In Mercedes, Texas, where Dr. Hector and his family came to live in 1917, facing prejudice and discrimination was an everyday experience for Mexican Americans. Hector's father, an educator with Mexican teaching credentials which were denied in Texas, ran a dry goods store with his brothers. He was determined that his children would overcome the impacts of prejudice through education. He vowed all of his children would become doctors and six of the ten did. He taught them pride in their western and indigenous heritage giving four of them names of Mayan royalty while Hector was named after the Iliad's hero of Troy.
However it soon became obvious that even an education could not by itself overcome prejudice. He graduated from a segregated elementary school and was told in high school by his English teacher, "No Mexican will ever get an 'A' in my class." After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin he was admitted to medical school at University of Texas at (UTMB) Galveston. Only one Mexican American was allowed such admission in the state of Texas each year.
Discrimination was pervasive. When it became time to do his internship no Texas hospital would accept a Mexican American and he traveled to Nebraska to learn his practice. He completed a surgical residency in 1942 and joined the army. Because he was a "Mexican" doctor, he was given command of an infantry company in North Africa, and later, a company of battlefield engineers before gaining entrance to the Medical Corps first as a corpsman. He eventually rose to command a surgical unit in Italy.
Prejudice existed in the military but with a wider degree of tolerance than in civilian life, especially in combat theaters. Hispanics were not segregated like blacks into their own unit but sent to Anglo or Black units depending on their skin color. Europeans had little prejudice against Mexican or Black Americans. American minorities many times experienced better treatment from their allies than they did back home.
While in Italy, Dr. Hector met and married Wanda Fusillo who had earned a doctorate in classical literature at the University of Naples. His new bride's family urged Dr. Hector to stay in Europe and avoid the impacts of prejudice in his native land. Dr. Hector declined, stating he had a mission when he returned home. Dr. Hector separated from the United States army with the rank of major and earned the Bronze Star Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Medal with six Bronze Stars and the World War II Victory Medal.
Upon their return to Corpus Christi, Hector and Wanda crashed headlong into the reality that prejudice and discrimination were still alive and well in South Texas. Dr. Hector responded by refusing to accept that the Constitution didn't apply to everyone. He began a medical practice with his brother in Corpus Christi serving the poorest minorities in the community. He joined the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), was elected its president in 1947 and founded the American GI Forum in 1948.
LULAC had already begun the fight for equal rights. The American GI Forum arose out of veterans issues but quickly expanded into social justice causes. Dr. Hector and veterans of all races were being denied the promised benefits they needed to transition back to civilian life. The American GI Forum was founded to organize veterans into a political force to ensure those benefits were provided.
All veterans, especially minorities came home with a new self respect, they were sure they had paid for their rights on the battlefield. Dr. Hector believed that all Americans were guaranteed certain rights. He quoted the Constitution and Declaration of Independence freely as the foundation of his arguments. Under Dr. Hector's leadership the American GI Forum and LULAC grew quickly and were able to challenge any institution that would deny rights to those who had so valiantly fought and died in service to our country.
When asked how he and the American GI Forum could deliver 95% of the Hispanic vote, Dr. Hector had previously explained that his medical practice was with the poor, and that much of the mission of LULAC and the American GI Forum was to provide support for families and to build communities, to promote education and pride. He went on to explain the relationship between the communities and the leadership, "So, this is the trust and respect that we have established by being faithful to our people for twenty years. There's nothing else, we have no machinery. And we won like this throughout the nation, the same way."
In 1948, the Felix Longoria incident in Three Rivers, Texas put the national spotlight on Dr. Hector and the American GI Forum, it also began a relationship with then Senator Lyndon Johnson that became instrumental in Dr. Garcia's future influence on national affairs. Dr. Hector was instrumental in their election, organizing the Viva Kennedy-Johnson Clubs that delivered the Hispanic vote to Kennedy. It is certainly arguable that Garcia's efforts won the Hispanic vote and hence election for Kennedy. Johnson continued to work closely with Dr. Hector when he became President and appointed him to the United States Commission on Civil Rights in 1968.
Dr. Hector went on to become a trusted adviser and appointee of every President from Kennedy through Clinton. He was appointed to the United Nations as Alternate Representative with the full rank of Ambassador and was the first American to address that body in a language other than English. Dr. Garcia was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1984.
Biography of Dr. Hector P. Garcia
Dr. Hector P. Garcia, Physician and Founder of the American GI Forum of the United States of America.
Born in Mexico, January 17, 1914; Son of Mr. Jose Garcia and Mrs. Faustina Perez Garcia.
Graduate, University of Texas, Bachelor of Arts Degree, 1936. Graduate of the University of Texas School of Medicine-Galveston, Doctor of Medicine, 1940.
Married Wanda Fusillo, June 23, 1945; Children, Daisy, Hector Jr., Adriana Cecilia and Susanna Patricia.
1940-1941, General internship St. Joseph’s Hospital, Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska; 1941-1942, Surgical Internship St. Joseph’s Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska..
1942-1946, Served in World War II as an officer in the Infantry; Engineer Corps, and the Medical Corps. Completed military service at the rank of Major in the Medical Corps in the European Theater of Operations, Awarded a Bronze Star Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Medal with 6 Bronze Stars and the World War II Victory Medal.
March 26, 1948, founded the American GI Forum in Corpus Christi, TX; First National Chairman and Founder.
1960, National Coordinator and National Organizer of the “VIVA KENNEDY” Clubs.
1961, Representative of President John F. Kennedy and member of the American Delegation signing treaty concerning Mutual Defense Area Agreement between the United States of America and the Federation of the West Indies.
March 9, 1964, Appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as presidential representative with rank of Special Ambassador to the inauguration of Dr. Raul Leoni, President of Venezuela.
March 4, 1967, Appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as member of the National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity of the United States.
September 1967, Appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as Alternate Representative to the United Nations from the United States with the rank of Ambassador.
February 14, 1968, Accompanied Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey and the U.S. Delegation for the signing of the Treaty of Tlalteloco in Mexico City.
November 1968, sworn in as a “COMMISSIONER” of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
May 1969, Humanitarian Award presented by the Corpus Christi Chapter of the NAACP.
February, 1972, named member of the Texas Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
May, 1977, Appointed by President Jimmy Carter as member of the U.S. Circuit Court Judge Nominating Commission for the Western Fifth Circuit Panel.
January 9, 1980, Attended President Jimmy Carter’s High Level Briefing at the White House in reference to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan Crisis.
March 26, 1984, Awarded the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ by President Ronald Reagan at the White House.
February 19, 1985, Honored with naming of the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Endowed Chair, Yale University’s Chicano Research Center, New Haven, Connecticut.
September 14, 1988, Honored by the U.S. Postal Service with the Renaming of the Main Post Office in Corpus Christi, Texas.
September 12, 1989, Received the “Hispanic Heritage Award” by the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, Washington, D.C.
October 6, 1989, Received the “Distinguished Alumnus Award” from the University of Texas Ex-Students Association.
May 17, 1990, Received the “Equestrian Order of Pope Gregory the Great” from Pope John Paul II.
April, 1990, Dr. Garcia designated Corpus Christi State University as the institution to house his papers in the Special Collections and Archives Department of the Library.
May 10, 1991, Received Corpus Christi State University’s first “Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters Degree” given by CCSU President Dr. Robert Furgason.
June 1996, The Dr. Hector P. Garcia Plaza and Statue were dedicated at Corpus Christi State University.
1997, Hector P. Garcia Elementary School, Grand Prairie, TX opened.
August 7, 1998 Post humously awarded the “Aquila Azteca” award from the government of Mexico.
1998, Hector P. Garcia Elementary School, Temple, TX opened.
In 1999, Dr. Garcia’s image was placed on the U.S. Treasury’s $75 I Bond series honoring great Americans.
In 2002, public television station KEDT in Corpus Christi, Texas produced a documentary on Dr. Garcia entitled “Justice for My People: The Dr. Hector P. Garcia Story”. The program was broadcast nationally on PBS.
December 18, 2007, Congressional Record 110th Congress, Senate, Honoring The Life And Accomplishments of Dr. Hector P. Garcia by John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison.
2007, the Hector P. Garcia Middle School, Dallas, TX. Opened.
2008, the Major Hector P. Garcia, MD High School opened in Chicago, Illinois.
April, 2008 Texas Highway 286 was named the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Highway.
May 30, 2009 Texas Governor Rick Perry signed SB495 establishing a State Recognition Day to be observed on the third Wednesday of each September.
October, 2009, The Dr. Hector P. Garcia Middle School was dedicated and opened in San Antonio, Texas.
April, 2010, The United States House of Representatives passed H.CON.RES.222, recognizing the leadership and historical contributions of Dr. Hector P. Garcia.
January 2012, Bronze bust of Dr. Garcia was dedicated at the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Public Library, Mercedes, Texas.
2013 Texas Historical Marker unveiled at Dr. Hector P. Garcia Public Library, Mercedes, TX.
January 17, 2014 Dr. Hector P. Garcia’s Official 100th Birthday Celebration observed in Corpus Christi, TX., by the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Foundation.
February 28, 2014 Texas Historical Marker unveiled at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital, Corpus Christi, TX.
September 2014, the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Family Health Center approved by Nueces County Commissioners and Hospital District, to be opened in 2016.
January 13, 2015 Braselton Homes unveils street named Dr. Hector P. Garcia Drive in Rancho Vista subdivision, Corpus Christi, TX.
November 30, 2015 Groundbreaking for the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Family Health Center.
January 15, 2016 announcement of Dr. Hector P. Garcia being the next recipient of the Points of Light Monument in Washington, D.C.
April 4, 2016 The Inspiring Life of Texan Hector P. Garcia authored by his daughter Cecilia Garcia Akers to be published.
May 20, 2016 Book Talk and Book Signing of The Inspiring Life of Texan Hector P. Garcia and A Donation of 15 Original WWII Photos of Capt. Hector P. Garcia, M.D. to The Veterans History Project at The Library of Congress, Washington D.C.
July 26, 2016 Digitization Process Begins of the Garcia Collection Between Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and The History Associates of Maryland
January 16, 2017 Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Family Health Center opens its doors in Corpus Christi, TX.