Arnold Garcia

San Angelo native Arnold García, an acclaimed Hispanic journalist who dedicated nearly half a century of his life to West and Central Texas journalism, died Aug 12 at the age of 73.

First reported by Kelsey Bradshaw from the Austin American-Statesman, García succumbed to pancreatic cancer, which was previously diagnosed in May 2021. He is survived by his daughter, Jennifer G. Jetton, his son Teodoro García, his sister Rebecca Torres and his 91 year-old mother, Bertha García.

García, born Feb 25, 1948, grew up in San Angelo and started his journalistic career while attending Angelo State University, working as a reporter for The Ram Page and subsequently for the San Angelo Standard-Times.

 

San Angelo Standard-Times

 

While at the Standard-Times, García was a police reporter who covered law enforcement news, arrests made and crimes committed in San Angelo.

According to Rich Oppel, the Statesman’s editor between 1995 and 2008, García was the grandson of Mexican immigrants and later served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971, achieving the rank of sergeant. In 1980, he joined the National Guard and served as a captain. According to Mack Martinez, a former attorney in Travis County’s attorney general’s office, Teodoro García is currently in the U.S. military.

Oppel said that it wasn’t uncommon for García to be the recipient of racial epithets throughout his career.

"I think also one of the things I appreciated about him is he didn't cry about it," Martinez said of García's response to racism or ignorance. "'They were prejudiced against me. I was discriminated against' — that was never the deal. It was, 'There it is and how do we fight it?'"

At one point in his career while covering the police, the cops nicknamed him "Wet," said Alberta Phillips, who worked at the Statesman from 1986 to 2018 and was an editorial writer with Garcia.

Phillips said García told her that story when he was telling her she needed to harden herself against the racism she was experiencing inside and outside of the newsroom. She was called the n-word by readers, and some sources would doubt she was the same person they spoke with on the phone after meeting her in person and realizing she was Black.

"Arnold used to say, 'Just come in my office and talk about it and, if you need to cry, you can cry here,' which I took advantage of," Phillips said. 

"He opened a lot of doors introducing me to people I needed to know and people I needed to be speaking with, and he did that with many journalists of color because those doors weren't open to us. That was something he tried very hard to do and did do for many of us," she said. 

García spent 22 years of his time at the Statesman serving as the editorial page editor. When he retired in 2013, he was the longest-serving editorial page editor in Texas and was one of only a handful of Hispanic editorial page editors in the country. 

García was only 26 years old when the Statesman hired him as a courthouse reporter. It was through that beat that he met Martinez in the 1980s. The pair would become lifelong friends, with Martinez serving as best man at García's 2010 wedding to Vida Marcet.

 

"We became friends right away," Martinez said.

 

Austin American-Statesman

 

García covered state agencies and schools and moved through the ranks at the paper, eventually running the metro desk, overseeing political coverage, before becoming a political columnist. He became the editorial page editor in 1991.

One of García's biggest accomplishments was his campaign for the community to recognize Heman Sweatt, a Black civil rights activist who challenged Jim Crow-era laws, including the "separate but equal" doctrine, in the Sweatt v. Painter lawsuit.

Before he was a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall tried the lawsuit in what is now called the Heman Marion Sweatt Courthouse in downtown Austin.

"(García) was pretty incredulous and somewhat outraged that there was no sign or marker — no nothing — that that history happened right here in Austin, Travis County," Phillips said. 

García started talking about the case and worked himself up into a column. He wrote about it many times and had discussions with policymakers and the county judge, Phillips said. He called for a historical marker to be installed at the courthouse that said it was the place Marshall tried the Sweatt case and how important that case was in opening doors for African Americans. 

"But the conversation grew into renaming the entire courthouse after Heman Sweatt to recognize that history, and I know that there's a marker there," she said. "And I don't think there's any other person who's more responsible than that of the advocacy of Arnold García Jr."

His political column was extremely popular. And when he wrote editorials, people noticed, Martinez said.

"He always had a lot of good things and interesting things to say and, when he stopped writing his column, political people kept asking, 'When you going to write your column again? You need to be writing that column,'" Martinez said. "He was very well-respected that way."

Part of what made García's writing so well informed was his vast network of sources. 

"And I guess what always impressed me about Arnold, and I'm not trying to be melodramatic, but he had his network extended from the barrio to the boardroom to the governor's mansion," Martinez said. "He knew people at all levels of government and all levels of politics. And people felt comfortable that they could talk to him and give him information or even just discuss issues. I was always impressed."

He and his staff pushed elected officials on affordability in Central Texas, urging them to be more accountable to not only their agencies, but taxpayers and renters who pay for the operation of those agencies. He introduced a weekly "Two Views" column on local issues, allowing more people to bring their ideas to the editorial pages.

He also wrote columns focused on the sacrifices soldiers have made for the United States and the issues they face. He would let editorial staffer David Lowery, a veteran of the Vietnam War, have the day off on Veterans Day, even though it wasn't a company holiday, because he so respected Lowery and other veterans' service to the country, Phillips said.

"Arnold did a lot to promote dignity, respect and observance of military people and military events and holidays on our pages. He wrote about it a lot and talked a lot about it," she said.

 

According to Phillips, his father was also in the U.S. military. 

 

"As Arnold said, he came from very humble beginnings, and he was really, really proud of his military service and his dad's military service and his son Teo's military service. And he would often talk about the three generations of García men who served their country," Phillips said. 

 

Arnold García, Austin- American Statesman editor at Green Mesquite in Austin, Texas

Arnold García, in the foreground, listen to Susan Toomey Frost, at left with measuring tape, in 1999 when American-Statesman editorial board member met with readers at the Green Mesquite barbecue restaurant in Austin

 

He made sure the Statesman's coverage of the city reflected the diversity of the community. He was integral to the creation of the Statesman's now defunct Spanish-language paper, Ahora Sí.

Beyond the paper's editorial pages, García mentored reporters and editors in the newsroom and was always an honest critic when it came to mistakes in coverage. He was critical in hopes of pushing the paper to be better.

"In my early years as editor, I used him as a sounding board and found him the most authentic voice for the culture of Austin," Oppel said. "He'd listen carefully to an idea I had and he'd say, 'You might want to think that through,' and that meant, don't do it."

Oppel said García was gentle in his advice and became a go-to person for people of color in the newsroom and in the community. 

"Arnold fought as hard for African Americans as he did for Hispanics as he did for working-class people. He understood that kind of discrimination and lack of access to services cut across racial lines. He didn't wear blinders that focused on just Hispanic issues. His reporting was never just about that," Martinez said.

 

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