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Recognizing and celebrating the contributions of our diverse cultures

Sept. 26, 2019 – TCEQ commemorates Hispanic Heritage Month

By Marty Otero, TCEQ External Relations

Jason Ybarra Jaya Zyman Jaime Garza Collage

Hispanic Americans play a prominent role at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Their work ensures that the agency is operational day in and day out.

This year, from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, TCEQ commemorates Hispanic Heritage Month by spotlighting a few employees of Hispanic heritage that do amazing things at the agency.

“TCEQ prides itself on our cultural diversity, which is a direct byproduct of hiring the most qualified people in their field,” says Executive Director Toby Baker. “I would like to thank our employees that continue to make a positive impact to this agency.”

Working in the Houston region

Jason Ybarra conducts a MultiRAE monitoring demonstration for region 12 staff.
Jason Ybarra conducts a MultiRAE monitoring demonstration for region 12 staff.

Jason Ybarra, who was appointed last year as the special assistant to the Houston regional director, has worked for TCEQ for 22 years.

Ybarra grew up in Magnolia Park, an area in the East End of Houston near the Houston Ship Channel. His neighborhood is one of the oldest Hispanic neighborhoods in the city. Ybarra says that when he was little, his grandma loved to celebrate and be part of heritage festivals. She even signed him up for “baile folklorico” (traditional Mexican dances that emphasize local folk culture).

“I danced in the festivals for many years. As my family grew up, we always enjoyed celebrating our heritage in the neighborhood festivals, and definitely eating the amazing cultural food. Today, I share the same cultural heritage with my kids, and attend festivals in the neighborhoods of Houston.”

Ybarra started his career with TCEQ as an intern under the Mickey Leland Environmental Internship Program in 1995 and, after graduating from Sam Houston State University in 1996, accepted an investigator position in the Houston Region.

“I was an investigator for eight years in the Waste Section in the Houston Region. I worked my way to where I am now through dedication, hard work, and by following the TCEQ mission. I have gone from a work leader to a team leader, and then to section manager of emergency response and waste programs. In addition, I serve as the TCEQ Houston disaster response strike team coordinator, as a member of the Natural Disaster Operational Workgroup, and I am a member of the Executive Steering Group for the Central Texas Coastal Area Committee.”

“I love my job because everyone shares the same passion and dedication to the agency’s mission. I enjoy working with my colleagues and make every effort to help in their success. I work to make a difference in their lives through mentoring and working together every day. This job provides variety and challenges me every day in different ways, and I am always learning,” states Ybarra.

He adds, “I believe in the importance of diversity in the workplace. I believe that everyone, based on their experiences and background, brings different vantage points to problem-solving...[and] my exposure early on to many cultures gave me a positive view of things around me, which helps me be a better thinker and problem solver.”

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Working in the central office

Jaya Zyman leads a meeting with her staff and TCEQ attorneys to discuss jurisdiction between TCEQ and the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration with respect to well drilling and water treatment specialists licenses.
Jaya Zyman leads a meeting with her staff and TCEQ attorneys to discuss jurisdiction between TCEQ and the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration with respect to well drilling and water treatment specialists licenses.

Jaya Zyman has worked for the TCEQ for 10 years. Her first job here was as the team leader for the Stormwater and Pretreatment Team within the Water Quality Division.

“When I started at TCEQ, I had already worked for 23 years in the private sector as a consultant with environmental engineering firms, so I came to the agency with extensive environmental experience,” states Zyman.

In 2011, Zyman was promoted to assistant director of the Water Quality Division within the Office of Water, and in February of 2015, she became the director of the Permitting and Registration Support Division within the Office of Waste, where she directs the registration and reporting for ten programs and the occupational licensing and training for approximately ten environmental occupations.

“While at TCEQ, I have been able to participate in environmental issues at the border, provide relevant information and guidance to Spanish speaking customers, and translate a few of our water and wastewater entry-level occupational licensing exams.”

Zyman continues, “the thing I love the most about my job here at TCEQ is that I feel that I can make a real difference in improving people’s lives, not only by setting policy and issuing permits and registrations to protect the environment, but also by giving Texans opportunities to earn a living in an environmental occupation. TCEQ is a great agency to work for and is very welcoming of people with different backgrounds and skills.”

Zyman was raised in Mexico City and still travels back often to visit family and friends that live there. “When growing up, my family enjoyed attending the ballet folklorico, celebrating birthday parties with bright colored pinatas, and going out on Sundays for outstanding Mexican food while listening to mariachi music or going for a picnic and horse back in the mountains.”

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Working in the Harlingen and Laredo regions

Jaime Garza prepares material and maps for a meeting with Harris County officials.
Jaime Garza prepares material and maps for a meeting with Maverick County officials.

Jaime Garza, Regional Director for the Harlingen and Laredo regional offices, has been with the TCEQ for 19 years.

“I was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, and was raised on the Texas border with Mexico and Eagle Pass,” Garza shares. “Growing up on the border allowed me to experience the many wonderful facets of Hispanic culture, like Mexican weddings: just 600 of your closest friends and family. The food—tacos, tamales, empanadas, mole, and menudo—all delicious, and always available.”

Garza stated that one of his favorite things to do on the border is celebrate quinceañeras, the traditional celebration of a girl's fifteenth birthday. He’s proud to say that he learned how to dance norteño, cumbia, and huapango at quinceañeras. Incidentally, it’s through these unique Mexican dances that he met his wife.

“We still dance at quinceañeras quite a bit, except now I have two additional partners—my 14- and 16-year-old daughters.”

Garza also started with the agency as a Mickey Leland intern in the summer of 1999. After his internship, he went back to school to finish his final semester, and then started working as an enforcement coordinator at TCEQ. From there, he went on to work as an environmental investigator, got promoted to work leader, and then section manager.

What he loves about his job at TCEQ is the strong family culture. Garza states that Hispanic families are known for being close-knit.

“Growing up as a migrant farm worker, I literally went to work with my mom and dad, brothers and sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents (in as few vehicles as possible). Needless to say, we were very close. We worked together, ate together, played together, and celebrated each other more often than necessary. Although this was difficult and physically challenging work, it was an amazing experience and I have very fond memories of that time. In many ways, working at the TCEQ also feels like working with family. Work here can be difficult and challenging, but it’s a lot of fun when you’re working with family.”

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Through the years, serving as commissioners

2019 Hispanic Heritage Month Infographic

Over the years, TCEQ has also seen its share of Hispanic commissioners, as well as one chairman. From 1994 to 2006, R.B. “Ralph” Marquez served as commissioner for the TCEQ. Buddy Garcia served as commissioner from March 2007 to August 2007, then served as chairman from August 2007 to August 2009, and then again as commissioner from September 2009 to April 2012. Carlos Rubinstein served as commissioner from September 2009 to September 2013.

Commissioner R.B. “Ralph” Marquez, of Texas City, was appointed by Governor George W. Bush on May 1, 1995. Before his appointment, Commissioner Marquez served on several TNRCC (former name of the TCEQ) advisory committees and task forces. He worked as a registered professional engineer and was a vice-chair of the Texas Chemical Council environmental committee and a board member of the Gulf Coast Water Authority and served on the State of Texas Waste Reduction Advisory Committee.

Commissioner Buddy Garcia, prior to his service as the deputy secretary of state, served as senate liaison for the Office of the Governor and as a special assistant to the governor on Texas border affairs with Mexico. In 2004, Governor Rick Perry appointed Garcia as the border commerce coordinator, where he worked on trade issues with Mexico and Canada, dealt with water and wastewater issues, and coordinated sales of electricity from Texas to Mexico. A native of Brownsville, Garcia graduated from St. Joseph Academy and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Southwest Texas State University, now Texas State University

Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein served as the TCEQ’s deputy executive director from June of 2008 to 2009. His responsibilities included assisting the executive director in all major capacities, such as directing operations of all employees across seventeen statewide offices, and administrative oversight of the agency budget, legislative activity, and implementation of agency policies. Prior to his position as deputy executive director, Rubinstein served as the director of the border and South-Central Texas area, and earlier as regional director for the Harlingen and Laredo offices. During that time, Rubinstein also served as the Rio Grande watermaster, where he was responsible for allocating, monitoring, and controlling the use of surface water in the Rio Grande basin.

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All photos TCEQ.