GÓMEZ, REFUGIO (1905–1988). Refugio Gómez, Houston community leader, was born on July 4, 1905, in Aguascalientes, Mexico. His mother died when he was still a young boy, and in 1913 he and his father moved to New Mexico, where his father had been recruited by United States government contractors to work in coal mines. Miners in New Mexico had gone on strike, and strikebreakers were hired from Texas and Mexico to ensure a steady production of coal throughout World War I. Refugio attended schools in Gallup, New Mexico, through the eighth grade. In 1920 he and his father moved to Rockdale, Texas, where they worked in the coal industry. In 1925 his father was pinned underneath a coal wagon and killed. Gómez moved to Houston and settled in the Second Ward.
He then worked as a ditch digger, a street paver, and a salesman. During the harvest seasons of 1927 and 1928 he picked sugar beets in Michigan. Many new opportunities became available during World War II, and Gómez became a welder in the Houston shipyards. During the next several years he was continually hired and fired by the shipyards; Mexican laborers were the first hired when there was a shortage of labor and the first fired when the employment crisis was over. In 1948 Gómez was hired as a ship engineer, a position he held for the next twenty-seven years.
In 1932 Jesús Sánchez, a local shoemaker, was run over by a truck, and his family was unable to pay the thirty dollars for his funeral expenses. In order to prevent his burial in a pauper's grave, friends and neighbors pooled their resources and collected over thirty-five dollars for the family. Gómez and several other men decided to establish a permanent mutual-aid society in the Second Ward that would financially assist its members in medical emergencies and with funeral expenses. The Sociedad Mutualista Obrera Mexicana was the second mutual-aid society in Houston. Gómez was elected the society's first secretary, and he remained a member for his lifetime. Whenever a member had financial troubles, the others sold tamales and organized community suppers to raise money. They also shared happier occasions. In order to maintain a sense of brotherhood, members prohibited the discussion of politics at their meetings. Membership was limited to men, but their wives and daughters participated in organizing dances and preparing the food served at community suppers and fund-raisers.
Gómez belonged to other sociedades mutualistas, including the Unión Fraternal, the Sociedad Morelos, and the Sociedad Moctezuma. During the 1960s he joined the Viva Kennedy clubs and became one of the charter members of the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations in Harris County. He spoke as a Democrat on behalf of various candidates at rallies and on the radio, in both English and Spanish. He was also a tireless worker in the ongoing campaign to get Mexican Americans to register and vote.
On the forty-sixth anniversary of the Sociedad Obrera Mexicana, Gómez was awarded a certificate for being the oldest living member. He helped found the Federación de Sociedades Mutualistas Mexicanas de Texas, a statewide federation of mutual-aid societies in the state. Beginning in 1964 he attended the annual conference of the Federación Nacional de Mutualistas de México. Gómez was a member of the Zaragoza Society and represented it at celebrations in Puebla, Mexico, where he was asked to place flowers on Gen. Ignacio S. Zaragoza's grave. He influenced the governor of Puebla, Alfredo Toxqui Fernández de Lara, to commission a statue of Zaragoza for Goliad, Texas. In September 1980 the ten-foot statue was dedicated and placed in Goliad State Park.
Gómez had retired from his job as ship engineer in 1975. He died in 1988. He was survived by his second wife, whom he had married in 1939, and eleven children.
Refugio Gómez Oral History Interview, March 24, 1980, Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, María-Cristina García, "GOMEZ, REFUGIO," accessed February 17, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgo62.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 21, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.