This week (September 15) marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month. It will last until October 15. President Lyndon B. Johnson began Hispanic Heritage Month in 1968, likely the result of his close relationship with Dr. Hector P. Garcia (an often forgotten hero of the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965). We’ll get to more on Dr.Garcia later. First I have to mention how important it is to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
Most schools do not teach or celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month the way they do Black History Month in February. I believe this contributes enormously to the confusions many Americans have today (i.e. Donald Trump and his supporters) about our unique ethnic history. To combat these misconceptions I hope to spend this wonderful month paying tribute to the Hispanic Americans who have broken down barriers so that an American of Mexican descent, like myself, can turn the dream of being successful in the media industry (while still keeping my Hispanic last name of Garcia) a reality. Today I pay tribute to Hector Perez Garcia.
Dr. Hector Perez Garcia played a huge role in making the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a reality. He worked closely with President Johnson to secure the rights of Hispanic Americans, especially veterans of Hispanic descent (Dr. Garcia being a veteran himself). When people think of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 the obvious hero is Dr. Martin Luther King, but Dr. Hector Perez Garcia was right there marching and fighting for the voting rights of all American citizens as well, he played just as important of a role.
His family fled a violent Mexico during the Revolution of 1917, legally immigrating to the United States and making a home in Corpus Christi, Texas. He attended a segregated high school before going on to the University of Galveston where he earned his doctorate in Medicine. He was a Major in the Army and served in the Medical Corps during World War II.
In response to the lack of service of the Veterans Administration to Hispanic veterans, Garcia founded the American G.I. Forum where he empowered Hispanic veterans to fight for their rights. One of his most famous stories is the way he fought for slain Mexican-American veteran, Felix Longoria. Longoria was killed by a Japanese sniper and his family was denied access to a local funeral chapel to hold his service and burial (as explained by the funeral home: “Whites won’t like it”). Once Hector and the G.I. forum heard about this, he reached out to then Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. Senator Johnson made arrangements to have Longoria’s service and burial held at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. and earned Garcia and the G.I. Forum national recognition.
I am proud to pay tribute to Dr. Hector P. Garcia. I vow to fight for his memory, to fight so that one day we might celebrate his birthday as a national holiday. I would at least like to see the day that all Americans will recognize the name and face of Hector P. Garcia just as quickly and surely as they would Martin Luther King’s. So that all Americans, especially those of Hispanic descent grow up knowing that they can build a successful life. So that they know they have just as much opportunity as any other American. Because we ARE Americans. Many of our ancestors have been here for generations and generations, long before any European immigrants.
Gone are they days that having Mexican (or Colombian, Cuban, El Salvadorian, etc.) ancestors is something to be ashamed of. It is because of people like Hector Garcia and movements like the Chicano Civil Rights movement that we can live so freely today. Take pride in being a Chicano! Get in touch with your heritage this month.
Next time we honor Selena Quintanilla-Perez, stay tuned.