A Life Transition From a Mexican Coal Mine Chiminea to San Antonio’s Tower of the Americas. A Very Personal Profile of a San Antonio Bankruptcy Attorney, Part 2


Colonia Zaragoza and the Soria and Ramirez Family, A Family of Miners

To the left of the main boulevard you will come across the “Colonia Zaragoza”. As far as I know, it was probably named after a famous Mexican revolutionary figure. This Colonia is where my grandparents on my father and mother’s side lived. My maternal and paternal grandparents’ homes were about 4 or 5 blocks from each other. In the colonias, relationships and marriages seem to blossom within blocks of the couple’s homes. My uncle Raul married his next door girlfriend and raised a family of his own in a two room house behind my grandfather’s home. The Colonia Zaragoza is but one neighborhood or “colonias” located near the main boulevard; the “colonia sarabia”, the “colonia independencia”, the “colonia americana and others. The Colonia Americana was a neighborhood established during an era when an American coal company owned the mine in the area and developed the neighborhood for Americans living in town. A walk from the zaragoza neighborhood to the downtown area could take about 20 minutes, but less by bus. Growing up, the main boulevard was maintained for heavy vehicular traffic but not very attractive. Dust tended to blow in large clouds like you see in the desert scenes in the movies. It was customary to see people in the early morning sprinkling water outside their front homes, not to feed grass, since there wasn’t any, but to keep the dust from overtaking their homes. Every other road or street in the city was unpaved and covered with rocks, dirt and potholes. I remember playing soccer or running barefooted in the neighborhood and at times stumping my big toe, causing it to bleed. Later, when I visited the town in my early twenties, a drive thru the neighborhood felt like taking a detour onto a rocky river road.

Family of Miners
My maternal grandparents had 12 children that I got to know and 2 or 3 that did not survive their infant years. They are: Tio Epitacio, Tio Jose, Tio Raul, Tio Ricardo, Tio Rogelio, Tio Chuy, Tia Irma, Tia Cuca, Tia Licha, Tia Letti, Tio Arturo , and my mother .  My paternal grandparents had 7 children; Tia Emma, Tia Dora, Tia Lile, Tia Pera, Tia Licha , Tio Tono and my father.

Most of my uncles and grandparents on my mother and father’s side have worked in the mines at one time or another and some all their lives, retiring with meager pensions. Coal mining has long been one of the most dangerous industries in the world. Miners constantly risk personal injury due or death due to equipment failures or accidents, underground tunnel collapses, explosions and hazardous gases. When I was young, my grandmother’s brother lost his life in a mine explosion. It was a very difficult time for her and those around her.
Some of my relatives did not last long working for the mines but would just quit for other safer work. They worked as construction workers, driving trucks or as security guards. My grandfather, Jose Ramirez, had worked in the mines in the early part of the century long after the revolution. I heard that he would keep a low profile in the mines whenever they would hear that General Villa was in the area recruiting unwilling volunteers. My grandfather lived until his middle to late 90’s. I enjoyed his visits to San Antonio because it would give me an opportunity to treat him to his favorite fish caldo at the Golfo de Mexico restaurant. When I lived with him at an early age in that coal mining town there were three Jose’s in his house. My uncle Jose Ramirez Arevalo, my grandfather Jose Ramirez and me—Jose Luis Soria Ramirez. Later my uncle adopted a son he named Jose. Needless to say, I was not inclined to name a son of mine “Jose”. It would have been just too confusing and somewhat comical. I visualized introducing my son to the family in Mexico and it would go something like this: “Jose, this is my grandfather Jose, I was named after him. And over here let me introduce my uncle Jose, now, he was named after my grandfather too; and here is my uncle’s son, my cousin, his name is Jose and he was named after his father. Of course, I named you Jose, after me! By the way, If you ever marry and have male children, I expect you to call your son Jose.”

During his time at the mines, My grandfather Jose had an accident in the mines and lost his right thumb. He used to tell me that whenever someone needed a vacation, one way to get one was getting slightly injured on the job. Some would say to a coworker, I need a break to be with my family, “get me two weeks” or “I need four weeks” so, some would “accidentally get their hands smashed just a bid by the “mazo” or sledge hammer.

With the money that the American Mining Company paid him as compensation for his loss of thumb on his right hand, my grandfather opened up a little grocery store or “tiendita” in the neighborhood. It was called “Miscelanea Ramirez”. Weird, but to this day I still remember that store’s /home phone number; and now 45 or more years later and they still have that same home phone number. The company’s compensation gave my grandfather the opportunity to be in business for himself and to provide for his family of 12 and his wife for the rest of his life. In the 80’s when Mexico went thru its great Mexican peso deflation, the tiendita store became unprofitable. My grandfather had a big heart and could not help himself but give people credit that maybe in retrospect should have been limited due to peso devaluation. Too often my grandfather was too generous with credit even though objections could be heard from my grandmother in private later. The economy destroyed his business because by the time he resupplied the store, the peso would have lost so much value that the merchandise ended up costing him substantially much more than what he stood to recover from his credit customers. He never used collection agents or made personal visits to customers to their homes; or, call them at their homes to have them bring their accounts current. He would just gently remind them that their credit account was increasing and that they needed to reduce the balance. I don’t ever remember anyone carrying or showing credit cards or paying by check. All transactions where either cash or credit via a large heavy notebook with family names and charges in them. Credit cards were not visible in my daily life in this remote little town…

A Life Transition From a Mexican Coal Mine Chiminea to San Antonio’s Tower of the Americas. A Very Personal Profile of a San Antonio Bankruptcy Attorney.

Part 1: Birth Place: Mexico

“We are the products of our parents and the choices they make”

But for, a very determined and courageous 31 year old mother named “Zapopan Soria” I would not be writing this blog today much less as an attorney focusing in bankruptcy law. In fact, I would probably be practicing in a profession far removed from that of a lawyer or any other professional career. I can honestly say that at this stage of my life I would be living in Mexico as an uneducated permanent member of the poor class making a living as a laborer.

In more than one respect, we are the products of our parents and the choices they make when we are young. Decisions they make about what values, education, religion, and including where we should reside permanently are such critical child rearing issues that affect us for the rest of our lives. And for illegal immigrant children, the decision their parents make about whether to involuntarily return to a life of poverty and despair in the face of an Immigration agent’s threat of incarceration and deportation and whether to stay and risk everything is but one burden parents carry. Decisions on whether to enroll their illegal Mexican children in an American school system in a very small American town, despite a huge cloud of uncertainty about whether it would lead to immigration authorities becoming aware of their presence or would lead to questions about the family’s immigration status is yet another immediate burden these illegal parents face. These decisions that my mother and father made sealed our destiny for my siblings and me.

As you can guess by now, I was born in Mexico by circumstances beyond my control. I am a bankruptcy lawyer by profession and also an American citizen by choice. I was born to two Mexican parents in Mexico and raised briefly by two loving grandparents in Mexico, but most of all, I had the good fortune to be accepted by good hearted Americans and this beautiful country as a very young illegal immigrant child.

I am the product of two completely different worlds, with different languages, customs and traditions. Each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

What would I be doing today if not working for people who desperately seek my legal help with their credit card and medical debts and house foreclosure notices? Rather than a tie and coat, I would be wearing workman clothes smeared with coal dust and oil. For a well groomed face and hair, I would wear a dirty hard hat with a flash light and a face smeared in coal dust. In place of an air conditioned office with a comfortable chair and desk, I would be working a mile or two below ground crouched in low coal ceilings, digging coal all day or night, depending on the shift. In place of a paper and pen, I would be on my knees holding a pick and shovel constantly scraping out coal and enduring constant exposure to ice cold water on my lower extremities. No wonder my mother was so grateful being granted her American citizenship with all its rights and privileges. She accomplished this despite a very broken English just prior to her death. I can still recall her talking about the elections and primaries between Obama and Hillary. She was an ardent American Patriot before she became a citizen. When she visited our Mexican relatives she made it clearly known where she stood, defending the United States whenever political or social issues would come up in conversations about the U.S.

“Born in… a small Mexican coal mining town”

I was born on December 17, 1957 in the State of Coahuila, Mexico. The town I came from is a small Mexican coal mining town located in the high desert country, the northeast part of the
State of Coahuila. The State of Coahuila is a Mexican state neighboring Texas to the south. The population of the city of my birth is roughly the same size as San Marcos, Texas. That city’s dominating skyline features a tall coal smoking chimney and mining building. The mining plant and tower were built on the southern side of its downtown in the early 1930’s.

Getting to this coal mining town from San Antonio can best be done by driving to Eagle Pass and then across the border and travelling southwest via a two lane highway. It takes a little more than six hours to drive from San Antonio. Once you arrive there, off the highway, you will see a boulevard that splits the city in two parts. On your right you will see two adjoining schools. The middle school and the “Escuela Superior de Ingeneria” (Mining School which specializes in cranking out mining engineers). On the front of the building, the mining school used to have a very striking statute of a miner’s face and hat with a miner’s light on it. The style of the statute can be said to be very reminiscent to the labor or workers paintings made by Diego Rivera in the early 30’s .

Across the boulevard from the middle school on the left side you would find the one of the towns elementary schools. Public education in Mexico is free up to the six grade and then you must pay to get any further education. I attended that elementary school from first thru the fourth grade. The elementary school was quite rustic, without air conditioning and with barren playing fields. It consisted of two one story buildings parallel to each other with about six classrooms, one for each grade, restrooms and the principal’s office. A favorite school pastime of mine was to run in the back fields and booby trap them using the weeds by tying them together to make students fall when running or chasing each other. If you head south on the boulevard you will reach the downtown area about a quarter of a mile away. Further down on the boulevard from the schools you will pass a movie theatre and a church on the right side. Most, if not all the buildings, including their roofs are made out of cylinder blocks and concrete….

Going Once, Going Twice, Sold!!!

Financial Distress and The Fear of Loosing Your Home and Possessions in Bankruptcy Court

Most of us are familiar with the typical movie scene when a farmer or city dweller in financial distress comes face to face with the Auctioneer’s gavel. The farmer or city dweller finds himself in the midst of a crowd gathering around for a chance to bid on their family’s personal belongings and valuables. These are heart wrenching moments for those people facing the loss of what they worked for all their life. Those debtors are in true distress when dealing with demanding creditors and also fearing that if they file bankruptcy they will loose everything. This distress is evident when you have personally witnessed people in financial trouble or have seen movies with such heart-wrenching scenes. There are two movies that immediately come to mind. The first one, filmed in 1984 during the farm crisis is a movie called “country” with Jessica Lange. She portrays a famer’s wife who’s farm and contents are being sold to the highest bidder in an auction.
Here is the Jessica Lange scene:

In another movie, the Auction Scene is from Werner Herzog’s classic film, ‘Stroszek’ (1977). The film is about a Hungarian immigrant in Berlin, Germany, who moves to America with his girlfriend to live with his really old neighbor and his nephew. The ‘cowboy auctioneer’ – who is in charge of selling their mobile home and television exemplifies what most believe an auction experience is like, with the auctioneer loudly voicing various dollar bids from the crowed at a blazing speed. Here is the Auction Scene:

Texas Homestead and Bankruptcy Law
The reality in America is, that those scenes could be true depictions for those who file bankruptcy in terms of what they tend to loose, but it really depends on each particular state and their asset protection laws. In some states, families do loose what I would consider important and valuable belongings and property, when they file bankruptcy. These states fail to adequately protect their citizens’ assets from creditors . These states are creditor friendly and debtors are unable to protect a substantial part of the equity in their home or their vehicles or home furnishings and contents. Fortunately for Texans, Going back to the early times of the republic, Texas has had a very long tradition of sheltering its citizens from overly ambitious creditors. In the early republic, creditors would follow the settlers all the way to the new Texan frontier in an effort to seize their government land grants or homesteads for those settler’s debts. In an effort to protect the development of Texas, the early Coahuila state government and the Texan government passed laws protecting homesteads from seizure by creditors. Even today, you can see some of the original exemptions evident in the early laws on the books. Today you can keep your creditors from seizing your two firearms up to a value of $30,000 and two horses, mules or donkeys plus a saddle, blanket and bridle for each, 12 head of cattle, 60 head of other types of livestock, 120 fowl, forage on hand for each animal for a total of up to $30,000 in value; and 100% of any crop insurance proceeds.
Texas has the strongest homestead laws in the country. You can protect up to 100% of your home equity from creditors so long as you have lived in your home for at least 5 years; otherwise, your limit is $100,000.00 of equity. Compare this with the State of Missouri that allows only up to $15,000 of home equity value in a homestead to be protected from creditors; Or, compare Texas to the State of Indiana. The debtor in that state is limited to $17,600 in equity per person in their homestead , including personal property. They also have no specific exemption for automobiles . Besides its strong homestead protection, Texas has strong exemption protection for many other things debtors own such as home furnishings, automobiles, retirement accounts and the like. So, next time you hear or see a movie clip or news event that someone somewhere in the U.S. has filed for bankruptcy and has lost everything, step back and ask yourself–which state? Not in my state of Texas!

Is Bankruptcy an Easy Way Out?


Honest, Hard-Working People Experience Bankruptcy

Why would someone do the most unimaginable and extreme act of“filing for bankruptcy?” If anybody tells you that people who file bankruptcy are seeking an easy way out of their debt situation, don’t believe them! It has been my experience that filing bankruptcy is not the result of my clients’ conscious intent to avoid their financial responsibilities. By the time they get to my office, they have walked a very long, hard and painful road, mostly in silence. Their creditors’ actions are the main reason they seek bankruptcy advice. It isn’t greed or an attempt to get something for nothing, but it’s their creditors’ “extreme collection activities” which causes them to seek bankruptcy protection.

The Bankruptcy Predicament

By the time a person files for bankruptcy, they have tried many different ways to resolve their debt with the creditors and are simply trapped in a “callejon sin salida” or deadend alley. They have tried a way out by approaching debt resolution companies, often finding that those companies keep the first 10 months payments for their fees. So, by the time they make their 8thpayment, a lawsuit is filed by one of the
creditors and the clients are left out in the cold to fend for themselves. Others try debt consolidation agencies but they are so deep in debt that the interest deductions negotiated by the agencies for their accounts aren’t sufficient enough to lower their monthly payments to a more manageable level.
Additionally, secured creditors, like mortgage companies or car financing creditors almost always refuse to renegotiate arrears with credit counseling agencies. Still others will withdraw or borrow against their 401K accounts or other retirement accounts to settle part of their debts. Those people manage to get deeper into debt, especially the IRS penalties and taxes for withdrawing retirement money early. Yet, despite paying or settling with some of their creditors, they end up getting sued by the remaining creditors. Still, others attempt to settle accounts on their own—one at a time. Saving and saving over time to put together a $500 or $1,500 settlement offer for one card company or another, yet
seeing no end in sight for the remaining debts. Eventually, they give up saving and settling because one or more of the remaining creditors file a case at the courthouse against them.

Creditor Scare Tactics

People who owe money to creditors, including the ones who are very delinquent, still value their word to payoff their debts. They hope that someday they can payoff their debts and keep their credit cards with more manageable credit. Unfortunately, these people with delinquent accounts are driven to bankruptcy by what many perceive as creditor’s abusive tactics. These clients have suffered these
humiliating collection activities in silence and self-placed shame. They endure a daily dosage of telephone or cell phone collection calls from a collection agents to their home or work place.
Usually, these callers interrupt a quiet time at home with their significant other while people are watching their favorite television shows or movies; or they may be enjoying a quiet dinner at home; or taking part in a family gathering with siblings, parents or other relatives, who may or may not be aware of their financial strains. Its painful to be constantly reminded of their debts with these incessant calls. At the work place, they often ask co-workers to cover those collection calls for them to avoid speaking with those collection agents, in fear that the boss would find out and dismiss them for having too much personal issues! Aside the issue of whether those calls are legal or illegal, debtors don’t have the ability to stop the harassment by advising those collectors that they are violating the law when they use some of those tactics. The debtors just endure and make promises to pay to get rid of the callers, but which leads to just more phone calls. Collectors have been known to claim they can take someone’s paycheck away or be able to get a sheriff or police officer to issue an arrest warrant. Others call neighbors, friends and
relatives requesting to know how to get a hold of the debtor because he or she is late on their payments.

Unexpected Hardship

Filing bankruptcy is not a debtor’s first choice or “easy out” of their debt situation. It is often done as a
last resort, and probably the “hardest” decision they had to make in their lives. The same people that had stellar credit ratings a year before, are now considered the highest risk to those same credit companies. Still, most got there for something that happened in their lives for which they had no fault of their own. A wife or husband decides to leave the marital home for whatever reason, leaving the spouse with a one income household; or a wife or husband falling seriously ill and they are unable to maintain a full time employment and thus leaves the family to maintain the whole household with only one income.
In these most troubling economic times, caused by the same banks that issue those credit cards, one or both of the spouses loose their high paying jobs temporarily and have to rely on unemployment benefits to survive. Others , loose their spouse more permanently because of illness leaving them with all the medical bills and a household to take care off on their own. No matter what anyone tells you, don’t believe that a person who files for bankruptcy is doing it as an easy way to avoid his financial obligations to creditors.

When you find yourself in economic distress for any of the reasons mentioned in this blog, feel assured that Jose Soria, a San Antonio Bankruptcy Attorney, will listen and recommend the best course of action for you.


Personal Statement

Personal Introduction

My name is Jose L. Soria.  I am an Experienced San Antonio Bankruptcy Attorney. I am creating this weekly blog in order to inform potential clients of current events in the world of bankruptcy.  My intent is to develop this blog into other areas of law based on my substantial past legal and personal experiences.  It is my hope that this information is not only entertaining but informative as well. My law office is organized so as to my being able to personally serve each and every client. Feel assured that you can place your trust on our shoulders. At the Law Offices of Jose L. Soria, P.C., we have the right experience for your situation. Call for a free consultation to answer all your questions.