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.


Subscribe today!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Must Read

Rosca de Reyes – A Slice of Gospel and Tradition #Recipe

Victor Landa January 4, 2018

Often used as evangelizing tools, celebrations in Mexico feature elements that are charged with symbolism. Take the piñata, for example, used as an allegory of sin (colorful and appealing on the […]

How ‘One Day at a Time’s Diverse Writers Room Creates Authentic Latino Narratives

Victor Landa January 26, 2018

Much like the loving Alvarez family they created, the writers of One Day at a Time work closely together, don’t always agree but love each other anyway. Their collective family experiences helped […]

Mexican-American medic who documented Nazi camp horror dies at 93

Victor Landa March 12, 2018

Riverside, California (CNN)Two dozen veterans held US flags and stood at attention as they and dozens of family and friends bid farewell to Anthony Acevedo, one of the nation’s great […]

Latinos outraged as national news outlet labels nopales as ‘hottest food trend of 2018’

Victor Landa January 8, 2018

Nopales are a tried and true treat for generations of Latino families, but it seems to the wider internet they may become the “new avocado toast.” And people aren’t happy. […]

A New TV Show Inspired by the Life of Selena Quintanilla Is Coming to ABC

Victor Landa January 19, 2018

Selena Quintanilla lives on. Just two months after the late legendary songstress received a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, ABC has announced its plans to commemorate the Mexican-American star’s life […]

Dashed hopes, upended lives as Trump ends protection for Salvadorans

Victor Landa January 10, 2018

WASHINGTON – Hopes were dashed Monday for tens of thousands of people from El Salvador with Temporary Protected Status who have lived more than a decade in the U.S., but […]

Expansion of AP computer science courses draws more girls and minorities

Victor Landa

Ten years ago, girls were so scarce in high school computer science classes that the number of female students taking Advanced Placement tests in that subject could be counted on […]

2018: a year for the Latino Vote

Victor Landa January 8, 2018

We have said it before: being a minority does not mean being powerlessness, especially when a large part of the outcome of an election could be transformed thanks to the mass […]