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Profile on Frank Garcia of La Casa Garcia

Founder of restaurants and innate philanthropist, Frank Garcia celebrates 25 years of offering Thanksgiving dinner to the most needy.

 

Frank Garcia’s ability to always find a reason to give thanks to life, even in extreme poverty, makes him unique in a world full of greed and selfishness. Garcia is a pure, sensitive, generous human being, life made him wise, because he focused only on the good of every person or situation that he lived. Protective and cheerful, he instills desire to join him in his fight against hunger, loneliness and lack of love and asks us to be patient with children, because he knows they depend totally on us.

 

 

“I was born in Kingsville, at a place where there was a hospital near the town where my family lived in Bishop, Texas. Bishop was a very small town of 3,303 inhabitants at the time, we all knew each other.  My father worked at a gas station and my mother sold tamales. There’s nobody who made better tamales than she did. They were pig’s head tamales, and I cooked the heads so she could rest, and I would lie beside the stove watching the four pots cooking them. “Mama, go to bed because you have to get up at four,” I would say. I kneaded the masa dough also”, Garcia shares.

 

How many siblings do you have?

Four, I am the youngest. Papa called me “my coyote.”

 

“My father was an illegal, he crossed the Rio Grande swimming; he was from Matamoros. He told me that when he crossed the river, the Mexican threw stones at him because he was coming to the U.S.; once on this side the Rangers wanted to kill him. Who can I trust: the Gringoes or the Mexicans? He asked himself. It still makes me sad to remember the discrimination my father lived through. I saw how badly they treated him” Garcia shares.

 

Where did your parents meet?

In Texas. My mother, Elvira Garza was born in Beaumont, Texas, but she was raised in Mexico, then returned to Texas; she spoke a little English. My father, Luis Majin Garcia met her in San Juan in 1929 and a year later they were married in the old church of San Juan del Valle where the Virgin of San Juan del Valle is located- it’s the same church that we have in Mexico, called San Juan de Los Lagos. When they were married he made two to three dollars a week, he worked at a plant drawing water for the ranches; and he told us about how he bought a bicycle through many sacrifices- he was very poor. Both of my parents were orphans. They never went to school. All my siblings graduated from high school, some at school and some in the military. I started working when I was eight- picking cotton and other jobs in the summer, and on a chicken farm; it made me proud to help my parents.

 

I was in the fourth grade and I was 15. The teacher, Mrs. Black, told me we would never amount to anything; but I felt a great deal of love and respect for my parents. My mother asked me one day what had happened at school because I had blood on my pants, I told her a teacher had whipped me with a belt with one hundred holes. I begged her not to tell papa because he would scold me for being disobedient for having spoken Spanish at school. Sitting in the classroom I would hear on the loud speaker: “Francisco Garcia come to the nurse’s office please.” I knew they were going to whip me. They whipped me about twice a week at school for speaking Spanish.” Waiting for him at the nurse’s office were two people, usually the coach and a teacher because they had to have witnesses. “We’re going to whip you five times today because you spoke Spanish during recess,” and Frank would answer,”O.K.” They had different punishment belts, one was thin, another thick, and another had holes. I had to take off my clothes, and if I put up my hands to protect myself, they would double my fingers. The one who hit me the hardest was a teacher about 70, she was beautiful, we would always take her an apple, a banana or whatever we had, but when she whipped us she lifted us off the ground. We were more afraid of her than of the coach or principal. For Halloween she would dress up like a witch. I’ll never forget her! She was our best teacher. She was a lovely person and I knew I deserved the lashes because I had spoken Spanish.

 

When Frank Garcia was a kid he ate what they had, beans, rice, and a lot of chicken because they got them for a quarter from the chicken ranch and his mother would make chicken soup. As a child he didn’t realize he was poor; he thought he was rich because he had all he needed. An American asked him once if the shirt he was wearing came from a luxury store in Corpus Christi where they were very expensive, he answered that his mother has made it for him with her own hands. A godfather of his, Samuel, lived four houses from his and he would bring 100 sacks of flour on his truck, the flour sack were a quarter and they had different designs, one with balls, another with stripes. “I would hide the one I liked best and when my mother sent me to buy one in order to make tortillas, I would take her the one I had put away and would ask her to make me a shirt with the sack,” he shares happily.

 

His father wanted him to continue in school, he wanted a better life for his children. He was a great role model, he showed him family values and hard work; to respect what is not yours; to be grateful; to value life and to make your own choices. When Frank asked his father why he voted for Eisenhower being a democrat, he answered: “My son one votes for the one he believes in, and I believe in him. He was a general and he fought in the Second World War. Don’t forget, you have to do what is right and not what other people tell you to do.”

 

One day he was suspended from school because an American spit on him and he then hit him. He was afraid of what his father would do when he found out, he wanted him to be a good student and he spent the day thinking about how he would tell him. His father loved him a lot, he was his “coyote”. “Finally I told him what had happened, and he said, “Son, leave him to me!” That night Frank was watching television and they were showing one of those movies he liked, so he asked him to watch it with him, but he answered, “I’m not feeling well son.” “Come watch TV with me, I insisted, and when I noticed he didn’t budge I went to his side; I hugged him until he fell asleep. The next day I heard my mother scream desperately. Papa liked to fish a great deal. He had arisen early as always, looked out the window and said, “What a great day to go fishing,” and fell over dead that very instant. It was 5:30 in the morning. I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t stand to see him dead, but my siblings insisted I do so. I had always been so close to him. The church where we mourned him was right in front of our house. I gathered my strength and gave him my last farewell. I suffered a great deal; I felt lost without him. All my siblings were present, the only one missing was the one who was in Germany and couldn’t get there in time.”.

 

His father left him his truck; Frank sold it to make a lovely gravestone in his memory. His mother was given $80 a month from social security and $20 for him. And although his father wanted him to finish school, he decided to go to Corpus Christi to find a full-time job in order to support her.

Frank Garcia worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant, and he served coffee and other food to the Afro-Americans in the back of the establishment because they were not allowed to eat with the “Gringoes” in front. He was paid $45 a week. The following year he went to Bishop to visit his mother and to tell her he was going to California where his brother Agustin lived, to try to improve his luck. He gave his mother $80 and left with $15. He arrived in Los Angeles at the time of the African-American riots, but he wasn’t afraid of that community- he had been raised with them. He ate beans, chili peppers, cookies and water for ten days; he spent $.75 a day and slept on a sofa in a trailer where his brother lived with other people. He found work at the Tijuana Inn Café in Gardena, and he started by making $40 a week. The boss of the company had rooms he rented at $7 a week, so he rented one and lived there. He felt good because his mother was fine, surrounded by her relatives, friends and neighbors, and now he could send her $25 a week. He would keep $15, pay for his room and spend the rest on food. He also worked as a waiter, he would take short turns so he could eat breakfast during one, lunch during another, he saved a lot on tips and he no longer spent on food. He also ended up working at night in order to send more money to his mother. He reached a point where he was able to send her $1500 a month. He felt in peace with himself, he supported his mother from the time his father died, for forty years. “Take care of the Old Lady,” his father had said shortly before he died, and Frank promised to do so. When Frank Garcia’s mother passed away he founded an organization called Women of Vision, he also wrote a song in her honor and felt at ease knowing that both his parents were together in heaven.

 

In California, Garcia married and had two children who he loves a great deal- Silvia and Juan. In 1964 he worked for someone who opened several Chili Peppers restaurants. Garcia was responsible for everything, and he opened one in Santa Ana, Orange, Corona del Mar, and Corona in Riverside. The owner rewarded him with $10,000 and gave him the restaurant in Corona del Mar. Garcia made a great deal of money, about $25,000 a month, he had a Continental (car) in 1969. His marriage didn’t last and he separated, leaving all his earnings to his children and ex-wife.

 

He soon met his soon to be second wife Silvia. Frank and Silvia had a child named Frank, and later twins named Cindy and Veronica. Garcia established a solid family with his second wife- they’ve now been married 38 years and they work as a team. She takes care of their home and business- she keeps their home in order, raised their children and collaborates unceasingly in the business. Garcia soon opened his first restaurant, La Casa Garcia in the Leatrice neighborhood, close to Ponderosa Park, in Anaheim. He made $800 a day; he worked day and night, seven days a week. Their young son and four-month old girls were in the kitchen with them all the time. He cooked,  his wife managed and a waitress waited on the clientele. They worked there for three years until Garcia saw the opportunity to move to his current location, 531 W. Chapman Avenue in Anaheim, California. Garcia followed his dreams and rented the location. The business has now been operating for more than two decades. “My twin daughters Cindy and Veronica have been working here since they were six and my son Frank since he was seven, he’s 35 now” he says proudly.

The business prospered, many people came to his establishment and Garcia began to ponder about those who didn’t have enough food to eat. “I don’t know why people start preparing for Christmas in October and forget Thanksgiving,” he complains.

He treasured preparing for the great Thanksgiving meal when he was young and the great happiness of sharing a delicious turkey dinner with his friends and family, and loved the wonderful opportunity to give thanks for all they were given. “Why don’t we close the business for Thanksgiving and give away free food in the parking lot?” he said to his wife. “No!” she said, “Are you crazy? What if so many come we can’t feed them all?”, she said worried about the idea. Frank Garcia started calling friends and many offered to volunteer. They went through with it and they were able to feed 3,000 people in 1989. Since then they have had more helpers every year, and have had the help of sponsorships. Even the Anaheim Hilton helps out with their mission, the school district, and more. The lines kept growing; there were people everywhere and Garcia.

One day Kent French of the hockey Anaheim Ducks showed up and donated 1500 tickets for a hockey game to be distributed among the diners. In 1992, 11,000 people showed up for dinner and more than 230 volunteered. “This has been huge! Why don’t we do it at the Honda Center parking lot?” asked Kent French, and he volunteered to get them a permit to do it for free. He’s been celebrating there for the past four years. Last year he served 18,000 people and this year he expects even more, because they will be celebrating 25 years of dinners on Thanksgiving day and their fifth at the Honda Center.

 

Many people have offered to buy the annual event but he tells them it’s not for sale; that it’s not his, it belongs to the community. They have offered him $500,000 but he’s not interested in money but rather in helping the community. It excites him to see people bringing turkeys, potatoes, and he doesn’t want that to change. He wants to go on serving those in need. Everyone is invited; families of seven or eight who also bring their grandparents, it’s beautiful. “My payment is when they give me a hug; when they tell me they ate because we fed them; they even cry. So many children hug me in gratitude and that can’t be paid. I feel bad knowing that there are people who don’t realize what we are celebrating. Children ask me why I do this. They don’t know the history of this celebration; that’s why this coming year i’m going to take a tour with my book at schools throughout the country, I want to talk to parents about the value of this celebration- about the value of giving thanks,” says Garcia.

 

 

Tell me about your book…

Alejandro Moreno helped me, he insisted I do it for years. We have printed 10 thousand copies. We haven’t promoted it yet but those who come to my restaurant buy one. For the time being that’s how we are promoting it.

 

Garcia’s annual Thanksgiving dinner was structured as a non-profit and is called “We Give Thanks”. The event has an exceptional board of directors. Last year the government closed about 4000 non profits throughout the country because they were not in compliance but, We Give Thanks keeps on growing and has very good sponsors.

 

 

Garcia notes sadly that in many homes children have no guidance or good parental models. “There are parents who believe the government and teachers are responsible for raising and educating their children. Some don’t even know the name of the school they attend, much less their teacher’s name. And when they are asked if they ever volunteered at their children’s school they answer horrified: “Why should I help for free? Not me!” I even heard a woman complain about the free food given to her five children at school. “Poor children! They got them on chicken nuggets, fries, candy and free food at school, because their parents say they are working and don’t have time” he says sadly.

“People should know what the PTA means and does. The government has little to do with the administration of schools and we are capable of doing it very well. Hispanic men should learn to appreciate the value of volunteerism, of serving a hot dog or a soda as a volunteer. If the world were managed by volunteers, there would be no poverty. If every household gave a plate of food to their neighbor, there would be no hunger. Mama would give me food to take our neighbor Tomasa, Rosa, or Lupito, or Eulogio, and when I asked her, “When are we going to eat?,” she would answer, “later,” says Garcia.

 

What’s your message for our readers?

Be more patient with your children and give them more of your time; be a volunteer at school and learn the value of the PTA. Latinos are very manly, “Why am I supposed to serve a hot dog? Why should I go to a PTA meeting, that’s for women?” many latino men question. It is our responsibility, for men and women, to raise our children right. We are the only ones responsible.

“I would like to see everyone fed, hunger eradicated” shares Garcia, who during all this time has donated money and food to senior care centers, to Long Beach veterans for Christmas, on Super Bowl day so that all eat well and enjoy themselves. Garcia takes the time to pray at church for five or ten minutes, to hug seniors abandoned at senior centers and they say, “Oh my son! why hadn’t you come before?  Come more often!” The nurse tells him no one comes to visit them and asks, “How hard is it to come here and give them a hug once in a while?” Garcia went to New Orleans after Katrina and offered his help. “The poverty there was frightening. I took 12 cooks with me and helped out for 10 days. They were all African-Americans from New Orleans suffering from the devastating hurricane. In Missouri I witnessed a great deal of poverty. I’ve also gone to Tijuana by bus with more than 40 volunteers; we gave food to seven or eight orphanages for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We also took gifts, computers and school supplies. All that was left over here after Thanksgiving and we would take things there. I would ask our volunteers to take their children along so they could see all they have here,” Garcia says.

 

When someone asks him where he’s from, he says, “I’m Mexican, Yes sir! I’m Mexican!.” But where were you born?,” they ask. “In Texas.” “Oh, then you’re Texan,” they respond. Now with not that much patience Garcia answers, “Look, call me whatever, I’m the same person. My father always said “don’t ever forget where you’re from and who embraced you.” The United States embraced me, I feel a great deal of respect for this country, but we’re Mexican-Americans, we are American citizens but my blood is Mexican. I defend Mexicans a lot, my father was Mexican and I have Indian blood that no one can take from me,” he concludes full of Mexican pride.

 

Garcia has received many awards, among them the prize, Points of Light from the White House; Community Hero from Tim Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks; Honored Student of Life from Cypress College and many, many more.

 

The White House recognizes outstanding volunteers throughout the country every year, granting the distinguished Points of Light , and chooses among 3,000 volunteers. In April of 1996 the White House chose Garcia with this prestigious recognition, for his giving and volunteer work in California. That year only 14 volunteers were prized. Garcia gave an emotional speech. President Clinton was absent due to his government obligations and so his wife Hillary Clinton offered the prizes and congratulated Garcia for his speech.

His mother was in a senior center in Kingsville, when he was given the prize. “I wish your father was here to see how a person from such a small town has reached the White House of the U.S.” she said emotionally. And when she heard that Hillary Clinton had been the one who gave it to him she said, “My son, she is the head of the presidency, some day she will be president of the U.S.”  “She died that September and when Mrs. Clinton announced her candidacy I remembered what she had said and I realized what a visionary my mother was” he says proudly.

In 2001 he founded Women of Vision to honor his mother’s memory. His mother was one of the founders of LULAC in Bishop, Texas; the G.I. Forum in Bishop, which was created primarily to demand burial for a Mexican-American soldier who had received the medal of honor but was not allowed to be buried in the cemetery of Three Rivers, his town, because he was Mexican. The community and she repudiated this action and they were able to bury him in his town. One of his children fought in Korea and received the Purple Heart, another served in the marines and another in the army.

Until today more than 50 women of Orange County and California have received this recognition. “I see my mother’s spirit reflected in each of them and we need to celebrate the strong and beautiful women of our lives and our communities. I give thanks to the women of my life,” says Garcia.

 

Garcia is endowed with an honest and friendly smile, he is genuinely generous, a humanitarian and compassionate with those who are less fortunate; he has a loyal partner and five children he adores, ten grandchildren who are the light of his life. For over 30 years, Garcia has abided by his dream of providing all his family needs and the gift of offering his community of Orange County, delicious Mexican food, which is very fresh and healthy.

“For that and for all the stories of gratitude, I give thanks,” concludes Garcia

 

To sponsor or help on the Casa Garcia Thanksgiving dinner please call Veronica for more information at 714-231-5542 or reach her via email at veroscg53@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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