BY DIANA DE LA GARZA
Times staff writer
It was never in his nature to be passive, and he was never
discouraged by the odds he faced.
Because of these traits, along with his eagerness and perseverance to
make Laredo a better city, Aldo Tatangelo is a man respected, loved and
admired by those who surround him.
During his 12-year tenure as mayor of Laredo from 1978 to 1990,
Tatangelo, remembered as the man responsible for the paving of Laredo's
streets, establishing a pension plan for city employees, reorganizing
the city's street department, developing a Parks and Recreation
Department and promoting affordable housing for low-income families.
At the age of 89, Tatangelo, who is still referred to by many as
"mayor Tatangelo," remembers his life's struggles, the
victories and defeats he endured in helping to make Laredo the city it
Tatangelo was born Sept. 16, 1913, the second of five children -
Guido, Leo, Eva and Gilda.
His parents, Nocolo and Bettina Tatangelo were Italian immigrants who
moved to Rhode Island in 1910 with the hopes of providing a better life
for their children.
In 1917, Nocolo Tatangelo established a jewelry manufacturing plant,
and by the 1930s, the factory had prospered so that they changed the
name from N. Tatangelo to Standard Ring and Company.
In 1929, when Tatangelo was 16, he dropped out of regular school and
went to work at his father's company.
"This was the time of the Depression and my father needed help,
so I went to work with him and enrolled in night school," Tatangelo
After finishing high school, Tatangelo went on to study plastic
engineering and graduated with a degree from Brighton and Stratton
He continued to work for his father until 1943, when he enlisted in
the U.S. Navy.
That same year, Tatangelo married Alice, an employee at his father's
company. Tatangelo and Alice would be married for 57 years, until
Alice's death in 2001.
While in the Navy, Tatangelo served as fireman first class in the
In 1945, when Tatangelo returned from the Navy, he established his
own sunglass factory in Providence, R.I., Atlantic Optical Products.
"I only had $380 in my pocket but I wanted to start my own
business so I did," Tatangelo said.
Two years later, Atlantic Optical Products had grown to 168 employees
and was producing an average of 5,000 sunglasses per day, making it the
second largest manufacturer of sunglasses in the country.
In 1949, Tatangelo opened a branch in Mexico City with a Mexican
Years later, when he moved to Mexico to supervise the operation, he
realized that his partner was not willing to share the authority. Soon
thereafter, Tatangelo sold his part of the business.
When Tatangelo's mother died in 1963, Tatangelo decided it was time
he and his family moved back to the U.S.
"I had always felt like a foreigner in Mexico. I liked the city,
but I didn't think it was a place for my children to grow up in,"
Tatangelo wanted to live in a border city where he would establish
businesses on both Mexican and American sides. After looking at
Brownsville and Eagle Pass, Tatangelo chose Laredo.
Once in Laredo, Tatangelo established a jewelry-making factory and
went into business with Eulalio Cavazos, a professor at Laredo Community
College. But the partnership did not last. He bought out Cavazos and
made the enterprise a family business. It was called Frontier Novelty.
Around the same time, Tatangelo established a plant in Nuevo Laredo
in which he would assemble jewelry and optical products.
In his first years of residence in Laredo, Tatangelo had not become
involved in politics.
But through his business, he had learned of the various issues that
affected the Laredo community.
"I had a summer house in Zapata and learned that they had a fire
station manned by volunteers, I thought, we could have that in
Laredo," Tatangelo said.
In 1973, Tatangelo talked to the Webb County Commissioners Court
about establishing a volunteer fire station in front of what is now St.
"They asked me when the last time that there had been a fire in
that area had been," Tatangelo said. "And so I told them, 'so
you're saying that just because I am not sick right now, we shouldn't
Tatangelo recruited 39 volunteers, and that same year, the fire
station was built.
By the 1970s, 75 percent of the streets in Laredo were unpaved and
Tatangelo could not understand why such a low standard was allowed.
"Cranston (R.I.) had the same population as Laredo and they had
a budget of $1 million while Laredo had a budget of $3 million, and
their streets were paved. Why?" Tatangelo said. "They had to
put money aside for the snow and the 58 average inches of rain that they
had every year. Laredo didn't have to do that, so why couldn't we afford
Tatangelo remembers posing such questions to then-Mayor J.C. Martin,
who repeatedly answered by saying that Laredo was a poor city.
Tatangelo then proposed a donation of $6,500 to purchase paving
equipment that would be utilized by the city's employees. The proposal
was turned down.
But Tatangelo persisted with the paving issue, and for one year,
attended every single city council meeting where he discussed the item
time after time.
"I believed it could be done, I didn't see any reason why it
couldn't," Tatangelo said.
City Council eventually agreed to a paving experiment that took place
in a six-block area in San Ignacio.
It was around that time that Tatangelo, who had discovered how
manipulated the city was by the "patron system" decided to run
"I would go to the city council meetings, and nobody would pay
attention to me. I said, 'maybe I should be inside instead of outside
looking in,'" Tatangelo said.
But Martin had been mayor for more than 20 years, and had such strong
political support that in most of his races, there were no more than two
votes cast for the other candidates.
"Laredo was such a closed city," Tatangelo said.
"There was a clique, and if you were part of it, you were OK, but
if you weren't, then things were not good."
Tatangelo didn't have anything personal against Martin, he just
didn't agree with the way he ran the city, he said.
"He always said Laredo was a poor city, but I thought it was a
rich city that could do a lot of things," Tatangelo said.
Martin refused to run for a seventh term.
During his campaign for mayor, Tatangelo remembers visiting 10,100
homes in the process.
"I lost 25 pounds!" Tatangelo said laughing.
Tatangelo went on to win the election in 1978 with 9,748 votes.
This would represent a new beginning for Laredo.
"This was a new administration, with new ideas, new things to
do," Tatangelo said. "The rest, as you know, is history."
During his 12-years as mayor, Tatangelo made many changes in Laredo,
always believing that Laredo was a great city that could prosper.
Looking back over his life and the many changes that he made for
Laredo, Tatangelo remains a humble man.
"People want to give me a lot of credit for the things that were
done while I was mayor," Tatangelo said. "But there were so
many good people that were doing their job, and they could tell me a
thing or two. I give credit more to them than I do to myself."
Almost four years after recovering from open-heart surgery, Tatangelo
is still concerned about the progress of Laredo and wishes he could be
"I still have many ideas, but physically the doctors don't want
me to get too involved. I miss that," Tatangelo said. "I miss
being able to sit down and trying to figure out problems. It bothers
Sitting on his patio, surrounded by an elaborately adorned backyard,
Tatangelo no longer owns any of the companies and remains busy with
Kiwanis meetings and local events.
"What you see here is all I have left," Tatangelo said.
With three children-Aldo Jr. Linda and Robert; three grandchildren -
Matthew, Nicole and Laura, Tatangelo said he is happy with what he's
done with his life and how everything has turned out.
"As a whole, it was alright," Tatangelo said with a far
away look in his eyes. "There were more things that I would have
liked to do, but hey, you can't get everything you want, right?"