SAN ANTONIO, October 20 - In his recent column, Charles Kamasaki said: “Many people in South Texas do not realize what a rich history the region has in the development of the Latino civil rights movement.”
Mr. Kamasaki, executive vice president of the National Council of La Raza, is correct.
However, this is not the fault of Mexican-American students but the fault of generations of adult Mexican-American leaders of the various civil rights organizations. They have not, until recently, pushed for inclusion of our Mexican-American culture and our very heroic history in the pages of our school textbooks.
Our history began with the original inhabitants of the Southwest and with Hispanics, actually reaching as far as the Carolinas, as early as 1526. This was much earlier than the arrival in Texas territory in the mid-1800s, of “the first illegal immigrants,” such as Sam Houston, Stephen Austin and others, later joined by opportunist fugitives from the law, such as William B. Travis.
For a few years, several of us members of the Dr. Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum Organization of Texas joined by members of LULAC, NAACP and others have constantly argued before the Texas State Board of Education, with documented facts, that our history must be included in our school textbooks. We have made some progress, but we need to get every other Latino civil rights organization to become involved in his battle with us.
I was recently invited to speak at South Texas College in Weslaco, as part of a tribute to Dr. Hector P. Garcia, founder of the American G.I. Forum. In that speech, I again pointed out, as I have so many times, before the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) and several times before education committees in the legislature in Austin, that history, is not ‘History,’ unless it is presented as it actually happened, free of the radical/partisan rhetoric spoken by conservative, right-wing, racist religious fanatics that unfortunately make up the majority members of the (SBOE).
I would like to point out that the American GI Forum was actually founded in 1948 by Dr. Hector P. Garcia in Corpus Christi (not in Three Rivers), with the help of approximately 800 other WWII Mexican-American U.S. veterans. The GI Forum actually was formed to fight for the medical care and federal jobs which our returning WWII veterans were being denied. Indeed; some of these wounded veterans were being racially segregated within the hospital – so a very angry “Dr. Hector” quickly put an immediate stop to it.
The following year, 1949, was when the Pvt. Felix Longoria incident took place in Three Rivers. The AGIF, under the leadership of Dr. Hector was contacted by the Longoria Family, which moved Dr. Hector to contact Senator Lyndon Johnson – and finally Pvt. Longoria was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Hector was born in Llera, Tamaulipas, Mexico, but his parents migrated to Mercedes, where he grew up, during the Mexican Revolution. Dr. Hector served in the U.S. Army as a Major in WWII. He and five of his siblings became doctors of medicine (MDs).
As for South Texas history, which we also need to fight for inclusion in our history books, it also includes WWII Medal of Honor recipient Jose Lopez, who reportedly grew up in Mission, after migrating as a young boy from Mexico.
Some of the names of early civil rights fighters in the Valley are attorney Jose Alamia (I believe was from Alamo), and federal judges Reynaldo Garza and Filemon Vela.
My Dad, Luz Salazar was the first Mexican-American member of the La Villa School Board of Trustees, at a time when there were only five classrooms and not one Mexican-American teacher. He allied himself with three Anglo trustees who also fought to add more classrooms and started hiring Mexican-American teachers. But even then, we were not allowed to speak Spanish anywhere in school, except in Mrs. Bertha Hinojosa’s Spanish class.
I am currently producing a documentary in collaboration with famed First Chicano Film-maker Efrain Gutierrez titled “American GI Forum Heroes – Our Veterans’ Continuing Struggle For Justice.” This documentary highlights attorney Gustavo C. Garcia (born in Laredo, but grew up in San Antonio), who fought against discrimination all the way to the Supreme Court – and prevailed, getting an unprecedented extra 16 minutes from Justice Earl Warren. Also in our documentary, we mention Judge James deAnda, Judge Albert Peña, Attorney Cris Aldrete (from Del Rio), Jovita Idar, Emma Teneyuca and other civil rights fighters.
The fight for inclusion of our Mexican-American heroes, our history and our culture, in school textbooks is the fight which ALL OF US must continue fighting at the Texas State Board of Education in Austin, Texas.
Placido Salazar is a political commentator and advocate for Vietnam War veterans. A regular commentator to the Guardian, Salazar was born and raised in La Villa, Texas, and now resides in San Antonio, Texas.