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Justice for my People: Dr. Hector P. Garcia - Biography

Dr. Hector P. Garcia believed in the American dream and lived it. He was a man who passionately quoted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and applied such texts to the outcast minorities of society.

He inspired Mexican Americans to educate themselves in democratic principles, then worked to apply those principles to all people through his organization, The American GI Forum.

Dr. Hector P. Garcia saw the flagrant deprivation of rights of Mexican Americans and spent his life working to effect positive change.

The Early Years of Dr. Hector P. Garcia

Ironically, it was the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 that gave the United States one of its most passionate devotees to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Jose and Faustina Garcia fled the revolutionary chaos in 1917 with their seven children to settle in the small town of Mercedes, in the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. There they endured conditions that many Mexican Americans faced.

Deemed a "virtual war zone," one historian writes of the Texas border "I have heard gruesome tales about Texas Rangers terrorizing locals by driving around town with a dead Mexican draped on either fender." Historian Walter Prescott Webb reported that approximately 5000 Mexicans were killed in the Rio Grande Valley in the 1920s compared to 126 Americans.

Dr. Hector Garcia's family witnessed it firsthand. Segregated schooling, limited professional opportunities, poverty, and a life spent literally "on the wrong side of the tracks."

When his academic credentials were unrecognized by the United States, father Jose Garcia abandoned his dream of becoming a professor to run a dry-goods store with his brothers. Mother Faustina Garcia fed not only her family, but other poor people as well. The Garcia children supplemented the family income by picking cotton or foraging for discarded fruit and vegetables in the local packing sheds. In this way, the Garcia family was a typical family of their time, place, and ethnicity.

In other ways the Garcia family was highly unusual. Instead of being crushed by the prevailing Texas attitude that Mexican Americans were undesirable, the Garcia children were encouraged by their emigrant father to "make good" in American society. Determined that each child would become a medical doctor, Jose Garcia taught them what he had been taught as a youth in Mexico: mathematics, literature, history and the glorious heritage of the Aztecs. Three Garcia siblings were named after Aztec emperors: Xicotentactl, Cuitlahuac, and Cuauhtemoc. When a high school teacher vowed that "No Mexican would ever get an A in my class," Hector Garcia was motivated to prove him wrong.

When the Depression devastated the Garcia family finances, father Jose sold his "penny-a-week" life insurance policy to fund Hector's degree at Edinburgh Junior College--a daily 30-mile hitchhike. The Garcia offspring continued to push the envelope by succeeding in the University of Texas medical school system, which only accepted one Mexican American student per year.

Hector Garcia was obliged to fulfill his residency in Nebraska when no Texas hospital would accept a Mexican American. Summers spent training in FDR's "Civilian Military Training Corps" brought Hector an officer's commission as well as a FBI inquiry when Anglos complained that a "Mexican" was seen wearing an American officer's uniform. During these years Dr. Hector fulfilled his parent's dream by rising from the poverty of an obscure Texas town to the educated American middle-class of his era.

However, when Hector Garcia left poverty behind to become a doctor, he did not discard the memories of that life. Instead, those years of private struggle laid the foundations for the public persona of Dr. Hector Garcia who emerged to fight for civil rights in the decades to come. This battle would scrutinize every aspect of the democratic system, from the small-town Texas voting booths to the United States Supreme Court.

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