Focus on Faces

Joe Garcia

Joe Garcia photo 10/6/2006 1:33:32 p.m. - Hobbs, NM. Joe Garcia, Professor of Sociology at NMJC, was nominated by Dr. John Gratton, Vice President for Instruction, as an "outstanding instructor." For his nomination, Joe received inclusion in the Fall 2006 issue of La Herencia, a publication celebrating New Mexico and particularly Santa Fe, the state capital. As the first single male in the state of New Mexico to adopt non-related children, Joe Garcia holds a special place in history. As a beloved instructor at NMJC, he holds a special place in the hearts of students. New Mexico Junior College is extremely proud of Joe and what he brings to this institution.

Garcia's story began in the early 1970s at the high school in Clovis, New Mexico, where he had taught everything from yearbook to the school newspaper to sociology to French. He soon began, however, to feel a restlessness that didn't come from unhappiness with his students, whom he describes as "terrific," but from something deep within. So persistent was this restlessness that it prompted him to do something that no man in the state of New Mexico had ever done. He began by picking up the phone, calling a friend who was also a caseworker, and stating, "I want to have a baby."

This was April 13, 1971, and what Garcia requested as his "baby" was a young boy, 5-7 years of age, preferably just starting school, of reasonable intelligence, health, and social well-being whom he could adopt as a single parent.

When a caseworker contacted him on November 10, he told Garcia he had a potential placement for him. Instead of the 5- to 7- year-old that Garcia had requested, however, the caseworker produced a photo of two brothers, ages 10 and 11, whom he did not want to separate.

The older of the two, Garcia was told, had a lateral speech impediment and no hearing in his left ear. Okay, thought Garcia, I can adjust. But when he was told that the boy was "moderately retarded," and the other child was "severely retarded," Garcia told himself, There's no way I can take them. I'm simply not qualified to give them the things they need. I don't this is for me. Ignoring Garcia's protests, the caseworker informed him that he already had an appointment set up for him in Santa Fe at the State Welfare Office. In spite of his apprehension, Garcia reluctantly agreed to go.

When he arrived at the Welfare Office in Santa Fe, Garcia had to wait patiently in line for hours as person after person came and went. Finally, when his turn arrived, the caseworker assigned to the children introduced him to the two boys. Garcia's first reaction was that, although these emaciated, raggedy little creatures appeared normal enough at first glance, they were undeniably ugly!

Deciding that he couldn't go through with the arrangement, Garcia attempted to leave. As he turned, however, the children grabbed his arm and clung tightly, and the older one asked boldly, "Is it true you want to be our dad?" Looking down at the pitiful, skinny, and dirty pair, Garcia pulled free, took a deep breath, and resigned himself to at least feeding the two before he left.

Masking his disappointment in not receiving "ideal" children, he took them to a nearby cafeteria for lunch. There, he was horrified to discover that they tried to take one, two, and in some cases, three of each food, loading their trays to the point where they couldn't carry them themselves. Even more surprising was their inability to use forks, knives, or spoons. As Garcia watched, they used their hands to eat everything. Patiently, he instructed them on the proper use of each utensil throughout dinner.

As he began to talk to them and ask a few questions, the story that eventually emerged tore at his heart. The family in the foster home where they currently lived, they told Garcia, gave them only ½ cup of bean soup and ½ cup of water for breakfast. They were then told to go outside to play during lunch, and when dinner rolled around, they were usually told they had been "bad" and were sent to bed instead. To make matters worse, the 18-year-old son in the family bullied them and made their young lives miserable.

Feeling sorry for the two unfortunate urchins who, by now, had become sick from overeating, Garcia took them back to the Welfare Office where he announced that he would take them -- but only to fatten them up a little before bringing them back once and for all!

So back to Clovis the trio drove for what Garcia had determined was to be only a brief duration. When they arrived home, he was perplexed to see the boys' reaction when he told them to sit down on the sofa. They did so, but it was with arms and legs stretched out stiffly before them. When he questioned them about their rigid positions, the older one told him it was how they had been taught to sit so they wouldn't get the furniture dirty. Shaking his head, Garcia assured them they could relax and sit normally, but it took additional persuasion before the boys finally began to relax.

When bedtime came, Garcia explained to them one of his most important house rules -- a minimum of one bath or shower per day -- and sent them in to bathe. Much to his surprise, they ran only a bit of water in the bottom of the tub. He decided to intervene, and after a few questions, he learned they were simply afraid of water. Realizing this was probably the result of yet another of the misfortunes they had suffered in their young lives, he showed them how to run the water -- not too hot, not too cold, and not too deep. He showed them how to properly wash their hair, scrub their thin bodies, and that night at least, how to drain the tub of the dingy water and refill it in order to repeat the process.

He was pleased to see that beneath the lack of attention and care, two beautiful little boys were beginning to emerge. Michael, the older brother, had remarkable, bluish black hair that gleamed in the light, while Joe, the younger one, had delicate, blondish hair to match his fairer coloring.

As he began to unpack their suitcases, Garcia discovered that their worldly possessions consisted of a few pieces of tattered clothing and several broken toys. After putting on their pajamas that night, the pair learned their next lesson: how to fold and put away clothes, no matter how shabby they might be. The next day, with their pitiful wardrobes in mind, Garcia pulled out his Sears card, looked at it momentarily, and made the decision to take the boys on a real shopping spree, in which each boy was bought five pairs of Levi's, two pairs of shoes, a number of shirts and sweaters and, because it was November, a new coat.

Garcia was soon moved to have the boys' physical and mental conditions assessed, so he began taking them to various doctors to determine the real extent of their health. In their examinations, Garcia was relieved to learn that neither of the boys were "retarded," as they had been told. Joe, he was told, suffered merely from bad vision and, in the words of the doctor, was "culturally deprived." Amazingly, no one had ever taken the time to explain how even simple things around him worked, and the boy's naïveté was mistakenly diagnosed as a mental deficiency.

For Michael, who also suffered from a lateral speech impediment and lack of hearing in his left ear, Garcia sought the help of a speech and hearing specialist. Fortunately, the so-called hearing condition was taken care of immediately -- simply by cleaning the ear canal. However, the speech problem was virtually impossible to take care of, he was told, and it would take a great deal of time and patience to correct, if ever. Garcia took it as his personal challenge to prove the specialist wrong; he was determined that both Joe and Michael would live normal, successful lives. Even when another doctor told him their bones were not fully developed for their ages, probably as a result of improper nutrition, he refused to give up.

By now, Garcia simply saw it as just another challenge that would somehow, someday be overcome. After all, he decided, these boys weren't going anywhere. They were home. They were now his children, his family, and he would move heaven and earth to see that they were given every opportunity to have successful lives.

Nowadays, many years later, Garcia cannot help but smile when he talks about the boys during that time. "They were in third and fifth grade, and within six weeks," he states proudly, "those boys were functioning at the same level as their peers." The doctors, specialists, and caseworkers had all been wrong, and instead of one healthy, normal little boy, Garcia gratefully wound up with two.

Both boys went on to graduate high school, and both attended college, Garcia proudly points out. Joe is now married, living in Portales, New Mexico, and has two daughters, while Michael is married and living in Arizona. Along with several other boys, such as Ernie and Scott, whom "the family" voted to adopt in the years that followed, Joe and Michael touch base often with the man who taught them all the things it generally takes two parents to teach. "I'm fortunate," Garcia laughs, "because they call me on both Mother's Day and Father's Day."

On a more serious note, he reminisces, "They were my whole life. I never even got married because I was too busy being a parent." When asked, he admits that he's proudest of the fact that they have a deep love for God, that they are patriots who served in the Army (ironically, all four boys were stationed in Germany at the same time), and that they still take care of one another. "Most importantly," he states, "they turned out as good, respectable human beings, and that's the best we can hope for in life."

But the story doesn't end there. Today, Joe Garcia's family numbers in the thousands. As one of the most popular professors at New Mexico Junior College, Garcia teaches to capacity classes every semester, year in, year out, both in the classroom and via interactive television. Even during his early years, as an adjunct professor, he consistently had more students than any of the full-time professors.

Ask any of the thousands of students who have ever learned under Joe Garcia, and they'll exclaim: "I love Joe! He's wonderful! There's no one like him!" Some even choke back tears as they tell how he single-handedly convinced them to finish their education or helped pay for their tuition or books when they couldn't.

His secret? "These students are my family nowadays. I've been very blessed, you see. I've had lots of children in my lifetime, and I've loved them all. To see students strive, improve, succeed -- that's rewarding. My own kids are grown and happy now, but many of these students need the help, and I can do something for them, too. By teaching, which is my entire life nowadays, I get the opportunity to help these kids find their way to better lives. Every one of them should have the chance to taste success. That's so important. Besides, what could be more rewarding than helping your children succeed?"

Happy Father's Day, Joe. And Happy Mother's Day, too.

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