I am so proud of my book The Inspiring Life of Texan (Dr.) Hector P. Garcia, personally autographed Sept. 20 by his daughter, Cecelia Garcia Arkers, who wrote in vivid detail about father.
I could not put the book down because it focused much on the life of a very humble man and famous doctor who did so much for his fellow man. Cecelia saw it on a daily basis, while living with him, as the head of the family in their home in Corpus Christi. When I spoke with her last week, Cecelia told me that I had permission to use her book as I wanted to write my article.
Garcia was born on Jan. 17, 1914, to parents Jose and Faustina Garcia who were highly educated. Young Hector faced discrimination and educational battles all his life, especially in high school in Mercedes, when his English teacher told him that no matter how hard he tried, “No Mexican would make an A in her class.”
When he graduated in 1932, and as hard as he tried, Hector made a B. In 1936, he graduated at the top 10 percent from University of Texas-Austin and was accepted into the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston, as this college allowed one Mexican per year to be accepted into its medical school.
Despite his life’s dream of becoming a medical doctor, Garcia could not obtain his medical and surgical residency in Texas because of his ethnicity. He felt blessed when a group of physicians and recruiters from St. Joseph Hospital in Omaha, visited the University of Texas Medical Branch-Galveston and recruited him and others for their medical and surgical training there. Garcia completed his internship in 1942, and in June of that year he was called into the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of first lieutenant.
He met his beautiful bride, Wanda Fusillo, in Naples, Italy, and they were married on June 23, 1945. They returned to Texas in March 1946 and soon after Garcia opened his medical clinic next to the Veterans Administration in Corpus Christi.
Garcia initially founded the American GI Forum in 1948 with much emphasis right here in Three Rivers in reference to Army Pvt. Felix Longoria (who still has relatives living here), who was killed in combat in World War II.
When Dr. Garcia died July 26,1996, at the age of 82, he had accomplished much as a great leader, medical doctor and a civil rights activist for us all. Cecelia promised her mother prior to her death on Sept. 20, 2008, that she would dedicate her life to ensure that he would be known and taught in schools and universities and that his life would be celebrated.
We want to continue with Dr. Hector Garcia’s legacy as well, and Simon Pena, Jr. has donated this book for your reading pleasure at the Three Rivers and George West libraries. There is also a video at the TR library of his accomplishments so please check both out!
Mike and I took Lorene Tonia to see his grave at Seaside Memorial Cemetery in Corpus Christi two days after his burial in 1996. Garcia was proud to be an American of Mexican descent, and that’s what stood out that day at the cemetery as most of the wreaths, still fresh on that sad day, were decorated with flags, and with the red, white and blue.
Will there be another one like Dr. Garcia? I truly doubt it. “Paying the price,” is sometimes too difficult for the individual and his family, as Cecelia recalls what she and her siblings, Hector Jr. (“Sonny”) and Daisy tolerated for the sake of their father and mother that you must read about – especially about Sonny’s death.
I truly agreed with everything that Dr. Garcia said and did. A nine-foot bronze statue of Dr. Hector P. Garcia stands at the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi where Lorene Tonia is studying forensic science. This statue of his likeness can continue to remind us that his legacy in his work for justice goes on, and we and our children must continue his work.
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