I want to shed light to Macario Garcia — the original “DREAMer” and a story written by Russell Contreras on the man who helped spark the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. See and learn more about this special Mexicano. The story is very well articulated.
By Russell Contreras
He was born in Villa de Castaño, Mexico to poor farmers. But facing starvation, the family of Macario Garcia came to Texas to work as sharecroppers. Like the Joads in the Grapes of Wrath, the family followed the crop during the Depression, except their lives were dictated by the Texas cotton harvest. Macario would only finish the 3rd grade and was forced to help his family on their Sugar Land, Texas farm out of survival. Like other Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans in the 1930s, the Garcia family was destined to face a life of poverty, discrimination and a bleak future.
Then came World War II.
Since all residents were required to register for the arms services, Macario did as asked and was drafted into the U.S. Army as a “resident alien.” On Texas Spanish-language radio, community leaders urged Mexican Americans to join the fight against fascism so that maybe — just maybe — upon their return they could show political leaders back home that they were true Patriots and that Jim Crow laws aimed at Latinos were wrong.
In 1944, Macario was wounded by a shrapnel while his regiment tried to take a Nazi German artillery unit. He was treated but refused to evacuate to a hospital and returned to battle.
On November 27, 1944, in actions near Grosshau, Germany, he earned the name “The Fearless Mexican.” According to military documents, Macario single handedly assaulted two German machine-gun emplacements that were blocking his company’s advance. Wounded in the shoulder and foot, he crawled forward alone towards the machine-gun nests, killed six enemy soldiers, captured four and destroyed the nests with grenades. Only after the company had secured its position did he allow himself to be evacuated for medical treatment.
In a White House ceremony on August 23, 1945, President Harry Truman presented Macario, a Mexican immigrant, with the Medal of Honor. He was the first Mexican immigrant to receive the Medal of Honor. He also received the Purple Heart Medal, Bronze Star Medal and Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
When he returned to Houston a couple of weeks later, he was met with a hero’s welcome. The League of United Latin American Citizens — then the largest Latino civil rights organization — sponsored a special dance in his honor and Mexican American civil rights leaders retold the story of his bravery on radio and in speeches.
But despite that celebration, the decorated soldier soon discovered that the situation in Texas had changed little. A day after the dance in his honor, Macario was refused service at the Oasis Cafe in Richmond, Texas, despite being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor less than a month before. According to restaurant owner Donna Andrews, she refused him service ”because he had been drinking.” But Macario would tell others he was refused service because he was “Mexican.” Macario would refuse to leave and, following a heated argument, he broke dishes and other cafe equipment. He also slapped Andrews after she allegedly made racial slurs.
“He disabled the place,” said Ernest Eguia, a fellow WWII Army veteran and friend.
Macario Garcia was soon facing aggravated assault charges.
The case drew the attention of Houston civil rights attorney John J. Herrera who started publicizing the event as an example of the discrimination Mexican Americans still faced in 1945, veterans or not. A ”Garcia Committee” was formed to raise funds for his defense as Mexican Americans throughout Texas, poor and middle-class, began sending in money. Even sympathetic whites started lending support. Former Texas attorney general and former governor James Allred agreed to represent Macario for an upcoming trial in Fort Bend County.
The publicity around the case, now drawing national attention, was too much for Fort Bend County officials and the charges were dropped. But the community was galvanized. LULAC Council 60, the council of growing Houston, reported a spike in membership. Congressional hearings were called to investigate how other Mexican American returning veterans were being denied services and experiencing discrimination despite putting their lives on the line. A movement had begun.
Macario would become a U.S. citizen in 1947, earn his GED in 1951 and marry Alicia Reyes in 1952 after a blind date. He would remain a hero to Mexican Americans in Houston and would eventually land a job with the Veterans Administration.
In 1954, Macario accompanied civil rights attorney John J. Herrera and Gus Garcia to the U.S. Supreme Court as they argued their case in the landmark Hernandez case that barred Mexican Americans from serving as jurors in Texas. He would hear Gus Garcia tell Supreme Court justices that, “my people were here long before that wetback Sam Houston” came to Texas.
When President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jackie Kennedy dropped by to “say hi” to Mexican Americans as at a gala in Houston’s Rice Hotel on Nov. 21, 1963, it was Macario who greeted the president and helped convince him to come inside for a few minutes. It would be the first time a sitting president acknowledged the importance of the Latino vote and it was the night before JFK’s assassination. (AP story here)
This Christmas Eve marked the 40th anniversary of Macario’s tragic death from a head on collision in Sugar Land. He was 52. There were no ceremonies to mark the occasion. Very few people even acknowledged the date, much less know about Macario Garcia’s contributions to Latino history.
As advocates continue to press for the DREAM Act — the federal proposal that would give young illegal immigrations a pathway to U.S. citizenship through college enrollment or military service — very seldom is the name of Macario Garcia invoked. Hardly is his story repeated as an example of service and what is possible. He remains virtual unknown to the student immigrant movement and history. Yet, the actions of Macario Garcia and the movements he started can be directly linked some of the greatest movements in Latino civil rights history and the current dreams of today’s immigrant activists.