In many ways, Texas City’s history runs parallel with the history of the Garza family.
Fleeing the Mexican Revolution, Jose Maria “Chema” Garza, his bride, Maria, and their baby son, Joe, moved to Texas City in 1911, the same year the city was incorporated.
Chema went to work for the Texas City Terminal Railway Company, now the Port of Texas City, and established the roots for a family that would grow and become a key part of the fabric of the city.
Chema and Maria had six children, five of whom were born in Texas City — Abel, Pete, Ernestine, Amelia and Alfred followed Joe.
To this day, most of the family lives in Texas City or within 50 miles, Chema’s grandson Carlos Garza said.
Almost all of the descendants attended public schools in Texas City; many attended College of the Mainland and have held leadership positions in city, county and school governments and committees.
The family was in Zaragoza, Mexico, on April 16, 1947 — the day of a massive explosion that leveled Texas City’s industrial complex and killed about 600 people — to witness the wedding of Abel Garza and Eustolia “Tola” Gonzalez. All were there except Alfred, who died in the blast.
He stayed behind because he had livestock to tend to on property the family leased from the Terminal Railway Company, said Carlos Garza, who is a past city attorney, city commissioner and mayor.
Chema and his son Pete went to all of the city’s makeshift morgues to find Alfred. They had his dog with them while visiting one of the morgues, when the canine got loose and walked to the feet of a body. When Chema wiped the oil-covered face, he recognized Alfred.
The family was key in rebuilding the city after the disaster. To this day, the family remains active in the Texas City community.
Each Sunday before Thanksgiving, the family continues a tradition of getting together to celebrate the holiday and the family’s heritage.
“Everybody brings a covered dish, and there’s 40 to 50 people there every year,” Carlos Garza said. “Our family tradition keeps us here.
“All our family, aunts and uncles and cousins and brothers and sisters — we all stayed. No one ever left.”