From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

A Hero’s Story

Al bien hacer jamás le falta premio.

Latino Proverb

This is the story of an uncle I never knew.

I grew up looking at the beautiful painting of him on my living-room wall, wondering who he really was and what he was like. He was a young, handsome Latino man with dark hair and a clean-cut look. My family tells me that his walk had a sure stride and that his face was always blessed with a gentle smile. Just by looking at his picture, you might think he was an ordinary man, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Primitivo Garcia, or “Tivo” as friends and family used to call him, was extraordinary.

Like many other immigrants in search of the American dream, my family had left their hometown in Mexico and settled in Kansas City, Missouri, ready to embrace a new life of opportunity. Tivo’s dreams were to become a U.S. citizen, buy his mother a home, develop his artistic abili- ties and to one day have a family of his own.

But on November 15, 1967, Tivo and his brother Alfredo were outside of the building where they attended adult-education classes when a gang of six young thugs assaulted his five-and-a-half months pregnant English teacher. An ordinary man might have walked away, but Tivo, enraged by the ugly sight and unconcerned for his own safety, rushed to her defense. His brother Alfredo was two steps behind him, and he watched his older brother go from calm to crazed as he jumped into the middle of the violent scene and began to fight off the attackers, using his boxing skills to an advantage. “Go call the police!” he yelled to Alfredo in Spanish as he drew the attention of the boys toward him and away from his teacher.

When the gang attacked her, Mrs. Kindermann had been standing in the cold wind, waiting for her ride after giving her last English class of the evening at the inner-city Westport High School. She was caught off-guard by her attackers and yelled at them in anger as they spat obscenities, tore her purse away and knocked her to the ground. She embraced her heavy belly as she prayed for God to save her baby, only months away from entering the world. “Be careful,” was all she could mutter to her brave students as she managed to pull herself up from the cold and dirty ground, grab her purse and run to safety. As she ran, she heard one of the boys yell, “Shoot him! Shoot him!”

Suddenly, Alfredo, still at Tivo’s side, heard three shots. A cold sweat bolted through his body, and his worst fears were confirmed as his brother crumpled to the ground, and a pool of blood began to form on the sidewalk. The last of the three shots had pierced Tivo’s stomach, and he remained doubled over on the ground as the thugs disappeared.

Guilt and pain filled Alfredo as he held his wounded brother.

“Don’t tell Mama,” Tivo begged. “She is old, her heart is weak, and the pain would be more than she could bear.” Tivo kept thinking of others, even when his own life was in jeopardy. Alfredo listened to Tivo’s words and felt his own heart breaking at the sight of his dying brother.

At the KC General Hospital, Tivo fought a courageous battle for his life. He lost large amounts of blood and was subjected to multiple surgeries. The community lit candles, united in prayer, gave blood transfusions and raised money to help pay for his medical expenses. There were lines of people waiting to give blood. But in spite of the best efforts of general hospital’s medical team, Tivo died thirteen days later from complications stemming from his wounds.

The community gathered to support the family, pay their respects and mourn his loss. It was a very difficult time for my family, and my grandmother struggled bravely to face her loss. But Tivo was right about her weakness. With his death, grief seemed to consume her. First, it took over her heart, and then it overpowered her mind. Later, we just called it Alzheimer’s, but we all knew it was the never-ending grief over the loss of her beloved son.

While researching this story, I discovered that Primitivo was the first local Latino hero in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. At the time of his death, the governor of Missouri, Warren Hearnes, declared him an honorary citizen of the state and declared December first as Primitivo Garcia Day in Kansas City, Missouri. He also dedicated a memorial site in his name at a prominent community park. The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awarded Tivo a Carnegie Medal in recognition of an outstanding act of heroism; the Missouri House of Representatives granted him “posthumous American citizenship”; The Catholic Youth of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph dedicated their 1968 yearbook to him.

During the winter of 1967, my uncle became a hero. Unfortunately, his legacy lay dormant and forgotten by the public for twenty-five years until a local reporter did a two-part televised story in memory of Tivo. On April 27, 1993, the reporter and Tivo’s family and friends convinced the school board to name a new elementary school the Primitivo Garcia World Language School. This was a proud day for the Garcia family.

At the school, his legacy lives on daily through the students. They tell visitors about the legend of Primitivo Garcia, and the children have recorded a song and video about their school’s namesake. His spirit lives on in the school walls, in the community and in the people he touches even today. Every year, the school celebrates his life and heroic death on that cold night in 1967. The Garcia family unites at the school along with the community to remember Tivo and to see traces of his soul in the eyes of every child who sings his song. My uncle is gone, but the power of his heroic act lives on.

To me, as that little girl staring at the living-room picture, Tivo looked like a dreamy movie star with beautiful eyes and a warm smile. He was the uncle I always longed to meet.

He is the uncle who now inspires me and others to search for the hero within us.

Mónica García Sáenz

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