Dr. Alberto G. Garcia Scholarship

Mar 30, 2009 | Scholarships

The Dr. Alberto G. Garcia Scholarship was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on March 30, 2009, to benefit the University of Texas College of Communication. Funds were provided by Maria Esperanza Garcia Roach. Maria was born on July 16, 1915, in Piedras Negras, Mexico. After attending The University of Texas at Austin, she trained as a nurse anesthetist at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. She taught anesthesiology to medical students and physicians from the Tulane University School of Medicine.

She also earned her private pilot license in 1938 at the New Orleans Municipal Airport. At the outbreak of hostilities with the Axis powers she volunteered her services to the Army Air Corps in 1942. She had initially intended to accompany Tulane’s hospital unit for deployment to a field hospital, but due to her pilot training and nursing experience she was instead selected to join the fledgling Army Air Corps Medical/Air Evacuation system at Bowman Field, Kentucky, where she received her military pilot wings.

As a First Lieutenant, Maria Garcia attended wounded soldiers during evacuation flights to the United States from the battlefields of North Africa, Asia, and Europe. She would frequently pilot some of these flights as a relief pilot, as she was qualified to fly four-engine aircraft. She subsequently became an instructor in air evacuation at Randolph Field, Texas. A decorated Army Air Corps officer, she continued serving her country with the State Department after the war.

She has created multiple scholarship funds for economically deprived and promising students at the universities attended by her, her late husband, and her father. These institutions include the UT Austin School of Journalism, the Tulane University School of Medicine, Oxford University’s Christ Church, and the School of Journalism at Concordia University in Montreal.

Maria’s husband, Hugh Roach, was a physics graduate of Christ Church. A British Foreign Service officer, district commissioner, and aide-de-camp to Governor Sir Allen Butts of the African Gold Coast, he later became an ALCAN executive and a United Nations representative for Canada.

Champions of social equality and justice

Maria’s late father,  Alberto G. Garcia, MD was the first U.S.-trained Mexican American physician to practice medicine in Austin. He and his wife, Eva, were former medical missionaries who settled in Austin in 1915. The couple was dedicated to gaining social equality and justice for Mexican Americans in Austin. Toward this end, Dr. Garcia enrolled in UT’s School of Journalism in 1918. He and Eva created, edited, and published the first Spanish-language newspaper in Austin, La Vanguardia, from 1920 through 1921.

La Vanguardia reported local, state, national, and international topics relating to the Mexican-American community. The mission of La Vanguardia was to encourage the Texas Hispanic community to become literate in English, understand the voting process, and encourage voter registration and property ownership (a prerequisite for voting at that time), so that the Mexican-American community could improve the status of its citizens.

La Vanguardia articles frequently reported unjust and intimidating tactics of the Ku Klux Klan and exposed its supporters in local, state, and national government. The Garcia home at 1214 Newning Avenue was barely two blocks from the then-newly established Austin KKK headquarters on Academy Drive in South Austin. Dr. Garcia often saw white-robed figures and burning crosses when he drove home from his 209 East 6th Street office. These crude efforts at intimidation were ineffective — Dr. Garcia courageously continued his journalistic efforts.

Dr. Garcia was frequently called upon to care for those attacked and tortured by the Ku Klux Klan. He treated an Arab-American business owner who had been tarred and feathered and left for dead under the Congress Avenue bridge. The KKK had warned the man that his business was the purview of Anglos, and they retaliated when the man ignored their threats. This type of incident was typical of the tactics the KKK used against those who resisted them.

Alberto and Eva Garcia also spoke out against segregation in the Austin school system. Eva almost singlehandedly desegregated the local swimming pool at Little Stacy Park when her family was denied entrance by their neighbors because of their ethnicity. Never did Alberto or Eva advocate violent measures, but were always proponents of nonviolent measures to achieve their goals.

The Garcias were early proponents of the rights of legal Mexican immigrant laborers. Alberto helped establish the Mexican American labor organization, Obreros Mexicanos, and assisted in the establishment of the Comission Honorificas Mexicanas, which represented Mexican laborers in the United States.

The U.S. desperately needed Mexican farm and railroad laborers during World War II, who worked in the U.S. under the terms of the Bracero Treaty with Mexico. Alberto worked with the Mexican consulate to assure the rights and fair treatment of these workers. He was assisted in his civil rights efforts by many socially conscious Texans, including his best friend, Austin Judge Henry Faulk (father of John Henry Faulk), and Judge James W. McClendon (Chief Justice, Texas Court of Civil Appeals). Judge Faulk provided guidance on pertinent laws and wrote for La Vanguardia. He was a shining example of a civil rights activist in Austin, a city with a long and proud tradition as an island of intellectual freedom, thanks in large part to the presence of The University of Texas.

Alberto Garcia’s early years

Alberto and his sister were brought to the U.S. from Mexico by Methodist missionaries in 1898 after the death of their mother. They were asked by the missionaries to distribute abstinence circulars in Zacatecas, Mexico, but refused payment for their work. When asked what he wanted instead of money, Alberto stated that he wanted an education. This impressed the missionaries, who were friends of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.

Alberto and his sister soon became the wards of Dr. and Mrs. Kellogg, living in their home in Battle Creek, Michigan. During his childhood and teens, Alberto attended school, and when not studying worked as a secretary to Dr. Kellogg (assisting W.K. Kellogg) and as an elevator operator at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan.

On June 27, 1906, Alberto G. Garcia graduated from the Preparatory Department of Battle Creek College. He was 17 years old. On September 18, 1906, he entered the freshman class of the four-year American Medical Missionary College of Battle Creek. The school merged with the University of Illinois School of Medicine in 1910, the year Alberto graduated.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the world-renowned surgeon and medical genius, mentored Alberto. Through his association with Dr. Kellogg, Alberto met many historical figures of the time. This eclectic and international group included writers, financiers, intellectuals, actors, and industrialists, all of whom shared the desire for a healthier, exercise-filled lifestyle as vegetarians, abstaining from alcohol and tobacco.

Alberto was fluent in German, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as English and Spanish. After graduating from medical school, he pursued further medical training as a medical missionary intern at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Guanajuato, Mexico, started by the Methodist-Episcopal Church with director Dr. Levi Salmans, in 1910. This training coincided with the Mexican Revolution. He began his efforts to improve the medical condition of miners hired by American mining companies, but was thwarted by continuous warfare.

While still in Mexico, Dr. Garcia married Eva Carrillo, RN on December 6, 1911, via telegraph proxy in New Orleans. Eva was working as a Methodist medical missionary at an orphanage in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She joined Alberto in Mexico but the family was forced to return to the U.S. in 1913. Dr. Garcia enrolled at Tulane University School of Medicine and graduated after only one year in June 1914, with a second medical degree at the age of 25. While in New Orleans, he performed the first open heart surgery in Louisiana at New Orleans Charity Hospital, on a young black cardiac trauma patient during Mardi Gras celebrations.

Alberto and his family returned to Mexico, but the revolution forced them back to the U.S. Alberto and Eva settled in Austin in 1915, choosing the city because of The University of Texas and its tradition of educational excellence and freedom.

An example of Dr. Garcia’s writings is his courageous letter to the editor of the Austin American-Statesman on Thursday, November 25, 1948. It ends with the prescient statement, “The Un-American activities committee will have its day in court and pass on, while America searches on for truth to determine its policies. It will not be intimidated either by hate or fear, and if Communists, or Catholics, or Friends, or Unitarians, or Jews, have ideas to offer, by all means let us all investigate their claims and judge for ourselves. We are perfectly able to think for ourselves and will choose on the basis of our own conclusions.” This was one of the earliest condemnations of McCarthyism. 

The Garcia family believes a liberal university education is the foundation for critical independent thinking. An education should include as much exposure to history, philosophy, languages, sociology, and government as possible. Subsequent professional activity should be combined with social activism in any of its many forms, as best expressed by the examples set by the children of Alberto and Eva Garcia.

Maria’s sister, the late Eva Ruissy Garcia Currie,  retired as an assistant professor of speech communication at The University of Texas. Eva earned her BA (’33) and MA (’44) from UT. One of the first Mexican-American females on the University’s faculty, she devoted her career to the study of linguistics and taught foreign students English as a second language. She pioneered the use of tape recordings and started UT’s language laboratory. Eva offered her home to her students, providing a place to stay, home-cooked meals, and motherly guidance. An early proponent of bilingual education, she fought hard for the civil rights of all minorities and encouraged the local Hispanic population to become active in politics.

These gift funds were provided by Ms. Maria G. Roach in the hope that the endowment would encourage journalism students to follow in his footsteps, fighting for social justice, seeking racial, ethnic, and political rights for all Americans.

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