Selected Interview Segments: Julie Leninger Pycior
Julie Leninger Pycior,
Author - LBJ & Mexican Americans: The Paradox of Power
Copyright 2007 South Texas Public Broadcasting System, INC.
Q: What were the similarities between Dr. Hector P. Garcia and Lyndon Johnson?
A: One of the similarities was, they could assess people like that! [snap fingers]. As Johnson used to say: "the sign of a good politician is you can walk into a room and tell your friends from your enemies right away." Dr. Garcia wasn't a politician, he was an organizer, but organizers could do that, too.
So they sized each other up right away. They also both valued loyalty immensely and I think both had a sense this had a good chance of being a lifetime friendship, with benefits to both.
But we also should talk about their differences. Johnson was a politician--Garcia was an advocate. Throughout their relationship, Johnson's aides tended to see Garcia as a problem more than anything, as an extremist, as a live wire, a loose cannon. And some of the people in the G.I. Forum who worked with Dr. Hector, complained about Johnson. I should also mention, of course Johnson was much more powerful than Garcia. I mean, Johnson was Anglo! Johnson's grandfather had been president of Baylor. Hector Garcia was a member of a minority group that was oppressed in Texas. So, of course, that was a big difference.
The other area that was touchy in then Senator Johnson's relationship with Dr. Garcia was civil rights. Dr. Hector and other G.I. Forum leaders were frustrated, because they would write to Senator Johnson about discrimination, about the lack of federal response, about police brutality. And the Senator's office would write back and say that this was beyond the jurisdiction of a Senator. And leave it at that. It wasn't like the Longoria case, where he went one step further. Johnson was representing all of Texas in the 1950s and Anglo Texans were--he sensed--not ready to address these issues. And I think he sensed that Mexican Americans weren't powerful enough politically at this point to counter the conservative wing of the Democratic Party in Texas. So he tried to avoid the issue as much as possible.
Q: Tell me about Dr. Garcia's role in the 1960 presidential election.
A: Soon after John Kennedy was nominated for President, his campaign manager-his brother Bobby-met with Dr. Garcia in Washington and Bobby said to Dr. Hector, "can you work for us?" And Dr. Hector said, "most definitely." [Bobby]. "can you set up an organization [Dr. Hector]. "yes." [Bobby]. "how long will it take?" Kennedy asked him. Dr. Hector said: "two weeks. Maybe less." And bobby said, "what do you need?" And Dr. Hector replied, "give me a credit card and I'll have it set up in no time." And Bobby was very impressed of course, and he said, "what can you do? What results will you get for us?" And Dr. Hector said, I think we can deliver 98% of that vote." Bobby said, "what happens to the other 2%" and Dr. Hector said, "well, they got those damned voting machines now. We don't quite understand'em."
And Hector hit the ground running. He recalled sending out 300,000 mailings, including 100,000 sample ballots to Mexican Texans alone. He suggested that the head of the Washington DC chapter of the American G.I. Forum set up a national organization to mobilize Mexican Americans to vote for John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
The person who spearheaded this, the G.I. Forum member was Carlos McCormick. He met with members of the G.I. Forum at their national convention and laid out the blueprint. It was going to be called "Viva Kennedy." Ed Idar of the Forum said we all knew the potential of this. The name and the idea combined tremendously. You have the young, vibrant-they didn't say this but-the Catholic connection of this candidate who was from the northeast with the civil rights connection mobilizing a young, eager constituency that was chopping at the bit to be in national politics.
Within weeks, true to what Dr. Hector had predicted, there were Viva Kennedy locals wherever there were forum locals, and often wherever there were LULAC chapters. And people just came out in droves. In Chicago, when there was a Kennedy rally, you would see "Arriba Kennedy," "Viva Kennedy" placards. They registered new voters by the hundreds of thousands, got 'em in the political process, and helped bring Texas and California into the democratic column for Kennedy and Johnson.
Q: Moving forward into the Johnson administration, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights act in 1964. How does this shape his relationship with Mexican-Americans?
A: With the 1964 Civil Rights act, Lyndon Johnson seems to me more than anything, wanting to fulfill the legacy of President Kennedy. Johnson was keenly aware that he had not been elected in his own right. And Kennedy had submitted this legislation to congress in response to agitation by black Americans. So, that the major thrust of the legislation was to de-segregate the south, and to help African Americans in that regard.
At the same time, Johnson understood that the other part of the bill did address Mexican Americans. The other part of the Civil Rights act was to establish the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, to fight job discrimination. Johnson was virtually the only person in his own White House who equated civil rights beyond simply African Americans, and in particular including Mexican Americans. And certainly, Dr. Hector was on the same wavelength. He understood immediately and he had been pushing for better federal policies to combat job discrimination.
Q: And the personal relationship between L.B.J. and Dr. Garcia how did it play out once Johnson was president?
A: Early on, I sense that Dr. Hector thought--certainly hoped--that he would be in the loop. That he would be, given their friendship, someone Johnson would turn to. And he was disappointed that wasn't the case more often. And that at the same time he was grateful to Johnson for the access he did have. And was keenly aware that this was ground-breaking.
Johnson was similarly torn. Johnson, it seems to me, wanted to include Dr. Hector. And as I've said, realized his importance and the grievances of his people more than anybody in Washington. At the same time, as the 60s wore on, Johnson's ability, opportunities decreased and his problems increased. And that played out in their friendship. Their friendship remained strong but it became increasingly strained.