the TCU family. Despite his role in the Fox administration, Juan Hernandez
launched his political career in 1996, campaigning vigorously for younger
brother and attorney Francisco '86 in an unsuccessful bid for a seat in
the Texas House. Fernandez' family is filled with additional purple blood:
mother Mary Hernandez '85, sisters Nina '84 and Mary '97, brother Daniel
'91 (a former TCU admissions counselor now working on a law degree and
married to Evelyn Iglesias Hernandez '96) and niece Marjorie Martinez
David Van Meter
Hernandez (MA '78, PhD '81) answered his cell phone in remote West Texas.
U.S.-Mexico scholar -- the closest political advisor to Mexico President
Vincente Fox -- had just cut the ribbon for a new highway linking Laredo
with Columbia, Mexico.
months earlier, the political strategist helped overthrow at the ballot
box the political party that had ruled Mexico for 71 years.
road, like Hernandez himself, points to a simple truth.
no real borders," Hernandez said, letting the thought settle into silence.
"I have a Mexican father and a U.S. mother; they always believed that,
and I do, too. "I have this vision that Mexico and the United States can
be better neighbors, that we can enrich our lives by learning more from
one another. We've never had that opportunity until now."
The oldest of six children, Hernandez was
born in Fort Worth but spent most of his early life in Guanajuato, Mexico.
By his early teens, he was teaching
English at his parents' language school and offering Bible classes and
He would entertain tourists on the cobblestone
streets of San Miguel de Allende. At 14, he also met his future wife,
Estela. The couple is now celebrating 19 years of marriage.
The Hernandez family returned to the United
States in 1973, with Hernandez earning a degree from Lawrence University
in Appleton, Wis. He then enrolled at TCU, enroute to a master's degree
and a doctorate both in English and in Spanish letters and culture. With
classes by day -- he chuckles into the phone -- "I would flirt with other areas
of life at night," he said, among them singing at Joe T. Garcia's restaurant
in Fort Worth's historic Northside, recording four albums.
After TCU, Hernandez was hired as an associate
professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. He then became the first
director of the school's Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies in 1994. Yet,
he always kept one foot in Guanajuato. He bought land from his former
nanny and built a home known as Casa Poesia, complete with a chapel for
the eventual wedding of his three daughters, Estela, Mariana and Laura,
and son John. (Estela will come to TCU next year, Hernandez affirms, followed
by her three siblings.)
Hernandez also joined some Guanajuato locals
in retracing the revolutionary ride of Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla,
who like a Mexican Paul Revere rode on horseback in the early hours of
Sept. 16, 1810, issuing a call-to-arms against the Spanish, eventually
sparking the Mexican Revolution.
Hernandez was about to help start a revolution
of his own. He had met Vincente Fox several years earlier; Hernandez was
searching for a dynamic speaker who could discuss Mexican culture, and
found Fox, the new governor of Guanajuato known for his cowboy boots,
hat and blunt business style. A meeting with Metroplex leaders went well,
and Fox boarded a plane back to Guanajuato.
He then paused on the airplane steps.
"He looked down at me and said, 'You got any other ideas?' " Hernandez
recalled. And Hernandez did.
Though they shared a passion for transforming
Mexico into a modern society, they seemed so different otherwise. Fox
was the charging politician while Hernandez was the idealist romantic,
the author of five books of poetry. "He has the soul of a poet," said
his father, Francisco Hernandez Sr., a Fort Worth attorney.
"He still dreams. He's not doing things
like a politician; he's doing things like a philosopher." Three years
ago, the presidential bid officially began. Hernandez became the manager
of Fox's time and agenda. His mantra was that more campaign money could
always be found, tasks could be delegated, but Fox's time was gold.
To succeed, he would have to make every
visit count. The Mexican news media had long been a puppet of the PRI
party, and most voters lived in remote areas. Worse, with little opposition,
outgoing PRI presidents typically chose their successors, a custom known
as the dedazo, or the finger tap.
To compete, Fox and company shook hands
in the thick of Mexico City as well as the jungles of Chiapas. Their campaign
covered Mexico three times by plane, train, automobile and on foot; they
met voters, literally and ideologically, where they were at. Hernandez
advised Fox to treat Guanajuato as a country unto itself instead of a
state dependent upon Mexico, and to nurture business pockets in Texas,
New York, Chicago and California, which have large Hispanic populations.
With little investment, the exports of
Guanajuato tripled in three years. "He's a poet and a cultural individual,
and Mexican politics, like anywhere else, is an intensely human thing,"
Dallas political consultant Rob Allyn told
the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He worked on Fox's campaign and is a friend
"Juan is rarely six inches away from Vicente's
elbow," he said. "He is the one person who really knows Vicente Fox; he
knows what's in his heart. He's the one who goes horseback riding with
him on the weekends. They have quiet reflection time together."
The day before the election, Hernandez
and Fox set out on a four-hour horsebacking trip around Mr. Fox's San
Cristobal ranch outside Leon, Guanajuato. The solitude would not last
; 24 hours later, Fox would be the new leader of 100 million people.
Hernandez answered Mexican President Ernesto
Zedillo's initial call to Mr. Fox, conceding that the electoral results
were favoring him, that Mexico's Berlin Wall had cracked.
The Fox campaign by that time had run out
of money, and Hernandez could no longer make calls from his cell phone.
But he could receive them. Among the early well-wishers were President
Bill Clinton, as well as George Bush and Al Gore.
With the new highway from Laredo to Mexico
in his rearview mirror, Hernandez still insists he didn't do anything
magical, except share in Vincente Fox's dream of a better Mexico, and
to realize that goal.
"I was there," he explains. "I was simply
And Hernandez continues to serve as Fox's
chief political aide. Hernandez arranged a meeting with Texas Governor
Bush in August as well as a podium spot at a Fortune 500 convention in
He also leads the charge to implement NAFTA
(North American Free Trade Agreement) more effectively in Mexico by promoting
regional and local agreements with states and cities, and with small companies
as well as larger ones.
And perhaps more important, Hernandez hopes
to mend Mexico's relationship with her people now living in the United
States. Like many Mexican-Americans, Hernandez shares their desire for
greater respect in the United States.
But he also wants to show them what he
believes: "Mexico's best days are still to come."