Dr. Hector Garcia was a doctor, a veteran of the military, and a supporter of Mexican Americans’ rights.
How did Hector Garcia live?
When Hector Garcia was a little boy, he and his family moved from Mexico to the United States. Even though he had to deal with racism and quotas in school, he was still able to get a medical degree. Hector Garcia was in the U.S. Army during World War II, and after the war he moved to Corpus Christi, Texas. After seeing how hard it was for Mexican American veterans to get benefits, Garcia moved to California and opened a medical practice.
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Work for Civil Rights:
Hector Garcia also started working for civil rights. In 1948, Garcia set up the American G.I. Forum to help these veterans. The group grew to have chapters all over the country and is still going strong today. It worked on issues like school integration and getting rid of the poll tax in Texas. In 1984, he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Hector Perez Garcia was born on January 17, 1914, in Llera, Tamaulipas, Mexico, to teachers Jose Garcia and Faustina Perez Garcia. In 1918, when Garcia was only 3 years old, his family had to leave Mexico because of the violence of the Mexican Revolution. They moved legally to Texas. In 1946, Garcia became a citizen of the United States.
Garcia grew up in the Texas town of Mercedes. He did well in school and was named valedictorian of his high school in 1932. Garcia later said that one of the things that drove him to do well was that a teacher once told him, “No Mexican will ever get an A in my class.”
After Garcia went to Edinburg Junior College, he moved on to the University of Texas, where he got his degree in 1936. Then Hector went to the University Of Texas School Of Medicine (Galveston). He was the main Latino in his group in view of a quota. Garcia couldn’t find a place to live in Texas because of discrimination. Instead, he became a resident at St. Joseph’s Hospital at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
Serve in the Military:
When Garcia was 15, he joined the Citizens Military Training Corps. During World War II, in 1942, he joined the U.S. Army on his own. He was given the Bronze Star for his service in Europe and North Africa.
Equal Rights in Military:
Garcia’s time in the military showed him how important equal rights are. In 1947, he wondered if some Mexican American deaths in World War II were caused by the fact that these soldiers went to segregated schools and got a lower-quality education. He said that “some of those lives might not have been lost” if they had been “better equipped and trained to defend themselves.”
Join the League of United Latin American Citizens:
After World War II ended, Garcia moved to Corpus Christi, Texas. He started a medical practice and joined the League of United Latin American Citizens. One of the goals of LULAC was to fight against racism. But Garcia thought more needed to be done to help Mexican American veterans who had trouble getting services from the Veterans Administration, like the G.I. Bill, home loans, and care at V.A. hospitals. In March 1948, he set up the American G.I. Forum to deal with these problems.
In January 1949, Garcia told the media and public figures, including then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, that a funeral director wouldn’t let the family of Private Felix Longoria hold services in a chapel in Longoria’s hometown of Three Rivers, Texas, because “the whites wouldn’t like it.” Johnson instead made plans for Longoria to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The event, which became known as the Longoria Affair, was a turning point in the fight for equal treatment of Mexican Americans. Also, it showed how strong the American G.I. Forum is.
Education is our Freedom:
The American G.I. Forum motto was “Education is our Freedom, and Freedom Should Be Everyone’s Business”, went on to fight for civil rights in other ways. They fought to end school segregation and won a case that said Mexican Americans couldn’t be stopped from serving on Texas grand juries. The group also ran campaigns against the poll tax in Texas and to get people registered to vote.
The American G.I. Forum wanted people with and without papers to be able to work in better conditions. But the group did support some border restrictions because it said that the presence of Mexican workers made Mexican Americans’ wages go down.
Career in Politics:
Garcia worked as a coordinator for “Viva Kennedy” clubs during the 1960 presidential campaign. He did this because he thought that if John F. Kennedy was elected, it would help the fight for civil rights. When Kennedy and Johnson won Texas by only 46,257 votes, it showed how much power Latino voters have in politics.
Federation of the West Indies:
Even though Kennedy put Garcia in charge of working on a defense treaty with the Federation of the West Indies, Garcia was disappointed that the Kennedy administration didn’t put Hispanics at the top of its list of priorities. But this didn’t stop Garcia from joining “Viva Johnson” clubs and voting for Johnson in the 1964 election.
Alternate Delegate to the United Nations:
Johnson chose Garcia to be an alternate delegate to the United Nations while he was president. In 1967, Garcia was the first person from the United States to speak to the General Assembly in a language other than English. Garcia was also put on the United States Commission on Civil Rights by Johnson. Later, President Jimmy Carter chose Garcia to be on the U.S. Circuit Judge Nominating Commission for the Western Fifth Circuit Panel.
Husband and Kids:
During the war, Garcia had the chance to meet Wanda Fusillo, who was from Naples. They got married in 1945 and had three daughters and a son after that. When he was a teen, their son was killed in an accident.
Activist for civil rights and Politics:
Garcia was an activist for civil rights and politics, but he was also a doctor who helped many people, whether or not they could pay him. Edna Ferber based the character of a Mexican-American doctor in her book Giant on him (1952).
On March 26, 1984, President Ronald Reagan gave Garcia the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was the first Mexican American to get this award. In 1990, Garcia was given the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II.
On July 26, 1996, Garcia died in Corpus Christi at the age of 82. He had been sick with cancer of the stomach.
Leaving a Legacy:
In 2010, Congress passed a resolution to recognize Garcia’s work for civil rights. Schools, a library, and a post office are all named after Garcia. In 2002, Justice for My People: The Dr. Hector P. Garcia Story, a documentary about his life, came out on public television. In 2012, one of his daughters set up the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Foundation to honour his life and work.