UVALDE Texas aEUR" Josue Garza couldn't have imagined that the baby pecan trees he grew on the lawn of Robb Elementary School would provide shade from the Texas sun for thousands of people who would later come to grieve an unimaginable loss.
It's fitting, however, that the memorial was built beneath the trees by the mourners to honor the 19 children and teachers aEUR", almost all Mexican-Americans aEUR", who were shot dead in a classroom just steps away.
It is fitting, because George Garza, a fifth-grade teacher at Robb Elementary in 1965, knew that the trees would improve Mexican-Americans' connections to each other and their school.
The saplings were dug from the banks of a nearby stream. Garza, Robb's Mexican-American teacher, persuaded the principal to allow him to plant them, as he wanted Robb just as beautiful as his school for white children. Uvalde, Texas was a secluded town. Robb Elementary was the school that served Mexicans. It was also in poor condition.
Garza raised money to improve the track and basketball courts. Students were paid quarters each to water and protect the pecan trees.
Garza, now 83 years old, said that "to have a great educational atmosphere, one must like your school." "I told my students, 'This school is ours! It's ours!' They began to take pride.
His efforts earned him the respect of the school's Mexican parent, who relied on him to translate from Spanish to communicate with the principal and other English-speaking white teachers. Garza began to feel resentful towards the principal. Garza said that Garza felt slighted and that the principal in 1969 discovered Garza had taken graduate courses. The principal accused Garza of trying to get his job back.
"He said, 'You're a double-crosser,' " Garza recalled. Garza received a letter at the end of 1970 stating that his contract as a teacher would be terminated.
Uvalde's Mexican-American parents heard about it and were angry at losing their only advocate. aEUR tried to convince Garza's school board to save Garza’s job. The school board declined.
Olga MuA+oz Rodriquez was a young mother who participated in the fight. They didn't see that these were parents who care about their kids, teachers they respect, or want to improve their education. We were Mexicans.
Furious parents staged a protest walkout and pulled hundreds of their children from school.
This was the first time that Uvalde's Mexican-Americans protested racism at large. To prevent them from falling behind English-speaking peers, they demanded more Hispanic counselors and teachers.
They didn't get what they wanted and the school walkout was abandoned within weeks. Elvia Perez, a Uvalde High School senior who was one of the leaders of the protest, stated that it was still a turning point in Uvalde's Mexican American community's political engagement.
She said that "that was when people started to stand up" and demand that their voices are heard and that their needs are met.
Garza was not able to renew his contract and he taught in another school district. He would become mayor of Uvalde.
Uvalde would fight for equality for its schools for decades. It would be the subject of numerous lawsuits that would ultimately force it to integrate its schools.
Uvalde today is over 80 percent Latino. Its public schools, not only Robb Elementary, serve mostly Mexican-American students. However, the majority of its teachers are now Mexican-American, as opposed to in the 60s and 70s.
Ronald Garza is George Garza's younger brother and county commissioner. He called Uvalde teachers a source for pride.
He said, "We are growing our own now." "We have people who were born here and raised here becoming role models and teachers."
Two of the role models, aEUR' Eva Mireles and Irma Garcia aEUR", were murdered by a rampaging gunman on May 24th along with 19 children from Uvalde.
Robb Elementary will not be returned to by the district superintendent.
It was a terrible thing to hear from the people who fought for Robb to be a school Uvalde's Mexican American community could be proud. It's a sad thing for those who are aware of the importance it played in the fight for equality.
They also recognize that closing the school is a good idea, but probably not for the best.
Olga MuA+ said, "If I was a parent to one of those kids, I wouldn't want to return to that school."
Uvalde residents expressed hope that the school would be demolished and the site will become a memorial park. They would like Garza's pecan tree to be saved aEUR", as a tribute to Robb Elementary's proud Mexican American history.
Original broadcast of this story was on May 31, 2022.