He’s had the responsibility of guarding four presidents, two ex-presidents, and a vice-president, along with various international figures. Through 22 years in the ranks of the Secret Service, Anthony M. Chapa, better known as Tony Chapa, is retiring with the honor of being the highest-ranking Latino agent in the history of one of the oldest and most prestigious federal agencies in the United States.
“I feel very proud and honored for having belonged to the Secret Service,” he admits with nostalgia.
For more than two decades, Chapa was a real-life super secret agent. In an interview with Expediente Rojo before leaving the service, he commented, “Our discretion is due in part that there are many people in certain places of the world or in prisons that would like to everything about us, our identities, and where our families are located. For that reason, we try to be as reserved as possible, although we can’t always be completely secret,” he explains.
The Secret Service veteran began as a police officer in San Antonio, Texas, where he is originally from. For five years he was in direct contact with the people, particularly in high-risk Latino areas. ”Since then I learned that the ability to communicate is more effective than a fire arm,” he said, remembering his early days.
“I feel very proud to be Latino, especially Mexican like my father and grandfather who were already in Texas way before the state became U.S. territory,” he recognizes. ”I remember that my grandparents would say that they never came to the United States, rather that the United States went to them. That was my first contact with the Latino world. I didn’t speak Spanish very well but it was just a matter of time and interest. Soon after I realized that speaking two languages would be an enormous advantage.”
Risk and Opportunity
For Tony Chapa, there was always risk and opportunity in his work. “As a Latino I always looked for and took opportunities that presented themselves to me. I took advantage of the language and my proximity to the culture. Today I can say with pride that I feel honored to have had the opportunity to visit and work in Latin American countries and to get to know my roots better, to have a broader vision of of the world, who I am and where I come from.”
He also recognizes that his work could be “extremely dangerous”. He explained, “When we found ourselves providing protection, we were always at risk. Your body, your mind, and your actions must always be alert. We were always the last link in the line of defense.”
Chapa was the special agent commissioned to coordinate the funeral proceedings for ex-President Ronald Reagan. This was the first state funeral in years. The last one he had memory of was Lyndon B. Johnson. He remembers that no one else in the agency had the experience of managing an event of such magnitude. “We knew that the ex-president was very ill and for months we prepared and coordinated with diverse agencies, which made us able to receive dignitaries and personalities from all parts of the world without problems”.
Tony Chapa doesn’t feel nor consider himself a hero. Although he did explain to Expediente Rojo that, “the people who worked with me day-to-day are the heroes. They confront a risk each moment considering they’re not in U.S. territory, rather abroad, in whatever part of the world without protection”.
Very humble and always discreet, Chapa seems to admit that in certain moments in his life he could have been close to being called a hero in the streets, combating crime. In this way, he does think that he could be considered an example for other Latinos that are trying to reach their goals.
“We can’t say the exact number of Latinos in the Secret Service. But it’s almost at 5%. That’s very good. But not enough. Now we are unveiling the face of the Secret Service to invite Latinos to join the agency,” he noted.
Tony Chapa was in charge of special missions and protecting dignitaries and international figures, as well as ex-presidents Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and then president-elect George W. Bush. The Secret Service has also recognized Tony Chapa with various honors and awards, as have other foreign governments such as Columbia, for his efforts as a Special Agent.