Alumni Spotlight: Federico Peña '64

"...Not Bad for a South Texas Boy"

When Federico Peña started writing his memoir, he intended it to just be for close friends and family.

He began writing eight years ago but over time the nation evolved and so did his subject matter. “I became a member of Barack Obama’s National Presidential Committee, Donald Trump was elected, divisiveness erupted in our nation, COVID-19 attacked us, and so much more,” he said.

All these changes encouraged Peña to adjust his writing and changed the way he thought about the current times. “The emerging policy issues facing our cities and nation, and thus my book morphed into more than my life story,” he said.

"My St. Joseph experience did have an influence on my work which I describe in the early chapters. I describe the impact of my Catholic faith, how I “saw” Brownsville back in the 1950s, (much different than today), and the influence of Coach Gus Zavaleta on my character and overall leadership development," Federico Peña '64


Q: How did you come up with the title to your book?

The book title, “…Not Bad for a South Texas Boy”, was the note my English professor at UT penned on one of my English composition themes. At first I took it as a compliment, but over the years I realized it was his impression that perhaps he was surprised I could write as well as I did back then. As I experienced other challenges in life, some reflective of the low expectations that some have of Hispanics, I decided that the inscription represented what some people think of Latinos across the nation even today. I want to educate the broader American public that we have been contributing for centuries and will be the backbone of our nation in the decades ahead.

Q: What was the journey like throughout the writing process?

The writing journey was quite hard. I would stay up late at night writing after work, conducting much research, and reflecting deep inside about who I was as a young man and how I evolved. It was sometimes painful to reflect on that journey. Next, there were many edits and revisions by associates and especially my wife, Cindy. I also had to update my earlier writings to reflect changing facts and societal norms over the eight years. Finally, I had to self-publish which required hiring someone to help me in that effort as it was altogether a novel experience for me. Persistence and determination were key!

Q:What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

I would advise aspiring writers to write from the heart. What is also difficult is to identify the “spine” of your work…something which I could never quite master. Finally I would advise them to “just start writing”.