The forgotten credit union that served thousands of unbanked El Pasoans (2023)

If you walk around El Paso’s Segundo Barrio neighborhood, it’s hard to avoid the legacy of the city’s beloved bicycle priest. Father Harold Joseph Rahm came to the city in 1952 and served as an assistant pastor at the historic Sacred Heart Church for 12 years.

In that short time, Rahm created a legacy that is still celebrated by residents: founding the Our Lady’s Youth Center to serve impoverished locals, creating outreach programs for low-income youth, working with gang members to clear their differences in the ring instead of the streets, riding his red bicycle around to reach community members in need.

Today, his efforts are memorialized in this Mexican-American barrio through several iconic murals, as well as a street that’s been named after him. But one of Rahm’s most critical contributions to the neighborhood has been largely forgotten: Creating the Tepeyac Credit Union, a pioneering financial institution to serve Segundo Barrio’s unbanked residents and protect them from loan sharks.

The forgotten credit union that served thousands of unbanked El Pasoans (1)

It’s a legacy that has largely been forgotten by El Pasoans, with several local historians telling El Paso Matters that they are not familiar with the initiative. But through archival research and an interview with one of the credit union’s early board members, El Paso Matters and Next City have begun to unravel that history.

It’s a history that illustrates community-based financial institutions’ power to support unbanked and impoverished people – and shows how such economic initiatives were a core part of major movements for social justice in the city.

The historic neighborhood in which Rahm served was known as South El Paso until several pockets were designated as Segundo Barrio, Chihuahuita and Duranguito in the 1970s. Banks redlined the community, making it challenging for residents to obtain financial services.

“People needed loans, and the banks at that time discriminated against South El Paso,” El Paso historian David Dorado Romo said. “There were redlining maps in the 1940s that deliberately neglected areas marked in red. Since people couldn’t qualify for any kind of loans, especially not for home improvement … the community had to create its own credit union.”

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In 1961, Rahm banded together with a group of residents and activists to create the Tepeyac Credit Union. According to Romo, one of these collaborators was Abelardo “Lalo” Delgado, the prominent Chicano poet from El Paso, who served as one of the credit union’s first presidents.

“He was one of the people that would go throughout the community and let them know that these kinds of services were available,” said Romo, who specializes in borderland studies. “Lalo, he was a great activist and also a very well-known poet.”

Delgado, who died in 2004, is considered the abuelito” (grandfather) of the Chicano literature movement, pioneering writing that reflected a commitment to social justice and illuminated Mexican American heritage and struggles.

“He was our cheerleader,” said Felipe Peralta, an early board member of Tepeyac. Peralta had been a youth worker at the Our Lady Youth Center when he was invited to serve on the credit union’s board. “He was always motivating us to do more things.”

The forgotten credit union that served thousands of unbanked El Pasoans (2)

Rahm and Delgado collaborated at the Our Lady Youth Center — housed at the site of the Douglass Grammar and High School, which served El Paso’s Black students from 1891 to 1920. The center, created in 1953 and located at 515 S. Kansas, served as a home to programs for Segundo Barrio residents, including an employment center and the Tepeyac Credit Union.

The building went by several names, Peralta said, mostly “KC” – the Knights of Columbus. “Eventually, Father Rahm, I don’t know how he got a hold of it. But that was his operation.”

“That was a place that generated a lot of social movement,” Romo said. “They had a lot of outreach projects for youths, they had the employment center — they would find jobs for people at Segundo Barrio — and they created the Tepeyac Credit Union. It was a religious, social work project in South El Paso.”

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Today, the notion of creating a credit union is unusual. In the past decade, only 25 credit unions have been chartered in the United States, as economic justice reporter Oscar Perry Abello reports for Next City. Before 1970, it was common to see 500 or 600 new credit unions chartered every year.

Tepeyac only had two employees, according to Peralta: office manager Teresa Cordero and Mr. Flores, who was in charge of debt collection. Peralta could not remember his first name.

“(Cordero) did a lot of work for the credit union,” Peralta said. “Mr. Flores, whenever he was around the neighborhood … you would not see anybody else because his job was to collect delinquent accounts. I can’t remember too many people defaulting on their loans.”

The forgotten credit union that served thousands of unbanked El Pasoans (3)

Indeed, a 1971 El Paso Times article records that only 18 of 1,448 loans had gone uncollected.

“I remember even borrowing money for my second car,” Peralta said. “If I remember correctly, at one point, we had over a million dollars. It helped a lot of people to generate their credit. Once they establish credit with us, we will trust them with a little more money. It really helped a lot of people.”

A March 1961 newspaper article from the El Paso Herald-Post showed the Tepeyac Credit Union had potentially 30,000 members, between congregants in the parish at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and employees of Our Lady’s Youth Center.

“Much time, effort, and sacrifice went into the organization of this unique credit union,” the article reads. “Realizing the problems involved in setting up a credit union which serves a large low-income group, volunteer workers, El Paso Chapter of Credit Unions personnel and many others devoting themselves to the task of solving those problems.”

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Rahm and a man named Ed Morrisey raised interest among the potential members, the El Paso Herald-Post article reads, while others held workshops to explain the idea and principles of operation of a credit union.

“Tepeyac Federal is considered a pioneer type credit union,” the news clipping says. “Prior to organization, its potential members had no access to credit union benefits and services. Experienced credit union workers now believe Tepeyac Federal Credit Union will not only succeed but will serve as a model … for the organization of similar credit unions elsewhere.”

The efforts of these activists helped create El Paso’s Chicano Movement for Mexican American civil rights, Romo said.

“They were serving the needs directly of the community that this local city government or state or federal governments were not meeting,” he added. “In 1972, when the La Raza Unida Party was organized, (Delgado) stood up and read his poetry to begin the whole conference.”

In El Paso, the credit union built upon the legacy of Mexican American sociedades mutualistas. These mutual aid societies focused on economic cooperation and community service, flourishing from the 1890s onward.

“It worked a little bit like credit unions,” Romo said. “Whenever people had an emergency sickness in the family, definitely for funerals. They were almost like community insurance groups. There’s a long tradition that goes back to the late 19th century, here on the border of Mexican American communities looking out for each other.”

Information on key figures within the credit union is difficult to come by, but a few names stand out in interviews and in news clippings. Peralta remembers John Falke – identified as the credit union president in a 1967 El Paso Herald-Post clipping – as a vital part of Tepeyac.

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“He was a veteran or involved in the military and he did a lot of the groundwork,” Peralta said. “He would go out of his way to set up the whole thing.”

Another institution of Tepeyac was Henry Rayas, who served as president and is showcased on newspaper clippings from the early ‘60s for his involvement. Peralta suggested that it may have been Falke and Rayas who started the credit union.

“(Rayas) and his wife had 18 children,” he recalled. “Once the children grew up and were a little bit more responsible, they would come and volunteer there.”

Peralta himself continues to be active in the community. He serves on the board of directors of Los Exes De La Bowie and Friends, a nonprofit organization that helps people with affordable housing.

“Everything that I have been fortunate to do, it has been because of El Segundo Barrio,” he said. “After that, I was involved with the Chicano Movement. My degree was in education. My goal was to teach at the public schools in South El Paso. But when I did my student teaching, I realized I was in over my head. Those kids were doing so badly that I knew that I couldn’t help them. So I went to try to help them with other stuff like housing.”

Today, the Tepeyac credit union is no longer operating. The exact date of when Tepeyac stopped serving the public is not clear, nor is the reason it shuttered. The latest statement of financial condition filed with the National Credit Union Administration was dated Dec. 31, 2003, showing $194,730 in total assets, 220 members and one part-time employee.

“I wonder what happened to (Tepeyac),” Peralta said. “We were doing so well.”

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He looks back at the board meetings, which also served as the credit union’s committee to approve loans. “It was a really effective operation. It was one of the best things that we had going. Now that I look back at something that I feel we should have continued with.”

This story was co-published with Next City as part of our joint Equitable Cities Reporting Fellowship For Borderland Narratives.



The forgotten credit union that served thousands of unbanked El Pasoans? ›

The now-closed Tepeyac Credit Union was a pioneering financial institution that served South El Paso's unbanked residents and protected them from loan sharks.

What are the oldest credit unions? ›

1909. April 6, 1909 – St. Mary's Cooperative Credit Association, the first U.S. credit union, opens in Manchester, New Hampshire, with assistance from Alphonse Desjardins.

What is the history of consumers credit union? ›

Consumers became a state-chartered credit union in 1964 and its services grew to include employees of the Palisades nuclear power plant in Covert, Michigan. Kit Snyder was named the CEO in 1984. The name changed in 1987 to its current Consumers Credit Union.

What happened to credit unions during the Great Depression? ›

In 1934, Congress passed the Federal Credit Union Act, which allowed for federally chartered credit unions. The growth of credit unions accelerated during the Great Depression, as more Americans, forsaken by banks, joined with their neighbors to provide one another basic options for saving and borrowing.

What was the first credit union in the world? ›

In 1865 Luigi Luzzatti, the 'Schulze-Delitzsch' of Italy, founded the first credit union there: the People's Bank of Milan.

What is the hardest credit union to get into? ›

So if you find a new way to qualify, please leave a comment. Progressive Credit Union - You must be recommended by another member. This might be the most unique credit union requirement, and it also seems to be the toughest.

What is the richest credit union? ›

The largest credit union in the U.S. is Navy Federal Credit Union, with $156.65 billion in assets. As of 2022, the U.S. credit union industry has a market size of $103.3 billion.

What did all in credit union used to be called? ›

Our Story. All In Credit Union started as Army Aviation Center Federal Credit Union in 1966 during the height of the Vietnam Conflict.

What are credit union customers called? ›

At credit unions, depositors are called members. Each member is an owner of the credit union.

Who is the father of the U.S. credit union? ›

1921 — Boston, Massachusetts – Edward A. Filene, a wealthy merchant considered the “father of U.S. credit unions,” and Roy F. Bergengren, a lawyer, organize the Credit Union National Extension Bureau, with goals to enact credit union laws and form credit unions.

Have credit unions ever failed? ›

National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) credit unions had seven conservatorships/liquidations in 2022 and two so far in 2023. While credit unions have experienced several failures in 2022, there were no Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Can banks seize your money if economy fails? ›

The short answer is no. Banks cannot take your money without your permission, at least not legally. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures deposits up to $250,000 per account holder, per bank.

What banks have collapsed? ›

The collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank were the second- and third-largest bank failures in the history of the United States, respectively, smaller only than the collapse of Washington Mutual during the 2007–2008 financial crisis.

What is the largest credit union in the world? ›

Being CEO of Navy Federal Credit Union is a bit different from running any other financial institution — and not only because it's the largest credit union in the world. The job requires an intimate knowledge of the military lifestyle.

What country was the birthplace of credit unions? ›

The first credit union was established in 1864 by Friedrich Raiffeisen in rural southern Germany. Raiffeisen believed his neighbors and friends could enjoy an enhanced standard of living and avoid lending from loan sharks, if only they had access to common funds.

What is the biggest credit union in the US? ›

The Largest U.S. Credit Unions

Navy Federal is the largest credit union in the US and worldwide with more than 11 million members and $157 billion in total assets. The top 10, top 50 and top 100 credit unions hold combined assets of $388 billion, $760 billion and $1.0 trillion, respectively.

What is the easiest credit union to get into? ›

Credit unions with easy membership requirements
  1. Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union. Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union Superior Money Market Account. ...
  2. Alliant Credit Union. Alliant High-Interest Checking Account. ...
  3. Bethpage Federal Credit Union. Bethpage Federal Credit Union Certificate Account. ...
  4. Blue Federal Credit Union.
6 days ago

Are big banks safer than credit unions? ›

Just like banks, credit unions are federally insured; however, credit unions are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Instead, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) is the federal insurer of credit unions, making them just as safe as traditional banks.

What bank do most billionaires use? ›

Two common perks embedded into these millionaire bank accounts include waived fees and personal bankers.
  • 10 Bank Accounts the Ultra-Rich Use. ...
  • Bank of America Private Bank. ...
  • Chase Private Client. ...
  • Morgan Stanley CashPlus. ...
  • HSBC Premier Checking. ...
  • TD Bank Private Banking. ...
  • PNC Private BankSM Checking. ...
  • Truist Wealth Checking.
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Can I put millions in a credit union? ›

All deposits at federally insured credit unions are protected by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund, with deposits insured up to at least $250,000 per individual depositor.

What is the largest black owned credit union? ›

OneUnited, the largest Black-owned bank in the U.S., manages around $625 million in assets.

Do credit unions report to the IRS? ›

The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) and the exempt federal credit unions under its supervision are organizations described in section 501(c)(1) of the Code and are not required to file annual information returns (e.g., Form 990).

What is the credit union with a funny name? ›

We're the credit union with the funny name. Our name may be funny, but to us, your financial dreams and goals are serious business. We make money simple and do what's right for our members. Our name SESLOC is an acronym for School Employees of San Luis Obispo County.

How many credit unions failed since 2008? ›

Wholesale credit unions, also known as corporate credit unions, invest money for retail credit unions and provide them with check clearing and other services. Since the start of 2008, 66 retail unions have failed, compared with more than 290 banks or savings institutions.

What is a predatory financial service? ›

Lending and mortgage origination practices become "predatory" when the borrower is led into a transaction that is not what they expected. Predatory lending practices may involve lenders, mortgage brokers, real estate brokers, attorneys, and home improvement contractors.

Who typically owns a credit union? ›

Credit unions are owned and controlled by the people, or members, who use their services. Your vote counts. A volunteer board of directors is elected by members to manage a credit union.

How do credit unions make money? ›

Credit unions make money through interest, fees and loans. The main difference is that credit unions generally make less money than banks because credit unions charge lower interest rates and offer their members more perks.

Which state has most credit unions? ›

Texas: 18 CDFI-certified credit unions.

Its larger geographic size and population also holds more credit unions compared to the rest of the nation.

What is the largest credit union in Texas? ›

With assets exceeding $15 billion, RBFCU serves more than 1 million members at 62 branch locations throughout Texas.

What percentage of Americans are credit union members? ›

According to Callahan & Associates, credit union membership is now at 4%, its highest rate since 2018. Membership reached approximately 130.2 million, with 5 million people joining credit unions between Q3 2020 and Q3 2021.

What is a weakness of a credit union? ›

Weaknesses of Credit Unions

The membership of a credit union is restricted to a specific community, most often a religion, profession, or geographic location. For a member to be eligible to join a credit union, they must belong to a group listed in the credit union's charter.

Has anyone ever lost money in a credit union? ›

No member of a federally insured credit union has ever lost a penny in insured accounts. An AME holds the assets of a failed institution.

Why you should not bank with a credit union? ›

Credit unions tend to have fewer branches than traditional banks. A credit union may not be close to where you live or work, which could be a problem unless your credit union is part of a shared branch network and/or a large ATM network like Allpoint or MoneyPass. May offer fewer products and services.

How much money can you put in the bank without being flagged? ›

Does a Bank Report Large Cash Deposits? Depositing a big amount of cash that is $10,000 or more means your bank or credit union will report it to the federal government. The $10,000 threshold was created as part of the Bank Secrecy Act, passed by Congress in 1970, and adjusted with the Patriot Act in 2002.

Where is the safest place to keep cash at home? ›

Where to safely keep cash at home. Just like any other piece of paper, cash can get lost, wet or burned. Consider buying a fireproof and waterproof safe for your home. It's also useful for storing other valuables in your home such as jewelry and important personal documents.

What is the safest bank in the US? ›

5 Safest Banks in the U.S.
JP Morgan Chase$3.2 trillion
Bank of America$2.42 trillion
Citi$1.77 trillion
Wells Fargo$1.72 trillion
1 more row
Mar 23, 2023

Which banks are in trouble in 2023? ›

Among these banks were Silvergate Bank, Silicon Valley Bank, and Signature Bank, which collapsed in March 2023 Additionally, undercapitalization, loan quality, and losses on investment securities are common reasons why banks may fail.

Which US banks are in trouble? ›

Two regional US banks, California-based Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and New York's Signature Bank, have collapsed under the weight of heavy losses on their bond portfolios and a massive run on deposits.

What bank was too big to fail? ›

Companies Considered Too Big to Fail

Bank of America Corp. The Bank of New York Mellon Corp. Citigroup Inc. The Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

How many billion dollar credit unions are there? ›

The number of credit unions in the United States is declining, but the number of credit unions managing assets in excess of one billion U.S. dollars has increased during the period from 2016 to 2021. In 2016, there were 272 credit unions that large, but the number increased to 404 by 2021.

Are big banks better than credit unions? ›

Key Takeaways. Credit unions tend to have lower fees and better interest rates on savings accounts and loans, while banks' mobile apps and online technology tend to be more advanced. Banks often have more branches and ATMs nationwide.

What is the second largest credit union? ›


Can you make money by starting a credit union? ›

Starting a credit union can be very profitable. With proper planning, execution and hard work, you can enjoy great success. Below you will learn the keys to launching a successful credit union. Importantly, a critical step in starting a credit union is to complete your business plan.

What bank was first union? ›

First Union Corporation was founded as Union National Bank on June 2, 1908, a small banking desk in the lobby of a hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina, by H. M. Victor. The bank merged with First National Bank and Trust Company of Asheville in 1958 to become First Union National Bank of North Carolina.

What bank was before first union? ›

Image from the North Carolina Digital Collections. The First Union Bank Corporation was founded in 1908 by H. M. Victor as the Union National Bank, which developed a strong economic base through innovation.

What is the oldest credit union? ›

1909. April 6, 1909 – St. Mary's Cooperative Credit Association, the first U.S. credit union, opens in Manchester, New Hampshire, with assistance from Alphonse Desjardins. Massachusetts Bank Commissioner Pierre Jay and wealthy Boston merchant Edward A.

What credit union is all over the US? ›

Sky One Federal Credit Union is a nationwide credit union that has been around for over 70 years. They are branching into offering more competitive online products, and their money market account is one of the highest rates you can earn right now.

What are the three largest credit unions? ›

No need to go digging through a database. Here it is. These numbers are based on the latest December 2022 data from the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). As in prior years, Navy Federal Credit Union, State Employees', PenFed, and BECU are the largest credit unions by asset size.

What are the three main credit unions? ›

Equifax, Experian and TransUnion are the three main consumer credit bureaus. They collect and store information about you that they use to generate your credit reports, which are used as the basis of your credit scores.

Are credit unions still better than banks? ›

Credit unions typically offer lower fees, higher savings rates, and a more personalized approach to customer service for their members. In addition, credit unions may offer lower interest rates on loans.

What is a good credit score? ›

Although ranges vary depending on the credit scoring model, generally credit scores from 580 to 669 are considered fair; 670 to 739 are considered good; 740 to 799 are considered very good; and 800 and up are considered excellent.

What credit score is most important? ›

FICO® Scores are used by 90% of top lenders, but even so, there's no single credit score or scoring system that's most important. In a very real way, the score that matters most is the one used by the lender willing to offer you the best lending terms.

What FICO score does Capital One use for credit cards? ›

Your CreditWise score is calculated using the TransUnion® VantageScore® 3.0 model, which is one of many credit scoring models.

Who is the biggest credit union in Texas? ›

What is the largest credit union in Texas? The largest credit union in Texas is Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union, with 938,318 members and $13.25 Billion in assets.

What state has the most credit unions? ›

Texas: 18 CDFI-certified credit unions.

Its larger geographic size and population also holds more credit unions compared to the rest of the nation.

What credit unions failed in 2023? ›

Inter-American Federal Credit Union is the first federally insured credit union to fail in 2023.

Can credit unions turn you down? ›

Even with relatively generous lending standards, a credit union may still turn down your loan application. If that happens, you still have some other borrowing options, and the approach that might do you the best could be pursuing a debt consolidation loan—borrowing funds to pay off your existing debt.

Are credit unions in decline? ›

The number of federally insured credit unions declined to 4,760 in the fourth quarter of 2022, from 4,942 in the fourth quarter of 2021. In the fourth quarter of 2022, there were 2,980 federal credit unions and 1,780 federally insured, state-chartered credit unions.


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