Written by Sylvia Gonzalez-Hohenshelt
My fascination with the life and works of American G.I. Forum founder and Latino civil rights leader Dr. Hector P. Garcia began after viewing the film, The Longoria Affair by producer John J. Valadez. In the film, Valadez interviews Dr. Garcia’s daughter, Daisy Wanda Garcia, who is seen reminiscing in her father’s former medical building in Corpus Christi, Texas. The building was boarded up after Dr. Garcia’s passing in 1996.
Through my work with the National Trust’s Latino Preservation email list, I’ve had the pleasure of forming a friendship with caring people who want to save and restore Dr. Garcia’s former clinic for future generations. On a quiet, overcast Sunday morning in early September, I had the honor of being invited to see the building firsthand.
As I pulled into the parking lot, I imagined what the 5,000 square-foot building, now protected by a perimeter fence, would’ve been like in its heyday with the hustle and bustle of patients arriving to see Dr. Garcia. Amador Garcia, president of the American G.I. Forum Archives and current custodian of the building, showed a group of us inside.
As we entered through a side door – with windows and doors now boarded up and no electricity, only the beams from our flashlights led the way through the building’s once busy hallways – the smell of mold filled the air. Amador pointed out several examination rooms – some cabinetry remained and plumbing fixtures, which vandals had unsuccessfully tried to take, hung awkwardly from the walls. I looked above me in several rooms where torrential rains had damaged the ceiling.
What left a lasting impression with me was the private office of Dr. Garcia – this room was pitch-dark, but I could almost feel the good doctor’s presence. It was in this room that Dr. Garcia would’ve read telegrams sent to him by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Lyndon Johnson, and President Bill Clinton.
Several people were present that morning with the intent of not only surveying the condition of the building, but to also organize a new movement to save, restore and create a vision for its use. All of those involved recognize the need to create awareness of the importance of Dr. Garcia in the history of the civil rights movement and his work with impoverished Hispanic communities. Dr. Garcia was known to treat many patients free of charge thus saving many lives, especially those of children.
Certainly, the quest to save this building will not be an easy one – however, with the attention of dedicated and driven people, Dr. Garcia’s medical building can become a destination that will inspire current and future generations to make a difference in their community and country.
Sylvia Gonzalez-Hohenshelt is Manager of Public Programs at Villa Finale, the first National Trust Historic Site in Texas and moderator of the National Trust’s Latino Preservation Listserve. Contact Sylvia at email@example.com or visit www.VillaFinale.org.