Lupe Valdez's life patterns would make great lyrics for a country Western song.
For nearly three decades, Valdez's elbow grease and a frightening single-mindedness to solve any and all problems helped her become the nation's only female Hispanic sheriff, and one of only four female sheriffs in Texas.
As the miles wrap themselves around her career, Valdez reflects on a life well-lived.
"I never dreamed I'd be in law enforcement," she says. "All I thought about growing up was the next job and where I would get my next meal."
The daughter of migrant workers would survey her handkerchief-sized kingdom through the sun-scorched bean spouts her family would labor to pick at 4:30 a.m. each day of harvest season. There were no fantasies of patio awnings or automatic charcoal starters for the portable grill. There were no diversions except hard work. But it was that tenacity and stubbornness that gave Valdez the spark to escape her humble background.
"I never had a new pair of shoes until I was in high school because being the eighth child of migrant parents, I got all the hand-me-downs," Valdez says.
Her luck began to change when a concerned school teacher encouraged her to transfer across town to a better high school in San Antonio. At first, Valdez struggled to keep up. The curriculum was much harder and she was unprepared. "I was the child in the corner of the room nobody saw," Valdez remembers.
Her aha moment came when she first noticed that her shoes were always muddy when she arrived at school. She recalls looking out the school window at pristine sidewalks. And then It hit her: "I come from a part of town that has no paved streets." She knew it wasn't going to be easy, but her persistence paid off.
Now, she is planning to attend her school's 50th anniversary later this year.
Her high school experiences set the stage for success In higher education. She earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Bethany Nazarene College (now Southern Nazarene University), and later earned a Master of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Texas at Arlington.
Similarly, her road to career success has been sprinkled with gnarled challenges and, in some cases, downright negativity. "At the outset of my career, one law enforcement official said he would work to get me fired," she recalls.
Valdez weathered discrimination like a storm trooper, and she thrived on the structure that law enforcement jobs...