Political trailblazer Gus Garcia – the first Hispanic elected to the Austin ISD Board of Directors, and the city's first Hispanic mayor – was honored today.
Garcia has been a major force in Austin politics for decades. In 1972, he became the first Hispanic to be elected to the school board, coming into office with a list of “17 Demands for Quality Education.” Programs at today’s event, sponsored by the U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association, commemorated the 40th anniversary of his historic election.
Garcia’s colleague and keynote speaker, Ernest Perales, remarked on the difficulties the AISD board found itself in during the turmoil of the 1970s. Peralez called Gus Garcia “a hero” and praised his tenure on the board.
“When you started talking to people about busing, nobody wanted to hear about it,” said Perales. “Even though our effort was to try to improve the schools, the only leverage we had was ‘well, if you don’t want to improve our schools, put our kids into good schools.’ And so if that meant busing, that meant busing. If the only way we’re going to change the school system is to expose your children to the same schools we have, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Garcia ultimately became board president, before heading on to higher office.
Garcia was elected to the Austin City Council in 1991, narrowly eking out a win in a run-off election with 50.83 percent of the vote. He was re-elected to council in 1993 and 1997. Then in 2001, he became Austin’s first Hispanic mayor, serving until 2003.
Still, many of the day’s remarks revolved around education. “Much more work needs to be done so that all of the students in our district can reach their potential,” Garcia told the crowd. “A lot of work has been done, a lot of progress has been made, but a lot of work still needs to be done.”