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How Hillary Clinton Found a Mentor in a Texas Labor Organizer

Instagram/Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton (right) with Bill Clinton in New Haven, Conn., in 1972 - the same year she campaigned for George McGovern's presidential campaign.

From Texas Standard:

Hillary Clinton gives her big speech tonight accepting the Democratic nomination at the party's convention tonight in Philadelphia.

Perhaps you caught the speech from her husband, talking about Hillary's time in south Texas.

"She met one of the nicest fellas I've ever met, the wonderful union leader Franklin Garcia," Bill Clinton said in his speech Tuesday. "He helped her register Mexican-American voters. I think some of them are still around to vote for her in 2016."

If the name Franklin Garcia sounds familiar, there's a reason for that.


Max Krokmal, history professor at Texas Christian University, says Garcia was one of the couple's "main tour guides" when they came to Texas to help campaign for George McGovern in 1972. Garcia, a north Texas native, was charged with taking the Clintons around during the campaign work, registering voters.

"(He) was well-connected all across south Texas," Krokmal says, "and really all across Mexican-American, or Chicano, Texas."

After serving in World War II, Garcia worked at the Ford plant in Dallas. He got involved with the United Auto Workers (UAW) union and, after switching industries, became a professional organizer for the meatcutters' union. As a labor organizer, Garcia also engaged in political and civil rights activities.

"Unlike many labor leaders at the time, he really saw his job expansively," Krokmal says. "That took him all over the state – to Brownsville in south Texas, to San Antonio, to Corpus Christi."

He connected organized labor with the growing Chicano movement and African-American civil rights demonstrations, Krokmal says. He says he's met people from the Valley up through San Antonio that remember Garcia, who was also known by the nickname "Tortillas."

"He would drive around the state with a stack of tortillas," Krokmal says, "and eat them between campaign stops."

Though Clinton didn't speak Spanish, Krokmal says Mexican-Americans had been desperate for outside help for a long time. A big moment for the community was La Marcha, the farmworkers' strike in 1966.

"That moment was really the first of the federal interventions in south Texas in which Washington officials took note of the problems facing Mexican-Americans in the state," he says. "The Clintons' visit comes six years later, on the heels of that growing activism... so when Hillary came, she was tapping into that network. What got her in that door was Franklin Garcia."

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Post by Hannah McBride.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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