorge Treviño, a much-loved physician who once operated a maternity hospital for Mexican-American mothers in McAllen, has defended his name and reputation.
Dee Treviño, who was administrator of Treviño, Garza & Associates from the 1970s onwards, said her husband was disparaged in a recent Washington Post story. The story focused on American citizens being denied an opportunity to renew their passports because the State Department was questioning the validity of their birth certificate.
Dr. Treviño was the only physician named in the story. It cited an affidavit from another doctor that said Treviño had falsified a birth certificate, presumably to help a Mexican mother have her baby recognized as a U.S. citizen.
The State Department has claimed that in decades past many midwives working along the border with Mexico would falsify birth certificates.
“I know my husband did not falsify birth certificates,” said Dee Treviño, in an in-depth and exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.
In the interview, Treviño said she wanted to make two important points.
“First, I want to reiterate that I know my husband did not falsify these (birth certificates),” Treviño said. “The other thing I would like to say is people need to understand – and I can say this because I have lived other places – the Valley is not like the rest of the United States. We enter the rest of the United States when we get to Falfurrias or when we land on a plane in Houston.
“So, for people to start looking down here and making accusations without understanding… and it works both ways. There were families here in the Valley when I moved, especially farming families that needed to hold on to their land in Mexico, that made sure one of their children was born in Mexico.
“So, this is not downtown Indianapolis or a cornfield in Iowa. This is something different down here. Something unique and really something wonderful.”
Jorge Treviño was born in Monterrey, Mexico, on Dec. 1, 1924, and died in McAllen, Texas, on Dec. 28, 2014. This information was included in an obituary the Rio Grande Guardian ran on Jan. 2, 2015:
Born December 1, 1924, in Monterrey, N.L., Mexico, Dr. Treviño began medical school there in 1942. Following his graduation in 1948, he moved to the border area to fulfill his year of social service near Reynosa, where he briefly became a physician for PEMEX. In 1950, he came to the United States to complete his residency in family medicine and obstetrics, and in 1955, he settled in McAllen, where he established his medical practice. At the time, he was one of twenty physicians serving this small city, whose northside reached Harvey Drive.
For two years, Dr. Treviño was very busy delivering babies, making house calls and covering the Emergency Room, in addition to caring for patients in his growing family practice. In 1957, he was joined by Dr. Rafael Garza, his longtime partner and esteemed colleague, with whom he established the McAllen Maternity Clinic, where these two helped grow McAllen and its surrounding cities by delivering tens of thousands of babies. In one 24-hour period, Dr. Treviño delivered 19 babies to set a local record–one we believe still stands.
Over the years, Dr. Treviño held many positions on the staffs of both McAllen Medical Center and Rio Grande Regional Hospital, where he served in various leadership roles, including president of the Hidalgo-Starr County Medical Society. He also served as Director of Student Health Services at the University of Texas-Pan American, for five years. His illustrious career in Medicine spanned over 59 years, during which he saw the creation of Medicaid and Medicare, as well as powerful antibiotics, immunizations and other drugs that save and improve human life; not to mention the invention of technologically-advanced diagnostic tools that doctors could only have dreamed of some 50 years ago. These developments in medicine, along with his diligent practice and commitment to quality care for his patients, contributed to his success in serving multiple generations of many families.
After his seven children were reared and educated, Dr. Treviño was able to split his passion for medicine with his passion for big game hunting. In March, 2007, he completed his quest for Africa’s Dangerous Seven, by adding an elephant to his trophy collection. In recent years, he enjoyed closing every day not in the delivery room or ER, but in the taxidermied zoo, in his home, where a fantastic array of exotic animals attest to a lifetime of outdoor adventure and serve as a permanent reminder that life is a gift to be lived to the fullest. The family would like to acknowledge the care and assistance of Maggie Pruneda, who helped us provide for Dr. Treviño’s comfort at home.
Asked to recall the early years, Dee Treviño said:
“My husband came to McAllen on, I think, April 15, 1955, and at that point McAllen was a tiny border town. He started off at that point doing home deliveries and running an office and very soon was so busy that he realized he could better serve the women he was serving by (opening a maternity clinic). Remember, at that point in time there was no health insurance, and the Mexican American women, very, very, few had access to the hospital.”
Treviño said that after the Korean War ended, Dr. Rafael Garza joined her husband in creating a ten-bed maternity hospital, right across the street from McAllen’s general hospital, which was located on the site where McAllen City Hall now stands. She said the two doctors located their small hospital close to the main hospital in case there were any emergencies, such a pregnant mother needing a Cesarean delivery.
“In fact, Beto Salinas had an ambulance that stayed in the back at all time to transfer women. So, they did that from, I think, from ’57 to ’87. I did all of the paperwork to close the hospital in ’87. But, by ’87, things had changed so much. We had Medicare, we had Medicaid, we had a program called Mejia for Women,” Treviño said.
“There were many things that happened there in an historical time. We had the Great Society (that) begun under (President) Johnson, we had all of the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s movement, all of this happened during this period of time. So, for anybody to think things were as, basically, simplistic as they are now, back then, they are really missing the wonderful history of McAllen.”
Asked what healthcare consisted of in McAllen, back when Dr. Treviño started out, his wife said: “There were very few doctors in McAllen. I think there were less than maybe ten. And the only Mexican-American who owned a hospital staff before him was Dr. McDonald, a pediatrician’s uncle, Dr. Garcia. Then, Jorge came and got privileges and continued to practice there until the (general) hospital moved.”
Thus, when McAllen Medical Center and Rio Grande Regional Hospital were built on 2nd and Ridge, Treviño and Garza moved their practice close by.
Asked how many births, Dr. Treviño delivered, Dee Treviño said: “I have no idea, really. I know that in a number of years he and his group that got up to six people delivering, delivered more at the maternity hospital than were delivered in the general hospital across the street. I really can’t figure numbers.”
Dee Treviño said she is not sure how the number of babies quoted in her husband’s obituary was arrived at.
“I think when we were writing the obituary we probably picked what would sound like a reasonable number to us. I do know that the little maternity hospital… people stayed less than 24 hours. There were very few days that I went down there to pick up my son who would walk from Fields (Elementary School) to the hospital, I saw less than ten babies. That was may favorite part of it, just to go to the nursery every day. They were beautiful.”
Fast forward 40-plus years and Treviño was shocked and angered to see her husband named in the Washington Post story.
“It felt like such an invasion of privacy to have the only name in the paper be someone who was not alive to fight and then to be tied to the obituary so that it was tied to my children and grandchildren. I think we all deserve a bit more privacy than that. I also think it was very poor journalism to use something that they did not have in hand that was all anonymous, anonymous, anonymous. So, yes, I’m angry is what it is.”
Dee Treviño speculated that her husband’s name was cited in the story because of the line in the obituary that said he delivered 19 babies in one 24-hour period.
“I don’t know why they chose to do that. Through the years I know he is not the only one of the doctors that were in that group and the name of the group was Trevino, Garza & Associates. He is not the only one who has had birth certificates brought to be verified. I think part of it is being the first name in the line.”
Dee Treviño said that today, when she is asked to verify a birth certificate, she signs a notarized letter that verifies that it is her husband’s signature on the document.
“That is all I can do. That is the agreement that I worked out with the State Department, shortly before my husband died because through the years – and, as you know, it happened under Bush, it happened under Obama – people have brought their birth certificates and Jorge could always say, yes, that is my signature and I did deliver the baby. But, I can’t say that. I can verify the signature. And that is what I do.”
Treviño said she got an interesting call soon after the Washington Post story came out. A woman from Virginia called to say she knows that none of what the paper printed about Dr. Treviño was true.
“She obviously really liked my husband. She said, first of all, ‘I know none of this is true about him and he delivered all four of my babies. I saw him measure my babies right there beside me.’ She was calling me because her four children are scattered across the United States. One of them is a major and when he read this he called his mother and he said, what about my security clearance? So, it is people like him, like the young physician who had his passport yanked at the bridge and had to fight and go to court and get it back.”
Treviño said it is fairly evident from the Washington Post story that when people that can afford to hire an attorney to challenge the State Department, they end up winning.
“I talked to Hector Barrera who is an immigration attorney the other day. He told me they had just won one or two cases just very recently and that one of the young lady immigration lawyers had just won. So, they are still winning when they can get a hearing in court.”
Treviño also lamented the long list of documents border-born resident are having to show in order to verify they are U.S. citizens.
“The list of things that the government is requiring to substantiate, have you seen it? It is everything but the kitchen sink. The want rental agreements, they want all kinds of stuff, they want elementary school records, how many of us could get our elementary school records now? I couldn’t.”
Asked if the State Department has taken a more stringent line under the Trump Administration, Treviño said: “It is more detailed today than it was. Much more stringent. I don’t know whether there is, in this list, a minimum of what you have to produce but it is much more stringent.”
Asked if the doctor’s practice is having a busier time today confirming birth certificates, Treviño said: “I feel that we are. I know we have had more recently but there have been other… in the past two years there have been weeks when we have had three or more. I have helped each case that has come in. I have not kept tabs on numbers. I do know the very day it (the WaPo story) happened we had somebody bring in their birth certificate.”
Treviño said she encourages those in a dispute with the State Department to get an official copy of their birth certificate.
“One of the things we are telling people is, before you start the fight, get the official copy from Austin. The reason we do that is, somebody came in with one that they said they had had all along and it didn’t have a signature. It was the one they had got from the City of McAllen. So, I went down to city hall to talk to them and they reminded me that the older ones were four copies with carbon paper between them, typed on a manual typewriter. So, by the time someone signed the top copy, frequently there was no signature on the bottom copy. Those are things people now don’t even realize happened because now we have good copy systems, we have electronic signatures. We have a lot of things that people didn’t have then.”
Asked if she believes midwives falsified birth certificates to say a baby was born in McAllen, Treviño said:
“I would hate to say that that would happen with anybody. I think the more likely case is the midwife forgot to file somebody’s birth. I think that is much more likely than the other, because we didn’t have the most educated group of people doing the deliveries.”