The Chicano Movement to the Medal of Freedom
The victories of Mexican American civil rights activists came slowly but steadily, laying the foundations for the Chicano Movement of the 1960s. In 1960, undeterred by death threats and agitator labels, Dr. Hector entered the national political arena by co-founding the national VIVA KENNEDY clubs for the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy.
Acknowledging that the crucial Hispanic vote achieved by these clubs had turned the tide of the election, President Kennedy placated national Hispanic demands for greater participation by appointing Dr. Garcia ambassador to a West Indies treaty signing. Despite token appointments, the relationship between the Mexican-American people who campaigned for him remained unsatisfactory until JFK's death and Lyndon Johnson's rise to the White House in 1963.
Adopting some techniques of 1960s activism, such as boycotts and protest marches, Dr. Hector and the American GI Forum helped spark the Chicano Movement in Texas by joining the Rio Grande Valley Farm Workers March in Summer 1966. However, they continued to work within the system, pressuring the "establishment" to appoint Mexican Americans to high-ranking federal posts.
In an era when Mexican Americans were not welcome to serve the public in Texas post offices, GI Forum member Vicente T. Ximenes was appointed head of the new Inter-Agency Committee on Mexican American Affairs.
In 1967, President Johnson appointed Dr. Hector as an alternate ambassador to the United Nations, where he gave the first speech by an American before the UN in a language other than English. The next year Garcia was sworn in as the first Mexican American to serve on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Dr. Garcia continued to be active under the Carter Administration by attending high-level White House briefings on humanitarian issues.
Through the passage of the years, Dr. Hector Garcia remained vocal. "I do not choose to be a Mexican chicharron [fried pork rind] in the American melting pot," he says proudly, explaining that while all Americans get mixed into the same "pot" they need not lose their cultural identity. "If they expect me to lose those [Hispanic] things I'm not about to do it."
Dr. Hector Garcia was arrested at the age of 64 during a school segregation protest in yet another de facto school segregation case, Cisneros v. Corpus Christi, ISD. He also vigorously opposed the legislative "English Only" movement.
While pursuing civil rights, Dr. Garcia simultaneously practiced medicine in a simple office in Corpus Christi, Texas. Despite personal health problems, "El Doctor" devoted 16-20 hours a day to his patients. Not one was turned away because of inability to pay.
In 1984 President Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the President of the United States.
In 1988, Dr. Garcia launched his final crusade: cleaning up the impoverished "colonias" of the Rio Grande Valley. This event was all-too similar to one of the causes that launched his civil rights career: the 1948 investigation of a Mathis, Texas, labor camp. His struggle for justice for his people ended as it began-by helping the disadvantaged overcome poverty.
In July 1996, Dr. Hector P. Garcia died in Corpus Christi, the city he had called home since 1946. While his personal story ended on that day in Texas, his legacy lives on today.
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