Dr. Hector P. García book reveals man through eyes of daughter
Every generation, it seems, a person enters our lives and impacts society in a grand manner. Dr. Héctor P. García, the great Mexican American civil rights leader, was such a person. His life and times have been welldocumented in books and film.
In “The Inspiring Life of Texan Héctor P. García” we have a truly compressive resource detailing Garcia’s life on the front lines of the civil rights struggle, his work as a medical doctor and his role as a family man.
His daughter – Cecilia García Akers – has written an unparalleled gem about her “papa” revealing intimate family memories.
It is a must-read for those interested in the Mexican American struggle for acceptance in the United States. This book should be required reading for young students across the country, as it recounts the story of a 20th Century hero who shook up the nation with his quest to see his people, and all Americans, treated equally and with respect.
Akers pulls no punches in this book. She admits sharing Dr. García the family man with the nation sometimes made it difficult for his wife and children. But they, too, became part of his struggle with unending support and love that included understanding that he was doing important work that would forever improve the world around them.
This book provides a valuable glimpse into Dr. García’s activities as a young man, his quest for a superlative education, his romance with his wife, Wanda, and his life as a father. While the book reviews his military service, his struggle to form the American G.I. Forum and his defining civil rights victory in the case of the Felix Longoria Affair, it is much more than a history lesson. It is a personal story weaved with a daughter’s love and admiration for her father.
The rich, never-before-revealed insight this book provides paints a deeply personal portrait of the civil rights champion.
García Akers details what daily life was like for her father after grueling 18hour work days as a medical doctor, making hospital rounds and tending to patients who could not afford to pay for medical care.
In reviewing her family’s history and recalling her grandparents, Akers writes, “They could not have known that one of their sons would become a warrior, standing up for people who needed an education as well as all veterans. Their son’s advocacy would result in a better America (and) be the voice for those who did not have a voice.”
That voice echoes through the pages of her book like a beacon calling attention to a ship nearing shore. Readers learn of Dr. García’s humble beginnings in Mercedes, Texas, after his family immigrated to the United States during the Mexican Revolution. Akers takes the reader on a Sunday drive in the family car. She reflects deeply on Dr. García’s formative years and how her grandfather home-schooled her father and his siblings – four of whom became medical doctors.
She reflects on Dr. García’s marriage to the love of his life, Wanda, her mother. The book includes details of Dr. García’s service as an officer the United States Army during World War II and notes that he did not become an American citizen until after he returned to the States.
The book includes reflection on the tragic death of her brother — The Garcías’ only son — “Sonny,” Héctor Jr. He loved baseball and the New York Yankees, especially home run heroes of the 1960s Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. But he also was committed to helping people.
Héctor Jr. decided at an early age that he wanted to become a priest. He drowned at the age of 16 during a trip to Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico in 1962.
“I will never forget my father’s appearance when he arrived at the house . . . He started weeping and weeping for hours. I attempted to comfort him. He would not let me go,” she writes.
Akers also talks about the struggles of growing up in a segregated Corpus Christi.
“My father was hated for his advocacy, but his children were also hated. We had very few friends,” she writes. “There were some . . . who did not want to see us or other Mexican American families thrive and succeed.”
Akers talks about “brawls in the neighborhood” pitting the children of the civil rights leader against bullies who hurled racist and discriminatory comments at their family. At first, under their parents’ instructions, the children were taught to ignore the taunts. But, after one incident when Héctor Jr. survived an older boy’s attempt to choke him, that changed.
“We learned to fight back at that point . . . (A)s a family we fought this hatred well into the 1970s. Even today, if I hear any insult toward my father, my mind roars back to those days, trying to find an answer to the hatred toward us.”
There are many other personal vignettes in this marvelous, easy-to-read, book. She lovingly recalls having lunch with her father at Rosita’s Mexican Restaurant or Chicken Shack. She also reveals the disappointment in her father when she informed him she was not going to follow him into the medical profession. She became a physical therapist, instead. “(I)t took him about eight years” to get over it, she writes.
Of historical importance is Akers’ recollection of the desegregation struggle in Corpus Christi pubic schools and Dr. García’s battles with then Corpus Christi ISD superintendent Dr. Dana Williams. Dr. García exposed the school district’s policies as racist and a series of protests were held. During one, Dr. García was jailed.
“Dr. Héctor was happy about it,” she writes. “He had made his point . . . He had gotten the public’s attention and he felt things would move forward.”
Things did indeed move forward and, finally, this tireless and relentless man was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, becoming the first Mexican American to receive the award. On that day, a Mexican immigrant was recognized for a lifetime of service to his country, the United States of America. “This Medal of Freedom award did not change Dr. Héctor. He was the same man, husband and father as before. He did, however, wear the medal everywhere he went.”
This is told as only a daughter could tell the story – with pride and admiration and deep gratitude of a job well done by her father.
About the Book
“The Inspiring Life of Texan Héctor P. García” By Cecilia García Akers The History Press, Charleston, S.C. 2016 — ISBN 978-1-46711-901-6 141 pages