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Unveiling of a Historical Plaque Honoring Dr. Hector P. Garcia at Christus Sphohn Memorial Hospital
AGIF National, State, Local Members, Officials, Dignitaries, and Local Citizens Celebrate

CORPUS CHRISTIWanda Garcia spoke to a group of family, friends and veterans gathered to watch a Texas Historical Commission plaque unveiled in his honor Friday about how he looked out for his patients, some of whom experienced discrimination during medical treatment.

The plaque is located at Christus Spohn Hospital Memorial, where Garcia began his practice in 1945 and where a hospital wing bears his name.

National Commander Luis Vazquez Contez and National Chairwoman Patsy Vazquez Contes as well as State Commander John Martinez, State chairwoman Tina L. Olivares and State and National Youth Chair Stephanie Lefthand were present to witness this historical ceremony. Many members from local and out-of-town chapters were also present.

“When the Mexican wards were filled, Mexican-American patients were placed in their beds in hallways even though the white wards were empty,” Wanda Garcia said.

“If there was room in the Anglo wards, Dr. Garcia would call back to plead for his patients to be moved there,” Wanda Garcia said. She credited then-Senator Lyndon Johnson with intervening and helping to desegregate Memorial Hospital as Christus Spohn Memorial was known at that time. 

It took two years of research and a long application process to the Texas Historical Commission to be able to get the plaque placed, Anita Eisenhauer of the Nueces County Historical Commission said to the crowd.

Dr. Garcia, who died in 1996 at age 82, was a fierce civil rights advocate and a physician who treated many in South Texas even though they could not afford to pay him. He founded the American GI Forum in 1948 after a group of veterans approached him to say that the Veterans Administration was not honoring the GI bill, which entitled them to financial benefits for educational assistance and health care.

Former President Ronald Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given a civilian by the president. To view photos click here. 

Robstown Officals, Residents Celebrate Dedication of the American GI Forum Village $12M Renovation

CORPUS CHRISTI — South Texas officials gathered in Robstown at noon Friday, February 28th to dedicate the newly renovated American GI Forum Village. National Commander Luis Vazquez Contez and National Chairwoman Patsy Vazquez Contes as well as State Commander John Martinez, State Chairwoman Tina L. Olivares and State and National Youth Chair Stephanie Lefthand were present at the opening ceremony of the American GI Forum Village. Many commanders, chairs, and members from local and out-of-town chapters were also present.

Walter Martinez, executive director of the San Antonio Community Development Council, worked with Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa’s office, Housing and Community Services and Capital One Bank for the $12.2 million project.

Without the restoration, Martinez said, families living in the previously deteriorating 76-unit subdivision would have had to relocate. There is a shortage of affordable housing in the area augmented by demand from Eagle Ford Shale workers, he added.

Families were temporarily relocated on a staggered basis, until all the housing units were repaired over a period of 12 months, Martinez said.

The property has historical value, he added, because it started as a migrant labor camp in the 1970s.

“Back then, there was a dire need for housing period and, of course, over the years it served that community very well,” he said.

When Ruben V. Garza Sr. and his family lived in the neighborhood that now is the American GI Forum Village, it was still known as the Robstown labor camp.

He was a founding member of the board that broke ground on the neighborhood in 1971 and started efforts 10 years ago to have the deteriorating 76-unit development renovated.

The former Robstown mayor pro tem died in 2004, but daughter Rosa Linda Silva said even on his deathbed, Garza was on the phone arranging to have her and her brother placed on the board so they could continue his work. 

Garza’s family gathered Friday with the officials, GI Forum leaders and residents who helped make his vision real during the dedication of the renovated American GI Forum Village. 

“It was his dream come true,” Silva said. “We all know what it was to live in a housing project, and a lot of people started there.”

Affordable housing was an issue when the development was built, and it remains so today with increasing demand driven by workers in the Eagle Ford Shale. Revamping the neighborhood also helps preserve the legacy of the organization and American GI Forum members, like Garza, who founded it to meet that need.

In attendance, State Representative Herrero said when he was a child, his mother, a single parent, moved with her children into apartment 34 in the neighborhood. That’s the same number as the district he now represents.

“The American GI Forum, and especially this complex, have a special place in my heart,” he said. “For the kids who live here, this is their home. I’m glad many other will have a place to call home.”