Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
Albert G. Bustamante was born on April 8, 1935 in Asherton, Dimmit County, Texas, where he attended public schools and worked as a migrant farm worker. In 1954 he graduated from Asherton High School. Subsequently he served for two years in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper. From 1956 to 1958 he studied at San Antonio College. In 1961 he received a degree in secondary education from Sul Ross State College in Alpine, Texas. From 1961 to 1968 he worked as a junior high school teacher and coached football and basketball.
From 1968 to 1971 Bustamante was an assistant to Congressman Henry González. The following year Bustamante was elected to a five-year term on the Bexar County Commission. He also became active in the Democratic Party and in 1976 attended the Democratic National Convention. In 1978 he was elected to a judgeship in Bexar County, and earned a reputation as a tough-minded judge.
In 1984 Bustamante defeated Democratic Congressman Abraham Kazen from Texas's 23rd District. Despite Kazen's ability to speak Spanish and support from Congressman Henry González, Bustamante won fifty-nine percent of the vote in the primary and did not face opposition from the Republican Party. The 23rd District includes suburbs of San Antonio, where many white-collar workers live, and rural areas near the Mexican border, with many Hispanic residents.
In 1985 Bustamante was elected president of his freshman class in the U.S. House of Representatives and was assigned to the Committees on Armed Services, and Government Operations. He served on the Procurement and Military Nuclear Systems Subcommittee, the Subcommittee on Energy, and the Natural Resources Subcommittee. In 1987 and 1988 he supported nuclear test ban amendments, and he voiced concern for environmental and safety problems in the nation's nuclear production plants. He played an important role in delaying funding for a Special Isotope Separation project in Idaho.
Bustamante changed his support of the administration's policy toward Nicaragua. In 1986 he voted to authorize an aid package for the Contras, but in the following two years he voted against Contra aid.
In the 100th Congress, Bustamante was assigned to the Select Committee on Hunger. He worked to increase nutrition funding for Hispanics, and brought attention to the "colonias," or rural slums, where many Hispanic immigrants live in deplorable conditions.
In December 1990 Bustamante became a member of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. That same year he voted to approve a civil rights bill and pass a family and medical leave bill over President Bush's veto. In 1992 he was defeated in his bid for reelection by Republican Henry Bonilla. Bustamante returned to Texas, where he is a resident of San Antonio.