Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tejanos and the Elusive Goal of Whiteness, Part V

As ethnographer Shirley Achor points out, Dallas was a tiny hamlet with “four families and two bachelors” in 1845, the year Texas entered the union. Cheap labor was a key to the city’s development. In 1859, 12.5 percent of the town’s population was slaves. The first sizable migration of Mexican labor to the city came in the form of railroad gangs soon after the turn of the century. These railroad workers were housed in boxcars near Union Terminal. This community laid the foundation for the city’s first Tejano barrio, “Little Mexico.”

The percentage of the population represented by Latinos is hard to chart over the years due to the inconsistency of census bureau policy in racially classifying this group. (Latinos were often classified as whites or put in the ambiguous category “other races.”). The Latino population, which was predominately Mexican-American, was estimated to be about three percent of the city’s population in the 1920s, much of it gathered in a barrio known as “Little Mexico” along McKinney Avenue. By 1970, the Little Mexico barrio had been bulldozed to make way for the Dallas North Tollway, but the Latino population had grown to 40,000, or 8 percent of the city’s total population. By 1980, the first detailed census of “Spanish-origin” residents in Dallas, the total Latino population was numbered at 111,083, or 12 percent of the total.

During the twentieth century, Latinos represented a smaller proportion of the city’s population than African Americans, who were 19.6 percent of the city’s population in 1920, 17.1 percent in 1940, 9. 1 percent in 1960 and 29.4 percent of the city’s total population in 1980. African Americans represented a significant, recognized electorate in city politics, compromising 20 percent of the registered voters in city and school board elections as early as the late 1930s. African Americans, both by their size and their early, strong participation in local politics, came to be seen as more of a threat to the city political establishment than Latinos, who would not mobilize on a significant political basis until the 1970s. Blacks found themselves, therefore, far more a target of racial hostility than Latinos, who found themselves more able to win acceptance as part of the white community.

White Dallas elites, particularly in the media, obsessed on the “Negro question.” The contents of 418 issues of the Dallas Morning News, the city’s leading newspaper, dating from 1959 to 1964, were analyzed closely for racial content. African Americans, typically, appeared in news stories as criminals or other negative stereotypes. Racial stereotyping is a constant in the coverage of the Morning News in the twentieth century, but reached a fever pitch when the African American civil rights movement gained its peak momentum in the 1950s and 1960s. When African Americans appeared in more “positive roles,” than criminal or African primitive in the Morning News, it was in the traditional spheres of sports and entertainment allowed black Americans.

The negative depiction of African Americans transferred to blacks in Africa. As 18 African nations gained independence in the 1959-1964 period, the Morning News depicted the continents inhabitants as doing little but pillaging, looting, rampaging and killing. Dehumanizing jungle stereotypes of blacks abounded, with images of blacks with large lips and bones through their noses and in their hair featured regularly in editorial cartoons and advertising. One advertisement for the Safeway grocery store chain shows a white explorer in pith helmet leading a column of such African caricatures, all bearing boxes of sales items on their heads.

An editorial cartoon by Bill McLanahan concerning the civil war in the former Belgian Congo depicted the war’s various factions as cannibals sharpening their knives over boiling pots as they hungrily eyed each other. The black-as-cannibal motif continued in an opinion piece by Morning News columnist Lynn Landrum, who wrote on 1961, “It is quite true that the people of the Congo are primitive children of the jungle and that many of them are the children or grandchildren of practicing cannibals.” Another McLanahan cartoon expresses the revulsion a white presumably should feel at experiencing intimate physical contact with African Americans. A cartoon titled “Does He Have To Do It?” depicts a figure labeled “Politics” leaning over to kiss a big-lipped baby labelled “organized minorities” held aloft by a figure representing liberals.

Perhaps in reaction to their perceived political strength, the Dallas media gave little though to the occupants of traditional Latino barrios like “Little Mexico.” If black political power frightened advocates of Jim Crow, they seemed to feel little concern about “Mexican Americans.” Few references were made to “Mexicans” in the city’s newspapers. If Latinos appeared in the press, it was when they were defined as an urban “problem.” “Mexicans” were unassimilated aliens, linked with disease by one of the earliest chroniclers of Dallas history, Justin F. Kimball, in 1927’s "Our City, Dallas":

“Most of the Mexicans who live in Dallas are not American citizens, do not speak English, do not expect to remain in Dallas or the United States long, are unaccustomed to our conditions of life or housing to which no other people in our city or state will submit. You may say this is not your business or mine. Every such congested, overcrowded unhealthful center is like a canker or eating sore on our fair city. The rest of our city can no more live and grow and prosper with such a condition, than our body can be well when it has an angry, bleeding, inflamed sore on some part of it.”

The association of Mexican-Americans with disease and uncleanness continued through the decades. One Mexican-American barrio in West Dallas slid into a “morass of unsanitary conditions,” according to writer Gwendolyn Rice. The “Little Mexico” barrio, according to a 1944 press account, was an area “where almost 100 percent of the houses are substandard and many in a conditions hardly fit for housing livestock on a farm.”

In 1938, the press would note, the barrio would rank first of all Dallas neighborhoods in tuberculosis deaths, first in pellagra deaths and had the second highest overall death rate. A flurry of coverage in the mid-1950s centered on the problem of the “Little Mexico” barrio, which was described as “blighted.” Rather than improve the neighborhood, city fathers decided to plow it under. “Little Mexico” would disappear under the auspices of urban renewal. The process accelerated in the 1960s when the Dallas North Tollway cut through the center of the old barrio. A neighborhood that had given a marginalized group a sense of community literally disappeared into dust under a highway that served as a racial boundary between the white world and that of the nearly-white.

Dallas Anglos associated the “disease” that seemed to follow Mexican Americans not with the effects of economic exploitation or segregation practices that confined Latinos to crowded, inadequate housing, but with the Mexicans themselves. The Mexican-American body was seen as a source of pollution and Anglos desperately tried to erect an antiseptic wall between the races. “Pancho” Medrano’s father was a follower of Mexican Revolutionary Leader Emiliano Zapata. The Medrano family fled to Texas in 1919 and Pancho was born in Dallas’ Little Mexico colonia in 1920. Medrano recalls seeing metal rails built around Pike Park to keep Mexican Americans and African Americans out. The discrimination aimed at Latinos was not identical to that experienced by African Americans, Medrano said, but it was no less stinging.

“Mexican Americans didn’t experience the [same] kind of discrimination as blacks since we were never direct slaves of whites, but we were certainly discriminated against in ways similar to blacks,” Medrano said in an interview in 1990. “For instance, no restaurants would let us in. I can remember during the hot summers having to go with my mother and brothers to a cafe. None of us had shoes, and we had to stay outside while they brought us some food and drinks. Then, we just sat out on the concrete, which burned our feet and bottoms, and ate our meals there.”

Mexicans were seen as unclean and physical contact with them was deemed undesirable. Through the efforts of Mexican consul Adolfo Dominguez, by 1938 Mexican American children were allowed to swim at the Pike Park pool, but only from the hours of 7-9 a.m.. “At 15 minutes before nine, they would tell us to get out of the pool,” Medrano remembered. “They would empty out the water from the pool and make us clean out the pool before putting in new water for the white kids who would use the pool for the rest of the day. They would also make us pick up trash in the park and check us real closely for body sores and lice. Then, while we were cleaning, the white kids would call us the usual names, ‘wetbacks’ and that sort of thing, and even pee in the water we would use the next day.”

Anglo children were shielded from potentially corrupting contact with young Mexican-Americans through school segregation. Economic factors forced Mexican Americans to abandon public schooling at an early age. In spite of stereotypes that the Mexican American community consisted of transients, Achor, in her 1978 ethnography of the West Dallas barrio La Bajura, found that 90 percent of the residents were native-born. In spite of this stability, and long-time residence in Dallas, Achor found that 20 percent of the adults over 25 living in the neighborhood had no schooling at all. Fifty percent of the adults in this tract had attended school for only about five years. Only 7.6 percent of the barrio residents were high school graduates, compared to 54.2 percent for the city as a whole.

Had more residents of La Bajura remained in the school system, they would have been fed a steady diet of anti-Mexican stereotypes and demeaning racialization. The Alamo mythology would be reproduced in school textbooks to justify de facto segregation of Mexican-Americans and the exploitation of their labor. School textbooks used by the Dallas school district reproduced the major mythological motifs born in the 1830s, providing an emotional rationale for the city’s emerging racial hierarchy that put Mexicans in a secondary status to Anglos.

Before the Cold War, it is hard to locate a sympathetic portrait of Mexicans or Mexican Americans in Dallas school texts. From the fall of 1926 until June, 1927, The Dallas Morning News printed a cartoon series, "Texas History Movies", in which portrayals of Mexicans underscored Latin incompetence, duplicity and cruelty. After the series ended, it was revived at the request of Texas public school teachers. Teachers used the strip as a convenient outline for teaching Texas history classes. The Dallas Independent School District board approved the distribution of "Texas History Movies" to school children November 22, 1932.

In an early "Texas History Movies" strip, Father Hildalgo’s revolutionary troops, battling unsuccessfully for Mexican Independence from Spain in 1810, abandon him when they hear of a proclamation excommunicating them from the Catholic faith. Father Hildalgo is shown vainly calling, “That proclamation is no good,” as his Indian and mestizo troops flee shouting, “We don’t want to lose our hope of salvation.” Underneath, a caption sneers, “Hildalgo’s ignorant troops deserted soon after the proclamation.”

In another strip, depicting the efforts of an Anglo-led filibuster near San Antonio in 1813, the Anglo army is shown sneaking up on a Spanish camp, snoring soundly and dreaming of stereotypical “senoritas,” incompetently oblivious to the approaching danger. In a strip concerning the Texas Revolution’s climactic Battle of San Jacinto, Mexican soldiers are shown in cowardly surrender, on their knees pleading with Anglo soldiers not to avenge earlier massacres of Anglos at the Alamo and Goliad. “Me no Alamo,” cries one soldier. “Me no Goliad,” cries his partner above the caption, “The Mexicans begged for mercy.”

'"Texas History Movies" cartoons taught students that one Anglo solider was worth several of his Mexican peers. A member of the Anglo Revolutionary Army in 1835, sitting by a camp fire, declares “”I’m skeerder of my wife than the whole Mexican army.” One strip depicts an Alamo “defender reacting joyfully when 32 soldiers arrive from Gonzalez to reinforce the Anglo contingent. “We’ve got 188 men now,” one Anglo declares. “That’s enough for 4,000 Mexicans.”

Another recurring trope used to counter Mexican incompetence against Anglo bravery and skill is to repeat casualty lists from battles to emphasize the high number of desertions and deaths suffered by Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s army in Texas. Such casualty lists also allows a subtle division to be drawn between “Texans” (meaning white colonists from the United States) and “Mexicans,” who are suddenly rendered aliens in their own land. In a strip depicting the Anglo capture of San Antonio in 1835, a roll sheet notes two “Texans” were killed and 25 wounded in the engagement with no desertions recorded on the Anglo side. On the Mexican side, the figures read a sorry toll of timidity -180 killed, an “uncounted” number of wounded and 200 desertions.

Mexicans are not simply depicted as cowardly and incompetent, they are pictured repeatedly as untrustworthy sneaks. A Mexican leader of an 1812 revolt, Bernardo Gutierres, casually commits treason and murder in "Texas History Movies." A Spanish loyalist is handed over to Gutierres for safe keeping. The loyalist insults Gutierres, who responds by cutting the loyalist’s throat. Felipe de la Garza, a one-time backer of Augstín de Iturbide who briefly ruled as emperor of an independent Mexico from 1821-1823, turns Iturbide over to the Republican government when the deposed emperor attempts to re-enter the country. Garza, Iturbide’s friend, is shown leading the firing squad that executes the former emperor. “. . . You are the lowest thing that ever walked the Earth,” Iturbide tells his betrayer. A panel in which President Santa Anna conspires to be declared dictator occurs above the caption, “A little more crookedness.”

Both Spanish and Mexican soldiers are continually portrayed as lazy, cowardly, superstitious and undisciplined. David Muzzey, in "History of the American People," dismisses Mexico as a “weak” nation repeatedly. Textbook writers portray dishonesty as essential not only to Mexican warfare and politics, but to business as well. The reminiscences of John Hayes Hammond, who worked for an American and English-owned mining company active in Sonora during the late pre-Revolutionary period, appear in the pages of Literature and Life, Book Two. The company is swindled into investing in a worthless mine in Sonora by ruthless Mexican agents and Hammond is sent to investigate the matter.

Hammond recounts dealing with tawdry Mexican officials and drunken Mexican villagers shouting, “Matta los gringos!” (“Death to the gringos!”) at their quarters. Eventually, Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz intervenes to settle the claim on behalf of the American and British investors. Unmentioned are the deplorable conditions at the Anglo-controlled mines of the period or the frequency with which these mine owners would use violence against a poorly-paid labor force to maintain work discipline. Yet, reading Hammond’s story without context would lead students to conclude that honest white businessmen were being cheated by lazy, crooked Mexicans.

"Texas History Movie"s cartoons taught students that Mexican violence and dishonesty went hand-in-hand. The massacres of Anglos by the Mexican army at the Alamo and Goliad are, of course, given heavy attention. Colonel James Fannin’s execution is portrayed in one strip in which he asks his Mexican executioner to give his watch to his wife and to receive a Christian burial. The executioner makes the promise, but then pockets the watch and leaves Fannin’s body on the ground.

A violent war against Mexico in Texas in the 1830s and throughout the Southwest in the 1840s was justified, Muzzey proclaims in his textbook, because the lands north of the current United States-Mexico border were thinly populated and being put to little productive use. Besides, the Mexicans were guilty of excess nationalism, Muzzey complains, a sin apparently everywhere but the United States. “ . . . [I]t was Mexico that insisted upon the war and actually began the fighting,” Muzzey insists. “The Mexican press teemed with insults to our country . . . The Mexican military authorities whipped up the war spirit, declaring that our army was contemptible and cowardly, and that their own brilliant generals would easily chastise ‘the bullies of the north” . . . It was true that Mexico was a weak nation of 7,000,000 and the United States a prosperous and stable country of 20,000,000; but mere weakness does not justify continued insolence and bad faith.”

Muzzey’s arguments seem unreconstructed Manifest Destiny. The Columbia University historian seems almost disappointed that the United States government agreed to pay Mexico $15 million and to assume $3.25 million in claims by U.S. citizens against the Mexican government. Claiming half of Mexico’s territory does not seem enough booty to Muzzey.

“Considering the fact that California was scarcely under Mexican control at all, that New Mexico was still the almost undisturbed home of Indian tribes, that the land from the Nueces to the Rio Grande was a desert, and that American troops were in possession of the Mexican capital, the terms of peace granted to Mexico were generous,” he declares. At least part of Muzzey’s contempt for Mexico seems racially based. Later, in writing about the political chaos in Mexico following the onset of the revolution in 1910, he writes dismissively of President Victoriano Huerta as an “ignorant, dissipated, and cruel ruffian with Indian blood in
his veins.”

School materials hardly become more sensitive after the advent of bilingual education. “English materials in the 1971 Dallas bilingual curriculum, for example, contained the following stereotypic imagery,” Achor notes. “‘See the man taking a siesta? He makes us sleepy, too. Draw the man. Be sure to draw his sombrero.” Decades on dehumanizing stereotypes left an impact on the teachers who transmitted these racist images.

Regardless of how many years “Mexicans” might reside in Dallas, they remained aliens in the minds of the Anglo power structure.. Speaking of “Mexican” students in the Dallas schools, one teacher told Shirley Achor in the late 1970s, “Well, those people haven’t lived here very long - most of them are foreigners in a strange country.” This comment came, as Achor points out, in spite of studies showing most “Mexican” students in Dallas were American-born.

Mexican Americans were demeaned in Dallas schools, in the newspaper and on television as well. In their television advertising, one of Dallas’ largest companies, the Frito-Lay corporation, demonstrated how deeply ingrained demeaning stereotypes of Mexicans had become in the folk culture. In the late 1960s, Frito-Lay launched an advertising campaigned centered on the Frito Bandito.

The Frito Bandito was a Pancho Villa-style caricature, dressed in sombrero, with intersecting bands of bullets crisscrossing his chest. This fat, swarthy cartoon figure stole food from upstanding Anglos while twirling his huge mustache or his pistolas as he sang a jingle whose melody was ripped from the Cielito Lindo, a ballad from the Mexican Revolution. The advertising provoked a threatened boycott from Latino civil rights groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and the American GI Forum (AGIF), both headquartered in Texas.

The Dallas chapter of the National Postal Union, fired off an angry resolution to Frito-Lay executives condemning this depiction of Mexicans as “lazy, dirty, thieving and sneaky.” A headline in the January 15, 1971 Spanish-language El Sol de Texas in Dallas loudly proclaimed that “La Campaña del Frito ‘Bandito’ Un Insulto A Mexicanos.” (“The Frito Bandito Campaign is an Insult to Mexicanos”) In spite of the uproar, the Anglo vice president for public relations at the Frito Lay corporation acted shocked at the Mexicano anger the Frito Bandito provoked.

In a February 25, 1970 letter to Vicente Ximenes, Frito Lay spokesman John R. McCarty insisted, “[O]ur company would never intentionally defame or degrade any race or nationality, and even though leaders such as you feel quite strongly about this advertising, the valid research facts simply do not justify your concern.” McCarty’s “valid” research was a company-sponsored survey which purported to show that 93 percent of Mexican-American families in the American Southwest aware of the advertising said they liked the Frito Bandito. In spite of this claim of such massive support, McCarty would write Hector Garcia of the American GI Forum in Corpus Christi on June 3, 1970, that the company was planning on replacing the Bandito ads the next month.

The Frito Bandito made his television debut even as the Bell Telephone Company produced an ad in which Bill Dana portrayed a grotesquely cartoonish character butchering English sentences with his heavy Mexican accent. The character, Jose Jimenez, searches clumsily for a number in the “Jellow Pages.” The image of the Mexican as lazy, lacking the industry common to Anglo was further promoted in a circular distributed by a Dallas printing firm in 1972. As Achor describes it, “The circular [carried] a red-letter banner headline: ‘Tomorrow is good enough for some folks, but not for you and me!’ ‘Some folks’ is depicted by a sleeping Mexican, attached to a wall behind him by a conspicuous cobweb. ‘You and me,’ on the other hand, are symbolized by an energetic-looking [Anglo] fellow racing around a clock.”

As was the case in Texas generally, it is not surprising that, in an community where the image of the Mexican as cowardly, dishonest, violent, lazy, dirty and disease-carrying was widely reproduced that these dehumanizing depictions might eventually create a climate where anti-Mexican violence would be permissible. Such a tragic case occurred with the July, 1973 shooting death of twelve-year-old Santos Rodriguez by Dallas police. Two police officers picked up the boy and his thirteen-year-old brother after midnight from their grandfather’s home in the Little Mexico barrio. Ostensibly, the officers wanted to question the boys about a break-in earlier that night at a Fina Station.

Driving the boys back to the scene of the break-in, Officer Darrell L. Cain tried to terrify Santos Rodriguez into a confession by placing a pistol against the child’s head in a feigned game of Russian roulette as the boy sat handcuffed in the car. Can pulled the trigger after a second spin of the cylinder, but this time the .357 Magnum discharged, fatally wounding the child. Cain was suspended from the force and a judge released him on the breathtakingly low bail of $5,000. Both the Brown Berets, a Mexican-American group, and an African American civil rights organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, protested the murder and the bail, which they said sent a message that the police and the courts in Dallas placed a low value on the lives of people of color.

Rage in the black and the brown communities boiled when it was widely reported that Cain had been involved in the fatal shooting of a black suspect in a 1970 burglary. The Brown Berets held a protest rally on July 28 to pressure city hall to more aggressively investigate these incidents and prosecute Cain’s partner for the murder as well. The protesters marched from Kennedy Plaza to City Hall. As some protesters returned to Kennedy Plaza, the mood got angrier. Police had set up a public address system on top of a police squad car parked on Harwood Street. A city councilman, Pedro Aguirre attempted to calm the crowd, but he was booed. When state Representative Sam Hudson got up to speak, an African American women reportedly grabbed the microphone and began chanting, “We want justice . . . We want Cain!”

Other protesters grabbed the microphone and related stories of police abuse. When a police officer attempted to remove the protesters from the top of the car, one man began beating him. Others jumped on top of the squad car, stomping their feet and denting the roof. Other protesters kicked police officers, throwing objects at them. Two police motorcycles were overturned and set on fire while other demonstrators smashed City Hall windows. Elite downtown department stores such as Neiman-Marcus and Titche-Goettinger’s were looted. Arrests followed, with twenty-three Mexican Americans and thirteen blacks sent to jail. Meanwhile, Rodriguez’s murderer, Cain, was found guilt and sentenced to only five years in jail. Efforts to prosecute him for violation of civil rights statutes fizzzled in 1978 with the expiration of the statute of limitations.

The Rodriguez case, and the acts of resistance that followed, perfectly illustrated the common experiences of Mexican-Americans and African Americans in coping with Anglo racism. The cooperation displayed by both communities in their acts of protest, however, were a rarity. The experience of the communities were similar but not identical. In Texas, generally, Latinos were able, at times, to achieve a white identity. In Dallas, perhaps because of their smaller numbers in comparison with the African American community, the doors appeared more open. Many Mexican Americans sought to escape the poverty and persecution and bleak lack of opportunity that characterized life for the city’s people of color by rallying around whiteness.

Anti-black feelings in the Mexican-American community sometimes broke out in violence. Violence broke out between black and Latino students in the Dallas school system between 1969 and 1972. A task force was established in West Dallas in 1969 to ease racial tensions. “Edison High School has 700 Negro students, 500 Latin Students and 100 white students,” the Dallas Times Herald reported on July 10, 1969. “Many problems have arisen, including ‘protection money’ payments by students to avoid being beaten up by other youths.” Periodic clashes between black and Mexican American students broke out throughout 1972. Generally, anti-black feelings were more subdued. A group of Mexican-Americans Achor calls accomodationists, felt that social progress for their community necessitated abandoning an ethnic identity, accepting anglo norms and espousing anti-black racism.

“I just don’t believe in teaching the children Spanish,” one such La Bajura resident told Achor. “They’d be better off if they never spoke it at all. It’s because our people don’t speak good English that holds us back. You know it’s true - even a Spanish accent can hurt a person in life.” Such residents often expressed anti-black feelings to Achor, describing blacks as lazy, immoral or looking for hand-outs.

Leading Latino organizations in the state sought to keep their distance from the black community. Some Latino politicians tried to exploit perceived black-white tensions. Tony Bonilla, the coordinator for United Citizens for the Nixon-Agnew presidential campaign in 1968, took out a large ad in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in which he shrieked, “DID YOU KNOW THAT HUBERT H. HUMPHREY, THE DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE FOR PRESIDENT HAS PLACED OUR MEXICAN AMERICAN CITIZEN IN A CATEGORY OTHER THAN WHITE?” The ad then quotes a Humphrey speech in Harlingen, Texas in which the candidate said, “I have heard some people say that Mexican Americans and Negroes can only come by taking away jobs from whites.”

Statewide, groups such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) campaigned against the ethnic/racial designations of the time, which classified Latinos as “Mexicans.” This term implied that Latinos were not Americans, LULAC argued. The term “Mexican” referred to a nationality, not a race, LULAC insisted, and Latinos were as “white” as any “Anglo Saxon..”

Faced with the humiliation of demeaning stereotypes and segregation, it is no wonder that some Latinos throughout the state of Texas sought admittance into the Caucasian club. Texas-based LULAC consistently fought attempts to categorize “Mexicans” as a race. “My parents came from Mexico in the last century,” LULAC officer Jacob I. Rodriguez wrote the editor of the San Antonio Light in 1964. “But since the word ‘Mexican’ merely denotes a citizenship and not a race . . . [I am] unable to claim descent from the Aztecs and Mejicas from which Mexico derived its name, I cannot call myself a Mexican nor ‘an American of Mexican descent’ as some of us erroneously do merely out of deference to their parents.”

Rodriguez peppered several publications with similar complaints. “There’s no sense of shame in being, or being called, a Mexican - IF YOU ARE A CITIZEN OF MEXICO!” he declared in a letter to the San Antonio Express in 1963. “There’s just no reason why we - as U.S. CITIZENS - should be called what we are not, even if we do have and are proud of that affinity of language and culture that gives us a closer, mutual understanding with the peoples south of the Rio Grande.”

This striving for whiteness led LULAC’s leadership to lack empathy at times for the African American civil rights movement. “LULAC has been at times the lone spokesman on Civil Rights for over a quarter of a century,” LULAC president Paul Andow sniffed in a 1963 policy statement just three days before the March on Washington.

“We have not sought solutions to problems by marching to Washington, sit-in’s or picketing or other outward manifestations. We have always gone to the source of the problem and discussed it intelligently in a calm and collected manner . . . We believe a man should not receive a position of trust or other emoluments simply because he belongs to a particular ethnic group - we believe that an individual must earn and merit this position and must be amply qualified to execute it with efficiency and dispatch.”

Andow’s letter underscores the often self-defeating contradictions in LULAC’s approach in the early 1960s. LULAC ostensibly resisted Jim Crow, which victimized “Latin Americans” but leaders like Andow clearly worried that too close and alliance with black civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., and an endorsement of their tactics would further imperil the position of Latinos in a white supremacist society.

Andow’s argument is disingenuous at best. He rails against rewards granted a “particular ethnic group” - attack the concept of group rights - and call for a type of “color-blind” meritocracy. Andow chooses to ignore that some “Latin-Americans” were able to earn a position as “white” while blacks never could. Andow, his darkest-skinned constituents had been thoroughly racialized and “othered” in the state of Texas, could not have been entirely honest in his naive picture of how open success was to Americans of color who struggle to “earn and merit” a better life.

Dr. Hector Garcia of the American GI Forum in Corpus Christi fought a long battle to get state institutions to end the practice of classifying Latinos as “non-whites.” (The GI Forum was founded in Corpus Christi in 1948 with Garcia as its first chairman. The organization received national attention in 1949 when it protested the decision of a Three Rivers, Texas funeral home to not allow the use of the chapel to bury Army private Felix Longoria, who had been killed years earlier in World War II. The GI Forum successfully lobbied Senator Lyndon Johnson to get a full funeral service for Longoria at Arlington National Cemetery).

Garcia wrote several letters of protest to Homer Garrison, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, to get state troopers stop making the notation “Mex” in the blank space calling for racial designation on traffic forms. “Is it the regular practice of the State Highway Department to make the distinction of designating Americans of Latin extraction by this term?” Garcia wrote to Garrison on April 17, 1950.

“If so, why is this distinction necessary for your purposes? Also, is the Department aware that there is no such thing as a Mexican race, no more than an American race? Is this an effort of state officials in continuing to put obstacles in our people’s efforts to become thoroughly ‘Americanized?’

“Recently I wrote a such a complaint on similar grounds to the Department of Welfare. Their answer was satisfactory in that they told us that they would advise all of their branches, etc., to classify us as: Race- White, Nationality - Americans.”

Garcia, at times, sought to distinguish his group from African American civil rights organizations. On March 9, 1954, a GI Forum Local Secretary, Gerald Saldana, requested Garcia to send a brief history of the organization. “Doctor, may the Forum be described as more or less that Latin counterpart of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People? In other words, mostly a civil rights organization?”

In his response, Garcia was adamant that no connection should be made between the American GI Forum and the NAACP. “We are a charitable organization chartered under the Texas laws, with primary interests in charity, education, etc.” he writes. “ . . . we are not a civil rights organization. Personally I hate the word. We do not even have a Civil Rights Committee: and neither do we have a fund for that purpose . . .Geral, definitely we are not to be considered at all as a counterpart (Latin) of the NAACP.”

One American GI Forum supporter, Manuel Avila, Jr., was alarmed that comments Garcia made in an organization bulletin might link the group too closely with the African American civil rights struggle. On February 7, 1956, Avila wrote a desperate letter to Garcia from Caracas, Venezuela, pleading with the GI Forum leader to not make statements that appear sympathetic to the black cause.

“I only hope this does not hurt our cause but I can already hear the Anglos saying, ‘Those nigger lovers’ . . . I’m really afraid you pulled a boner this time . . . Anybody reading [your comments] can only come to the conclusion we are ready to fight the Negro’s battles, and God only knows we have a big problem ourselves and we aren’t that strong to defend someone else. This may be our setback, for sooner or later we are going to have to say which side of the fence we’re on, are we white or not. If we are white, why do we ally with the Negro?

"No, I’m really afraid there are going to be repercussions against us . . . The reason the Chicano in California has advanced so much is that he will never make an issue of defending the Negro. He simply says, ‘Yes, the poor Negro has his problems. We whites shouldn’t act like that way.’ But to go to the bat for the Negro as a Mexican American is suicide. That is California how about Texas !! Let’s face it, we have to establish we are white then be on the ‘white side’ and then we’ll become Americans otherwise never.”

Clearly, escape from categorization with African Americans and identification with whiteness was on the minds of many Mexican Americans, in Latino political organizations, across the state of Texas, and in the city of Dallas. Some Mexican-Americans in Dallas turned to anti-black violence and explicit white supremacist thought in order to climb up the racial hierarchy.

Black-Brown tensions mounted in Dallas in the early 1950s when African Americans, unable to fit any longer in the inadequate neighborhoods assigned them by segregation, began encroaching into white and Latino territory. A “Report on Negro Housing Market Data,” compiled in 1950, found 21,568 Negro households attempting to fit into 14,850 housing units. This meant that one out of three families were “doubling up” - sharing small housing with other families. Much of the housing was judged substandard and even those deteriorated structures were skyrocketing in price.

With few homes available for sale to African Americans, and those homes at almost full capacity, the price of a house was greater in a black neighborhood than the cost of a comparable unit in a white neighborhood in Dallas. African-Americans had to meet these higher costs in spite of earning lower wages. The quality of black housing would continue to deteriorate throughout the 1950s, as even the pro-segregation Dallas Morning News acknowledged. “Hundreds of hovels used for homes in West Dallas and other slum areas of the city are worth less than it would cost to rehabilitate them.”

The designated black enclaves could no longer hold the city’s African-American population. As a small number of African Americans moved out of the segregation-created ghettoes into middle and lower-income white neighborhoods that now formed the city’s racial borderland, white status anxiety literally exploded into violence. Between February, 1950 and mid-1951, eleven bombings occurred at African American homes formerly owned by white families. Judge Henry King impaneled a special (and all-white) grand jury that included several prominent Dallasites such as wholesale liquor distributor Julius Schepps, Felix McKnight managing editor of the Dallas Morning News, James F. Chambers, Jr. (a senior editor at the Dallas Times Herald, and C.A. Tatum of Dallas Power & Light, to investigate the bombings.

A series of arrests occurred beginning in September, 1951. The suspects had a decidedly working class background, the group consisting of pants pressers, machinists and garage mechanics. Several suspects confessed, but the grand jury continued its investigation in search of “kingpins.” Two of the suspects, Claude Thomas Wright and his half-brother Arthur Eugene Young, told police they had been paid to participate in five bombings by labor leader Charles O. Goff, a man long involved in city politics and chairman of the Exline Park Improvement Association.

When Goff was arrested, former district attorney and ex-Klansman Maury Hughes, bailed him out. Other evidence pointed to Baptist preacher John G. Moore, but no charges were ever filed. The grand jury’s report claimed that the “plot reached unbelievable places” and that “lay and religious and community groups, through misguided leadership, entered an action, perhaps unwittingly, that resulted in violence and destruction.” Yet, the mysterious kingpins remained unnamed and unindicted.

Only one of the suspects was ever put on trial - Pete Garcia, a member of Moore’s South Dallas Adjustment League. Garcia’s participation in the bombings reveals the ambiguous position of Latinos in Dallas. Middle-class and relatively light-skinned, Garcia had achieved racial status at least partly by painting “For Whites Only” signs and placing them in the yards of families that had agreed not to sell their homes to black families. He threatened other families at knife-point to maintain the same ban. A chief witness at one point testified that she had seen Garcia enter a vacant house moments before an explosion. She recanted her testimony, however. A jury deliberated for 12 hours before acquitting Garcia.

Garcia’s class anxieties were not without basis. To be classified as “non-white” in Dallas in the 1950s and 1960s was to be assigned to low-wage jobs and to have few opportunities for economic advancement. According to the 1960 States census, the non-white population in Dallas County earned substantially less than the white population.

The median annual income in Dallas County in the early 1960s was $6,188. For the non-white population, it was $1,513. Only approximately 3.5 percent of the non-white population was classified as holding “professional” occupations, with nearly 81 percent in low-wage occupations as such as domestic or farm labor. As oppressed as non-white men were economically, the burden was even greater for non-white women (nearly 5 percent of the women worked in these professions as opposed to approximately 2.5 percent of the men), most non-white women possessed marginal earning power, earning an annual average income of $960 a year as opposed to $2,317 for non-white men.

Men like Garcia was were locked into a system of racial and gender oppression in which whiteness and masculinity were essential for escaping poverty. The fuzzy and shifting boundaries of whiteness in Dallas that continued during the Civil Rights Era thus provided Faustian temptations to ambiguously defined men like Garcia and could, at times, recruit potential allies for the Civil Rights Movement into the cause of white supremacy.

At least one Latino in Dallas concluded that the enemy of the state’s Latino community was not the Anglo power structure but the state’s disenfranchised African Americans. There was no benefit to being non-white, P.R. Ochoa concluded, and part of being white was holding white supremacist attitudes. Ochoa, who in the late 1960s would be a Nueces County Republican Party precinct chairman, owned and operated Ochoa Auto Parts in Dallas on Norwich Drive near Singleton Boulevard but was also, in the late 1950s and 1960s, the publisher and the only identifiable writer for a chain of newspapers in Texas - the Dallas Americano and related editions in San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Kingsville. Ochoa signed his front-page column “Pedro el Gringo” and represents the LULAC assimilationist approach in the extreme.

Ochoa urged his Latino readers to use the term “Americano,” “Spaniol” or “Texano” when referring to themselves because “Latin, Mexican and European are foreigners.” Ochoa went much further in his racial identification, however, printing in bold type on the pages of his six-page weekly slogans like “conserve su raza blanca” (“preserve your white race”) and “segregation es libertad” (“segregation is liberty.”) Ochoa’s ideology was, to say the least, eccentric, moving from an anti-integration obsession in the late 1950s to , in the early 1960s, a virulent hostility to the Catholic Church, Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and to Communism, forces which he saw as united in a conspiracy for world domination.

Supportive of United States imperialism in the Western Hemisphere (he called for “Texanos” to purchase the British colony of Belize, Ochoa most clearly spelled out his political program in an English-language front-page editorial in 1958: “We favor the right-to-work law, the free enterprise, segregation all the way, the conservative American tradition, a permanent Poll Tax and elective candidates with Texas idealism.”

Advertising Spanish lessons for his readership and supporting appreciation of Texano music, Ochoa worked at the formation of the state’s Latino population as just another white ethnic group, like the Irish, with charming customs and traditions, but still enfolded within the banner of whiteness. He seemed to realize that the language, music and other cultural tools could unify Latinos, but he feared that the Mexican culture would demarcate Mexican Americans into a separate racial identity. An even bigger threat to the tenuous Latino position in the city’s racial hierarchy than Anglo hegemony, in Ochoa’s mind, was an improved status for African Americans.

“The modern and first-class Negro public school in Dallas, west housing project, it is far better and has more commodities than many public schools for Spaniol pupils and English speaking pupils at the valley near the border,” he complains in August 6, 1958 editorial. “Under what article of the Constitution, we should base our complaint?” As Ochoa saw it, all gains made by African Americans in terms of political and economic power came at the expense of “Americanos.”

Latino groups he suspected of working for African American civil rights he accused of being race traitors. “El American GI Forum, el LULAC, el Naacp, camaras y otras agrupaciones niggerianas, repitidas veces han hecho fe integracionista para empujar alto la igualdad, intelligencia y superioridad de la raza Negra,” Ochoa wrote in April, 1958. (“The American GI Forum, LULAC, the NAACP, congresses and other nigger groups have repeatedly professed to be integrationists to push up the equality, intelligence and superiority of the black race.”)

Ochoa, like Garcia, was a middle-class man who saw his social status dependent upon the impoverishment and isolation of blacks. The white supremacist attitudes of these men living on the margins of whiteness and the contradictory attitudes of LULAC on issues of self-identity and resistance to racism demonstrate the power the “wages of whiteness” held in the Dallas system of oppression. Whiteness, it soon became apparent, was a dead end as acceptance of white supremacist ideology failed to achieve greater opportunity or wealth in the Latino community in Dallas.

Beginning in the mid-1960s, with the passage of civil rights legislation by the Lyndon Johnson administration, organizations like the American GI Forum would see a political advantage in winning a separate identity from the Caucasian majority. Ideas from Mexican intellectuals such as Jose Vasconcelos and Manuel Gamio began to filter into the American Chicano movement in the 1960s. Organizations like the Texas-based La Raza Unida party used the language of Vasconcelos, who in the 1920s praised “la raza cosmica” the mestizo people of Mexico who Vasconcelos argued were destined to become a super race and conquer the world. Such ideology was a rejection of white supremacist thinking, but it replaced Anglo racism with a Chicano supremacist bent. Chicanismo failed to critique the idea of race itself and in its quasi-fascist insistence on racial destiny for la raza, it proved an inadequate tool for building an effective alliance for social justice in Dallas.

Tragically, white racists in Dallas were able to conflate race with class. Living in an all-white neighborhood, working in an all-white workplace, was an important part of the definition of being middle class. Whites, and Latinos who aspired to whiteness, were given a powerful incentive to resist desegregation of schools and neighborhoods and to espouse anti-black racism. The “lure of whiteness” was a divisive tool for the city’s power structure, shattering a potential alliance between blacks and browns. An unequal and unpredictable distribution of racial privileges kept members of these groups off-balance and frustrated the development of racial democracy in the city.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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