GI Forum National Report
The American G.I. Forum (AGIF) is a Congressionally-chartered veterans and civil rights / human rights organization. The American GI Forum defends and advocates for the rights of others who are unable to adequately defend their selves. The foundation of the AGIF principles are set forth in the United States Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Dr. Hector P Garcia: "we got together a group of veterans, all of us, Blacks, Mexican-Americans and Anglos
GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION
NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS SERVICE
Gift of Personal Statement
By Hector Garcia
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
In accordance with Sec . 507 of the Federal Property and Administrative
Services Act of 1949, as amended (44 U.S .C . 397) and regulations
issued thereunder (41 CFR 101-10), I,
Hector Gar cia
referred to as the donor, hereby give, donate, and convey to the United
States of America for eventual deposit in the proposed Lyndon Baines
Johnson Library, and for administration therein by the authorities
thereof, a tape and transcript of a personal statement approved by me
and prepared for the purpose of deposit in the Lyndon Baines Johnson
Library . The gift of this material is made subject to the following
terms and conditions :
1 . Title to the material transferred hereunder, and all literary
property rights, will pass to the United States as of the date of the
delivery of this material into the physical custody of the Archivist
of the United States .
2 . It is the donor's wish to make the material donated to the
United States of America by terms of this instrument available for
research as soon as it has been deposited in the Lyndon Baines Johnson
3 . A revision of this stipulation governing access. to the material
for research may be entered into between the donor and the Archivist of
the United States, or his designee, if it appears desirable .
4 . The material donated to the United States pursuant to the foregoing
shall be kept intact permanently in(the Lyndon Defnes Johnson
April 1 0, 1974
LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON LIBRARY
ORAL HISTORY COLLECTION
Narrator Dr, Hector a ni
401 Peerman Place
Biographical information :
(physician, founder Am . G wUiGbCLc1Ieinooa.9n.-ntSart5tchup4Mi..ehguen;ruAAausx-rvsnrminAcis,dachmC.eetmohw;mnFi,LDreb,eoeMairldnlset1ynetmMi/,igbeno1.,faex7triAWU/iNcePm1Toasr4eT.nnteMxe;,seDx.im,iIBS.dnvs.p.edia1SA.nNi,gnt9.aetnia4tsist6TU,nohee-..gfx-A1TDS.;d9tReeev6recDxmc1ehtpe...uaum,;.rtbC,onCylopco1.iurNrm9cneaa3bc.sct6tod,di,ioin.llfocc1neMA9.Vaor5mC.eln2nraD.nieim;.epEtnp,GzcigamI.uoeie1ensgwmdF9lonieo4.a,mtfD0r,iheiua;cnv1mds19rvp.e9O6a,vo..6pn0tfI4kpDac.;.orUe;orsemmuFp.tpaUeSnor.lsumcra..nSNiu,c..iaalmt.ttrga)ifyermrcDo.peebee.rpeamC. msAom..esmmoenaeNftd.tdora,ioitPcbrcr2i1.e2aen9tnensC6tdwsio0oedm;eeo.nn,ft
David M omh
Position or relationship to narrator
Accession Record Number
General topic of interview :
Tape index :
Page or estimated
time on tape
Subject (s) covered
UT Oral History Project
Length 4~ aaac
1319 Bright St
Cnrni,s Chri cti , Tx
American G . I . Forum ; John E . Lyle ; John Young ;
"basic educational courses"
Discrimination toward Mexican-Americans ; Miss
Sara Moreno ; Senator Johnson's assistance in
interment arrangements for Felix Longoria
Meeting Lyndon Johnson personally
LBJ -- friend of Mexican-Americans
Treaty of Tlatelolco ; Mexico City
Reaction to LBJ's deciding not to run again for
Campaigning for Stevenson with Johnson
Corpus Christi, Texas 7841
Tape Index continuation sheet #2
Page or estimated
time on tape
A call to Johnson for help
The repeal of the poll tax
Medicare and Medicaid
"Rincon del Diablo"
The educational system
Padre Island National Seashore
Mrs . Johnson
A tribute to the Johnsons
Chicago Convention ; "Liberal Maverick"
Viva Kennedy Club ; Carlos McCormick ; Robert Kennedy
Kennedy, first choice for President
Vicente Ximenes ; Interagency Committee for Mexican-
American Affairs ; "SER" (Service Employment and
Re-development) ; LULAC
The funding of "SER" ; U . S . Commission on Civil
Ri gh is
Ambassador to the United Nations
Johnson's comments re U .N . speech in Spanish
Council on Economic Opportunity
"Special Ambassador" for the inauguration of
the President of Venezuela
The general feeling re the Mexican-American
as a minority
INTERVIEWER : DAVID G . MC COMB
July 9, 1969
Let me identify the tape first of all . This is an interview with Dr .
Hector Garcia . I'm in his office in Corpus Christi, Texas, at 1315
Bright Street . The date is July 9, 1969, and my name is David McComb .
Now you gave me this copy of the GI Forum program of the 21st
Annual Founders' Day Banquet which has a capsule biography of you here,
which I will place into the record so that anybody using this tape
will have the opportunity to use this .
There are several points about this that I'd like to ask you about .
In the first place it says you were born in Mexico, and I'd like to know
when you came to the United States .
Well, Mr . McComb, I came to the United States when I was only about three
and a half to four years old . I was not quite four and I was a little bit
over three, so I would say approximately four years old .
Did you come to Corpus--your family?
No, my father emigrated to Mercedes, Mercedes is in the southern part of
the State of Texas along the Rio Grande River, and there he set up his
business and we were actually raised there and went to school .
What kind of business was he in?
He had a general grocery store at that time with his brothers, who are
still living in Mercedes .
And then you went through school, and it says here you graduated from the
University of Texas in 1936 .
That's correct, University of Texas BA, Austin, Texas, 1936 .
Graduated from the University of Texas School of Medicine, got a Doctor
of Medicine in 1940, and an internship in Omaha, Nebraska .
That's right .
How did you happen to go to Nebraska?
Well, when I was getting my Doctor's degree at Galveston, of course, we
met some people over there who recommended Saint Joseph's Hospital which
is the teaching hospital of Creighton University, so that I thought I'd
go over there and take a look at Nebraskan fields .
And then of course you went into World War II .
I volunteered as an infantry officer from Nebraska when
I finished my surgical residency, because I had stayed two years . So I
volunteered to go into the military service as an infantry officer.
And then you were in the Major Medical Corps?
That's right, I served in the Medical Corps .
Then after the war, you founded American GI Forum in 1948 . Now I'd like to
know what motivated you to do this .
Why did you set up the GI Forum? Now
it pretty well explains what this is, but why did you do this?
Well, Mr . McComb, actually the way the American GI Forum started--when I came
back from the service, I happened to have my office next to the Veterans
Administration Office, I met our congressman, John E. Lyle in Italy before
he got elected to Congress, John E. Lyle happened to be a good friend
of President Lyndon Johnson. So Congressman Lyle was in the same theater
of operations with me, European Theater of Operations, and he said he was
coming to Corpus Christi, and of course by that time my brother, J. A.
Garcia was living and practicing in Corpus Christi .
So I came back to Corpus
Christi--I happened to have an office next to our present congressman of
today, Congressman John Young, who was at that time getting out of the
Navy, and I set up my office next to the Veterans Administration . They
needed doctors at that time, doctors were scarce to start with, and they
put me on a contract basis or a "fee basis," so I got to know the veterans
from this area . In fact, I was the "veterans' doctor" although I was not
working under the Veterans Administration per se, I was merely a private
doctor helping out with individual veteran's cases, and getting paid on
a piecemeal basis .
Well, it happened that at that time the returning sick veterans met
some opposition in hospitalization here because the Navy hospital would
say, "This is a naval hospital, not a veterans hospital ." So more or less,
although we had a certain amount of beds under contract, the Veterans
Administration limited us . In fact they practically limited us to
emergencies . So one day in 1948, actually about February, we got together .
All the veterans, not necessarily the Mexican-Americans but all of us,
to protest the actions of the naval hospital in Corpus Christi in limiting
the number of veterans who could go to the hospital . And also practically
requiring that they be emergencies, which means they would be dying . We
thought it was an unfair deal, so we got together a group of veterans, all
of us, blacks, Mexican-Americans and Anglos to protest this limitation .
Well, at that time we were starting, the veterans schools, which were
more or less "basic educational courses ." No sooner had we achieved
a certain success of victory in opening the Naval Hospital, because the
number of beds were increased, that the veterans pointed out to me that
the government was holding back the "subsistence checks" of many of these
veterans who were taking basic academic classes . Now, of course, at that
time most of the veterans were Mexican-Americans, and they averaged less
than two years of school . So they were going to quit because they needed
the money, they had no other jobs, their families were pressuring them
and wives were getting upset . So they said, "Doctor, let's get organized
together and protest the Veterans Administration's failure to send us the
subsistence checks ." So then we got organized, not necessarily as a
Mexican-American organization, although then by necessity we were working
on veteran's education . And then I got to know the schools and the educational
system of the basic educational courses, so that night we decided we'd go
ahead and get organized and of course the name "American GI Forum" came
up at that meeting here in Corpus Christi in March 26, 1948 .
I was elected
and the vice chairman was an anglo and the secretary was an anglo and the
treasurer was a Mexican-American, Mr . Montoya--Greg Montoya .
So then we decided that we had to help the veterans because of the bad
conditions of other situations . So we organized American GI Forum groups
all over this south Texas area .
Now the name "American" -- although we
are Americans, we have been subjected to a lot of discriminatory practices .
One of these practices is we are told "You are not Americans, you are
Mexicans ." And I said, "Well, we are American citizens of Mexican origin,
so let's point out to the people we are really Americans ."
means that we are ex-soldiers or ex-G .I . v s .
The word "Forum" was like the
Roman open forum derived from the fact that we were hoping that this would
be an open meeting,and open discussion meeting for everybody taking part .
So by the end of the year 1948 we were in many cities in this area.
In practically all the area from south of San Antonio to the Valley, and
certainly from Laredo to Corpus Christi . So we became a statewide
organization known as the American GI Forum of Texas, the first meeting
Being held in Corpus Christi to organize statewide .
Did you run into a great deal of discrimination toward Mexican-Americans?
Oh yes, definitely we did, because at this time no sooner had we gotten
organized in this manner than one of my patients here, Mrs . Felix Longoria --
came to see me about discrimination against her deceased husband . We
sponsored several groups, one of them we called a young girls club -- Orchidia
Club -- and the chairman of this group was Miss Sara Moreno . Sara Moreno, a
young lady at that time, was a sister of this Mrs . Felix Longoria . Mrs .
Felix Longoria was a widow that had moved here to Corpus Christi with her
daughter Adelita because her husband, Felix Longoria, had been killed in
the Philippines in World War II .
So Sara Moreno comes in and says, "Dr. Garcia, we have been refused
the use of the Mathis State Park, they don't allow Mexicans in the pavilion ."
And I thought that was horrible . Right after that the San Diego band,
I believe, was denied use of the pavilion .
In the state park?
Yes, in the state park in Mathis, Texas .
So right away we took action on
that and I think we had a certain amount of success . Well, coming to the
point here, about one week later or two weeks later, my memory is not exact
on this date but not too far, Sara Moreno comes back again . And she said,
"You know, Doctor, my sister is very sick, crying very much ." And I said,
"Why, Sarita?" [Sara said,] "Well, you see, the Felix Longorias are from
Three Rivers-- ." And Felix was to be brought back for re-burial in Three
Rivers . Mrs . Longoria, in respect to the tradition and culture of a
Mexican-American and the Catholic, gave the choice to Felix's mother and
father as to where they wanted Felix brought back and reburied. They
chose their hometown, being of course, Three Rivers . They wanted him
buried there .
Well, during the time that Mrs . Felix Longoria was making the
arrangements in Three Rivers with the Rice Funeral Home, they
refused her the use of the chapel . By this time Felix Longoria was
already on his way back . Originally being interred in Luzon, Philippines,
was being brought back for reburial .
So Sara brought over Mrs . Longoria
with her little daughter Adelita, who was just three or four years at
that time, and she was also crying .
I thought it was a horrible shame
that a soldier who had died for his country would have been refused the
use of the funeral home . They only funeral home,there [in Three Rivers] .
To quote the funeral home director, "The whites wouldn't like it ."
I thought it was an awful travesty of decency, justice and certainly
Christianity that this war hero would be refused a decent, humanitarian
Well, we tried to deal with the director of the funeral home, the
Rice Funeral Home . He wouldn't move . He said, "No, we're not going to
let the Mexicans use the chapel of our funeral home ." Which actually
meant not using the funeral home .
Was this the only one in the city?
It was the only one in the city, and of course it made no difference even
though we had a separate cemetery . They had separate cemeteries for Anglos
and Mexicans . Yes, this was the only funeral home in the city .
It was privately owned?
Funeral homes are privately owned, although they get a state charter or
permission or license from the state .
So we tried to convince everyone it was wrong but the funeral home
didn't change . In desperation somebody said, "Call Senator Lyndon Johnson ."
Did you know him at this time?
No, I never met him.
I never knew him. I never helped him politically
because you see first in 1940 to 1942 I had been in Nebraska . I had been
in Austin four years from '32 to '36 ; I'd been in Galveston from '36 to
'40, and I'd been in Nebraska from '40 to '42 . Of course, I had heard of
him, I had never met him, I was not that involved in politics and neither
was my family, although I met Congressman Lyle and he talked very highly
about Senator Johnson . In fact, I gave Congressman John E . Lyle a ride
in our ambulance from where we were stationed into Naples port so he
could take a boat back -- as Congressman)
So he talked very highly about then Senator Lyndon Johnson. Of
course Lyndon Johnson was well liked in Corpus Christi, though remember,
Mr . McComb, I had not lived in Corpus Christi . My home was south Texas
and it was not Lyndon Johnson's congressional district . So somebody says,
"Call Senator Johnson . He'll help you. He's a fair man, and he likes
Mexican people ."
I put in a call to Senator Lyndon Johnson in Washington and of
course by that time I had been practicing medicine here in Corpus Christi
for two years . We had run against a racist wall in Three Rivers, and this
wall was a wall of racist attitude, discrimination and hate . I called
Senator Johnson and he said, "Well, Dr . Garcia, let me assure you, tell
Mrs . Longoria I'll help!" I was speaking for Mrs. Longoria, not necessarily
for the GI Forum, and the Longoria family out of Three Rivers . We had been
meeting every day and every night for about two weeks in desperation . Still
we wanted Texas to bury Felix Longoria . He was a Texan . So finally we
reached a point where nothing could be done . Then I called Senator Johnson
and this is what he told me . He said, "Dr . Garcia, I promise you this .
You try to talk to the Governor and try to talk to everyone and see if
Felix can be buried in Three Rivers, after all, this is where he should
be buried, and if not, I promise you that we'll bury him with full
military honors at the National Cemetery in Arlington ."
We continued . We continued trying to get an arrangement and trying
to make a deal with the funeral home and the city . By this time of
course everybody was involved . The Governor at this time, if I recall
right, was Buford Jester . He said, well, we could get it settled . But
the breaking point was simply this, Mr . McComb, that the community of
Three Rivers, I'm talking mostly about the English-speaking community,
would not stop calling Senator Johnson horrible names orally and in print .
I still have copies of the Three Rivers newspaper . I think eventually the
funeral home would have acceded to the use of the chapel, but the idea
was that he could be buried there if we would negate Lyndon Johnson .
The family, and thank the Lord for that, the Longoria family and the
widow were honorable people and they were so honorable they said, "Dr .
Garcia, we will never go back on Senator Johnson ." Of course I wouldn't
either . So it ended that they did not stop calling the Senator Johnson
awful names . By that time, in all due justice to the Governor and to the
state officials, they would bury him in Texas . They would send the
National Guard and officers and other representatives of the government
to bury Longoria .
The family was willing provided that Senator Johnson's
name would be kept in the proper position of respect and dignity . After
all, he had been the one who had helped us . The family's request was rejected .
But they wouldn't do that?
They wouldn't . They kept on insulting the Senator publicly and also in
print . And I mean horrible insults just because he had acted as a
decent Texas by trying to get one of his own Texans buried there . I
could not understand the antagonism or the viciousness of their insults
toward Johnson. What had he done wrong? Nothing. He was a human being,
a true humanitarian, and of course, a true Christian man at that time to
So no, we decided we were going to raise the money to send all the
Longoria family in an airplane to Washington for the funeral and this we
did . By this time, Longoria's body, or remains, were already being returned .
But he need never stop here in Texas! He was taken directly to Washington
where with the help of Senator Lyndon Johnson and President--I think it was
President Truman--Felix Longoria was buried in Arlington with full military
honors . And President Truman sent General [Harry] Vaughn, if I recall
right, as his personal representative . And the Longoria family, with money
raised by Mexican-American people and the infant American GI Forum, sent all
the family over there .
And this is how I got to know this great man, who came to us in a
moment of sadness, need and suffering. And this action restored a great
amount of faith in the system, and certainly in the State, and in our
I don't know what I would have done at that moment without
the help of Senator Lyndon Johnson because our people were very restless
and very, very upset and certainly we were very unhappy .
Did Johnson attend the ceremony at Arlington?
I did not attend myself, I don't recall at this time . Because no sooner
had Felix been buried than the Texas legislature decided they were going
to hold an investigation, and the investigation really merely meant at this
time to try to embarrass me and to try to embarrass Senator Johnson.
The whole purpose of the investigation was an appointment of a committee,
"a whitewash committee," to prove -- mind you, Dr . McComb -- that there
was no discrimination! You see, the soldier was already buried, you know,
the man was going to be buried . Then what was the object of this committee?
Of course, they already had their guns set against : "the American GI Forum"
in its infancy, Dr . Hector Garcia, and Senator Johnson . I don't think this
investigation was aimed at the Longcria family .
So they held this investigation at Three Rivers, a whitewash
committee, headed by a representative from, I think, Cuero, who was
When did you finally meet Lyndon Johnson personally?
I met him sometime thereafter, I think in one of his campaigns when he
came back over here for re-election .
I'm not quite certain .
I remember I
met him -- at one time we were having an American GI Forum meeting in
Corpus Christi at the Lamar School, I think it must have been in the early
part of '49 or '50 . It must have been 1950, I remember it was election
year for somebody, and he came in with Congressman John E . Lyle who was
still our congressman . And he talked to us . I met this tall, good-looking,
young senator. Of course, we went to thank him, I said, "Senator Johnson,
I want to thank you because I think you've done a great thing for our
people, and our country, and our soldiers ." And I remember his words
quite easily today . He said, "Dr. Garcia -- " of course now he calls me
Hector and I appreciate that because I feel he considers me a friend of
his and prefer to be his friend . He said, "Dr. Garcia, I think greatly of
your organization and there is only one [piece of] advice I want to give
you . You can achieve anything you want if you just take it easy and slowly ."
And then he talked to our American GI Forum group . He addressed our
group, and of course it was a great occasion because at that time it was
rare to have any politician or certainly any U. S. senator addressing
this Mexican group of people and veterans!
Have the Mexican-Americans supported Johnson ever since then in elections?
I supported President Johnson and Senator Johnson, Lyndon Johnson, every
election since that time, and I think in every election we -- the Mexican-
Americans -- have given him 98 percent of the votes, and I think that is
certainly a tribute to this man.
ever had to
or Vice President Johnson's campaign . We never had to spend a penny
By that I mean we didn't have to ask for contributions .
Johnson was and is --
I [would] like to
Humphrey in March
City, and this is
in his plane
Lyndon Johnson at
of nuclear weapons
I was there at the President's Palace when the announcement was made
that President Johnson would not seek re-election . When this announcement
was made there was great sadness from the President of Mexico, his staff
and his family, and everyone present. They regretted the fact that he was
not going to run . And when I went into the streets the next day some of the
And I say this, I don't think we have
spend a single cent in Senator Johnson's or President Johnson's
here and the Mexican people in Mexico know who
"Es Nuestro Verdadero Amigo ."
to remember also that
remind you that I
30, 1968, to sign
a historical moment for
and of course the Vice President
the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which you know is the prohibition
in the Latin American zone .
he visited in Mexico, in 1966 or so .
was over there with Vice President
the Treaty of Tlatelolco in Mexico
us . I rode with the Vice President
was representing President
people told me [they were disappointed] .
I could read the papers and
talk to some of the people . They were greatly disappointed that this
great friend of the Mexican people was not going to run .
How did you feel about it?
I felt bad . I felt terrible . I actually felt that the reasons, whatever
they may have been for his not running, were only injustices against this
great man . This great American who was trying so hard to do everything
for everyone . And yet in a way because of the times and the Viet Nam
situation he was unable to continue .
I think if Viet Nam had been settled
before the election or one month before the deadline for the election, he
would have run . But I felt badly and I have been around . I have been in
the United Nations and been traveling throughout the world .
bit about history, Mr. McComb, and I still say this
our times is written -- of this
mighty high . These problems of
when we say that we have failed
President on down .
I think if President Johnson had continued as President,
and I wish he had, I don't think our situation here, the internal conflict
of group against group, or race hating other races, I don't think it would
have developed .
I think his domestic program had achieved a certain amount
of acceptability and agreement between all the groups and, therefore,
internal stability and peace:
I campaigned for Stevenson, and let me
campaigned for Kennedy and Johnson . However, Lyndon Johnson was the only
when the history of
era -- Lyndon Johnson is going to come up
these people, all of this restlessness,
in Viet Nam, all of us failed -- from the
tell you something else here .
Politician that I ever knew who would openly go with Stevenson and campaign
for him. After all, I was Stevenson's manager for south Texas, because no
one else would support him. I know Johnson actively helped him .
Is this in '52 or '56?
The first time he ran.
M: '52 .
'52, yes . Johnson was there with us .
Johnson was the only one?
Johnson was the only one in Texas who helped and traveled statewide .
When we had Stevenson in San Antonio, there was no Democratic politician
who would come out and be seen with himl Senator Johnson took him in his
car and stood with him and would introduce him.
This is a great tribute
to a man who was faithful to his country and faithful to his party.
But coming now to the point that I was trying to point out, I
campaigned for Kennedy and I campaigned for Johnson in the first presidential
race for Johnson as vice president--vice presidential candidate of Kennedy .
I was going to Chicago and New York and the east wherever we had contacts
with the Mexican-Americans . And of course I have a lot of close Negro
friends and as soon as he became president, the Negroes--the blacks--
also had accepted Johnson as a humanitarian and as a good President and
this I know because they would tell me . And we minority members talk in
sincerity with each other . So he had been accepted as a great humanitarian
and as a great President . And I think this necessarily will again come out
when this history is written.
Was Humphrey surprised at this announcement when you were down in Mexico?
Of course . His eyes were full of tears--and I remember his saying -- "You
know they have a lot of smog in Mexico," this is tragic -- but he was not
He knew it . But he was still greatly moved and became saddened
and his eyes became moist and other people's eyes became moist . I had
breakfast, with the Vice President the next day and he was still saddened
about this thing .
I know because we went and lay a wreath at the tomb of
the heroes of Mexico, called the Monument of Independence for the Heroes
of Mexico, and he was sad--and so was Mrs . Humphrey, and so were the
Mexican officials . It was a sad day for all of us at that moment . And
I'm glad I didn't come back on the airplane . I didn't come back because
they were flying to Washington and my home is Corpus Christi and I had
my practice, so I begged the Vice President's excuse and permission to
leave the presidential plane and I came by myself . But it was a sad day
for all of us, and all of us who had specially become involved in, say,
the civil rights movement . I like to think of myself, as being a spokesman
for the poor, because I have been poor . We in the Rio Grande Valley
know what it means to be poor .
I think the poor people, who ever they may
be--anglos or blacks or whatever they may be--knew they had a friend in
Lyndon Johnson .
And all of his programs were made for the benefit of the poor . Yes,
certainly we were also saddened.
Did you get involved in that 1956 fight with Shivers?
Yes, sir, I was involved . I have always been asked this question . Generally
speaking, I have politically been against the Texas governors, I sincerely
feel that they do not have the interest of Mexican-Americans at heart . Up
to now I have practically been against them with the exception of the
November election where, as a true Democrat, I have supported the candidacy .
I was involved in the Shivers fight and was one of the maverick group that
was chased out of the Chicago convention . We were not kicked out--of course,
we were actually just asked to leave . The question was asked of me : "How is
it that you can be against the Texas governors and be such a great friend
of Lyndon Johnson, President Johnson, Senator Johnson or Vice President
Johnson?" And I said, "Well, because first I served my country in wartime .
I think President Johnson has always liked Mexican-Americans ." He has
chosen me I'm sure over (perhaps I'm just imagining) the wishes of the
Texas governors because I have received, as you know Dr . McComb, many
high honors . All the recognition with the exception of my first recognition
from President Kennedy, I have received from either Vice President Johnson
or President Johnson.
But I was one of those that was removed from the Chicago convention
by Governor Shivers because I was a "liberal maverick ."
Do you think that Lyndon Johnson has led the state party as well as he
To me Lyndon Johnson has been what I wish every Texan would be . I think
a Texan should be first an American and then a Texan . I think, of course
most Texans are provincial in their politics . I think Johnson was never
provincial in politics . He certainly may have been subjected to some of the
pressures of state politics, which is the conservatism of big money . Yet
his heart was all right and he was never completely controlled or even
controlled by the rich people who helped him financially .
Because I think
a representative in the sense of representing the people should not just
represent the Mexicans or the Anglos or the rich or the poor, he should
represent everyone .
I think Johnson did this at all times . Where he would
help his friends who were affluent, he would also help the poor . He helped
the Anglos, he helped the blacks and helped the Mexican-Americans .
truly a people's representative .
As far as leading the party, yes, I think he led the party as
well as he could under the circumstances, and retrospectively he was a
brave man. He certainly ended up by being an American first, and serving
not only his state but his country. And I hoped other Texans would follow
suit, follow the footsteps of Johnson who came up being a great President.
Otherwise I will tell you one thing, Mr. McComb, Texas is never going to
have another President.
Did you have anything to do with the founding of the Viva Kennedy clubs?
G: Yes .
Were you one of the founders?
I am one of the founders of the Viva Kennedy Club . The first step was
when we have received a call through a friend of ours who was working with
then Senator John F. Kennedy . This friend of ours named Carlos McCormick,
who in spite of his name was a Mexican-American, and is a Mexican-American .
He also happened to be one of the American GI Forum state officers out of
Arizona. The American GI Forum, although not a political group in itself,
certainly its individuals were interested in politics . It is one of the
solutions we must use in trying to achieve our goal for first-class American
So Carlos said, "Well, you want to come to New York and meet
the Kennedys? He's going to run for President ." I said, "Yes, I'm very
much interested ."
So first Senator John F. Kennedy invited us to this civil rights conference
in New York . At that time I think, when was it, in early '59, I
guess . In late '59, if not in early '60, we went to New York . This is where
I met Vice President Humphrey, at that time Senator Humphrey, he was speaking
to a group of New Yorkers at a hotel, perhaps the Waldorf-Astoria, and we
listened to his speech . I got a ticket because I couldn't afford $100 for
a plate, so somebody gave me a ticket . So we went over to the dinner and
at that time Congressman Gonzalez was along with us .
Then, of course, he
was not a congressman .
So we went over there -- after the dinner we met
Senator John F. Kennedy.
I think this was in the Waldorf-Astoria and
this is w
President Kennedy .
There we took a group picture, and I still have the picture which I
will be glad to give you, and in this picture the Mexican-American Viva
Kennedy leadership were in this picture with Kennedy . We were :
Gonzalez ; Carlos McCormick ; Carlos' father-in-law, Mr. Ralph Estrada; Hank
Lopez [from] Los Angeles ; Albert Pena [from] San Antonio; two New Yorkers,
one of them being a Puerto Rican ; and, of course, myself . So then Senator
Kennedy took this picture with us and I remember quite effectively kidding
the cameraman saying, "I don't think you're going to get a picture -- you
should use a bulb ." And the photographer, who was using a 35 millimeter, I
think, said, "No, I'm going to get a good picture ." And, of course, he
didn't get a good picture . It was a little cloudy . Then he said, "I want
you to go to Washington and meet my brother Bobby, who's going to tell you
what to do ."
Well, we went -- by this time Albert Pena came in and Carlos McCormick
and Estrada and Gonzalez and Hank Lopez from Los Angeles, and myself and the
two Puerto Ricans . We met with Bobby at the Democratic headquarters there, I
think on Avenue K, where :we went ahead and had a meeting.
At this time we
told Robert Kennedy that we would like to work for the candidate, John F .
Kennedy, but we would work at it by ourselves . That we didn't want to
work under any state Democratic setup because we felt, like we still
do, that the state Democratic setup would only use Mexican-Americans and
not give us the proper recognition .
So we said we would not work under
the state setup, so he said, "You will work directly under the Kennedy
By that time, of course, the vice presidential nominee had not been
chosen . So we at that time organized the "Viva Kennedy Club" then as soon as
the nominee was chosen, we organized the "Viva Kennedy-Viva Johnson"--but
we still refused to work under any state Democratic setup .
While I always felt I didn't try to outwit President Kennedy because
he seemed to me such an open, warm human being, I always felt that Robert
Kennedy was a shrewd individual . He was very wise and I said, "Well, I
will start kidding Robert Kennedy." And he said, "Dr. Garcia, I understand
you founded this group, American GI Forum, and although you are not in
politics, what do you think of my brother's candidacy?" I said, "Well,
we'll give your brother 98 percent of the votes, since we have always
given Johnson on other races 98 percent of the votes . I'm sure we'll
probably get you that much ." He said, "Well, are you sure?" And I said,
"Yes, I'm sure ." And I said, "If things go right, we may give you 99
percent of the votes ." Now, as it happens, on the first race we gave him
99 percent of the votes of all the Mexican-Americans in Texas and throughout
the nation .
And I said, "Incidentally, I'm glad to meet you. I'm glad to finally
meet you. In case you don't know, we were neighbors for a little while."
And of course I could imagine Mr . Robert Kennedy's brain cells were rushing
around saying, "what does this Mexican mean, that he's a neighbor of mine!"
He said, "Dr. Garcia, I don't understand?" Very politely, I said, "I'll
have you know, Mr . Kennedy, I trained the first amphibian brigades of World
War II out of Camp Edwards, Massachusetts . This camp happened to be across
the bay from your home .
Everybody would point and say, there is the Kennedy
home or mansion. So you see, we were neighbors ." At that time, Mr . Robert
Kennedy, or Bobby as everybody called him, started smiling and said,
"You know what, Dr . Garcia, I think I'll tell my brother that story."
So right there we organized the Viva Kennedy Clubs . And then we
had another meeting as soon as President Johnson was chosen . We sent
out the "Viva Kennedy-Viva Johnson Club" cards here in Texas . I was
the national coordinator .
I think we had honorary chairmen .
Montoya was one of them and Senator Dennis Chavez and others . After one of
our American GI Forum National meetings in Chicago, in August of 1959, we
set up the National Viva Clubs using as nucelus the statewide GI Forum
groups in 24 states .
Did it upset you any that Johnson was thinking about running for the
presidency at the same time?
At that time, no . No, let me tell you. I consider since you are writing
a historical thing--I will tell you an incident .
This is going to be in the record .
It's history, I think we have to be honest with history .
I was asked
by Senator Johnson to take a survey among the Southwest to find out what
did people think of Senator Johnson for President.
It was getting close
to the national convention .
I ran a survey on my own, talking mostly to
Mexican-Americans, Hispanos and Spanish surnamed people . There was no
question, Kennedy was the first choice . In fact my report that I still
conserve, sent to Senator Johnson, was simply this "That as far as the
Mexican-Americans were concerned, he couldn't win." That my suggestion
to him would be to run as vice president, and I think later that he could
win as president. And I think, Dr . McComb, I was one of the few people
at that time who guessed this thing right . And I still have this report
as a document . I still have the original with my signature . Because
by that time the Kennedy enchatment, or vision, or charisma had spread
to our Mexican people . He seemed like an idealist .
It was not so
much that Johnson was not an idealist, it was the fear again, to us
that he was still a Texan, and we felt he could be controlled by the
Texas interests which are against us . But I was one of the few ones,
I said, and I told him the truth and the truth came out .
You talk about delivering 99 percent of the votes and this sort of thing.
How do you go about delivering that vote? What do you do to contact your
Our contacts were through the American GI Forum, being a veterans'
national organization . Although we do not participate in politics these
are the people who work with us .
The Mexican-American people have respected
us from the very beginning, they know we are not going to sell out . They
trust our judgment and decisions, no matter who threatens us, what the
pressure is, what the price is, we are never going to abandon a Mexicano
for any cause or reason . We have no machinery . We have no money . We
never bought a poll tax in the old days . Therefore, our people know that
when we recommend a candidate, whoever he may be, a black, or an Anglo, a
Mexican-American, our people know we think this man is going to be for our
people, for our problems . So we have the people's trust and faith, and it is
the leadership of the American GI Forum that they follow . It's just a
fantastic thing, Dr . McComb, that they would do this . For example, in the
last race here while we're supporting a Mexican-American candidate in
the May primaries, by November election our candidate was eliminated,
so we switched over to a liberal Anglo . While in the primary the liberal
Anglo friend didn't get 5 percent of the vote, she or he would get 95
percent of the votes in the November election . 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. This is the same
reason why Humphrey carried Texas the last election .
All you have to do then is recommend somebody, and your people will read
That's right, that's all it takes . In fact we get frequent calls here and
every time, "What do you want us to do, doctor?" As I say, I know it
sounds pretentious, but I know I'm talking to you for historical basis .
We have no weapon, this idea that we have control just isn't so, and I
challenge anyone to ever prove that we have any control over the people
other than persuasion and judgement and faithfulness to them . In other
words, when the little man comes here, he gets attention . He may have an
immigration problem, problems with the police, with payments, with poverty,
with sickness, with the hospitals, he comes to us and I pick up the phone
and help him. Let me give you an example .
I well remember a specific case that was about the time of the
Kennedy-Johnson election . A mother came in here, and it happened that
this mother was pregnant and very nervous . And I said, "What is your
problem?" She said, "My boy is in the Marine guardhouse in Camp Pendleton,
California . I'm going to pieces, doctor ." And I could see she was going
to pieces . And she said, "All I want is to talk to my son and find out
what is happening to him. Perhaps he is dead ." So I used my telephone at
my expense and called the commanding officer of the brig or the guardhouse
at Camp Pendleton and I identified myself simply, "Dr . Hector Garcia, a
doctor whose patient this lady is, and she is very sick .
She wants to
talk to her son ." And he said, "Well, I'm sorry I cannot give you any such
information ." The lady was listening on the extension in the other
office . I said, "Well, you are doing a very cruel thing to this woman
because she is sick . A mother needs talking to her son," I said, "for
compassion and humanitarian sake, let her talk ." "No, sir," and he won't
tell me a thing . He was a major.
I said, "Major, do me a favor, don't
leave there because pretty soon I'm going to have somebody call you from
Washington, and you are going to have to talk ." This lady got very sick .
She was about to have labor pains and miscarry .
I got on the telephone, and I called Senator Johnson and Senator
Johnson talked to the lady . He said, "Don't go, lady, I'll get this man
called on the telephone .
And in five minutes after he hung up this major
was calling apologetically from Camp Pendleton. And these are the favors
I do for people, through people like Johnson and Congressman Young and
the Kennedys and other people . I'm the helpful go-between . This is why
we have faith, and this faith has been built up with the federal government .
I think we're building it up on a state level, although it hasn't reached
this point .
In other words, we Mexican-Americans would rather trust federal
officers, officials, presidents, vice presidents, senators,ccongressmen
rather than Texas officials . Of course, it's changing .
When Senator Johnson became Vice President he said, "Dr . Hector, I want
a MexicanAmerican secretary, get me one ."
Well, I had a young girl here
named Angelita Hernandez, who was my secretary at that time, a very charming
young girl who is now married. He was ready to hire her, and Angelita
Hernandez decided that she was going to get too homesick and she didn't go .
I didn't ask him, I didn't ask him to put anybody in there . He did it on
his own .
There is another point . We petitioned Vice President Johnson
previously and President Johnson when he came into office that we
wanted certain positions in Washington .
One of them was in the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, one of them was the Commissioner on
Civil Rights . He came into office in '64--this was in '65 . We wanted
a Mexican-American man in the Civil Service, we wanted a Mexican-American
in the civil rights section of the Attorney General's office . Well,
finally he agreed that he would place a Mexican-American in the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission and he went ahead . We submitted a list
of names . And you remember Mr . Vicente Ximenes, who was a friend of
Johnson, was chosen . We were called up to Washington for the installation
of Mr . Ximenes as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner, and
without anybody's knowledge .
While in Washington at the installation and out of the clear blue
sky, he said, "I have created the Interagency Committee for Mexican-
American Affairs and I appointed as the chairman of this new Cabinet
level committee, Mr . Vicente Ximenes and under him would be the Secretary
of Commerce, Secretary of Equal Employment Opportunity, Secretary of
the War on Poverty, Sargent Shriver, and down the line ." And mind you,
no one had ever asked him for the creation of this agency, nobody knew
anything about it .
Nobody had heard about it, and certainly how would
we know, because we had no precedent . He did it because he wanted to
help his Mexican-American friends .
We had another problem at that time . The "SER" organization, which
means Service Employment and Re-development in skills, had been proposed
for many months but never funded! We wanted "SER" which is a joint
operation of American GI Forum and LULAC, to place people in jobs for
job training, manpower developing, migrant eeducation and also skill
bank . At a White House conference, the first White House conference
we attended, I complained to President Johnson. I was there ; so was
Mr . Raul Ornelas from LULAC, Mr . Augustine Flores from the American GI
Forum, Mr . Luis Tellez from the American GI Forum (Mr . Vicente Ximenes at
that time was in South America with the Panama AID), and there were other
I said, "Mr. President, you know I wish you would go ahead and
get us the money for 'SER' ." He said, "You mean it hasn't been funded?"
I said, "No, Mr . President ." He said, "Jacobsen," (he called him Jake)
"I want you to go over there right away and before these people leave get
them the "SER" money." And before we left the White House Conference, and
I remember as we were sitting at a table having coffee and cake, within
the hour "Jacobsen" came back . He said, "Mr . President, they will be funded ."
Well, it's those little things, Mr. McComb, that prove to you that
this gentleman was not only talking, he was producing . And, of course,
you go back to my appointment as the first Mexican-American Commissioner
on Civil Rights . I didn't want this appointment .
Did that surprise you?
Yes, I didn't want it .
I was not asking for it, nobody asked him for
this appointment . I think as this thing developed, as I was appointed
November 7, 1968, what had happened, the United States Commission on
Civil Rights was going to have a hearing in San Antonio.
As you know,
I'm a doctor of medicine, not an attorney . The Commission wanted a
The Chairman at that time was [John] Hannah from
Michigan State .
Father Ted Hesburgh and Mrs . [Frankie] Freeman and Dr .
[Robert] Rankin and others wanted a Mexican-American, and I think the
request eventually got to him, I think possibly through the Civil Service
Commission, the chairman--being John Macy .
Mr . Macy, and he also thought of me . And before I knew it, President
Johnson called me . Of course, by this time I had security clearance for
the United Nations . I served the government on several missions . So he
appointed me . I didn't know anything about it . Of course I'm grateful
to my country and I tried to do my job and discharge my duties and obligations
with all expediency and also with all the ability I have within
my power .
But no Mexican-American had asked him at this point .
the Commission on Civil Rights asked, Dr . Hannah, or Father Hesburgh,
perhaps Mr . Macy--but not us .
Why did he ask you then?
Because he knew I had been working on civil rights for over twenty years .
The American GI Forum started with the Felix Longoria case, we had gone
into police brutality, lack of representation in juries, lack of representation
in draft boards,
that I knew civil rights .
I knew the problems, I knew where they were .
why he asked me . And of course
fact that I had done my duty as
Let me ask about that . How did he happen to appoint you to that?
All I know is that one time, I think a Mr . Cox from the White House called
me and he said, "Would you like to serve as a representative, as alternate
delegate, with the rank of ambassador to the United Nations ." And I said,
"Well, how long will it take?" I remember because the feast of the Mexican
American Independence Day, September 15 and 16 of 1967, this happened a few
weeks before . I went through the process of security clearance and he asked
lack of representation in schools, he knew
I knew civil rights as a Mexican-American,
And this, I believe, is
again I think he was pleased with the
his choice to be the Ambassador to the
me and I said, "Yes, I'll go ." I figured at a time when we were receiving
so many casualties in Viet Nam that I should also be a good citizen and
go to serve in the United Nations .
I figured if Guan Garcia, private, is called to serve his country,
he goes and it makes no difference who he is . I don't think it's fair
that just because I'm a doctor I should hesitate to serve my country .
I served on the battlefields, if they wanted me at the United Nations
I'll go . And I went and I had about ten days to arrange my business--
actually to leave it running and move out. I didn't leave any other
doctor in my office . I went to the United Nations . I think I can tell
you why he chose me on this occasion .
He chose me really because he was very close to Latin America. He was
close to all of the Spanish speaking Latin American people . He chose
me first because he knew that I could speak Spanish fluently and well .
He knew that I was faithful to this country and also to his philosophy of
being good to everyone, especially to Mexican-Americans . At this time we
had a lot of trouble in Latin America and he asked me to go to the United
Nations to help out. It happened during the process of my serving as the
representative that they asked me to speak in Spanish and to deliver the
speech on the Treaty of Tlatelolco and as you know, Dr . McComb, this was
the first time an American representative or ambassador or delegate ever
spoke in a foreign language . This was a terrific-- . This is also one of
the reasons why Vice President Humphrey took me to Tlatelolco to sign that
treaty--called the Treaty of Tlatelolco, the prohibition of nuclear weapons
in the Latin American zone . So I know President Johnson was pleased, and
let me tell you how I knew he was pleased--he told me so .
Did he ever talk to you about being a UN ambassador?
Before, no, never. Never, this came out of the clear blue sky.
Did he tell you what he wanted you to do when you did accept it?
No, he never did.
I knew what he wanted me to do .
I think he wanted
the people to know that there are other people over here other than big
business people in the sense of rich or mighty . There are people who
are warm human beings .
As a doctor who is interested in those things
he chose me to let Latin Americans see that we have a Garcia here like
they have over there who can do a job, and who understands their culture
and their language .
They tell me that I was one of the few delegates who could easily
mingle or mix openly with Latin American delegates . Because all of
belong to "La Raza .
"La Raza" is that group of people of Spanish parent
hood mixed with Indian and this practically comprises all of the Latin
American people .
I know how pleased he was because after I had delivered
my speech, I left to attend the cabinet committee hearings on Mexican-
American affairs at El Paso, and I left exactly the same day.as my address .
So the next day we were over there at El Paso at the signing of the
Chamizal Treaty and President Johnson addressed the conference of Mr .
Ximenes' committee . We waited for him at this meeting place by the air
port, where the Mexican-Americans were . He came to speak to us . Mr .
Ximenes and I were in the receiving line, after all I had the title of
Ambassador at that moment, and I was the highest ranking Federal person
So he said, "Hector, I'm so pleased with you ." And I said, "Why,
Mr . President?" He said, "Because you made headlines in the Baltimore
Sun newspaper, and you made headlines that your speech had caused great
happy reactions in the Latin American countries and their ambassadors and
of course you also peeved the Russians a little bit. Because they didn't
quite expect an American to be speaking Spanish." So he was pleased and
very happy . Of course, which pleased me very much, after all I was there
to please my country first and also to please "my President," as we say
"mi presidente" and he was happy . He took off back to
Washington and I stayed there for the conference . Then I went back to
the United Nations to finish the term.
He also appointed you to the Council on Economic Opportunity back in
March of '67 .
Yes, the war on poverty .
And this I know he told me what he wanted .
He said, "Hector--
Did he call you to Washington?
He called me on the telephone . He said, "Hector, I want you to let the
poor people know that anything they want that I can get them, I want to
get it for them . I don't want any more poverty . And I know you come
from Texas and you as a doctor, as a humanitarian, are well acquainted
with the poverty of the area . I wish it wasn't like it is . But I want
you to serve there, and I want you to help the poor in every way possible .
And report to me anything that they need or that you think should be
arranged, because I want poverty erased!
And this is one of the few times I felt also that he was giving me
authority in a sort of a way. Of course I never used the authority. I
was his representative, of course all of us were his representative .
But the fact that he called me personally on this appointment, I felt
he was sincere . This was close to his heart, the poor, whoever they were,
they were close to his heart.
What happened to this war on poverty? Were the funds cut into by the
Viet Nam war?
I think so . But more than that I actually believe that elected or
government officials, whoever they may be, were jealous and resented any
directional guidance by people who are not professionals . I think it is
a human element . With few exceptions, congressmen and senators, governors,
state representatives, mayors, county judges, county commissioners, they
want everything to be channeled through them. So the war on poverty had
intended not only to provide help and need for the poor but to teach
leadership to the poor . This governmental jealousy against the poor
resulted in the passage of the Green Amendment, and reduced the power of
Certainly a lot of money was not accounted for, but as far as
results were, we were producing leadership . We were producing--a great
change in that there would be a voice of the poor in the democracy . Our
democracy is of the poor also . This is the first time in our government
that with government funds the poor were given a voice in determining
their future and certainly in overcoming their poverty.
I think it was
a great experiment . Personally, I don't think this has failed because I
see it working today .
I see it working--this war on poverty on the local
level of which I am still a member .
I saw it last night at this meeting
on "closed and open beaches," where the lowest educated person or the
poorest on an economic level can get up and talk to the Mayor, or talk
to the rich, or talk to the political leaders in a way that they would
never talk before, say ten years before . And this a democracy at its
best . It is working.
Then leadership has been developed?
It has developed. And I wish you would attend--poor people like Coronas,
Perez, etc . are leaders here . Practically illiterate people who get up
and demand that the city repair the streets, that the city pick up the
abandoned old automobiles, and fix their streets and the city does it!
Before they wouldn't do anything like that, they expected people like us
to do it . Now we don't have to do it ; in fact, they do it themselves .
And I say this is not an experiment anymore, it's become a "reality ."
There's a voice of the poor in our democracy today that was absent before!
Now you mentioned that the mayors and the county people wanted the funds
and power filtered through them. Doesn't this interfere somewhat with
the carrying out of federal programs, say urban renewal for example, HUD
programs? Does that have trouble getting through down to the local level?
Yes, I think it has trouble getting through to the local level . I think
actually what has happened, we have never been able to formulate enough
programs on a local level to benefit the people who should be benefitted .
There's too much time lost in moving up a program and presenting it .
the time it comes back it's very weak .
I think what has failed--we don't
have enough writers on a local level who can write a request well enough
to avoid all the delays and the pitfalls of administrative red tape . But
I don't think this is an obstructionist movement by the power structure of
the establishment, it's just a question of lack of experience not leadership!
They don't want you to have complete leadership on a local level . They
don't mind you developing it by trial-and-error methods, you see, but they
don't want you to go ahead and say, "Hey, get us an expert from government
in Washington to write a project to build a "mechanics school ." No! You
have to find someone on the local level to write a project to set up a
"mechanics school ." This is hard to do!
Looking at your list here, you also had an appointment in 1964 to the
inauguration of the President of Venezuela . How did that come about?
I really don't know how that came about . Of course the President knows
me, and knows that I speak Spanish, and of course Venezuela is a Spanish
speaking country, and at that time the President chose me . Of course I
had served on some other diplomatic missions with President Kennedy in
the American delegation that signed the Treaty of Mutual Defense Area
Agreement between us and the West Indies in 1961 . So again I think it was
a question of my bicultural and bilingual background which he like a lot .
After all, remember that teacher Lyndon Johnson taught his first school
in Cotulla, Texas, where all the student were Mexican-Americans . He can
understand Spanish quite well . I never spoke Spanish to him. He also
speaks some Spanish . I suspect he speaks it, but not as fluently as
perhaps he would like to . So he sends me over there, and again this is
a great moment in my life as I carried the rank of "Special Ambassador"
but more important than that was that as a representative of the President
of the United States, I never dreamt that it would ever happen--a Garcia--
a representative of the President of the United States .
Again, let me tell you how important this bilingual, bicultural
idea became . While in Caracas it happened that the ambassador from
Spain, whose name I've forgotten at this time, and his delegation's
car broke down .
So we gave him a ride to the presidential palace of Dr .
Raul Leoni and in it we started talking, started talking in Spanish .
Pretty soon we got to the palace, you know, the Estados Unidos de America
is close to Espana in the reception line .
This ambassador would introduce
me to all the Latin American delegations and pretty soon as we talked
Spanish, they forgot that I was an American . And they never realized it,
until I talked to President Raul Leoni and outgoing President [Romulo]
Betancourt, I talked to them in Spanish. And our talks created a lot
of interest . In fact I could never convince the ambassador from Spain
that I was not educated in Spain or Mexico .
I could never convince him!
He said, "No? Then you are a doctor of literature or a teacher?" I
said, "No, I am just a doctor of medicine .? Then the German representative
came over to talk to me and he said, "You mean you are a Mexican-American?"
I said, "Yes!" [He said,] "And you come here representing the USA!" I
said, "Yes!" He said, "Well, that's good .
I never thought it would be
I made great friends there with the diplomatic corps and I was well
received by both the outgoing President Betancourt and the incoming
President Dr . Raul Leoni . Again, I received this appointment as a
serious appointment . It was a great thrill that I would be the "special
ambassador" representing the President of the United States . I still
carry as a memento my diplomatic passport .
And this is important, Mr . McComb, because psychologically we
Mexican-Americans want to also belong . In other words, I say this :
we always want to end our days in somebody's arms . Is it our mother's
arms, is it our wife's arms, is it our priest's or minister's arms, is
it our children's arms, we want to be loved and to [be] taken in by someone .
We Mexican-Americans up to the time of '60 were dejected people because we
were rejected by everyone .
In Mexico we were never accepted by the Mexicans,
and here we were not accepted by the Texans . So since 1960 is the first
instance that we feel that we are Americans . After all, you cease being a
Mexican when you are an ambassador for the United States of America, or
when you carry with you a card or a passport that says "representative of
the President of the United States," you stop being a Mexican and
become an American . I think this is the most important thing that has
happened to the Mexican-American people -that we now feel that we
belong to this country .
That this is truly our "country" and we may
keep our pride and our dignity. That we are Mexican in origin and in
blood, but we also now have the feeling that we are accepted as Americans
Let me ask this . During Lyndon Johnson's years as President, there was
a lot of legislation passed to help poor people, to help people in
Now which of those laws that were passed have helped the
Mexican-Americans the most?
Well, I think for one, of course, is "The war on poverty ." And next
of course the Civil Rights Act of 1960 and other civil rights bills of 1964 .
That's a good point because most people think this in regard to the
Negro rather than to the Mexican-American .
No, no . Let me tell you this . For instance up until about 1960 we
Mexican-Americans had never made the federal people realize first that
we were a minority of any numbers . Secondly, they never realized we had
specific problems . It was until the Civil Rights Act of 1960 that we were
able to start moving into this field of civil rights . Previously we moved
into other fields . But, I think these civil rights acts were the ones
that gave us the feeling--that we also had civil rights and the voting
rights . The repeal of the poll tax on federal elections which involved
the presidential and federal nominees helped . This was a most important
thing, because this federal law made the State of Texas repeal the prerequisite
of voting, which was the poll tax . And this happened only about [in]
'65 or '66, not too long ago.
How did this help the Mexican-Americans?
Well, you see, we still had to pay $1 .75 to vote before 1964 .
Is that a prohibitive amount?
Oh, yes . It is a prohibitive amount, Mr . McComb, when you realize that
60 percent of our people in Texas are on the poverty level . The poverty
level being $3,300 per year for a family of four . Not only that, there
are a lot of families who live on $6 to $8 a week even today--we are
the poorest . The number one county in level of "poverty" is not Deep
South counties, it is Starr County in the Rio Grande Valley .
was very prohibitive, because even today, mind you, with Medicare and
Medicaid, we have many people who do not have 50 cents to buy the medicine .
They have to pay 50 cents to buy the medicine--some still don't have it .
We are a poor people . You take a line drawn south of El Paso County and
go all the way across from El Paso east, and leave Betor and Midland counties
because of the oil interests, and then to to San Antonio and continue all
the way south of Houston and there is only one county south of this line
there that is not at poverty level . That's called Comal County with the
mills, the textile mills . All the other counties, as far as Mexican-
Americans are concerned, are poor counties . And I have a map there to
show you. I'll tell you, $1 .75 was a horrible amount, a great amount of
money for our people . They couldn't afford to vote . Why should you spend
$1 .75, when it could buy you so many pounds of pinto beans, or tortillas,
or flour tortillas? $1 .75--how much wieners could it buy you? How much
hamburger meat? It is still a prohibitive amount even as of today to our
poorer people .
Did more of the Mexican-Americans then begin to vote and participate in
Very much more so, very much more so . Then the most humanitarian, thing
that was ever done for our people was "Medicare ."
Oh, it helped a lot. I know. After all, I serve the poor . My office is
[in] the poor part of town, you know, this is West Port, west of port . My
office used to be one block down . I was the first doctor who established
an office in the barrio here . I work only with the poor . The people who
helped me are the poor Mexican-Americans, not the Mexican well-to-do, not
the Mexican professionals .
It's the poor who sustain and back me and
help me .
Now I can see many more patients because before they had to go to
the clinic . Now they are back with Medicare .
But the point is this--
I think we live with more dignity .
I think human beings are the same .
I think young girls want to have a mink coat, everybody wants to have
a nice Cadillac car, and our families want a twenty-thirty thousand dollar
home . The point is this : we want to have dignity . We want to have a
good status . The most horrible thing was that a lot of our elderly would
die at home because they couldn't afford to go to the hospital . Now with
Medicare and Medicaid, they can go . Not only that, when they went to the
hospital, they would be put in what we in Spanish call "Rincon del Diablo ."
It means the Devil's Corner--that abandoned part of the hospital, illequipped
and ill-ventilated . Now, I think, it's a homage to God that His
children created in His image now have a decent bed, an air-conditioned
room, a lavatory .
The majority of these people would never have these
things at home and they still don't now. Medicare brought dignity and
respect to the Mexican-American elderly . And I'll tell you one thing,
politically, you can argue anything but I would always vote Democratic
because of Medicare for our people .
Did Medicare also help break down discrimination in the hospitals?
Oh, definitely, very much . It helped break it down all the way through
because we can always use "the weapon," you know, the federal money
through Medicare . And before then, the hospitals here in the '50's
would still have separate wards for Mexican-American people, and of
course for the Negroes . We thought it was horrible because separate wards
would mean inferior wards . But it has helped . In other words, all people
on Medicare of that age are hospitalized together . It has helped very much .
How about the various education bills that were passed under Johnson?
Have these had any effect?
In a way the bills have helped a lot, of course, all the aid to the
colleges and universities have helped very much . But I think, Dr .
McComb, the state still controls the education to such a degree that
the whole education system of Texas is not that good . As you know, we
are 42nd in high school graduates . I believe, 36th or 37th in the amount
of money we spend per capita on students . What has happened was that the
whole system of Texas was geared to agricultural pursuits . I well remember
that we would never get a hearing from the school boards in 1948, '49 and
Even here in Robstown the school board would say, "If we educate
the Mexicans, who's going to pick our cotton ." I don't think the educational
system has come up to par, no, and I'm not talking merely as a Mexican-
American . I'm talking as a Texan . I think we are derelict, delinquent
and we are deficient in education .
I don't think we pay our teachers
right or properly .
I don't think we teach students right .
Texas should have at least two years of college education-free for
all the students . We're backwards in this . Certainly the federal
government has helped because in all these counties we have a "special
schooling " We have first, preschool classes, the kindergarten, now
you have your Head Start, which is a terrific help .
If it hadn't been
for Head Start, the Mexican-American child would be in trouble today,
it's a terrific things and I hope they keep it up . That has been the
most moving aspect of the educational thrust . Not necessarily the scholarships
to students or the G.I . Cold War Bill, no this is it, "Head Start ."
Of course bilingual education has helped, too--but more can be done!
Did you get involved with Johnson in regard to the Padre Island National
I got involved with President Johnson.
I'm going to give you a copy
of my testimony in behalf of Padre Island . President Johnson was greatly
interested in the Padre Island Park . He came here--I remember that quite
well-he came over here . We had this hearing at the Exposition here in
Corpus Christi. He asked me to go ahead and give some testimony and his
feelings were like my feelings, that he wanted Padre Island to be a
national seashore park and when he asked me I think he knew my position .
My position is simply always to be with the people, and in this case, the
poor people . And as you read my statement there, I objected to building
big hotels, big complexes, big residential areas . I thought of Padre Island
as a gift of God really, and we were lucky to get it in such a nice, primitive,
beautiful condition .
And I remember President Johnson coming over here for two other
occasions . This is important historically . We had a naval base, the
naval base installation, now it's Army, ARAOMAC . The change came when
the Republicans came in with Eisenhower--when was that?
M: '52 .
Eisenhower was re-elected in 1956 .
That was the election . Senator Lyndon Johnson came in in '58 to help us .
Republicans started closing the base in 1958 .
Senator Johnson was still
then a senator. He came over here at the Driscoll Hotel to help us . He had
a meeting. We asked him to come here, we were horribly worried about the
economic situation here in Corpus Christi in 1958 . He flew over and came
here, and he said, "I'll do everything in my power to keep the naval
establishment open ." And I remember he expressed himself about what a
horrible thing the Secretary of Navy [Thomas] Gates, shut down the base .
He went to work for us . Of course he didn't succeed. Actually the naval
base never opened--and the naval base establishment never opened . But
he brought us "ARAOMAC ."
This is an army establishment which was something
So he came over, everytime we called this man he came . When we
had this hurricane called Carla, he came again in September 1961 .
Carla. I remember him flying over in a helicopter and landing over by the
shoreline coliseum . He flew from the naval base by helicopter and I remember
him getting off that Army helicopter--and he came over and I talked to
I still have some pictures of him which show he was really worried
about this area and the devastating effects of Carla . He seemed to be everywhere
the people needed him. And I thought this was a great tribute to the
people, that he would respond to our call . I guess he responds likewise to
all his friends' calls . But whenever there was any danger or need, he
In 1955 a hurricane also hit Tampico, remember? We felt a
great affinity for our Mexican brothers out of Tampico, so we decided we
would raise clothing,and food and sent it over there . Of course how
would we send it? Only through Navy planes . So I got on the phone, called
Johnson and I said, "Senator, we can raise some money here, raise some food
and clothing and can you help get it over there?" [He said,] "I'll talk it
over with the Navy people ." They were flying, and we were able to [send
these things to Tampico] . And of course we were fortunate because perhaps
[because] of our warmth and feelings toward Mexico, we got the okay of the
Mexican consul and government . Usually they hesitate about those things .
This time they accepted our assistance .
Mind you, before the United
carriers and ships into Tampico,
the Navy planes and people like
baked bread to Tampico and also food and clothing and medicine . And I say
again, I think this is a great tribute of how much this man has helped .
After all, who are we? We are little people, I should say I'm a little
people . It's people like Johnson who make little people important, and
I think little people have felt important under Johnson, because I consider
myself little people, after all I'm still a Mexican-American .
Where did he get the idea of making Padre Island a national seashore? Do
No, this I don't know, I really don't know .
I don't think we ever went
into it that much . I don't know how it developed because as you know it
has a terrific history, and I don't know how it developed into a national
seashore park .
Have you had much connection with Mrs . Johnson?
States government was moving its aircraft
the American GI Forum, with the help of
Senator Johnson, were flying hot, fresh
Somel I have some acquaintance and have some meetings with Mrs .
She's a great lady .
My wife thinks very highly of her.
you know, my wife is from Italy .
She is a very nice lady, she has a
doctor's degree from the University of Naples, a beautiful woman, too.
however, she doesn't like to travel . She's not a Garcial She's only
a Garcia by marriagel But when Mrs . Lyndon Johnson invited her she
gladly went .
And one day when he [President Johnson] had the ambassadors from the
Latin American states, the OAS, the Organization of American States in
his ranch, he invited us to the barbecue . And he wanted me to bring my
wife and my children, so we went over there. Besides Mrs . Johnson's
attention to the ambassadors' wives and relatives, she was also very kind
to my wife .
In fact she gave her a very nice wrist watch and I think this
again speaks very eloquently for this great lady .
And we had her here on Padre Island when we dedicated The Padre Island
Seashore Park . I think she's a great lady because I think she's sincere .
She certainly seems so warm and of course with her family tie-in with the
Taylors in New Mexico, they are also well liked over there .
I think she's
a great, nice, compassionate and sincere lady . She's always helpful--
everytime we needed something from her, we called her.
This exhausts the questions I have for you. It there anything else you'd
like to say, or any other connections you have had with Johnson that ought
to be put in here?
Yes . One time we were up in Washington at some event at the White House
and the official White House photographer was there . I think this predated
Mr . Ximenes' appointment, or about that time in 1964 . I said, "Mr . President,
you are going to give me a picture ." I knew because I could see the
photographer so I suddenly said, "Let me give you these pictures ." So I
gave the President some pictures that we had taken at his ranch on one
of these festivities for the Latin American ambassadors, the Organization
of American States . Then I said, "Besides that, President Johnson, let
me show you these other pictures . In these pictures I show you the usual
cemetery ceremony the American GI Forum has with its hundred flags at the
veterans :' funerals ." And I said, "President Johnson, when I go and speak
and give a eulogy posthumously on a soldier's death, I say that of course
we present this flag on behalf of the President of the United States and
the Congress and the People ." And said he, "Hector, you can always tell
those people that I have asked you that wherever you go or you can go,
to say that Lyndon Johnson (these are the words that he used) was very
grateful for their sacrifice . And you tell those Mexican-American people
that I'm forever grateful to them for the sacrifices of their fathers,
sons and brothers ."
And since that time I would tell the mothers and the fathers and
the widows and the children, "President Lyndon Johnson asked me on this
occasion to tell you that he is very grateful, though sorry for the
death of your husband (or brother or father), he's grateful for the
sacrifice ." And I think this speaks very highly for this man who loved
the soldiers . And all during the time I attended the funerals of the
soldiers, I remembered what he said .
I could see that Viet Nam war
certainly always worried him constantly . I still remember that day when
he decided that he was not going to run, I felt bad about it . Sometimes
I figure perhaps we didn't help him as much as we should have helped him.
Perhaps the advice or whoever his advisers were, didn't advise him as much
as they should have advised him, or as well .
I know he tried so hard to do everything for his country and
for the world. He certainly tried hard enough to achieve a permanent
peace. Of course those of us who were involved in a little diplomacy
like I was in the United Nations, can tell you, Dr . McComb, even today
that peace still is an elusive thing, it isn't so clear, it isn't so
easy to get, and sometimes I wonder if even in twenty years more we
might still find peace elusive!
I say overall the Mexican-American people loved this man, respected
him and still love him. And in fact we are still working that somewhere
down the line we will give him recognition that he deserves from us .
The Mexican-American people themselves went through a little revolutionary
crisis and when this turbulence is settled, we will again see the greatness
of this man. We feel greatly indebted to President Lyndon Johnson!
I remember when Mrs . Johnson was here for the Padre Island dedication .
Many of our people wanted to go there and see her. We had a bus load .
Although we got there late because of the crowd--we got there at the end
of the ceremony . However, we got there in time to see Mrs . Johnson . We
had about thirty Mexican-American Gold Star Mothers, mind you, that asked
to take them because they wanted to see Mrs . Johnson . And I think this
again a tribute to the Johnsons from a viewpoint--of course, of Mexican-
I can go on and on like that and tell you more of these things .
But I think it should suffice enough to say that first, I am grateful ;
secondly, speaking on behalf of the Mexican-American people and the Spanish
speaking people in this
as a citizen, I should say he is
has ever had. And as history is
stand out very high in the love and respect, not only of the Americans, but
country, we are grateful to this man. And speaking
one of the greatest presidents this country
written you'll find out that Johnson will
of the world. He will come out being one of our greatest presidents .
He set himself aside from the every day common point of politics in
order to achieve what he thought was more important than his political
future, which meant stability and world peace .
I was hoping it could
have been accomplished before he finished his tenure of office .
Unfortunately, it didn't, but he kept his word . He did not run .
Well, on that eloquent statement I wish to thank you for the interview.
Thank you, Dr . McComb, thank you very much .
Labels: American GI Forum, Corpus Christi, Dr Hector P Garcia
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Name: Jaime Kenedeño
Location: The Body of Christ, Texas, US
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