Former teacher and political and community activist Dr. Neftali G. Garcia was born in Monterrey, Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. with his family at age two, when his father was drafted to serve in World War II. As an expert in history and political science, he says he often ponders about what his life would have been like if he never left. It was this curiosity for himself, and the diverse, heroic stories of the nearly million people who left Mexico between 1910 and 1929 during the Mexican Revolution, that led him to write his first historical novel, “The Mexican Revolution: Legacy of Courage.”
“The Children of the Revolución,” his second book, was a joint effort meshing his prior work in “The Mexican Revolution: Legacy of Courage,” and the weekly television series, also called “The Children of the Revolución,” which told the stories of extremely influential Mexican families in South Texas, produced and directed by Lionel Sosa. The series is expected to run again in 2013 on PBS, and for the first time, bilingually on Univision.
“We were coming from different perspectives,” says Garcia about the moment they met to discuss the creation of a book uniting their work about 18 months ago. “My perspective was to write a book for Latinos that struggle with the concept of identity…Sosa, from his perspective — here we are as Latinos, and we are very successful people, but the general public is unaware of our contributions. So our two ideas merged quite nicely.”
Garcia says he was also inspired by meeting hundreds of people with relatives who were affected by the Revolution.
“Many have diaries, letters, photographs, that are not shared,” says Garcia. “This is a history that has never been revealed. That was the issue of my concern during my original book.”
He says it’s important to share these stories, because these people have had to overcome obstacles to succeed and struggled for something better.
“I just hope that sense of bravery, that sense of courage, is appreciated among our Latino community,” says Garcia about his goal in completing his second book, which is interspersed with large black-and-white photos of prominent Mexican-Americans — including Henry Cisneros and Julian and Joaquin Castro — and their ancestors during the time of the Mexican Revolution. “I think it’s going to be well-received. It’s meant to tell a flowing story as it affects many of today’s generation of Latinos, particularly those of Mexican descent.”
Sosa says influentials in the U.S. such as Henry Cisneros, who served as secretary of housing and urban development under President Clinton and rose to become an important political figure in our country could have been born in Mexico, and his destiny would have been different.
“I might have been living in Mexico…,” says Sosa thinking back to his life circumstances. “This is the land of opportunity. This is the place where people can make their own mark, their own lives, and make a difference. You don’t have to have an economic base, you can start from nothing and go all the way to the top…You can’t do that in Mexico.”
Garcia says although the book tends to emphasize people who have great notoriety, his personal heroes are the faceless Latinos.
“Those who have made a life for themselves and their families and are unheralded, those are my heroes,” says Garcia who adds that there are still heroes migrating today to escape violence or to see freedom. “The effect of all of that can be seen in all areas of life in America — most prominently as the result of the last presidential election…For the first time, we have received political recognition as a salient voting block in American politics.”
The former constitutional law professor says had it not been for the Mexican Revolution, who knows what the relationship between the two countries would have been today? However, he says we do know that the Mexican Revolution caused this mass migration, and the significance of that is just beginning to be felt.
“History has a nasty tendency of repeating itself, but in similar ways…it combines power struggles with exodus, with reform and renewal,” says Garcia. “And Mexico, at this point, is in the phase of power struggle and exodus. Eventually it will be reformed and reborn.”
He says although his second book is finished, he’s won’t be finished collecting stories for a long time.
“I would like to see some national effort to create and establish a repository where family histories, diaries, and letters can be collected and indexed for researchers about this era of Mexican history,” says Garcia. “The untold story of the descendants need to be collected to be made available for future research.”