CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Dr. Hector P. Garcia dedicated his life to helping veterans and those in need of health care and education. He founded the American GI Forum, was the first Mexican-American to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom... and he was a proud immigrant.
The third Wednesday of September has been designated Hector P. Garcia Day in Texas, a day to celebrate the work he did for so many in South Texas and beyond.
Garcia was born in Mexico in 1914 and raised in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. He earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Texas before serving in World War II, with distinction.
He opened his first medical clinic in Corpus Christi in 1946 and noticed the struggles of migrant workers and veterans. According to Humanities Texas, he was known as the "doctor to the barrios," and offered low- and no-cost treatment to indigent patients.
"He spent over 50 years of his life helping people, helping veterans, helping people who were sick, helping people get an education, navigate through the educational process which can be difficult," his daughter, Cecilia Garcia-Akers, said. "But also, the veterans who were coming back weren't getting their benefits. He really helped them for over 50 years."
In 1948, Garcia founded the American GI Forum, which organized veterans to fight for educational and medical benefits, and later, against poll taxes and school segregation. Garcia fought his whole life for the inclusion of Mexican-Americans into mainstream America.
In 1984, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan. He was the first Mexican-American to receive the honor.
3NEWS met with his daughter at the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Family Health Center in Corpus Christi, which continues Garcia's legacy of making basic health care available and accessible to those who need it most.
"Growing up with him, he was very strict," said Cecilia Garcia-Akers, daughter of Hector P. Garcia. "Academically, we had to make straight A's. He limited our social time. I'm sure he had a fear of things bad that could happen to us from his advocacy."
Cecilia said the Center not only carries her father's name but his caring spirit as well.
"Not only do they practice the type of medicine my father did, general practice, family practice, but they don't turn anyone away like my father," Cecilia said.
The goal of the Center focuses on making health care accessible, something Cecilia said embodies the ambitions her father would have wanted to carry out.
"To have a state-of-the-art facility here on the west side of Corpus Christi is exactly what my father would have wanted," Cecilia said.
The Center is a place where residents can see their specialists or even get prescriptions filled. In fact, this summer they celebrated their one-millionth prescription.
"Medicine should be practiced to help others and to listen to the patients and help them navigate through a very difficult system," Cecilia said.
There will be events around town today and in the coming days to honor Garcia's legacy.
Sept. 21 – Dr. Hector P. Garcia Day Celebration: The third Wednesday of September is observed as Dr. Hector P. Garcia Day. Come out to Garcia Plaza at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi on Wednesday, Sept. 21, from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., to celebrate the significant contributions of Dr. Hector P. Garcia. Enjoy learning about his impact on campus and in the community, listening to mariachis and having cupcakes (while supplies last). For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sept. 27-Oct. 2 – Dr. Hector P. Garcia Play: In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Department of Theatre & Dance presents the world premiere of a new play about the life and legacy of civil rights icon Dr. Hector P. Garcia from Tuesday, Sept. 27, to Sunday, Oct. 2, in Warren Theater, Center for the Arts. Written by visiting guest artist, professional playwright Iraisa Ann Reilly, the play’s cast features numerous Island University students, and is directed by Assistant Professor Marco Muñoz. The play dramatizes the story of Corpus Christi’s own “Dr. Hector.” You may pass by his statue every day, but how much do you really know about him? He was a veteran and hero to some, a rabblerousing troublemaker to others, and a simple family physician to an entire community. Come and learn about the world-changing events that happened right here in our own back yard. Visit the Department of Theatre & Dance website for ticketing information.