A new, Austin-based Texas foundation dedicated to helping first-generation Latino college students succeed announced Wednesday a $2.1 million grant that will benefit 15 Texas A&M University-San Antonio students.

Founded in 2021, the Hector and Gloria López Foundation aims to help reduce financial barriers and other obstacles for Latino students, focusing on the areas of San Antonio, El Paso, South Texas, Austin and the Rio Grande Valley, said Sergio Rodriguez, foundation CEO and nephew of the late Lópezes. The foundation plans to give more than $11 million annually after this year.

“We are Latino-founded, Latino-led and 100% Latino-focused in our giving,” Rodriguez said at TAMU-SA on Wednesday. “Our time has come, and the foundation — Hector and Gloria’s legacy — is committed to ensuring that we will do our part to help Latino students across the stage, accept their diplomas and create opportunities for economic growth that will make Texas a better place to live.”

This is the second-largest gift TAMU-SA has received since the university was established in 2009. The Mays Family made the largest donation of $5 million in 2017 to launch and name the Mays Center for Experiential Learning and Community Engagement. 

The López Foundation grant will cover tuition and fees after all other financial aid has been applied to a student’s account. It also will provide support services, such as mentoring, tutoring, paid internships and leadership development to the 15 López Scholars for up to five years.

The Texas A&M-San Antonio Foundation will randomly select the 15 López Scholars out of the pool of all eligible incoming freshmen, so no application, minimum grade point average or test score requirements are necessary. The goal is to eliminate barriers Latino students often face when seeking higher education and allow them to focus solely on their studies, Rodriguez said.

The grant will help students like sophomore Yirha Navarrete, who is studying biology and is the first person in her family to graduate from high school and attend college. Born in Mexico, Navarrete acknowledged the challenges and obstacles her parents faced, working long hours every day and moving their family to Austin when she was 6 so she could start school in the U.S. They would take her to a babysitter at 5 a.m. each morning, and then she wouldn’t see them for the rest of the day.

“I would cry a lot. I didn’t understand why they had to go,” she said. “I didn’t understand why my dad had to come back from work sweating. I didn’t understand why I had to translate from my parents. I didn’t know any of that. I just knew that my parents were doing this for me, and they would always tell me that this was for my future.”

Yirha Navarrete, a sophomore studying Biology at Texas A&M San Antonio shares her story of immigrating to the United States with her family and becoming the first in her family to earn a high school diploma and a college degree.
Yirha Navarrete, a sophomore studying biology at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, shares her story of immigrating to the United States with her family and becoming the first in her family to earn a high school diploma and attend college. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Navarrete never saw college in her future, but her parents consistently encouraged and supported her. At the same time, they lacked knowledge of how to fill out financial aid and scholarship forms and a college application. Navarrete said she feels blessed to be at TAMU-SA now and to represent other Latino students.

“We’re able to work hard, and we’re creating our own future,” she said.

Hector and Gloria López bequeathed their accumulated land and financial assets to the foundation in 2021 to support higher education for Latino students who would be the first in their families to graduate from college and have financial need.

For more than 60 years, the Lópezes led the GALO Cattle Company, which they established in Alice. Hector Lopez focused on legal matters and Gloria concentrated on the finances.

Hector and Gloria López met at the University of Texas at Austin in 1943. Gloria López graduated from the university in 1947, while Hector López went on to obtain his law degree from Baylor University in 1949 after serving in the U.S. Army. They married in 1951 and grew their ranching business to include 14 ranches comprising roughly 35,000 acres across South Texas, Rodriguez said. He recalled his uncle waking him up before dawn to go out on the ranches and how often Hector López was the only Latino in the room.

“They both understood the importance of higher education to help Latinos get that seat at the table, and I felt that that was the secret of their success,” he said.

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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.