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Wartime history episode of 'Latino Americans' coming to A&M-Commerce

Marcario Garcia, right, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman.
Marcario Garcia, right, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Harry Truman.

Next week on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce, a special presentation of a portion of PBS's documentary series Latino Americans: 500 Years of History will be aired in the Hall of Languages for anyone who would like to attend. The episode focuses on the Latino-American involvement in World War II and its aftermath.

Mark Haslett: If you’re the kind of person who likes history, there’s a fun event coming up on the campus of A&M-Commerce.

Sarah Northam: Tuesday’s event is going to be a viewing of part of the documentary that was sponsored by PBS called “Latino Americans: 500 Years of History.” This particular episode is titled “War and Peace.” It focuses on the military involvement of Latino Americans, specifically focusing on World War II and its aftermath. 

Haslett: That’s Sarah Northam, who’s head of Research and Instruction Services at the Texas A&M University-Commerce Library.

Northam: It talks about Marcario Garcia, who was the first Mexican national to earn a Congressional Medal of Honor.

Haslett: The story of Marcario Garcia is of particular interest to Texans. He came to the Houston area from the northern Mexican state of Coahuila when he was still a small child. He grew up there and eventually got a job in the cotton industry in Sugar Land. After the U.S. entered World War II, Garcia was drafted into the Army. He was part of the Normandy invasion and received a Purple Heart as a result of being wounded there. That was in June of 1944. In November of that year, Garcia’s infantry unit was fighting in Germany. He realized that his company was immobilized by two German machine-gun nests. What followed next was a bit like the “Sgt. York” story. Garcia advanced alone and single-handedly took out the nests using grenades. He did so despite being wounded twice in the process – in the shoulder and in the foot. Garcia ended up killing six and capturing four while eliminating the enemy positions. Garcia was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for his efforts and was the first Mexican national to be so honored. But he became famous again shortly after the war for an incident he surely would rather not have happened. Garcia was in a Houston-area diner and was refused service for being Hispanic. He ended up fighting with the owner of the restaurant, and faced charges as a result, although he was not prosecuted. The event was publicized and became part of the impetus for the beginnings of the civil rights movement. Garcia’s story is one of several that will be featured at next week’s showing of the PBS program.

Northam: And then afterwards, it’s going to be a Q&A, and that’s going to be led by Dr. Chris Gonzalez from Literature and Languages. We’re really excited about this program. We’re doing it right before the 4th of July. It is open to anyone that would like to attend. 4PM on Tuesday, June 28th, in the Hall of Languages on the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Haslett: The show doesn’t just talk about the efforts of Latinos in the military. Related to the war effort were the contributions of the braceros. That was the name given to agricultural workers from Mexico who were allowed to come to the United States under a guest worker program. That initiative was designed to help mitigate the labor shortage caused by so many people, particularly young people, being occupied in the military and ancillary industries. That’s 4 p.m. next Tuesday at A&M-Commerce, in the Literature and Languages located on the east side of campus across the road from KETR. You can find more information about the Latino Americans PBS series online at PBS.org.

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.