AGIF – A Hispanic Veterans and Civil Rights Organization
Founded: March 26, 1948
Founder: Dr. Hector P. Garcia, Dr. Vicente T. Ximenes
Location: Washington, DC
Key people: Ángel Zúñiga, National Commander
Slogan: “Education is our Freedom and Freedom Should be Everybody’s Business”
The American G.I. Forum (AGIF) is a Congressionally chartered Hispanic veterans and civil rights organization. Its motto is “Education is Our Freedom and Freedom should be Everybody’s Business”. AGIF operates chapters throughout the United States, with a focus on veterans’ issues, education, and civil rights. Its two largest national programs are the San Antonio-based Veterans Outreach Program, and the Dallas-based Service, Employment, Redevelopment-Jobs for Progress, Inc. (SER). The current National Commander is Ángel Zúñiga.
The AGIF is dedicated to addressing problems of discrimination and inequities endured by Hispanic veterans. Through the efforts of many of the organization’s early leadership, the AGIF grew to other states and has chapters throughout the United States. Though predominantly Hispanic, the AGIF is a fully interracial U.S. veterans and family organization.
In 1998 on the 50th anniversary of the organization, the U.S. Congress Chartered the American GI Forum as a Veteran’s Family Organization. The AGIF has maintained a leadership role in many communities and has gained respect among all ethnic groups.
The organization was established in Corpus Christi, the seat of Nueces County, Texas, on March 26, 1948 by Dr. Hector P. Garcia to address the concerns of Mexican-American veterans, who were segregated from other veterans groups. Initially formed to request services for World War II veterans of Mexican descent who were denied medical services by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, the AGIF soon entered into non-veteran’s issues such as voting rights, jury selection, and educational desegregation, advocating for the civil rights of all Mexican Americans. Today, the AGIF advocates on behalf of all Hispanic veterans.
The AGIF’s first campaign was on the behalf of Felix Longoria, a Mexican-American private who was killed in the Philippines in the line of duty during World War II. Three years after the war, when Longoria’s remains were returned to Texas, his family was denied funeral services by a white-owned funeral home. Dr. Garcia requested the intercession of then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, who secured Longoria’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery. The case brought the AGIF to national attention, and chapters were opened throughout the country. A women’s and youth auxiliary were also formed.
The AGIF, along with the League of United Latin American Citizens, was a plaintiff in the landmark civil rights case of Hernandez v. Texas (1954). Pete Hernandez, a farm worker in Texas, was convicted of murder by an all-white jury. His attorneys appealed his conviction because Mexican Americans had been systematically excluded for years from Texas juries. But, since they were classified as white, the state court said a white jury constituted a “jury of peers” for Hernandez. His defense attorneys took the case to the Supreme Court of the United States, becoming the first Mexican-American attorneys to appear there. They argued that Texas discriminated against Mexican Americans as a class and Hernandez’s rights were violated by Texas’ exclusion of Mexican Americans from all juries. In its unanimous decision, Hernandez v. Texas (1954), the court ruled that Mexican Americans were a class in this case, as discrimination against them was proven, and that they and all other racial or national groups in the United States had equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.
The AGIF has been in the forefront in civil rights struggles, such as advocating for Hispanic Veterans Benefits, desegregation of schools, voter registration, fair judicial proceedings, and combating media stereotyping and distortions.
The AGIF/US formally convenes at an annual convention held at different parts of the Nation. Educational and training workshops, corporate exhibits and job fairs are held and attended by delegates from throughout the state, as well as government and corporate representatives. Position papers, resolutions and proposed solutions are generated. These papers address issues of concern within the Hispanic community. These, presented at the National Convention are distributed so that action is assured on all issues.
The American GI Forum of Texas, Inc. is composed of the Forum, Women’s and Youth Chapters. Youth Chapters are sponsored by either AGIF group. Local chapters function under a regional structure. Elected officers of each group compose the State Board of Directors. The State Executive Board is elected at the Annual State Convention. The Board of Directors at their first meeting after the Convention elects a State Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer that handles the administrative arm of the organization.
To provide information and motivation on education, scholarships and post secondary educational opportunities.
YOUTH LEADERSHIP AND MOTIVATION
To establish AGIF Youth chapters; to train youth in leadership and motivation values; to help with their education through academic and trade scholarships, to promote better career opportunities/
To establish communications with corporations and job placement organizations, to assist with job training referrals, and to ensure equal employment opportunities.
To enforce, defend and protect the civil and human rights of Hispanics, women and other minorities and to ensure equal opportunities as mandated by federal and state laws.
To provide input on enforcement of legislation that protects the rights of Hispanic veterans, their families and other minorities concerning affirmative action, benefits from social and educational
The American GI Forum is the largest Federally Chartered Hispanic Veterans organization in the U.S. With Chapters in 40 states and Puerto Rico. The AGIF also supports other Hispanic organizations, such as LULAC, NCLR, IMAGE, HACER, and many others. AGIF also has a Corporate Advisory Board (AGIFCAP) that helps with technical advise and financial support.