Rudy Garcia

We celebrate the life and accomplishments of Rodolfo "Rudy" Garcia, who died in 1993. He was for many decades a prominent and remarkably successful civil rights and labor rights leader in Tucson who inspired and set a high standard for many of today's local Latino community leaders.

In 2001, the Tucson City Council named a southside city park, formerly Rodeo Park at the southeast corner of South Sixth Avenue and Irvington Road for Rudy Garcia. As president of the city's American Little League in the mid-1960s Garcia went to the city government and called for a southside park for southside kids like his ball players, who bounced from schoolyards to vacant lots for their ball games. He was met with vague promises and slow-moving red tape, so he and his allies went to what then was a vacant lot and cleared it of brush and debris to the ball players could use it. Embarrassed by the orchestrated act of civil disobedience, the city turned the lot into Rodeo Park, now Rudy Garcia Park.

But that was only one very small aspect of the legacy Rudy Garcia left with his death at age 75. He was a labor leader - a founder in the mid-1950s of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers' Union, which later merged with the United Steelworkers of America, at Magma Copper Co. in San Manuel and Superior. He served on every mining-union contract negotiating team from 1956 to 1983. He often worked hand-in-hand on other labor-union struggles, including those of César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, and their United Farm workers Union.

Rudy Garcia was a political leader, active in local politics and a key figure in breaking an Anglo-American lock on City Hall. He helped elect Hector Morales to a City Council seat in the late 1960s and Rubén Romero to a seat in 1971. Latinos have been represented continuously on the City Council since then. Next he helped integrate the Tucson Unified School District Board with his active support of the successful candidacy of Raúl Grijalva in 1974. Raúl Grijalva served 12 years on that board and 13 years on the Pima County Board of Supervisors before winning a seat in Congress in 2002.

Rudy Garcia was a civil rights leader. He organized and participated in demonstrations that pressured local restaurants to serve African-Americans and was arrested in Hermosillo, Sonora, leafleting against the Mexican government's abuse of University of Hermosillo student activists opposed to government policies.

All these accomplishments, and many more - he was a central figure in the city's creation of El Pueblo Neighborhood Center, for example - are the legacy of a local hero who entered this country as an undocumented immigrant. Rudy Garcia was born in Culiacan and raised Naco, Sonora. He joined the U.S. Army in 1944 and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1946. Rudy Garcia was special, but he and millions of other immigrants have contributed immeasurably to this country and make it a much better place for us all to live.