By Efraín Gutiérrez
Gus C. Garcia
July 27,1915-June 3, 1964
It was late May,1964 and my sophomore year at Edgewood was coming to an end and I had vowed to own a car for the start of my junior year. I wanted to buy a car but back then it was difficult for a Chicano teen to find a job in San Antonio. So, I decided to earn enough money to go to Indiana and work as a migrant farmworker to buy my car. When my brother’s father-in-law, Mr Filomeno Oyerbides asked me if I would help him pick tomatoes in Floresville, where he had access to half an acre of tomatoes that he needed to harvest, needing money to go to Indiana, I immediately agreed. Mr. Filomeno Oyerbides was a produce vendor that had a stall next to Fernando Acevedo at the mercado. On a Saturday in late May we went to Floresville and packed his pick-up truck with boxes of tomatoes and took them to his stall at the Mercado. Mr. Oyerbides took me to eat at a restaurant that was near-by, I think the restaurant was under a bridge. While we waited for our food a middle aged man in a slightly wrinkled suit walked in. There was some talk that I didn’t pay attention to because my mind was on going to Indiana and buying a car. The people at the restaurant, mostly men, stood up and clapped. As I looked at what they were doing, Mr. Oyerbids said “You might not know him but he's very important.” Sadly, back then my thoughts were about getting my hands on my own car, so I didn't pay attention to Mr. Oyerbides . Shortly after that my cousin and I took off to Indiana.
When Gus Garcia passed away, I never heard about it cuz I was in Indiana. It was not until I got involved in the Chicano movement in 1971 that I realized who Gus Garcia was.
Gus Garcia, the most important Mexican American of the 20th century died 56 years ago today at the Mercado in San Antonio. Gus Garcia ended school segregation of Mexican Americans in Texas in Delgado vs Texas; 1948. His arguments at the U.S.Supreme Court in Hernandez vs Texas 1954, won Mexican Americans and all Latinos civil rights protection under the 14th amendment.
An all Mexican American group of Texas lawyers, led by Gus Garcia appealed the murder conviction of Pedro (Pete) Hernandez to the US Supreme Court, they maintained that Pedro Hernandez civil rights had been violated because Mexicans were not treated as white and faced discrimination as a group, they were white, but a “class apart”, thus the reason Mexican Americans deserved civil rights protection. Led by Garcia’s audacity and his oratory gifts he answered every question with such eloquence that so moved Chief Justice Earl Warren to grant Garcia an extra 16 minutes to finish his argument. When a justice asked “Can Mexican Americans speak English and are they citizens?” Garcia responded with his now famous reply, “My people were in Texas a hundred years before Sam Houston, that wet-back from Tennessee.” On May 3, 1954, the court agreed and ruled unanimously in the first civil rights decision under Chief Justice Earl Warren. The case paved the way for Mexican Americans to mount legal challenges in other cases involving housing, education and employment discrimination.”
It is important for us to understand and remember that before Gus Garcia filed these court cases, too many Mexican Americans in Texas attended segregated schools and few graduated. Mexican Americans in Texas were kept out of restaurants, theaters, and public swimming pools. There were signs all over that said, “No Mexicans allowed!” Few Mexican Americans served on juries in Texas. There was no concept of Hispanic or Latino even the term Mexican American was unknown. In Texas we were all just Mexicans, it did not matter if you were born here or how long our families had been here. We were just Mexicans.
Gus Garcia was our hero, a legal pioneer whose legacy shaped the Latino Civil Rights Movement, and after his death sparked the Chicano Civil Rights Movement passed away Wednesday, June 3, 1964, while resting at Fernando Acevedo’s stall at the downtown Mercado in San Antonio, Texas.
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