When she’s recalling her childhood as the daughter of migrant workers or displaying her legal and bilingual prowess with palabras de domingo, the border-culture sensibility of attorney Edna Elizondo is hard to miss. Whether this bicultural background will translate into the votes the Democratic nominee for the 150th District Court needs to trump Republican rival and former Judge Renée McElhaney is a question for speculation—over chile-relleno lunch specials—until the November election.
Petite and soft-spoken, the 42-year-old Elizondo describes her Laredo upbringing as a scene right out of Fools Rush In—the late ’90s comedy about oil-and-water strangers who get married after a one-night stand. “That’s my family,” she says, perhaps unintentionally flashing the luminous wedding ring wrapped around her finger. Until she was in sixth grade, her parents worked part of the year in California picking fruit. Although she has pleasant memories of those times, she recalls that for her parents, “it was really, really hard work.” She expresses concern for the migrant workers of today. “I don’t know if that whole wage issue is comparable to the type of work they are doing,” she says.
When she left the Gateway City to attend the University of Texas–Austin, she discovered an entirely new world. She formed a lasting memory at a rally her first month on campus. “I don’t remember what it was about,” she says. “I think it was a preacher [who was speaking].” A girl with “odd-colored hair,” who didn’t agree with him, “gets off her bike and picks up her dress and she’s … not wearing anything,” she says, laughing as if it went down only moments ago.
Years later, Laredo is still embedded in Elizondo’s makeup, and she believes that as a judge she would “have the ability to reach many people.” She says 60 percent of her clients are either Spanish-speaking or prefer Spanish to English.
Four years ago, Elizondo’s life was thrown into an emotional tailspin after the sudden death of her husband. Noticeably uneasy, she explains the cardiac arrest, how “nobody knew why” it happened, and how healthy he appeared only the day before. Her composure dissolves when she tells me that her two children, now 8 and 9, inspired her to carry on.
“Life goes on,” she says with a hefty sigh, fondling the pendant around her neck. “My husband would have done the same if the tables were turned.” A cool, awkward moment passes between us. “I don’t really talk about that.
“You fall. You get back up,” she adds, briefly glancing at her campaign manager, who has been silently studying our interview and occasionally taking notes. “Tragedy can hurt you, but it doesn’t kill you.”
Her campaign restored her competitive spirit, especially after she defeated former Judge Paul Canales in the Democratic primary. “It’s nothing personal; I just want the same job,” she says of her opponent. “I have practical experience with the type of law that goes before this court.”
She describes Canales and McElhaney as “very nice,” and I ask if the judicial community, with its regular schedule of partisan elections, is really this civil. “Oh, I can pick up the phone and call any attorney in San Antonio and ask them a question and they will answer it,” she says.
She gently shakes her head when I ask if our well-documented voter apathy is the highest hurdle she faces in this race. “It’s not because people don’t care,” she says. “I think people don’t understand the consequences of not voting.”
Over the next two months, beneath the sounds of a trio—a guitar, an accordion and a singer—at her large family’s Sunday cookouts, you may find Elizondo, fajita taco in hand, discussing her fascination with federal law and her belief that, “constitutionally, we are still evolving.”
“We are as Mexican as you get,” she says of her family with a grin.
Arguably, one can’t get any more all-American than that.