A Recipient of Dr. Hector P. Garcia Fellowship Continues Research Amid Pandemic

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Supporting research through unprecedented times, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Mary and Jeff Bell Library recently welcomed the recipient of the 2020 Dr. Hector P. Garcia Fellowship for a unique research experience unlike any other. Implementing safety guidelines for the well-being of researchers, staff, faculty, and Islander students alike, the library rearranged research resources and accessibility in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Antonio Vasquez, lecturer with the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, is this year’s recipient of the fellowship, and says although tough times preceded his award, the Bell Library went above and beyond in making his research efforts productive and safe.

“In the beginning, I was honestly worried about traveling to conduct research during a pandemic,” Vasquez said. “In the end, COVID-19 proved to be most beneficial as I was the only researcher present during the days I visited the Special Collections. The library staff made sure that my requested resources were always available. I am grateful for their presence and accompaniment.”  

As the premise of his research, Vasquez aimed to further his understanding of the development of Mexican American community activism in response to the conditions of farmworkers in South Texas, as expressed through the leadership of Dr. Hector P. Garcia and the American GI Forum. This also included Garcia’s work through the Texas v. Hernandez case, which struck down legislation that prevented Mexican Americans from serving on grand juries.

“I am still in the process of examining all materials but could easily and happily spend an entire year engaged completely in research of the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Papers,” Vasquez said. “Some of my favorite pieces were the multiple handwritten personal letters and small donations sent to Dr. Garcia by community members in support of the landmark Hernandez v. Texas case. I was in awe.”

With the pandemic preventing an initial trip to the Island University in June, the Bell Library implemented online accessibility to select documents as part of the Special Collections and Archives Department. The online exhibit includes Dr. Garcia’s medical diploma, medical license, and a special notice regarding the American GI Forum among numerous other documents and artifacts.

“The Dr. Garcia collection is one of our most researched collections, containing a wealth of primary sources concerning the Hispanic-American rights movement after World War II,” said Lori Atkins, Director of the Special Collections and Archives at the Bell Library. “Working with Dr. Vásquez was a pleasant opportunity to meet a passionate civil rights researcher, learn about his projects, and obtain the documents he needed.  He was a model researcher and respected our rules pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Influencing his research and a working novel, Vasquez said the collection is a true testament to the diligence and foresight of Garcia.

“My recent research more than exceeded my goals in terms of material for my first book project,” Vasquez said. “I found the discrimination files relating experiences of migrant farm workers in South Texas to be most applicable to my current work, and in addition – my recent research undertaken as part of the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Fellowship will contribute to my second book project on the twentieth-century Mexican-American community formation in San Antonio and South Texas.”

Cecilia Garcia-Akers, daughter of the late-doctor and President of the Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Foundation, said it is the continued mission of the fellowship to expand awareness of his legacy and the continued relevance of his fight for equal rights for all.

“The Dr. Hector P. Garcia Memorial Foundation is committed to assisting students and researchers to not only achieve their educational goals, but to fully understand the impact that Dr. Hector P. Garcia had on civil rights, and Veterans rights during this country’s most critical years,” Garcia-Akers said.