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Dallas advocate continues to break barriers after death

Adelfa Callejo was fueled by the inequities she faced. It gave her the drive to accomplish many first as a Latina.

DALLAS — A pioneer and advocate for civil rights, Adelfa Callejo continues to break barriers, even after death.

The former attorney accomplished many firsts as a Latina and in August 2021, a sculpture to honor Callejo, became the first statue to honor a Latina in the city of Dallas.

“It’s important to note that in life Adelfa accomplished many first and even in death she’s accomplished another first,” said JD Gonzalez, Adelfa’s nephew. “That really reaches into the depth of her legacy and her power.”

A legacy fueled by the inequities Callejo saw and experienced as a child in the early 1920s in Millet, Texas, just outside of San Antonio.

“They had one cemetery, but it had two sides,” Gonzalez said. “One for the Anglos and one for the Hispanics, and she always made mention to me that even in death we were discriminated against.”

Callejo saw law school to obtain equity. In 1961, she was the first Latina to graduate from the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. Gonzalez said she preached about the power of the law and education.

Credit: JD Gonzalez
Adelfa Callejo (L) and her husband, Bill Fernando Callejo with Ann Richards (center)

According to the U.S. Census, data on college enrollment for Latinos between the 1960s and 1965 is not available. In 2017, the U.S. Census data revealed that college enrollment grew 1.7 million between 2006 to 2016. The result was triple of what enrollment for Hispanics had been in the last two decades.

“She fought against the injustices in the education system and equality,” said Adriana Fierro, president of the University of North Texas Hispanic Law Association. “Thanks to women like her, that paved the way for other Latinas like me, to follow a career in law.”

Fierro said she is empowered every time she sees Callejo’s statue, across from the UNT Dallas College of Law at Main Street Garden.

Callejo was a part of the selection process for the image that would be built, but she died in 2014 before a location was approved.

“If Adelfa would have had a selection of 100 sites she would have picked Dallas College of Law,” Gonzalez said.

Credit: Lourdes Vazquez

Callejo practiced law until she was 88. She was recognized by the Texas Bar Association as a Legal Legend for her advocacy work in education and civil rights.

Even with the progress, Callejo made, Fierro said it is up to the next generation of lawyers to continue the fight for equity.

The mother of two chose law school after her own experiences with discrimination.

“I remember feeling so helpless as a child and even as a teen,” Fierro explained. “I wanted to change that, and going into law was a way I could do that.”

As new generations take on the reins to continue the fight for equity, Fierro said it is important to recognize those that came before.

“It is important to keep her legacy alive, for her work to not have been in vain,” Fierro said.

The city of Dallas has not set a date for the unveiling.

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