Businesswoman turned Politician: Dr. Elba Garcia
By Jesse Garcia
Imagine immigrating to a new country and starting your life over, unsure what life has in store for you and if you’re going to be a success. Each year one million people legally immigrate to the United States to take that chance. In 2008, more than one million made the investment and became naturalized citizens, according to Homeland Security.
Many of these new Americans from all over the globe come with hope and a desire to contribute to this nation with their many talents and skills. One of these first-generation Americans is Dr. Elba Garcia. Her American Dream was fulfilled thanks to her hard work and determination in the worlds of business and politics.
Dr. Garcia recently stepped down in June as Mayor Pro-Tem of Dallas, after serving her fourth and final term as City Councilwoman for District 1. But her political career is far from over. She will embark on a new race for Dallas County Commissioner in 2010.
While many are fascinated by her political-star-on-the-rise persona, the real compelling story is how this woman got to be in that position.
Her journey began in Mexico City, where she was born and raised. She is the oldest of four children in her family, and like many first-born siblings she had to set the example and do well in school. She studied to become a dentist at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana. She came to the U.S in the 1980s after marrying Texas attorney and former State Representative Domingo Garcia.
Because of strict U.S. rules, Dr. Garcia had to retake college courses and earn her dentistry degree through an American college in order to work in this country. Dr. Garcia was not only determined to practice her craft, but she also saw an opportunity.
“I remember coming to Dallas and looking at the phone book and noticing there were no Latina dentists running their own practice,” said Dr. Garcia. “I thought… I will change that and I will have a market all to myself.”
After graduating in 1990 with a doctoral degree in dental surgery from the Baylor College of Dentistry, Dr. Garcia began her professional career not in private practice but with Dental Health Programs, a nonprofit community clinic that provides dental care to children and seniors.
Dr. Garcia eventually opened her own office in the heart of Oak Cliff on Jefferson Street and built up her clientele. Her patients began trusting Dr. Garcia. The community she connected with would often rely on Dr. Garcia for guidance on civic issues. She would serve as a resource guide or actually speak on their behalf. Her dental office became a one-stop shop for community affairs.
Building that trust in the community eventually led to another opportunity: public service.
She ran for Dallas City Council in 2001 to represent her Oak Cliff neighborhood. Dr. Garcia beat her opponent by the slimmest of margins: 42 votes. Her political force and popularity grew over the years. Dr. Garcia ran her next three races unopposed. She eventually was named Mayor Pro Tem (the second in command after the mayor). She was the first-ever Latino city councilmember to hold that prestigious position.
It is amazing that Dr. Garcia went from immigrant to office holder within a decade. Not that many women, especially first-generation Americans, manage to win a political office on their first try.
Statistics show that women in the U.S. have a long way to go to gain acceptance in a leadership position. Although women make up half of the voters in this nation, they only hold one in four federal offices and one in six state offices. Currently, the U.S. ranks No. 69 in the world in percentage of women holding political office, according to a report put out by Public Broadcasting Service last year when the nation almost saw a woman being elected president and vice president.
But these statistics don’t worry Dr. Garcia, as she prepares to campaign for a larger race. This is just another opportunity for her to show the world what she can accomplish when she puts her heart and soul into a cause.
Infórmate DFW: As a first-generation American, you have been able to achieve the American Dream: successful businesswoman and an elected official. Did you think you would be able to accomplish this when you first arrived in America?
Dr. Garcia: “Never in my wildest dreams.”
Infórmate DFW: We are on the verge of seeing a Latina Supreme Court Justice in our lifetime. How does that make you feel as a Latina and woman to see someone like Judge Sonia Sotomayor being considered for this important post?
Dr. Garcia: “I feel extremely proud to see Latinas achieving higher political positions. It’s an important first step. We still have a long way to go.”
Infórmate DFW: You have had a long career in Dallas City Hall. What are your three proudest accomplishments?
Dr. Garcia: “As the Chair of Public Safety I am extremely proud to know that Dallas is no longer the city with the highest crime rate. Today Dallas has experienced the biggest crime reduction in the past 30 years. We have better parks, new libraries (teen centers) and better streets. We have a new Latino Cultural Center. And we have a new animal shelter with a new animal ordinance.”
Infórmate DFW: You will run for Dallas County Commissioner in 2010. What motivated you to run for this position?
Dr. Garcia: “I have the experience. I want to continue serving the public and make a difference in the quality of life of our Dallas County residents.”
Infórmate DFW: Being in local government, what is the most important issue for Dallas in the next decade?
Dr. Garcia: “The biggest issues will be to continue to decrease crime and to increase economic development, housing and transportation.”
Infórmate DFW: You dress to impress. Does the woman make the clothes or do the clothes make the woman? (Who are your favorite designers?)
Dr. Garcia: “The woman makes the clothes! For me it is more important that the clothes fit well regardless of the designer.”
Infórmate DFW: What does your husband, former State Representative Domingo Garcia, think about your political career?
Dr. Garcia: “He has always been very supportive of my decisions as a public servant even if he doesn’t agree with my point of view.”
Infórmate DFW: What’s tougher: being a mother or being a politician?
Dr. Garcia: “Being a mother is a tougher job! And I am very proud of my two sons.”
Infórmate DFW: What is your advice to young Latinos and Latinas who seek public office?
Dr. Garcia: “Study. Graduate! Set your goals. And be ready to work hard.”