Jose Luis Garay loved cruising the Delta area: Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa and Monte Alto. He never went far but went everywhere. His family was blessed to come along for those rides — and to bear witness to those frequent adventures.

Luis was born Sept. 11, 1946, in Cedral, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. His family had already been established in Elsa for quite some time, but his birth came during a regular visit to their homeland. The fifth of six children born to Felix and Maria Garay, Luis’ life was equally nurtured from both sides of the border.

Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, he embraced American culture: the food, music, style and the cars. But traditional Mexican values of family governed the Garays.

He was an altar boy in the daily morning Masses at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Elsa. After Mass, he worked as a school crossing guard to pay for his meals at school. Placed in grade 0 when he first enrolled in elementary school, Luis graduated high school at the age of 20. He would then become the first in his family to attend college and graduate from Pan American College. Eventually, he also earned a master’s degree from Texas A&I.

College life presented Luis with unique challenges. His siblings had since moved out, and Felix, his father, became too sick to work, leaving Luis with the responsibility as sole bread winner of the family.

Throughout college, he worked 70 hours a week at the H-E-B in Elsa, carried a full college load, while hitchhiking every day to and from Pan Am.

Though tempted to quit college many times, especially when his father died, Luis knew that continuing college would be the best way to honor him.

Felix always said, “You’ve worked the fields. You should know by now that it is easier to lift a pencil than it is to lift a hoe. Get an education!” Luis graduated college and became a teacher.

Luis’ students remember him telling the best stories. Using traditional cuentos as teaching tools, he picked the perfect expressions, intonations and crescendos to hook and reach audiences.

But his best stories were told in those late-night cruises with family. Even on school nights, the Garays drove all around the Delta area, talking, praying and singing. The car boomed with songs from Elvis and Janis, intertwined with Juan Gabriel and Vicente Fernandez.

Each song was a story-starter. Each place, a memory-marker. Luis narrated with the same enthusiasm he used to captivate his students. Long after retirement, Luis continued his cruising routine, blessing his hometown on his shortened route, concluding each day praying his rosary.

Jose Luis Garay died on July 22 from COVID-19 at the age of 73. Left to treasure his memory, and his stories, are his wife Maria Elba, his children Araceli, Jose Luis, and Genieve, six grandchildren, and his students and colleagues at La Villa ISD. We bear witness to Jose Luis Garay, who lived a life worth living.

This story is part of an ongoing series entitled Bearing Witness. In the series, the Museum of South Texas History aims to document some of the Rio Grande Valley lives lost to COVID-19. For more information about the museum, visit