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AS A GENERAL RULE death brings oblivion, an end to the joy and pain of living, a cessation of facing tedium and danger intermixed with contemplation and pleasure. Not so with the story that follows. Felix Longoria was killed by a Japanese sniper on the Philippine island of Luzon, and if his body had never been brought home to Three Rivers, Texas, in the southern part of the state, he would have been an object of grief for a generation or two, and then generally forgotten.1 And Dr. Héctor Garc ía of nearby Corpus Christi, who never knew Longoria but probably felt as close to the deceased soldier as one man can to another, would not have thought of this young man every day of his life from January 10, 1949, to the doctor’s own death forty-seven and a half years later on July 26, 1996. The account that follows evokes such disparate personalities as Andy Warhol (every person should be famous for fifteen minutes during his life) and Shakespeare, who, in Julius Caesar, wrote a phrase of INTRODUCTION “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” psalms 139:14 00A-T2443-INT 12/9/02 3:17 PM Page 1 F E L I X L O N G O R I A ’ S W A K E 2 continuing relevance that has almost become a cliché: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” Felix Longoria had his fifteen minutes of fame, once in Three Rivers when word reached home that another son of the community had fallen to war. But tens of thousands from other towns and cities and farms were likewise killed between Pearl Harbor and Nagasaki, and the only difference for Three Rivers residents in young Longoria’s case was that this was a local body. As soon as proper mourning ended, all except his wife and his family could go back to their routine, thinking of him only on Memorial Days or at special times when his fatherless child passed some benchmark in her life. The widow and parents would grieve, but most of the community would dry their eyes and get on with their lives. The scenario didn’t work out that way, and the events that followed ushered in Felix Longoria’s greatest moment of fame. Three Rivers’ only funeral home refused to handle Longoria’s wake, for, you see, Longoria was an American but of Mexican origin. Dr. García reacted promptly and spent a weekend telephoning, telegraphing, and writing quick notes that built a bonfire of protest which attracted the attention of national and international presses, divided Longoria’s home state, and mobilized the veterans’ rights group that the doctor had just founded. While Dr. García would continue to minister to the health of the less fortunate, he would spend even more time addressing the civil rights needs of Mexican Americans throughout the nation. After his involvement in the 1949 Longoria controversy his workday expanded to between twelve and sixteen hours, an overwhelming pace for the staff, volunteers, friends, and family that rotated in and out of it. That was the only way everyone else could keep up with him. One memorable day I spent with Dr. García illustrates this dual commitment and the dedication it required. May 5, 1990, began for Dr. García at 7:45 A.M. when he stepped into his Bright Street office on Corpus Christi’s west side, where the majority of the city’s Hispanic population still lives. He immediately started seeing the patients already in chairs lining the walls of the waiting room. Almost all were poor or folk who seldom paid by check or credit card because few of them had these mediums of exchange. In fact, in my fifteen years of visiting that office I never once saw cash exchanged either. If patients did not have insurance or government assistance, 00A-T2443-INT 12/9/02 3:17 PM Page 2 I N T R O D U C T I O N 3 they probably did not pay at all. No matter, he saw and treated each of them anyway. I arrived at noon, we talked about the Longoria incident and about an investigation the doctor was beginning that concerned living conditions in colonias, underdeveloped settlements on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande. We ate a quick lunch at Rosa’s on...


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MARC Record
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