“Mexicans were learning to act like white people in Arizona, he reported, where Mexican restaurant owners … had recently placed signs in the windows that Negroes would not be served” (Foley)

1956: Ávila, Arizona Mexicans are learning to act white, i.e., not serve Negroes in restaurants

Educating Anglos to acknowledge the white racial status of Mexican [137] Americans represented a major political goal of the American GI Forum. To become white–and therefore truly American–required members to distance themselves from any association, social or political, with African Americans. When the AGIF News Bulletin, for example, printed an article in 1955 titled “Mexican Americans Favor Negro School Integration,” Manuel Ávila, an active member of AGIF and close personal friend of Hector García, wrote to state chairman Ed Idar that “Anybody reading it can only come to the conclusion [that] we are ready to fight the Negroes’ battles… 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?”[38] Mexicans were learning to act like white people in Arizona, he reported, where Mexican restaurant owners, who normally served Negroes, had recently placed signs in the windows that Negroes would not be served. If Mexicans refused to serve Negroes, Ávila wrote, Anglo restaurants might begin serving Mexicans. Mexican Americans, he argued, must say to Negroes “I’m White and you can’t come into my restaurant.”[39]

A sympathetic white woman from rural Mississippi, Ruth Slates, who owned a store that served many Mexican and Mexican American cotton pickers, wrote to Dr. García in 1951: “My blood just boils to see these farmers… trying to throw the Spanish kids out of schools… and into negro schools. She pointed out that although some of the “Spanish kids” “hate negroes,” others, unfortunately, “mix with them.” She then advised Dr. García that Mexicans needed a strong leader to teach them “right from wrong,” because some “even marry negros and some white girls.” Slates was giving Dr. García a quick lesson in southern racial protocol: if Mexicans want to be white, then they cannot associate with, much less marry, black folk, and she also implied that marrying white girls, in Mississippi at least, might not be a prudent thing to do.[40] Ruth Slates liked “Spanish kids” and hoped that Dr. García would provide the kind of leadership required, as it is now fashionable to say, to perform whiteness.

Neil Foley, "Partly Colored or Other White: Mexican Americans and Their Problem with the Color Line," in Beyond Black and White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, ed. Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 123-144 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 204), 136-137.

 

  1. [38]Manuel Ávila, Jr. to Ed Idar, Feb. 7, 1956, box 26, folder 28, HPG; News Bulletin 4, nos. 1 and 2 (Sept.-Oct., 1955): 1, HPG.
  2. [39]Manuel Ávila, Jr., to Ed Idar, Feb. 7, 1956, box 46, folder 28, HPG. See also Isaac P. Borjas to Hector P. García, June 2, 1940; Newspaper clipping, Caracas Daily Journal, [1960?], box 114, folder 22; and Ruth Slates to Dr. Hector García, Mar. 23, 1951, box 59, folder 33, HGP.
  3. [40]Ruth Slates to Dr. Hector García, Mar. 23, 1951, box 59, folder 33, HGP.

“Racism and prejudice, it is clear, played a fundamental role in encouraging mob violence against Mexicans … [1920s] ‘I would not think of classifying Mexicans as whites'” (Carrigan and Webb)

1920s: “I would not think of classifying Mexicans as whites.” / BB&W 50 (From Taylor interviews.)

Economic competition, although a significant force, does not sufficiently explain the history of anti-Mexican or anti-black mob violence. If mobs had considered only economics, they would have been just as likely to murder or expel any group standing in their way. But, in fact, mobs specially targeted Mexicans in the southwestern United States. Racism and prejudice, it is clear, played a fundamental role in encouraging mob violence against Mexicans. Mexicans were portrayed as a cruel and treacherous people with a natural proclivity toward criminal behavior. Racist stereotypes abounded in private correspondence, contemporary literature, and the popular media. “The lower class of Mexicans, on the west coast, appear to be a dark, Indian-looking race, with just enough of the Spanish blood, without its appropriate intelligence, to add a look of cunning to their gleaming, treacherous eyes, wrote Theodore T. Johnson in 1849.[54] In April, 1872, the Weekly Arizona Miner exclaimed: “Bad Mexicans never tire of cutting throats, and we are sorry to be compelled to say that good Mexicans are rather scarce.”[55] These assumptions, legitimated by pseudoscientific research, remained prevalent well into the twentieth century. A track foreman interviewed in the late 1920s in Dimmit County, Texas, observed: “They are an inferior race. I would not think of classing Mexicans as whites.”[56]

William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, "Muerto por Unos Desconocidos (Killed by Persons Unknown): Mob Violence against Blacks and Mexicans," in Beyond Black & White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, edited by Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004), 50.

 

 

  1. [54]Theodore T. Johnson, Sights in the Gold Regions and Scenes by the Way (New York: Baker and Scriber, 1849), p. 240. Another early example of Anglo prejudice against Mexicans can be found in T. J. Farham, Life, Travels, and Adventures in California and Scenes in the Pacific Ocean (New York: William H. Graham, 1846), pp. 356-57.
  2. [55]Weekly Arizona Miner, Apr. 26, 1872.
  3. [56]Paul S. Taylor, Mexican Labor in the United States: Dimmit County, Winter Garden District, South Texas (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), p. 446 (quote). For additional accounts of prejudicial views towards Mexicans, see Robert Lee Maril, Poorest of Americans: The Mexican Americans of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), pp. 10-11, 30, 33, 41-47, 49, 51-54, 79, 81, 151-55; Américo Paredes, “With His Pistol in His Hand,” in Chicano: The Evolution of a People, ed. by Renato Rosaldo, Robert A. Calvert, and Gustav L. Seligmann, Jr. (Malabar, Fla.: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1982), p. 101; Richard Griswold del Castillo and Arnoldo De León, North to Aztlán: A History of Mexican Americans in the United States (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996), p. 30; Frank W. Johnson, A History of Texas and Texans (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1914), vol. 1, p. 516; Mark Reisler, “Always the Laborer, Never the Citizen: Anglo Perceptions of the Mexican Immigrant during the 1920s,” in Between Two Worlds: Mexican Immigrants in the United States, ed. by David G. Gutierrez (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1996), pp. 25-29.