1958 was a good year for World Book encyclopedias. One set ended up in Hilda Tagle’s home, and served as the neighborhood reference library. It was also what inspired Tagle to ardently pursue reading, learning and a life brimming with the treasures of education.
[pullquote author=”Hilda Tagle”]“My 1958 set of World Books opened my eyes to the world,” Tagle said. “It taught me about mythology, history, art, literature, and so much more.”[/pullquote]
The Alpha Library was her refuge because it was air conditioned. No bigger than her current office, the library of her childhood holds many great memories.
Eventually, Tagle became thirsty for more knowledge, finding herself at the Nueces County library in Robstown. Once she’d finished every book of interest there, her mother settled on a new option-send young Tagle by bus to the bigger library in Corpus Christi.
[narrowcolumn foo=”bar”]“Life was different then,” Tagle said. “My mother could put me on a bus in the morning, and trust that I’d be safe all day in Corpus. I’d spend hours in the library, and when I was finished I’d ride the next bus home.”
It was out of this zeal for learning that Tagle found her path to higher education, and eventually to the U.S. District Court’s Southern District of Texas, where she became the first Hispanic female in Texas to serve as a federal judge.[/narrowcolumn]
“Education was the key to everything in my life, from my education at home as I read the World Book encyclopedia to my time at Del Mar College and A&M-Commerce,” Tagle said. “It opened up doors for me that otherwise would have been shut.”
Tagle contributes her passion for knowledge to her mother, a migrant worker, who was brilliant, but lacked the educational opportunities that Tagle enjoyed. Always a supporter of her daughter, however, Tagle’s mother always encouraged her to succeed, be independent and make a life for herself.
“There were four of us from Robstown who ended up at A&M-Commerce; we were the Spanish Armada. We had always been the nerds who made good grades in high school. It wasn’t the most fun thing to be known for, even though it was the best thing.
“My friend Robert Moncivaez transferred from Del Mar to East Texas first, and then Mike Anzaldua followed him with Della (Anzaldua Pierce) and me not far behind,” Tagle said. “We were this little group of Mexican Americans, with only one other Mexican American student on campus. We were each other’s support system thanks to our shared experiences.”
An avid reader, Tagle chose to study library science as both an undergraduate and graduate student in an effort to get a job as a librarian.
After a few years, however, Tagle was ready to transition into a new career as a lawyer. Without the financial ability to attend law school, however, she turned to one of her A&M-Commerce professors, Dr. Orline Clinkscales, who remained a dear friend following graduation. She loaned Tagle the money, trusting her to make good on the investment.
“Law school interested me, but I wasn’t sure my librarian background had prepared me for the gladiator-like arena of the courtroom,” Tagle said. “I figured that if law school didn’t work out after a semester, then I could do something else. Thankfully, it did work out, and I have loved putting my education to work each day while serving this district as a federal judge.”
What her background did prepare her for was the time consuming art of writing persuasive briefs and performing the research required for each case. Tagle quickly realized the only thing holding her back from achieving her goal of serving in the courtroom, were the myriad of doubters she encountered along the way.
She was told she shouldn’t aspire to being a judge because it was too stressful for a woman. As a Mexican-American woman, it seemed especially hard. Thankfully, for every doubter, Tagle had a supporter willing to give her a chance in the courtroom. From there, the burden to succeed was hers.
[pullquote author=”Hilda Tagle]“I learned quickly that there was a difference between holding myself back from an opportunity, versus someone else holding me back,” she said. “It became evident that I had to fight to achieve what I wanted.”[/pullquote]
Today, thanks to her perseverance coupled with a thick skin and knack for diplomacy, Tagle has the privilege of overseeing naturalization ceremonies each month, congratulating new citizens on completing such a difficult, yet worthwhile journey, and encouraging them to make the most of their new life in the United States.
Tagle’s role in the courtroom, however, isn’t always bathed in warm moments and congratulatory hugs. Oftentimes, it’s full of heart-wrenching challenges where she has to balance the law with the truth in her effort to distribute justice.
“Being a parent has taught me that not everything is black and white. There is a lot of gray and I see that in the law too, especially when my decisions effect custody,” Tagle said. “When I have to put someone behind bars who tells me they came here to provide food for their family who was practically eating dirt, I am deciding custody. As hard as it is, I feel privileged to have that sacred responsibility.”
As a judge, Tagle’s ability to sift through the debris of challenging court battles is founded on the strength of her moral standards. She challenges everyone with dreams of leadership to hold fast to their morals, avoid double standards and recognize that leadership is never about the leader, and always about those they serve.
She also challenges leaders to help those around them, regardless of background, realize their talents and find ways to succeed. However, those opportunities are only as valuable as the education upon which they are anchored.
“Education prepares you for opportunity,” Tagle said. “It’s the key to everything, and helps you recognize when you need to go out and knock on the door of opportunity, instead of waiting for it to knock on yours.”