Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995
Robert Garcia was born on January 9, 1933 in the Bronx, New York. He attended public schools and graduated in 1950 from Haaren High School in the Bronx. That same year he joined the U.S. Army and served in the Third Infantry Division. He earned two Bronze Stars during the Korean War. After the war he attended City College of New York and New York Community College. In 1957 he trained as a computer programmer at the RCA Institute and worked as a computer engineer until 1965.
In 1964 Garcia was elected to the New York Assembly; two years later he became the first Puerto Rican elected to the New York State Senate, and by 1975 he had risen to deputy minority leader. In 1978 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in a special election to fill a vacant seat previously held by Representative Herman Badillo, who had resigned to become deputy mayor of New York City. With the support of both Badillo and a unique coalition between Republicans and Liberals, Garcia won his first election with fifty-five percent of the vote, and was reelected with high percentages of the vote in six successive elections.
In 1979 Garcia gained national attention with a bill to establish a national holiday in honor of the slain civil rights leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Garcia withdrew the bill when the House passed an amendment requiring the holiday's observance on a Sunday. Four years later Garcia's version of the bill was enacted into law. During his first term in Congress, Garcia was assigned to the Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs Committee; and the Post Office and Civil Service Committee. In the first panel he served on the Housing and Community Development Subcommittee, and in the second panel he served on the Census and Population Subcommittee, which he later chaired. These were useful assignments for Garcia, who, according to the 1980 census, represented the poorest district in the country.
In 1980, Garcia and New York Republican Jack Kemp introduced legislation to create urban "free enterprise zones" where businesses could receive tax breaks for locating in depressed areas of inner-cities, such as the Bronx. Garcia persevered on this project until 1988 when a plan for inner-city development was enacted.
In 1984 Garcia took a temporary seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and focused much of his attention on issues dealing with Central America, including defending previous Inter-American Foundation grants which had been criticized by new White House appointees to the foundation, and protesting against the dismissal of the foundation's liberal president, Peter Bell. He gained national attention when he joined ten other House Democrats in signing a letter addressed to the Nicaraguan general, Daniel Ortega. In the letter, the Congressmen stated their opposition to U.S. funding of the Contra rebels.
During the 98th Congress, from his position as Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Garcia continued to uphold his commitment to Hispanics by leading the opposition against the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill. In the 100th Congress he chaired the Banking Subcommittee on International Finance, Trade, and Monetary Policy.
He resigned his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 7, 1990.