COMMENTARY: Sen. Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa: Honoring the legacy of Dr. Hector Garcia

State Rep. Bobby Guerra, Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa and state Rep. Oscar Longoria during the Texas Tribune event at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance on Monday. (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

Today, we honor and remember Dr. Hector P. Garcia, a true American hero who fiercely advocated for the rights of all Americans, but especially for the most vulnerable and under-served in our communities.

Upon earning his medical degree and serving his country with distinction in World War II, Dr. Garcia opened a medical practice in Corpus Christi. It was there that Dr. Garcia saw firsthand the difficulties that veterans and migrant farm workers faced.

Inspired by his experiences, Dr. Garcia founded the American GI Forum, which fought for many causes, including medical benefits, civil rights and voting rights. However, better education opportunities may have been Dr. Garcia’s most important passion.

Dr. Garcia was a strong proponent of education and is most often quoted for his personal motto: “Education is our freedom, and freedom should be everybody’s business.”

In an interview conducted by David G. McComb in 1969, Dr. Garcia stated, “I don’t think the educational system has come up to par, no, and I’m not talking merely as a Mexican-American. I’m talking as a Texan. I think we are derelict, delinquent and we are deficient in education.”

He also stated, “I don’t think we pay our teachers right or properly. I don’t think we teach students right.”

Education is the best equalizer, and following Dr. Garcia’s example, many of us spent years fighting to give our school children the best resources to succeed and to ensure our state’s future. This session, we finally transformed public education with the passage of House Bill 3 and the investment of an additional $11.5 billion.

These new funds will reduce school property taxes by $5 billion, increase teacher pay by $2 billion, increase the state’s share of funding from 38% to 45%, and fund full-day pre-k for eligible students. Together, these reforms will make the school finance system more equitable and reduce the burden on local property taxes that have priced some families out of their homes.

I hope Dr. Garcia would be proud of what we did for Texans, for our students and our teachers. He certainly would point out that it took too long, and probably would say, “More can be done!” I agree, but am encouraged by the progress we made this session.

It was an honor to author Senate Bill 495, the legislation that brings us all together on the third Wednesday of September of every year to appreciate a fearless physician and World War II veteran who fought for the rights of Hispanics and veterans who were denied educational, medical and housing opportunities. On this day, we remember a physician who provided access to medical care to a traditionally underserved community, a soldier who demonstrated valor and sacrifice in protecting our liberties, and a community leader who never stopped fighting for the rights of all Texans.

We also recognize that Dr. Garcia’s contributions earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom and military decorations for protecting our way of life. Further, we acknowledge that Dr. Garcia served his country as an adviser to Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter and as the first Hispanic on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Today, tomorrow and forever, our Texas youth will learn about a man who dedicated his life to public service and who broke down the barriers that existed at the time.

Our future generations will know that Dr. Garcia was able to advance the interests of Hispanics and made a significant difference in the freedoms we now enjoy. We will never forget Dr. Garcia’s selflessness and public service and his legacy and memory serve as lessons to us all.