Primary Source Adventures
The American G.I. Forum
This PSA examines the creation of a Texas-originated Hispanic activist group and selected objectives and programs the AGIF pursued.
Worksheet questions stem from a variety of learning styles so that each student has the opportunity to shine. Students will find themselves reviewing Ed Idar Jr.'s personal oral history and images from the Hector P. Garcia archives. Students will learn about civil rights and social change. Teachers may also modify and easily incorporate these worksheets into their predesigned lesson plans.
The web links provided will help each instructor prepare, research, and present interesting reputable sites during lectures. There are sites listed to help learners make connections between the past and the present by taking a look into contemporary immigration through multimedia experiences.
The American G.I. Forum
by Vale Fitzpatrick
This Primary Source Adventure (PSA) pertains to the creation of the American G.I. Forum (ADIF) and its early goals. Excerpts from the oral history of Ed Idar Jr. provide the base for this PSA, supplemented by images, courtesy of the Hector P. Garcia Archive.
Without him it is doubtful the AGIF would have pursued the same agenda or if it would have existed at all. The creation of the AGIF was linked to Hector P. Garcia’s increasing social activism which initially had two goals education and public health. To accomplish such a difficult goal he created the American G.I. Forum. Ostensibly a veteran’s organization initially committed to obtaining fair treatment and benefits for mainly Mexican American veterans, a cause which it pursued throughout the Forum existence.
Initial concerns for Dr. Garcia and the American G.I. Forum (AGIF) were securing veteran benefits and timely payment of said benefits for Hispanics, next on the agenda was ending segregation in schools to provide Hispanic children with a quality education. As with so many facets of American life World War II proved a transformative period for the Hispanic community. The AGIF capitalized on the high esteem that veterans garnered in post World War II America. This greatly aided Hispanic veterans who were willing to act as they used their newfound status to push for Hispanics to become part of mainstream American society. The AGIF wanted to bring Hispanic concerns to the attention of mainstream politicians. As a veteran and a doctor, Hector P. Garcia was particularly sensitive to the health care needs of Hispanic veterans. Returning to his home of Corpus Christi, Texas he found that many poor Hispanic families continued to suffer high incidences of illness and disease. The Corpus Christi, Nueces County area was predominantly populated by lower income Hispanic families and reflected their need for improved health care. The death rate from tuberculosis was nearly twice the statewide average and dysentery cases were eight times as many deaths as in other parts of the state. Also problematic GI health and medical benefits were often delayed or denied to Hispanic veterans. Most Hispanic veterans did not call upon the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars, which were viewed as Anglo organizations. Further many Hispanic veterans were unfamiliar with the veteran affairs organization and navigating government bureaucracy.
Some of the stated goals of the AGIF were:
1. Develop leadership by creating interest in the Spanish-speaking population to participate intelligently and wholeheartedly in community, civic, and political affairs.
2. Advance understanding between citizens of various national origins and religious beliefs to develop a more enlightened citizenry and a greater America.
3. Preserve and advance the basic principles of democracy, the religious and political freedoms of the individual, and equal social and economic opportunities for all citizens.
4. Secure and protect for all veterans and their families, regardless of race, color, or creed, the privileges vested in them by the Constitution and laws of our country.
5. Combat juvenile delinquency though the establishment of a Junior American GI Forum program which would teach respect for law and order, discipline, good sportsmanship, and the value of team work.
6. Uphold and maintain loyalty to the Constitution and flag of the United States and award scholarships to deserving students.
7. Preserve and defend the United States of America form all enemies.
Idar, a native of Laredo, Texas, was born on 28 December 1920. Like many Hispanic his age, Garcia served in World War II. As a U.S. Army veteran took advantage of the G.I. Bill to obtain a Bachelor of Journalism at UTA in 1949 and completed his law degree in June of 1956. He practiced law in Laredo, McAllen and San Angelo, Texas. Similar to Garcia, Idar wanted to see change in the Hispanic community. As a result Idar became active in the AGIF almost from its inception. In June 1950, he was elected the second state chairman of the Organization, succeeding Dr. Hector P. Garcia of Corpus Christi, the founder of the G.I. Forum. He served as state chairman until July 1953 when he was succeeded by Chris Aldrete. In 1958 Idar became executive secretary, a position he held until 31 December 1966. He was dedicated to Hispanic civil rights beside the AGIF he was active in other organization such as PASSO. He was active in Political Association of Spanish-speaking Organizations (PASSO), which evolved from the Viva Kennedy Clubs of 1960, through 1962 as executive secretary.
Officially the AGIF was founded as a veterans’ organization, however, it was not to function as a traditional-type veterans. Idar stated “our idea was that we were not going to be interested in pressing purely for benefits for the veteran as such. Rather, we were interested in handling the problems of the Mexican-American people.” The American was a veterans’ family organization composed basically of Hispanic membership of men, women, and young people. The AGIF never precluded membership from Anglos, African Americans, or any other group. However, as it basically tackled only Hispanic issues it never developed large membership form other ethnic groups.
The AGIF tackled a number of school segregation cases. The AGIF utilized the courts as a key weapon for pursuing social change. The Delgado lawsuit, filed in federal court, was eventually settled out of court. The settlement was an agreement which held that segregation of Hispanic children in the public schools beyond the first grade was illegal and unconstitutional.
In 1953 The AGIF and the American Federation of Labor (AFL) joined forces and conducted a study into the illegal immigration. Throughout this project the primary concern of the AGIF was in Protecting the wages of Hispanic workers, many of whom were low income workers, at risk from illegal immigration. While the AFL provided the bulk of the funds for the project, the AGIF paid for Idar’s part in the field survey that he made with Andrew C. McLellan. The study group spent two months in the field, covering the valley and the Texas-Mexico border to Brownsville, conducting interviews , examining working conditions and establishing the pay scales for illegal labor. The completed report was distributed to every member of congress. The next spring, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his administration initiated a drive to clean up the illegal immigrant problem. The Immigration Service was given adequate men and equipment.
Hispanic groups faced a persistent problem during the 1950s and early 1960s, that of political apathy by the overwhelming majority of Hispanics. Despite comprising between seventy to eighty percent of the population in the border areas, they had never been a voting majority. The AGIF allied with PASSO established voter registration drives to ensure individuals paid the poll tax. As a result for the first time the Hispanics in the Valley comprised the majority of registered voters. That campaign was tied to school drives which encouraged Hispanic families to keep their children enrolled in school, many children when to work early or where never enrolled in another school when their parents moved to follow seasonal jobs.
The Crystal City election and subsequent PASSO convention, illustrated a fundamental difference of perspective on what should be done to further Hispanic interests. Dr. Garcia criticized Albert Pena of PASSO, and the Teamsters for their direct and invasive involvement in the Crystal City election of 1963. Shortly afterwards Dr. Garcia left PASSO, gradually most other AGIF members dropped out. Idar stated “to my knowledge, PASSO right now as of today doesn’t amount to anything. A lot of people think it does, but it hasn’t got anything left.”
The late 1960s and the 1970s marked the rise of more radical Hispanic groups, more importantly the transition of Hispanics into the mainstream political culture lessened the need for groups for mainstream groups such as the AGIF.
Bracero program agreements, dating form WWII, between the U.S. and Mexican governments allowed workers from México to be paid ¢25 and hour, while in California the wage was ¢60 an hour for the same work.
James Cox. Historical and Biographical record of the cattle industry and the cattle of Texas and adjacent territory 2 Volumes. New introduction by J. Frank Dobie. (NY: Antiquarian Press, Ltd., 1959), 200.