Publisher: University of Texas Press, 2006
Paperback: 296 pages
List Price: $19.95
White Like Me: Mexican Americans, Jews, and the
Elusive Politics of Identity
In 1942 Lefkowitz protested when the health department included Hebrew as a race along with Anglo-Saxon, South European, Mexican, Negro, and Asiatic on its documents. "The use of the word 'Hebrew,' under any circumstances, except as the designation of the original language of the Bible, is incorrect," Lefkowitz wrote. "The designation 'Jewish' is a proper one for religion . . . You are not, of course, seeking to determine the religion of those to whom you distribute the identification cards, otherwise you would put down Episcopalian, Baptist, Catholic, Methodists, etc. In this group, the word Jewish could well be included, but not in the former."
The unfolding drama of the Nazi Holocaust provided a deadly example to American Jews of the dangers of living in Gentile-majority countries where their neighbors viewed them as not just religious but racial outsiders. If anti-Semitism in early-twentieth-century America rose in part from religious intolerance, the Leo Frank murder case and American immigration policy strongly demonstrated that even in relatively safe America, Jews could be viewed by ruling Anglo-Saxons as racial poison. In the 1920s the U.S. government imposed immigration quotas aimed at limiting the number of Jews and other groups who could enter in a given year, abandoning later would-be Jewish immigrants to the mercies of the Third Reich in the 1930s and 1940s. Lefkowitz and others happily received the news in 1944 that U.S. immigration authorities no longer considered Jews as racially different from northern Europeans, a move that might allow more Jews to enter the United States. As they celebrated their newfound whiteness, however, many Jews still saw blacks, Asians, and other groups as belonging to separate racial categories. "In our country statistics of Jews must not be collected from the point of view that we are a race or ethnic group, in the manner of the American races, Negroes, Chinese, Indians, etc.," H. S. Linfield, director of the Jewish Statistical Bureau, informed Aline Rutland, secretary for Temple Emanu-El, in a letter dated March 7, 1944. Until recently, "the government continued to regard incoming alien Jews as constituting a separate race. The new order has put an end to this practice."
The black civil rights movement and convulsive demographic changes from the 1940s through the 1960s made the issue of racial identity crucial to Jews and other marginal whites. The black freedom struggle in those three decades and the development of a new class of what historian George Norris Green called "little rich" merchants ignited the most intense period of anti-Semitism in Dallas since the heyday of the Klan. These factors placed additional pressure on Dallas Jews to demonstrate their whiteness, thus troubling the relationship between Jews and African Americans.
A similar pressure shaped the racial and political attitudes of Mexican Americans. For that community, life in the 1950s and 1960s became a race to escape the bottom of the social ladder. Many Mexican Americans, locked in an uncertain civil rights struggle of their own, felt they had nothing to gain by helping the African American community. These Mexican Americans instead battled for a white identity, but this goal proved elusive. Jews and Latinos remained marginalized even as they strained relations with African Americans, ultimately limiting the gains made by black activists.
. . . Dallas had come a long way toward accepting Jews as part of the racial ruling class, but many still struggled with the meaning of Jewish identity . . . [P]hilo-Semitism existed side by side with anti-Semitism. Jews like Lefkowitz had changed the Dallas health department's racial classification schemes but not the Gentile perception of the community. Even after the discovery of the Holocaust at the end of World War II, some Gentiles saw Jews as nonwhite and found biblical justification for their exclusion. The Dallas Independent School District created an Old Testament course in 1952. In the course materials, Judaism was depicted as a half-baked religion awaiting Christ's arrival for its completion. "While there are sixty-six books in this one volume [the Bible], they are unified in the person of Christ whose coming was prophesied in the first book of Old Testament," declared a bulletin outlining the course. "As you study the lives of these Hebrew people, you will be conscious of expectancy which existed throughout the Old Testament period and which had its fulfillment in Jesus Christ."
Jews possessed only half a loaf regarding divine truth, according to the course, and they were not even part of the white race. According to the notes for the lesson titled "The Origin of the Races, the Tower of Babel, and the Confusion of Tongues," all mankind descended from the three sons of Noah following a flood that wiped out the rest of humanity. Japheth, according to the lecture, was the father of the Europeans. The Old Testament course then reinforced the Southern white Protestant rationale for African American subordination by claiming all "colored races" were descended from Ham, whose family line was forever cursed by God after the flood, according to Genesis, to be a "servant of servants." According to the DISD, "The children of Shem, inhabiting the land of Arabia, and southeastern Asia, [included] . . . the Hebrews, Arabians, Assyrians and Persians, all of whom speak the Semitic languages." Jews thus yellowed as Asians in the eyes of the DISD.5 This classification followed soon after an American war with Japan in which U.S. troops at times fought with a genocidal fury unmatched by their peers in Europe. The depiction of Jews as Asians came amid widespread concerns over the "loss" of mainland China to the communists in 1949 and during the 1950-1953 Korean War, whose outcome was uncertain at the time the DISD launched the course. This racial assignment not only symbolically darkened Jews but also threatened to render them part of a dangerous yellow horde in Gentile eyes. Alarmed by recent political convulsions within the city, some Gentiles demanded that Jews come down clearly on one side of the black/white divide.
The issue of Jewish whiteness came to a head just as the black civil rights movement in Texas picked up new momentum during and after World War II. In the 1940s Juanita Craft won appointment as the Dallas NAACP's membership chair. In 1944 she became the first black woman in Dallas County history to vote, and in 1946 the NAACP named her a field organizer. Due to Craft's tireless proselytizing, the Dallas NAACP branch claimed 7,000 members by 1946 as it became the epicenter of the state's civil rights movement. In 1941 blacks served on juries in Dallas County for the first time since the 1890s. In 1943 the NAACP won a lawsuit on behalf of Thelma Paige and the Negro Teachers Alliance of Dallas, achieving gradual equalization of teacher salaries. A. Maceo Smith's efforts to end the white primary system finally paid off with the NAACP prevailing in the 1944 Smith v. Allwright decision.
Divisions within the African American community over political priorities, however, sometimes complicated the civil rights struggle. Some African Americans felt ambivalent about a future of integration. A 1947 statewide poll of African Americans showed that a clear majority favored the creation of a separate black university over the integration of the University of Texas. "Some Negroes had, or at least believed that they had, a vested interest in retaining segregation," observed Michael Gillette, an historian of Texas' NAACP. "These were often professionals, such as teachers, who feared that they would lose their jobs to whites if desegregation occurred. Thus . . . there existed, 'many, many Negroes who are deathly afraid of the elimination of segregation.'"
Other African Americans internalized the lessons of black inferiority pounded home daily by segregation and the mainstream culture. Even the Dallas Express, a vigorous supporter of political activism and pride in black culture, at times conveyed negative messages about blackness. Advertisements for hair straighteners and skin bleach abounded in the pages of the Express, which carried the message that kinky hair and dark skin were unattractive social liabilities. "Enjoy the Light Side of Life with new, improved 'Skin Success' Bleach Cream," one ad beckons. "Now you can enjoy the popularity and admiration that goes with a lighter, fairer complexion."
Black assertion, however, alarmed some marginal whites, such as Jews and darker-skinned or working-class and middle-class Mexican Americans. Fate granted some men like Pete Garcia both a Spanish surname and a light skin. In 1950s Dallas society, the middle-class Garcia rated as a higher grade of human than did his black neighbors, tantalizingly close to the Caucasian status he so desired. Aware that his Mexican ethnicity marked him as an outsider, Garcia sought ethnic promotion. In 1950 and 1951 Garcia was part of a small army that dynamited a South Dallas neighborhood for about eighteen months to preserve the boundary between black and white. The 1950s bombings echoed the 1940 terrorism against socially mobile blacks. Dallas culture taught Garcia to see the world in terms of a zero-sum game. African American gains could only mean loss for Mexican Americans while oppression of his black neighbors provided a quick route to whiteness.
The city's World War II population boom aggravated an already disastrous black housing situation. From 1940 to 1950 Dallas' population grew by about a third, from 294,734 to 434,462. Dallas' black population grew by 30,000 in that time, but private builders constructed only 1,000 new dwellings open to African Americans. White residents protested construction of a proposed 2,000-home tract south of Dallas' city limits set aside for blacks. The City Council promptly refused to supply water to the development, killing the project. A 1950 "Report on Negro Housing Market Data" found 21,568 black households occupying 14,850 housing units. This meant that one of three black families shared crowded housing with other families, and even those substandard structures skyrocketed in price.
By 1948 a nine-square-mile community of 25,000 blacks, Mexican Americans, and poor whites lived on a low flood plain in West Dallas. Created by the earlier construction of levees along the Trinity River, West Dallas consisted of "flimsy shacks, abandoned gravel pits, garbage dumps, open toilets and shallow wells." Fewer than 10 percent of those dwellings had indoor toilets, and only 15 percent had running water. Tenants drank from wells located near human waste disposals. West Dallas accounted for 50 percent of the city's typhus cases, 60 percent of the tuberculosis, and 30 percent of the polio.
Desperation forced relatively prosperous blacks to again venture in the early 1950s into the Exline Park neighborhood, scene of the 1940\-1941 bombings. Twelve bombings in the next year and a half targeted homes sold to blacks in formerly all-white neighborhoods in a two-square-mile area of South Dallas. Not expecting white protection, African Americans armed themselves. Juanita Craft noted in a letter to Walter White, the executive director of the NAACP, that bombing stopped on Crozier Street when "the widow Sharpe" ran from her home firing a gun at a speeding getaway car after one explosion. Fearful that violence threatened the city's postwar economic boom, elites could not ignore these bombings as they had the 1940 attacks. A special grand jury that included several prominent Dallasites, such as wholesale liquor distributor Julius Schepps and Dallas Morning News managing editor Felix McKnight, investigated the bombings. In an unusual move for 1951 Dallas, the grand jury also numbered three African Americans as members, including NAACP chapter president Bezeleel R. Riley and W. J. Durham, an attorney on the Sweatt v. Painter case that led to desegregation of the University of Texas law school.
Dallas police arrested a series of suspects beginning in September 1951. The accused shared a decidedly working-class background and included pants pressers, machinists, and garage mechanics. Two suspects, Claude Thomas Wright and his half-brother, Arthur Eugene Young, told police they had been hired to carry out five bombings by labor leader Charles O. Goff, chairman of the Exline Park Improvement Association. When police arrested Goff, 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 due to "insufficient corroborating evidence." Yet only one of the suspects was ever put on trial--Pete Garcia, a member of Moore's South Dallas Adjustment League. Garcia was one of two Hispanics indicted in the bombings.
His participation revealed the racial ambiguity of being a Dallas Latino. Even as Mexican American children attended de facto segregated schools and their parents earned inferior wages compared to Anglos, Garcia claimed Caucasian status, painting "For Whites Only" signs and placing them in the yards of families agreeing to not sell their South Dallas homes to black families. Garcia threatened other families at knifepoint to maintain the ban. Dallas newspapers, which had a policy of identifying black and Mexican American crime suspects by race, acknowledged Garcia's whiteness by frequently not mentioning his ethnicity. A chief witness at Garcia's trial testified that she had seen Garcia enter a vacant house moments before an explosion. She recanted her testimony, however. A jury deliberated for twelve hours before acquitting Garcia.
Garcia's compulsion to be seen as white made crude economic sense in 1940s-1960s Dallas. To be classified as nonwhite at that time was to be limited to low-wage jobs and to have few opportunities for economic advancement. By 1960, according to the last U.S. census taken before desegregation officially began in the city, the median annual income in Dallas County was $6,845. For the nonwhite population it was $1,513. Nearly 81 percent of the nonwhite population labored in low-wage occupations such as domestic or farm labor. The burden of racism leaned harder on nonwhite women, who averaged an annual income of $960 as opposed to $2,317 for nonwhite men. Men like Garcia were locked into a system of racial and gender oppression in which whiteness and masculinity were essential for escaping poverty.
Few Mexican Americans in Texas were prosperous enough to enjoy an easy ticket to whiteness. Mexican Americans in Texas routinely faced exclusion from juries and white schools. The Texas oil and railroad industries paid Mexican Americans, like African Americans, lower wages for the same work as Anglos and forced them to use separate drinking fountains, toilets, and bathing facilities. Anglo-Texan school officials and students regarded Mexican American children as racial inferiors. In the early 1930s a Dimmit County school official noted that Anglos perceived Mexican students as "almost as trashy as the Negroes," while a Nueces County official said, "The white child looks on the Mexicans as on the Negro before the [Civil War]. To be cuffed about and used as an inferior people."
As noted earlier, a Texas court ruled that Mexican Americans were legally white, but the court insisted that Mexicans did not fit scientific definitions of whiteness. Nevertheless, Mexicans in Texas lived with de facto school segregation. This was to change when in 1940 the state superintendent of education decreed that "under the laws . . . children of Latin American extraction [are] classified as white and therefore have a right to attend the Anglo-American Schools in the community in which they live."18
Regardless of this decision, white schools remained closed to Mexican Americans, and Latino civil rights groups had to rely on the courts to end segregation. A U.S. district court in Austin ruled in a 1948 decision, Delgado v. Bastrop, that segregating Mexican American schoolchildren violated the Constitution, but the court allowed the district to establish segregated "first grades" for the purposes of English-language instruction. Exploiting that loophole, Texas school officials expanded that first grade provision to cover at least four grades. The 1957 Hernández v. Driscoll Consolidated School District decision overturned such an interpretation of Delgado, in effect outlawing the de facto segregation of Mexican American schoolchildren in Texas. The practice survived, however, due to residential segregation and school policies that separated brown and white children on the supposed bases of English-language proficiency and academic ability.
In mid-century Dallas, Mexican Americans attended one of four segregated elementary schools: W. B. Travis, Cumberland Hills, Benito Juarez, and City Park. Crozier Tech was the only high school open to them. Few teachers spoke Spanish, and students were discouraged from speaking in their native language. Few Anglos noticed, since Mexican Americans constituted only the city's second-largest minority group, with numbers far smaller than the African American community. In 1960 the city's Mexican American population numbered about 30,000. By 1970 the Latino population had grown to only about 40,000, or about 8 percent of the total. Blacks made up 24.9 percent of the total population the same year.
Their small numbers and their relative invisibility compared to African Americans affected the Mexican American community in paradoxical ways. On the one hand, a lower profile combined with Anglo racism meant that Dallas leaders showed little interest in the needs of the community. On the other hand, Mexican Americans appeared as less of a threat than African Americans, and consequently middle-class Mexican Americans, at least, enjoyed a better opportunity to win acceptance as part of the white community. Some Mexican Americans believed their community should keep quiet and not follow the black political example. As one Mexican American in the 1970s put it, "The gringos are getting meaner all the time. They're scared of the Blacks . . . I think those Chicanos are crazy to go marching around, waving those signs. They're just making people mad at Mexicans. And the madder they get, the worse it's going to be for us." In other words, Latinos and Latinas would be better off invisible than hated.
This worry about Anglo backlash acted as a dead weight on 1950s and 1960s Mexican American politics. A large, heterogeneous population in the state as a whole, Mexican Americans in Texas more than doubled in population from 1930 to 1960, from 695,000 to 1.4 million. Individual Mexican Americans identified themselves in complex and often contradictory ways. The identity members chose often shaped their relationship to the African American community. An analogous ideology to whiteness runs deeply through Mexican history. During the long dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, from 1876 to 1910, Mexican elites promulgated a faith in European supremacy over Indians. Díaz pursued an immigration policy intended to whiten Mexico by encouraging northern Europeans to settle in the nation. In postrevolutionary Mexico at the beginning of the 1920s, in spite of a contrary official ideology hailing the nation's Indian past, those who successfully claimed identity as belonging to la raza blanca (the white race) continued to occupy the highest social status, followed by mixed-race mestizos, with indios dwelling at the social bottom. Mexican immigrants, already immersed in whiteness ideology, thus often absorbed similar racist sentiments north of the border regarding blacks that they had once projected toward indigenous people.
Like Pete Garcia, many of Texas' Mexican American leaders sought to have the Anglo community accept Latin Americans as a white ethnic group rather than as a separate race, and in doing so they stressed their separation from the black civil rights campaign. A generational shift in part accounts for this attitude. As historian Guadalupe San Miguel Jr. notes in a study of the school integration movement in Houston's Mexican American community, the community's immigrant generation, those born in Mexico who arrived in Texas in the early twentieth century, still saw themselves as Mexicans. They still desired to return to their homeland when economic and political conditions made that possible. This "Mexicanist" generation held ambivalent views at best concerning what they hoped was their temporary American home, an attitude hardened by frequent encounters with Anglo racism and discrimination. Not invested emotionally in American society, Mexicanists avoided long-term struggle for social justice and preferred to work for pragmatic, immediate reforms within the system. They wanted Mexican American schools to receive equal funding and equipment as Anglo schools, for instance, but they did not seek assimilation into the American mainstream. If they identified themselves racially, many considered themselves Indians. Few would have declared a white identity.
The Mexicanist generation's children lived in a different world. Born in America, they planned to stay in the United States and therefore had a long-term interest in how they were racially defined by Anglos. Clearly, status could be measured proportionally by distance from blackness. Many agreed with a Mexican American South Texas cotton picker who commented in the early 1930s, "It does not look right to see Mexicans and Negroes together. Their color is different. They are black and we are white." The Mexican-American generation wanted opportunity and acceptance by their neighbors and often was willing to assimilate Anglo attitudes toward African Americans to achieve this. Meanwhile, the horrors of the Holocaust and the rapid decline of southern and eastern European immigration after 1924 led to abandonment of the idea of different white "races" by most in the American academic and political communities. Where once stood races there now existed ethnicities, and many Mexican American leaders saw an opportunity in this semantic shift. They did not want to abandon their cultural heritage; they just wanted to be accepted as white ethnics like Polish or Italian Americans.
From 1930 to 1960, San Miguel argues, Houston's Mexican American leadership sought to integrate schools for their children, to open more opportunities for such children to attend college, and to promote political activism within the community. Such leaders, conscious of their precarious position in the region's hierarchy and fearful of an Anglo backlash, sought to avoid anything smacking of radicalism. "The goal of members of the Mexican American Generation thus was to support moderate social change that would improve, not replace, the existing social order," San Miguel writes.
This ideology shaped the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), founded in 1929 in Corpus Christi, Texas. LULAC drew its membership from "small business owners and merchants, small landowners, skilled workers, artisans, [and] professionals." English was declared LULAC's official language. LULAC's racial politics can be deciphered by its name. By labeling themselves "Latin American," the middle-class group emphasized the community's European origins and American citizenship. Some LULAC chapters expressed their white identity by erecting a color line between the membership and blacks. One LULAC council expelled a member for marrying a "Negress," and members socially shunned the interracial couple. A member of the council bitterly complained that "An American mob would lynch him. But we are not given the same opportunity to form a mob and come clean."
For many Mexican Americans in Dallas, surrendering any separate cultural identity provided the quickest route to the American mainstream rather than absorbing gringo racism. "I just don't believe in teaching the children Spanish," one resident of a Dallas barrio told anthropologist Shirley Achor in the early 1970s. "They'd be better off if they never spoke it at all . . . You know it's true--even a Spanish accent can hurt a person in life."
Such accommodation marked not just LULAC members but also Dallas Latinos who joined the American GI Forum (AGIF) after World War II. Dr. Hector Garcia helped form AGIF in Corpus Christi and became its first chairman in 1948. The organization received national attention in 1949 when it protested a Three Rivers, Texas, funeral home's decision to bar a chapel funeral for Private Felix Longoria, who had been killed years earlier in World War II. In 1954 several prominent Dallas Mexican Americans, including Pancho Medrano (who unlike many of his peers in the group actively participated in black civil rights campaigns) and Joe Landin, founded the Dallas chapter of the GI Forum. AGIF investigated job discrimination and police brutality while lobbying the Dallas school district for improved funding for Mexican American schools.
The American GI Forum, however, held a similar stance to LULAC vis-à-vis racial identity and the black civil rights movement. To both organizations, Mexican Americans were white and African Americans would have to fight their own battles. "LULAC has been the lone spokesman on Civil Rights for over a quarter of a century," the group's president, Paul Andow, sniffed in a 1963 policy statement just three days before Martin Luther King Jr. and other black civil rights leaders held their famous March on Washington.
We have not sought solutions to problems by marching to Washington, sit-in's or picketing or other outward manifestations . . . We believe that 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.LULAC leaders like Andow clearly worried that too close an alliance with black civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and endorsement of their tactics would imperil the position of Latinos and Latinas in a white supremacist society. Andow further implied that blacks succeeding in the wake of the civil rights movement did not deserve their good fortune. Meanwhile, LULAC sought a white identity for its members, campaigning against racial designations on government forms that classified Latinos as Mexicans. The term Mexican referred to a nationality, not a race, LULAC insisted, and Latinos were as white as any Anglo-Saxon. Jacob I. Rodriguez of LULAC bristled at the Mexican label. "There's no sense of shame in being, or being called, a Mexican--IF YOU ARE A CITIZEN OF MEXICO! " Rodriguez wrote in a 1963 letter to the San Antonio Express. "There's just no reason why we--as U.S. Citizens--should be called what we are not."
Dr. Hector Garcia of the American GI Forum also fought a long battle to get state institutions to stop classifying Latinos as nonwhites. Garcia protested to Homer Garrison, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, that state troopers should stop making the notation "Mex" in the blank space on traffic reports calling for racial designations. "Is the Department aware that there is no such thing as a Mexican race, no more than an American race?" Garcia asked Garrison in a letter dated April 17, 1950.37 Hector Garcia celebrated the decision of the Department of Welfare to classify Mexican Americans as "Race--White, Nationality--Americans." Like his LULAC counterparts, Garcia sought to distinguish his group from African American civil rights organizations. On March 9, 1954, an American GI Forum local secretary in Crystal City, Texas, Gerald Saldaña, requested that Garcia send a brief history of the organization. Saldaña asked if the forum was a "Latin counterpart" of the NAACP. Garcia was adamant that no comparison should be made between the two groups. "We are not a civil rights organization," he wrote. ". . . Personally, I hate the word . . . [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 when Ed Idar Jr., the forum's executive secretary, published an article in the group's newsletter depicting the AGIF and the NAACP allying in the struggle against school desegregation. In 1956 Avila wrote:
I only hope this does not hurt our cause but I can already hear the Anglos saying 'those nigger lovers' . . . Anybody reading [your newsletter] 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 aren't that strong to defend someone else . . . sooner or later we are going to have to say which side of the fence we're on, are we white or not . . . Let's face it first we have to establish we are white then be on the 'white side' and then we'll become "Americans" otherwise never.An impulse toward whiteness thus runs through the history of mainstream, middle-class Latino political organizations such as LULAC and the American GI Forum. However, some Mexican Americans like Pete Garcia moved beyond mere accommodation to violent support of segregation. Garcia was not alone in seeing virulent anti-black racism as a means to achieve whiteness. P. R. Ochoa concluded that the enemy of Dallas' Mexican American community was not the Anglo power structure but the state's politically disenfranchised African Americans. Part of being white, in Ochoa's view, was holding white supremacist beliefs.
Ochoa in the late 1960s served as a Nueces County Republican Party precinct chairman. In the 1950s and early 1960s, however, he ran a variety of businesses--a publishing company, a "commercial academy," an auto parts store, a real estate firm, and a variety store--out of his Dallas office on Singleton Boulevard near Norwich Street. He was also the publisher and only identifiable writer for a chain of Texas newspapers--the Dallas Americano and related editions in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, and Kingsville. Ochoa signed his front-page column "Pedro el Gringo" and represented the assimilationist approach in its extreme. Ochoa urged his Mexican American readers to use the terms "Americano," "Spaniol," or "Texano" when referring to themselves because "Latin, Mexican and European are foreigners." Ochoa, who fancied himself the head of the "Spaniol Organization of White People," went much further in promoting white racial identity for Mexican Americans. Integration meant slavery for "Spaniol" Texans, Ochoa argued. He regularly printed slogans in bold type on the pages of his six-page weekly such as conserve su raza blanca (preserve your white race) and segregacion es libertad (segregation is liberty).
Like Pete Garcia, Ochoa also saw Dallas society in terms of a zero-sum game. "The modern and first-class Negro public school located at 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 complained in an editorial of August 6, 1958. "Under what article of the Constitution, we should base our complaint?" In a Spanish-language editorial he accuses groups like the AGIF, LULAC, and the NAACP as engaging in a conspiracy to destroy Texanos. "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," he writes.
Anti-black racism by no means proved any more universal in the Mexican American community than it did among Texas Anglos. Following the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision mandating school desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education, Texas Governor Allan Shivers placed three nonbinding referenda--preserving school segregation, strengthening laws against interracial marriage, and supporting "local" rule against federal interference--on a statewide Democratic primary ballot. These measures passed by a four-to-one margin statewide, but in twelve counties with significant Mexican American populations the ballots were approved by less than 60 percent. Democrats in three heavily Mexican American counties--Bexar, Kleberg, and Uvalde--refused to put the measures on the ballot, while voters in Webb County beat the proposals by an eight-to-one margin. In a state where Mexican Americans became targets of segregation, such opposition might reflect self-interest, but it might also reflect a smaller degree of racist sentiment in the Mexican American community as compared to the Anglo community.
There is less ambiguity in the career of the state's most visible Mexican American politician, Henry B. Gonzalez of San Antonio. As a member of the San Antonio City Council in 1956, Gonzalez promoted measures that abolished all of the city's segregation ordinances. As a state senator in 1957, Gonzalez filibustered for twenty hours to block legislative proposals that would have impeded implementation of Brown v. Board of Education in Texas. In his lengthy oration, Gonzalez drew comparisons between his own experiences with segregation as a Mexican American and the freedom struggles of African Americans. "Is Texas liberty only for Anglo-Saxons?" he asked. The next year Gonzalez won the NAACP's Man of the Year award. Even with his visible support of black civil rights groups, Mexican American voters enthusiastically continued to vote for Gonzalez. He was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1961.
While anti-racist discourse could be heard in the Mexican American community, the desire of groups like LULAC and AGIF to keep the NAACP at a distance provided a counterweight, reflecting a fear that such an alliance would complicate Latino efforts for equality. In some cases the embracing of a white identity also revealed deep currents of white supremacy among Mexican Americans. Ochoa and 1950 bomber Pete Garcia were middle-class men who saw their social status as dependent upon the isolation of blacks. The ideological differences between LULAC and AGIF on one hand and Ochoa and Garcia on the other reflect politically dominant sentiments in the community that ranged from indifference to African American rights to outright negrophobia.
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