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Holiday for Dr. Hector
Local representative, leader's family propose day of honor
By Jaime Powell Caller-Times
February 4, 2007
The family of late civil rights leader Dr. Hector P. Garcia, with the help of a local state representative, is pushing for legislation that would create a state holiday in his honor.
Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi, who is not related to the doctor, is working with the Legislative Counsel in drafting a bill, which should be filed this week.
He has the backing of Reps. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, and Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville, and Sens. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, and Reps. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, D-Kingsville, could not be reached.
Garcia said the local delegation is serious about getting the bill passed.
"This is not a ceremonial, meaningless resolution. This is a bill we hope to get implemented," Garcia said. "Things such as Sunflower Day or Bolo Tie Day are offered as a resolution. We intend to offer this as a bill and see it through."
If Garcia's push is successful, the legislation would not result in a mandatory day off for Texas students or workers, but instead would serve to ensure that the late doctor's life work and legacy is preserved for future generations, Garcia said. It would incorporate into the state academic curriculum lessons learned from Dr. Garcia's efforts on behalf of civil rights and veterans causes. How that would happen is still in the works, Garcia said.
The holiday would fall on the third Wednesday in September, in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Week, and commit that day to teaching those lessons, Garcia said.
"Many Hispanics don't know who he is or all the sacrifices he made," the doctor's daughter, Cecilia Garcia-Akers said. "He made life better for everybody and opened the doors so we could have careers and jobs. This is a way to get young children to know who Dr. Hector was and about his hard work."
Official state holidays include 11 state-recognized holidays in addition to nine federal holidays. State holidays allow state employees to have a day off and still get paid, and private businesses are encouraged to do the same. Garcia's bill is being written as a non-vacation holiday, so workers would not get an additional day off.
The last time the state authorized a new holiday was in 1999, when former Sen. Carlos Truan, of Corpus Christi, introduced successful legislation that instituted a holiday to honor civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.
"In our case, it became an optional holiday on his birthday, allowing state employees to take that day off with pay, recognizing for the first time a Hispanic leader," Truan said. "I support the new holiday. Dr. Hector was my hero and he pushed me to run for office back in 1968. He was a real hero in the struggle for civil rights in this country. He was a very, very strong spokesperson."
Truan said he also pushed to get a state holiday declared for Hector P. Garcia, but that bill never got out of committee.
In 1948, Dr. Garcia founded the American GI Forum, aimed at giving Hispanic veterans equal access to the education, job training and home loans promised by the GI Bill of Rights.
Dr. Garcia made national headlines with the group's first big fight, which came after the family of a Hispanic World War II veteran killed in the Philippines was turned away at a Three Rivers funeral home and told to bury him in a segregated cemetery for Hispanics.
The doctor took the fight over the head of the local funeral home owner, contacting state and federal lawmakers and eventually secured a full military burial for the veteran, Pvt. Felix Longoria, in Arlington National Cemetery.
The event made the cover of The New York Times and marked the launch of the American GI Forum as a civil rights organization. From then, until he died in 1996, Garcia fought for Mexican-American rights, both locally as a respected doctor and in the national arena.
Dr. Garcia was an alternate ambassador to the United Nations, the first Mexican-American to serve on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and received the nation's highest civilian honor in 1984 when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
"The Presidential Medal of Freedom is reserved for the historic American giants of the past century: Neil Armstrong, Dr. Jonas Salk, Martin Luther King, Jackie Robinson," Rep. Garcia said. "With Dr. Hector, we had a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient from here in South Texas. It's important that his legacy live on for future generations."
Contact Jaime Powell at 886-3716 or powellj@ caller.com