Hispanic Heritage Month event shines light on life of Dr. Hector P. Garcia, GI Forum founder
Posted: 10/01/2013
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In the first of several events planned by The University of Texas-Pan American to celebrate Hispanic/Latina(o) Heritage Month, the University hosted a screening of "Justice for My People," which tells the story of Mexican American physician, World War II veteran and noted civil rights leader Dr. Hector P. Garcia, a Pan Am alumnus famous for founding the American GI Forum.

Pictured left to right at the Sept. 30 Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at UTPA of the life of Dr. Hector P. Garcia are Mexican American Studies student Alan Padilla; Dr. Maritza De La Trinidad, UTPA assistant professor of history; Cecilia Garcia-Akers, Garcia's daughter; Jose Maria Vasquez, America's Last Patrol and G.I. Forum member; and Dr. Francisco Guajardo, UTPA professor of educational leadership.
A panel discussion at the screening featured Garcia's daughter Cecilia Garcia-Akers, who talked about his life and legacy, and Dr. Maritza De La Trinidad, assistant professor of history, who described briefly the history of Hispanic civil rights activism in the U.S. The event was organized and moderated by Mexican American Studies student Alan Padilla. The audience, which included a large contingent of Elsa-Edcouch High School students, also heard from Dr. Francisco Guajardo, UTPA associate professor of educational leadership.

"In his story, I find the inspiration to explore my own story ... what does his story mean to you, how can that provoke, motivate or inspire you to figure out what you are all about," Guajardo said following the screening.

Garcia (1914-1996) gained national prominence for his work on behalf of Hispanic Americans, helping end segregation in schools, hospitals and public facilities in Texas and nationally, and went on to serve as alternative ambassador to the United Nations and as a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984 and named to the Order of St. Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II in 1990.

Akers described her father - who was known as "Dr. Hector" in Corpus Christi where he practiced - as compassionate, never having an enemy, and always working to help others. She and her husband Jim have established the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Foundation to expand awareness of his legacy and the continued relevance of his fight for equal rights for all.

"Tremendous sacrifices were made so that you all can go to school here, so that you all can get a college education, that you all can do well, and be successful...," Akers said regarding her father's impact on future generations. "He knew if you weren't educated, you were not going to succeed."

Hispanic Heritage Month activities at UT Pan American will continue on Oct. 2 with the screening of the documentary "Prejudice & Pride" and a discussion with its producer John J. Valadez. The event will be held at 7 p.m.

Valadez will be back on Oct. 3 at 11 a.m. to show and discuss his documentary "War & Peace," which tells the story of how Latinos were able to make gains in civil rights after World War II.

On Friday, Oct. 18 civil rights activist and labor leader Dolores Huerta - co-founder of what would become the United Farm Workers - will speak at 10 a.m.

All the events will be held in the Student Union Theater.