Jose Silva was born in Laredo, Texas. He and his older sister and younger brother were raised by their grandmother. Silva supported the family from a very young age by selling newspapers, shining shoes, and doing odd jobs. He never attended school, but learned to read and write by watching his sister and brother do their homework.
Silva was able to study a correspondence course on radio repair through an agreement with the town barber, under which the barber rented the lessons to Silva, and Silva earned the diploma in the barber’s name.