Remembering Gus Garcia, Mexican-American Civil Rights Pioneer

UTSA Special Collections via Zuma Press

You know I seldom say this, because I don't take the suggestion lightly: If you read nothing else today, read the linked article.

I'm going to make a point of personal privilege. This is my favorite picture of Gus Garcia, he's the one at the far left. Next to him is my grandfather, my Papa Grande, Johnny Esquivel, they were good friends. The photo is from 1949, when they were preparing that year's National LULAC Convention. Gus was the master of ceremonies, my grandfather was the General Chairman. In the picture are Joe Castañeda and Rudy J. Peña on the far right.

By Raul A. Reyes, NBC News (7.5 minute read)  

In his heyday, Gus Garcia cut a dashing figure in Texas legal and social circles. He was a key member of the first team of Mexican-Americans to win a case at the Supreme Court. His work inspired a documentary and two proposed movies, with interest from stars like Edward James Olmos and Eva Longoria.

Yet, in 1964, Garcia died alone and homeless, on a park bench in San Antonio. He was 48 years old.

How did this happen to a hero of the Mexican-American community? On July 27, Garcia’s birthday, it’s worth taking a look at the life of this legal pioneer – and considering how his legacy shaped the Latino civil rights movement.

In 1954, Garcia was part of a legal team that took the Hernandez v. Texas case to the Supreme Court and established the right of Mexican-Americans to serve on juries. The case, which the New York Times noted as “a quiet victory for civil rights,” marked the first time that the high court expanded protection of the 14th Amendment to cover Latinos. The case also paved the way for Mexican-Americans to mount legal challenges in other cases involving housing, education, and employment discrimination.

“This is very rich history,” said Texas State Sen. Sylvia R. Garcia (no relation). “It is not just Mexican-American history, it is legal history. The Hernandez case set new grounds for selecting juries, saying that they had to reflect the population,” she said.

In 2013, Sen. Sylvia Garcia introduced a resolution designating July 27 as Gus Garcia Day in Texas, because she believes his story deserves attention. “The Hernandez case, in my mind, is as important as other landmark legal decisions.”

For Gus Garcia, the Hernandez case capped years of achievement and activism.

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