story BY: CHARLES A. COULMBE
No complete history of the struggle for Latino civil rights and equality in this country could be written without mentioning Ricardo R, Garcia. Articles have been written about his cofounding of rural Washington State’s Spanish language public radio station KDNA with Julio Cesar Guerrero, Rosa Ramon, and Daniel Robleski in 1979. Calling itself “Radio Cadena, La Voz del Campesino,” the fledgling station’s mix of music and activism caught the attention of Cesar Chavez. Impressed after visiting the station, Chavez used it as a model for several radio stations he launched in California. Garcia remained as Station Manager for many years, although he is now retired. His accomplishments are public record. But what about the man himself? What led him to such a sterling life in public service?
Garcia was born and raised in the small town of San Diego, Texas. “My elementary and high school education was bilingual,” he recalls. I could read, write and speak fluently by the time I graduated. Ninety-eight per cent of the teachers and administrators were Hispanic. Even though I was raised in poverty, I didn’t know that we were second-class citizens. There was no college in my future, and many of my friends went into the military. So after I graduated from high school in 1957, I did the same, training in army administration at Ft. Ord, California. I did time in South Korea, ending my service at Ft. Lewis, Washington.
It was the Army that brought him to the Yakima Valley, located in Eastern Washington, where I participated in Army maneuvers as a medical supply specialist On week-end passes, I went down to the Yakima Valley because I had learned that farm worker from Texas were present doing harvest work.
On one of my visits, I met my future wife, Monica at a public dance. When I got out of the service, I stayed in Yakima, and got married in 1962. We became the parents of three children…Rene, Maria and Eliza, and are now the grandparents of five…Nicolas, Elise, Benjamin, Julia and Mia.”
He became active in the Catholic Church. “I made a Cursillo, and met many of my future activist friends. The priests pushed us to join the government funded community based organizations (CBO) that was being started through the War on Poverty programs of 1964. About that time, I became aware of what Cesar Chavez was starting in California; organizing farm workers. In California as well as in Washington, the farm workers were treated as second citizens; poor and without worker benefits.”
“My experience with the CBO’s taught me governance skills, and how to run meetings. My self-esteem grew. I became aware that Chicanos were second-class citizens. Thus, I enrolled in the local community college in 1966, and later graduated from Central Washington University. Back then; there was segregation in the schools because the farm workers and their children would go back to Texas after the finish of harvest in October. I wanted to work in the school system as a teacher but I wasn’t offered employment by the school establishment because of my pro-Chavez visibility. I got bad press from the local papers. So it was then that I joined local Chicano activists and started a number of CBOs, such as the Northwest Rural Opportunities. This CBO received federal and state grants to provide farm workers with work training, social and health services. Other CBS in the Valley were the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Health Clinics, Office of Farm Worker Housing, and Evergreen Legal Services. We also formed a UFW affiliate in Yakima, and supported Cesar Chavez’ boycott actions. Locally, we befriended Democrat legislators who supported protective legislation for farm workers.”
Ricardo has retired from radio advocacy, but remains active on local boards and advisory groups to state agencies, a community foundation, and consults on health and education matters.
What does he see as the challenges facing the farm workers of today? “Well, in my time most of the farm workers were native born Chicanos from Texas. The Chicano movement convinced them to establish roots in Eastern Washington, educate their children who are now employed in many professional fields in our region. The Chicano activists accomplished social change and social justice. It remains an untold success story. There were many lessons learned from what we did. Most of today’s farm workers are undocumented immigrants going through some very difficult social pressures. Currently, I have joined local efforts led by young leaders who are rallying for immigration reform. But a lot of the first immigrant generation children of farm workers are joining gangs, getting into drugs and other health risks. Today’s young leadership has to address these issues.” Ricardo Romano Garcia may be retired from radio, but he still observes the scene, and is ready to share what he has learned with those who want to improve conditions for tomorrow.