Egos pilloried, _; pr all in monthly installments going for 67.50 a year available from Post Office Box 52691. Houston 77052, where lives the notorious Houston Journalism REVIEW The GI Forum at 25 The American G.I. Forum is among the largest and the oldest Mexican-American activist organizations. Like many another group early active in the field of civil rights, the Forum is now sometimes accused of being timid, conservative, Establishment, etc. Observer contributing editor Tom Sutherland takes a look at the Forum on its 25th anniversary. Sutherland was one of those there at the creation. The Good Neighbor Commission, which was about the only organization beside the Forum that gave a damn back in the late 40’s, was Sutherland’s brain child. By Tom Sutherland El Paso All night I rode across Texas with Tony Morales in his van, with five others, to attend the National Convention of the American G. I. Forum. We barrelled out of Fort Worth through emptiness and darkness along a thread of neon-lit filling stations that could have been the stage for “The Last Picture Show.” The lighted islands of concrete, pumps like sentries, monster trucks exuding grease, loud commercial emblemata in loud paint, and finally, at one stop, the lettering on the management door “Kirk and Mozelle Slave Quarters.” I was home on the range where neither heat nor snow nor rain nor hail interfere with the appointed rounds of the business day. As the first light showed us the greening desert and painted mountains loomed lavender in the fresh air, we entered El Paso a city sprawling with its Siamese twin, Juarez, along “the dustiest river in the world” in the vast north American desert shared since 1848 by two offspring nations of those rival Renaissance empires,. England and Spain. If the trip out had a flavor of a science fiction frontier, the activities at The El Paso Civic Center, the Holiday Inn, and “across the River” were closer to the high and palmy days of the Roman republic. Take for instance, the climactic banquet on the canicular Friday before last. Lucullus himself would have applauded. Sitting at three elevated tiers of tables, high above the commensals, were the Senator, the Congressman, a Senator’s aide and wit, numerous officers of higher rank, the ineluctable ladies and the maiden beauties of the queen’s contest, fair enough to be employed by a drive-in bank. A. MONG THOSE who feasted were one thousand men who had once placed a portion of their lives upon the altar of this country’s several foreign wars. They came with emblems and ribbons on their coats, legends on their Cadillacs and vans, from near and far, from the mighty capitol on the Potomac to the $10 million presidential villa on the Pacific. They gathered to witness and do homage once again to the founder of their idea and organization, a South Texas man of medicine named Hector Perez Garcia. But on its 25th anniversary, not least of the motives of thiS American G.I. Forum was to harmonize its goals with the flow of federal treasure, and to choose those special younger men who will advance the Doctor’s labor. While a representative of the Girl Scouts at my table was counting wigs, my mind turned back to the beginning of this organization. Twenty-five years ago Hector P. Garcia, back from the war with a fair Italian bride, had begun the practice of healing his people in the gulf town of Corpus Christi. They were mostly the humble poor, speaking the language of Cervantes with intonations of Cuauhtemoc, renting small box houses at $8 a week, and in turn renting out a shed in the backyard at $2. Their incidence of tuberculosis was four times that of Anglo-American Texans, twice that of blacks. There was no room at the hospital for Dr. Garcia’s tubercular patients and room was difficult to arrange for other sufferers. Dr. Garcia decided to do something about it. He gathered together fellow veterans of Mexican descent to discuss the need. He has seen great hospitals rise in answer to his’ importunity. Also in that seemingly distant quarter century ago, the schools provided by the local and state governments of Texas differed according to cultural and ethnic origins of the young citizens enrolled, being labeled “white”, “mexican”, or “negro.” The “white” high school usually bore the name of the community, the latter two schools remaining invisible. Dr. Garcia remembered such schools. He did not wish his children to be exposed to what he had known. He decided to do something about the dirty plank schoolhouse, the grassless, unkempt school yards. He has witnessed sweeping changes in the educational facade of the nation, having assisted in desegregation of Mexican-Americans in Texas in 1949, five years before the Supreme Court spoke for blacks. FURTHERMORE, twenty-five years ago the Mexican-Americans in much of Texas were relegated, like Afro-Americans, to an untouchable caste that denied them the privileges of eating, sleeping, swimming, excreting, viewing films, cutting hair, dancing, ad infinitum, where other Americans did these things. That is, nearly all the public activities were not for them, except iri very few places where they had a long history of settled land-holding majority, such as Laredo, Brownsville, and Duval County. The migrant Mexicans’ case was made more difficult in that, not knowing English, he could not read the signs excluding him or understand the oral statement of the management, no matter how loud. Faulty communication was dealt with variously, one example being a baseball bat by the cash register. The simplified approach was to exclude everybody answering to such a name as Garcia or heard speaking Spanish to family or friends, even if he were better dressed than the . proprietor and knew more English. Dr. Garcia did not like to think of his children facing such a world. He decided to do something about it. There is not room here to tell the Longoria case of a funeral home’s refusal to bury the body September 7, 1973 11
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