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Hispanics Activist in West Texas Works to Improve Community

A West Texas woman has been concerned that children, without knowing their heritage, grow up without knowing who they are

Without knowing their heritage, children grow up without knowing who they are.

The Odessa American reports that's always been a top concern of ambulance company owner Carol Uranga, who helped start the League of United Latin American Citizens here, Hispanic Heritage of Odessa and the Hispanic Women's Network and worked hard to see that those groups' goals were achieved.

Born Maria Carolina Garcia in Marathon, Uranga grew up in Alpine and was distressed that the teachers in her parochial school strongly discouraged her and other Mexican American children from speaking Spanish. "They'd slap you on the wrist or hand or hit you with a ruler if you said a word in Spanish," she said.

"You were supposed to speak English all the time."

As one of 11 children, Uranga was taught by her parents Angelita and Tiburcio, or "Bucho," to be involved in the community and help people in every way she could. "That's where I learned to organize," she said with a chuckle in reference to her big family.

Explaining that there is a reluctance among some young people to speak Spanish because they fear it will accent their English and cause them to be stereotyped, Uranga said, "A lot of parents don't want them to have that accent because they don't want their kids to carry around the stigma of being Mexican.

"Kids are brought up thinking they are all white, but somebody is going to tell them they're not. They confuse being American with being white. They have to know who they are and where they come from. It all comes down to pride and feeling good about yourself and that can only happen if you know who you are and who your ancestors were. The bottom line is respect."

Uranga graduated from Alpine High School in 1968 and attended Odessa College and New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, then was a paralegal for attorneys Ralph Burleson in Alpine, John Tomlin in Pecos and Calvin Wesch in Kermit. Her husband Rex is a retired ConocoPhillips pumper. They have four sons and four grandchildren.

Uranga was regional supervisor of the U.S. Labor Department's Migrant Assistance Program and was an Odessa College recruiter and a volunteer who worked with at-risk Ector County Independent School District high school students. With the donation of an ambulance by Dr. Eusebio Barrientos, now of Laredo, she opened Carol's Ambulance in 2005 and has seen the company grow to five ambulances and 27 employees. It's based at 126 S. Dixie Blvd.

Uranga said Dr. Barrientos had been encouraging her to start her own business, but he astonished her and her family by having an ambulance brought to their home in Gardendale on the back of an 18-wheel truck on New Year's Eve.

"I was flabbergasted," she said. "Our boys, James, Mark, John Paul and David, went for it like crazy. They loved it. I knew our resources were going to be all the friends we had made in Kermit, Pecos, Alpine, Fort Stockton, Odessa and everywhere. We make 4,000 to 5,000 nonemergency runs per year."

Along with taking people to Medical Center Hospital, Odessa Regional Medical Center and Midland Memorial Hospital, Uranga's ambulances make frequent runs to Dallas and El Paso. An ambulance costs anywhere from $80,000 to $90,000.

She has also served on the boards of the Salvation Army, Keep Odessa Beautiful, Catholic Charities, the Barrio Lions Club, the Boys & Girls Club of Odessa and the Ector County Education Partnership Leadership Team.

Uranga credits attorney Richard Abalos, oilman Joe Molina, businessman Richard Castro, restaurateur Trina Moralez, educators Vickie Gomez and Delma Abalos, beer distributor Tony Valadez, former UTPB President David Watts, former car dealership owner Jo Hooker and others for their support. Hispanic Heritage of Odessa's latest of a dozen billboards, this one sponsored by the Garriga Law Firm, will be unveiled Sept. 15 at Dixie and East Eighth Street.

The next day will be Diez y Seis de Septiembre, celebratory of the Mexican War of Independence against Spain that was launched in 1810 with Father Miguel Hildalgo y Costilla's speech "Grito de Dolores," or "Cry of Delores," and his leadership of an army of 90,000 farmers and civilians across Mexico.

City Parks and Recreation Director Steve Patton particularly remembers his work with Uranga to bring the Texas LULAC State Convention to the MCM Grande Hotel & Fun Dome in 1994.

"The first thing I think of when I think about Carol is how passionate she is with everything she does in life," Patton said. "She has a spirit that energizes others and gets good people to help her. She realizes she can't do everything by herself."

Patton said Uranga "wants to do good things for everybody.

"You can just see the energy," he said. "She tackles the task and is going to get it done. I've always appreciated her passion and fire for making the community a great place and the things she does to assist the community and make it great."

City Manager Michael Marrero said Uranga "has always been very community-minded and engaged in what was happening in the city of Odessa, especially in her efforts with Hispanic Heritage.

"Carol is one of those citizens who truly does care about the city and the people in the city," Marrero said. "I think she works on the basis of doing what she thinks is right. It may not always be the popular thing, but she does what she feels is right.

"The most impressive thing relates back to Carol's work with Hispanic Heritage, preserving traditional customs and the things associated with our culture and history. If it weren't for her, events like Hispanic Heritage Month and Cinco de Mayo would not go on.

"It's important to her that all cultures are celebrated and the work she has done in the last 30 years has been instrumental in ensuring that people have a much greater understanding of the Hispanic culture within our community."

Cinco de Mayo observes Mexico's May 5, 1862, victory over the French Army in the Battle of Puebla.

Odessa College Executive Director of Advancement Jacqui Gore said Uranga "has worked hard to educate the community through multiple events throughout the years.

"I don't think I have met anyone who is so driven and hard-working," Gore said. "Hispanic heritage is a big part of the culture of Odessa and I admire the work Carol has done in the schools and community to keep it alive."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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