“Middle-class Mexican Americans … drew distinctions between themselves and lower-class Mexicans who they often regarded as ‘Indios’ or ‘Indian Mexicans’ and used terms like ‘mojados’ …” (Foley)

racial stratification within Tejanx community — “indios,” “mojados,” etc. / BB&W, 134

These middle-class Mexican Americans in El Paso sought to eliminate once and for all the ambiguity surrounding Mexican racial identity. First, they recognized that any attempt to define them as “nonwhite” could easily come to mean “noncitizen” as well, because many Anglos did not regard Mexicans, particularly of the lower class, as truly American or fit for American citizenship. Second, middle-class Mexican Americans themselves drew distinctions between themselves and lower-class Mexicans who they often regarded as “Indios,” or “Indian Mexicans” and used terms like “mojados” (“wetbacks”) and other terms of class and racial disparagement. Hamilton Price, the black El Pasoan, pointed out as much when he reminded El Pasoans about the close, even intimate, relations that existed between blacks and lower-class Mexicans in El Paso, from Mexican men shining the shoes of African American men to African American men marrying Mexican women.

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), 134.

 

“to classify these people here as ‘colored’ is to jumble them in as Negroes” (Maury Maverick, qtd. in Foley)

The real issue over racial classification was clearly as much about Mexican racial pride as it was about fear over discrimination. In Texas, Mexicans endured the injuries of discrimination daily. Middle-class Mexican Americans needed to believe that segregation stemmed from Anglo ignorance of Mexico’s history and the fact that many middle-class Mexicans, like their Anglo counterparts, actually believed that whites were superior to both Indians and Africans. Mexican Americans did not necessarily acquire a belief in white racial supremacy in the United States, although it was certainly reinforced there whenever one encountered blacks and Indians in the United States.[23]

These mostly middle-class Mexicans were not simply content to deny any “negro ancestry.” For many Mexicans and Mexican Americans, “colored” meant racial inferiority, social disgrace, and the total absence of political rights–in short, the racial equivalent of Indian and Negro.[24] In their injunction against the El Paso city registrar, for example, they cited an Oklahoma law that made it libelous to call a white person “colored.”[25] Mexican Americans in San Antonio, who joined the campaign to change the classification scheme, sent a resolution adopted by various LULAC councils to U.S. Representative Maury Maverick, a liberal Texas Democrat, to register their “most vigorous protest against the insult thus cast upon our race.”[26] Maverick wrote to the director of the Census Bureau in Washington, D.C., that “to classify these people here as ‘colored’ is to jumble them in as Negroes, wich [sic] they are not and which naturally causes the most violent feelings.” He urged the director to include another category called “other white,” and argued that the classification of Mexicans as “colored” was simply inaccurate, because “people who are of Mexican or Spanish descent are certainly not of African descent.”[27] An irate Mexican American evangelist wrote that if Mexicans were colored, then [133] Senator Dennis Chavez of New Mexico, who was the first U.S. senator of Mexican descent, “will have his children classified as Negroes. Then Uncle Sam can hang his face in shame before the civilized nations of the world.”[28]

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), 132-133.
  1. [23]García, “Mexican Americans and the Politics of Citizenship,” p. 189.
  2. [24]El Continental, Oct. 6 and 25, 1936, CCC.
  3. [25]Collins v. State, 7. A. L. R., 895 (Okla.) in petition presented to the District Court of El Paso, M. A. Gomez et al., v. T. J. McCamant and Alex Powell, Oct., 1936, CCC.
  4. [26]LULAC Resolution, San Antonio Council no. 16 and Council no. 2, Oct. 14, 1936, CCC.
  5. [27]Maury Maverick to William L. Austin, Oct. 15, 1936, CCC; see also Calleros to Mohler, Oct. 9, 1936, CCC.
  6. [28]Herald-Post, Oct. 8, 1936, CCC.

“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.

“we are not and never have been a civil rights organization. Personally I hate that word” (Hector Garcia, qtd. in Foley)

1949: Felix Longoria and American GI Forum

A few years after World War II ended, another Mexican American civil rights organization was founded, the American GI Forum. Significantly, the name of the organization did not include any reference to its being an organization for Mexican American war veterans. Hector García, a medical doctor who founded the American GI Forum, achieved a degree of national attention in 1949 when he challenged the Anglo owner of a funeral home near San Antonio for refusing the use of the chapel to the Mexican American family of a deceased veteran, Private Felix Longoria. Dr. García organized a statewide protest that attracted the attention of U.S. Senator Lyndon [136] Baines Johnson who offered to have Private Longoria buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., with full military honors, which the family graciously accepted. The incident established the American GI Forum as an effective civil rights advocate for Mexican Americans, even though Dr. García himself insisted, years after the Longoria incident, that the American GI Forum was not a civil rights organization but rather a “charitable organization.” As late as 1954 Dr. García claimed, “we are not and have never been a civil rights organization. Personally I hate the word.” What did Dr. García have against the phrase “civil rights”?[33]

Here it is worth noting that the phrase “civil rights” was so firmly linked in the post-World War II imaginary to the civil rights struggle of African Americans that Dr. García perhaps thought it best not to acknowledge too forcefully the American GI Forum’s own civil rights agenda. […] Robert Kennedy, like Dr. García, did not wish to alienate whites in Texas–or anywhere else–by appearing to join the struggle of black people for civil rights.[35]

By the early 1950s the American GI Forum, while still denying that it was a civil rights organization, sought to end discrimination in Texas schools, in employment, and in the use of public spaces. The core strategy depended on educating Anglos that “Americans of Spanish-speaking descent” or Latin Americans were Caucasians and that to identify them as anything but white, whether on birth certificates or traffic citations, was illegal. Making any distinction between Latin Americans and whites, he wrote, was a “slur,” an insult to all Latin Americans of Spanish descent.[36]

A decade later, Vice President Hubert Humphrey made the mistake of writing the American GI Forum to announce the government’s new program to offer summer jobs to teenagers, especially, he wrote, for “the non-white teenagers.” The AGIF Auxiliary chairwoman, Mrs. Dominga Coronado, rebuked the vice president: “If everyone in the government takes the position emphasized in your letter ([that Mexicans are] nonwhite), then it is understandable why the Mexican American is getting ‘the leftovers’ of the Federal programs in employment, housing and education.”[37] White people, she seemed to imply, do not eat leftovers.

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), 135-136.

 

  1. [33]Hector García to Gerald Saldana, Mar. 13, 1954, box 141, folder 3, Hector P. García Papers, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, hereafter cited as HPG.
  2. [35]While not promoting the American GI Forum as a civil rights organization in 1949, García nevertheless wrote to the Texas governor that “Texas is in immediate need of a Civil Rights Program.” Hector P. García to Allan Shivers, Dec. 4, 1949, HPG.
  3. [36]Hector P. García to Editor, Lubbock Morning Avalanche, July 18, 1956, HPG.
  4. [37]Hubert Humphrey to Dominga Coronado, June 12, 1967; Dominga Coronado to Hubret Humphrey, June 26, 1967, HPG.

“His point was that the vast majority of El Paso Mexicans, who were not of the middle class, did not think of themselves as white and that El Paso blacks also did not regard Mexicans as white” (J. Hamilton Price, quoted and discussed in Foley)

J. Hamilton Price on Mexican protests of whiteness, non-coloredness. Followed Jim Crow patterns for colored, not white, people. / BB&W, p. 133.

Amidst all the protests that classifying Mexicans as “colored” insulted Mexicans on both sides of the border, little was heard from the African American community of El Paso, which, although small (less than two percent), could not have appreciated the Mexican community’s insistence that being classified in the same racial category as “negro” was the worst possible affront to Mexican racial pride. However, one El Pasoan, J. Hamilton Price, who was either African American or posing as one, wrote a long letter explaining how both blacks and whites in El Paso were roaring with laughter over the Mexicans’ exhibitions of wounded dignity.[29] Price wrote that local blacks did not consider Mexicans white, nor did they consider them to be superior to blacks. Furthermore, if Mexicans considered themselves superior to blacks, he wanted to know why Mexicans in El Paso ate, drank, and worked with people considered racially inferior. He went on to list the numerous ways in which Mexican behavior departed radically from Anglo-white behavior with respect to blacks. “One sees daily in this city,” he wrote, “Mexican boys shining the shoes of Negroes. If Mexicans are racially superior to Negroes,” he continued, “they shouldn’t be shining their shoes.”[30] It is worth listing all the behaviors Price described to indicate how ludicrous he found the Mexican claim to whiteness:

  • Some of the Mexican men had their hair made wavy to look more like the curly hair of Negroes.
  • In local stores Mexican clerks addressed Negro clients as “Sir” and “Ma’am.”
  • In local streetcars Mexicans occupied the seats reserved by law for Negroes.
  • Many Mexicans in El Paso preferred Negro doctors and dentists to those of their own race.
  • Many Mexicans were employed on ranches and in the homes and commercial establishments of Negroes.
  • Mexican boxers competed with Negroes in Juarez and would compete with them in El Paso, if it were permitted.
  • Mexican soccer players avidly played against Negroes, and many of the players on the Mexican teams were Negroes.
  • In some of the Mexican bars and small restaurants Negroes were as well received as Mexicans themselves.
  • Four out of five clients of Negro prostitutes were Mexicans.
  • In El Paso and Juarez many Mexican women were married to Negroes.

[134]Price wrote that the offspring of Mexican and black marriages were so numerous in El Paso that they were called “negro-burros,” literally, “black donkeys.” In Mexico, according to Price, many of these mixed-race persons were considered Mexican and occupied important positions in Mexican social circles. They often frequented the best theaters, restaurants, and Mexican hair salons, married Mexican women, and, if Democrats, were able to vote in the Democratic primaries in Texas, which otherwise barred blacks from voting. His point was that the vast majority of El Paso Mexicans, who were not of the middle class, did not think of themselves as white and that El Paso blacks also did not regard Mexicans as white. Price, angered by the manner in which Mexicans objected to being labeled as “colored,” ended his long leter with some racial invective of his own: “Though once pure Indians,” he wrote, “Mexicans had become more mixed than dog food–undoubtedly a conglomeration of Indian with all the races known to man, with the possible exception of the Eskimo.”[31]

Price’s letter brought a series of angry rebuttals from Mexicans who denounced Price as a coward for using a pseudonym–they could not find his name in the city directory. One writer, Abraham Arriola Giner, accused Negroes of deserving their inferior status for having tolerated oppressive conditions that no Mexican ever would. He boasted of the high level of culture attained by his Indian ancestors and belittled Negroes as descendants of “savage tribes” from Africa where they practiced cannibalism and did nothing to improve their lives. He reminded Price that American Negroes, as former slaves, did not have their own country or flag and that there was no honor for those who did not understand the meaning of liberty. In  afinal stroke of racial arrogance, Arriola Gina wrote that Mexicans would never tolerate any race claiming to be superior to Mexicans because “such superiority does not exist.”[32]

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), 133-134.
  1. [29]El Continental, Oct. 14, 1936, CCC. An editorial appearing opposite Hamilton’s letter stated that the letter appeared to be written “por un negro” and that although vulgar (“grosera”), the editor decided to publish the letter to express a different point of view.
  2. [30]El Continental, Oct. 14, 1936, CCC.
  3. [31]Ibid.
  4. [32]Ibid., Oct. 16, 1936.

“We Were Too White to Be Black and Too Black to Be White,” Tyina L Steptoe (2016)

PDF Document
Tyina L Steptoe (2016) – We Were Too White to Be Black and Too Black to Be White

 

128ff: “Letter from Chapultepec” and the question of race and skin color

  • “The tenth point of the manifesto related directly to ethnic Mexicans and the question of color. People of Mexican descent, they wrote, ‘are called “brown people,” “greasers,” et cetera and of course want to be called white.’ … The term brown people marked them as a nonwhite group, which could hurt their claims to whiteness in a place that considered anyone with African roots ‘colored.'”

149ff: “Letter from Chaptultepec” praised by and used as model by black branch of YWCA

  • “More problems arose when the African American branch of the YWCA discovered the letter and used it for their own purposes: ‘They heard about our [i.e. ethnic Mexicans’] problems and they said, “We have some problems too,”‘ said Estela Gómez of members of the black branch that contacted her. ‘”You did a great thing writing all of those things down.”‘ The African American women asked club officers Cortés and Gómez if they could publish the letter in their organization’s magazine, the Occasional Papers (“a quarterly publication for Negro [YWCA] branches”), and they agreed.’

143-146: segregation and Houston ship channel dockworkers

  • “the Mexican was a whole lot more decent man than the Negro”
  • “IF we let this union fall through our jobs will go to the Negroes”

1893: “The statute defined colored as ‘all persons of mixed blood descended from Negro ancestry. Thus Mexicans in the state were segregated by custom rather than by law…” (Foley)

1893: state segregation law for schools still defines “colored” as “Negro ancestry” / BB&W, 129

Second, Plessy v. Ferguson did not apply to Mexicans, inasmuch as they were officially recognized as “white.” In Texas, for example, the legislature passed a law in 1893, six years before the Supreme Court mandated “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites, that required separate schools for the state’s white and “colored” children. The statute defined colored as “all persons of mixed blood descended from Negro ancestry.”[11] Thus Mexicans in the state were segregated by custom rather than by law, and school districts defended the practice on the grounds that Mexican children did not speak English and spent part of the school year with their families as migrant agricultural workers. When Mexican American civil rights activists were able to show that Mexican children were arbitrarily segregated, regardless of English-language facility, the courts generally ruled in favor of the plaintiff Mexican Americans.[12]

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), 129.

 

  1. [11]C. H. Jenkins, The Revised Civil Statutes of Texas, 1925, Annotated, (Austin: H. P. N. Gammel Book Co., 1925), vol. 1, p. 1036.
  2. [12]See Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “The Origins, Development, and Consequences of the Educational Segregation of Mexicans in the Southwest,” in Chicano Studies: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. by Eugene E. García, Francisco Lomeli, and Isidro Ortiz (New York: Teachers College Press, 1984), pp. 195-208.

“some may suggest that legal rules patrol only the borders between races” — “construct races only at the margins” (Haney Lopez)

Irrespective of the use of violence, however, it may seem that at this coercive level laws construct races only at the margins. Granting that races are social constructions, some may suggest that legal rules patrol only the borders between races, resolving just those rare cases not already clearly defined within the underlying social systems of racial division. Arguably, only the person not clearly White or Black has her race determined in a prerequisite case or by her neighborhood. However, a focus on the coercive aspect of law seems to explain more than just the legal construction of race at the margins. Certainly the prerequisite cases legally established the legal identity of groups we now regard as firmly at the core of racial categories, for example the Japanese, and Jim Crow laws were indispensable in maintaining and even extending the social differentiation established through the slave codes and threatened during Reconstruction. Nevertheless, the explanatory power of this model should be questioned. How does law-as-coercion explain the continuing significance of race in a [123] postsegregation era? If races have been created through coercion, why hasn’t the end to the legal enforcement of racial differences been followed by a collapse in racial systems? Or, what can such a model tell us about the prevalent belief that races are legally fashioned? If races have been imposed, why is it that the vast majority of people embrace race so willingly? And why do these same people so vigorously deny that they have been coerced into a racial identity? Races are much more deeply embedded in our society than a theory of law-as-coercion would seem to explain. If law is a full participant in the construction of races, it must fashion races through some additional mechanism besides simple direct behavioral control.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 122ff.

“Black was a generic term encompassing all non-Whites” in People v. Hall, California 1854 (Haney López)

California – People v. Hall (1854) — Chinese testimony grouped with Black and Indian by construction, “Black” as generic term =df non-White, the reverse of arguments made in Texas 1845 state convention. / WBL 51ff

Unsurprisingly, this early social treatment of Chinese as akin to Blacks also found legal expression. For example, in the 1854 case People v. Hall the California Supreme Court heard the appeal of a White defendant challenging his conviction for murder. He appealed on the grounds that he was convicted only through the testimony of a Chinese witness, and that this testimony should have been excluded under an 1850 statute providing that “no Black, or Mulatto person, or Indian shall be allowed to give evidence in favor of, or against a White man.”[6] The court agreed with the defendant that the Chinese witness was barred from testifying by the 1850 statute, reasoning that Indians originally migrated from Asia, and so all Asians were conversely also Indian, and that, at any rate, “Black” was a [52] generic term encompassing all non-Whites, and thus included Chinese persons.[7] This legal equation of Chinese and Black status was not temporally or geographically unique. Three-quarters of a century later and across the country, Mississippi’s Supreme Court reached a similar decision, holding in 1925 that school segregation laws targeting the “colored race” barred children of Chinese descent from attending schools for White children.[8] Given their social and legal negroization, it may well have been easier for the Chinese and other immigrants to argue their qualification for citizenship as Blacks rather than as Whites.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 51ff.

 

  1. [6]Ozawa, supra, 260 U.S. at 198.
  2. [7]Ichioka, supra, at 9-17.
  3. [8]

“The governing authorities of any such city shall have the full power to define the … white race … full power to enforce … the segregation of the races” (1927 Segregation Act)

Negroes and Whites–Segregation of In Cities

S. B. No. 275.] Chapter 103.

An Act providing for the segregation or separation of the white and negro races and providing for the conferring of power and authority upon cities to pass suitable ordinance controlling the same and providing for fixing the penalty and declaring an emergency.

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Texas:

Section 1. That the power and authority is hereby conferred upon the Cities of Texas to provide by suitable ordinance for the segregation of negroes and whites in any such city and to withhold permits to build or construct a house to be occupied by white people in negro communities inhabited by negroes as defined by ordinance and to withhold building permits to any negro to establish a residence on any property located in a white community inhabited by white people as defined by ordinance.

Sec. 2. That it shall be lawful for negroes and whites to enter into mutual covenants or agreements concerning their respective residence and the power and authority is conferred upon the governing body of any city to pass suitable ordinances requiring the observance of any such agreement.

Sec. 3. That the governing authorities of any such city shall have the full power to define the negro race, negro community, white race and white community.

Sec. 4. That the governing authorities of any such city shall have full power to enforce the observance of any ordinance passed leading to or providing for the segregation of the races and to require the observance thereof by appropriate penalties.

Sec. 5. That this Act shall take effect from and after its passage and shall repeal all acts in conflict herewith.

Sec. 6. On account of the fact that there does not exist any adequate requirement or law conferring upon the cities of Texas the express power to pass suitable segregation laws between the whites and colored race, and whereas on account of the fact that the peace, quiet, and tranquility of such cities are greatly affected, as well as the public health greatly menaced, creates an emergency and an imperative necessity requiring the suspension of the constitutional rule that bills be read on three several days and it is hereby suspended, and this act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage and it is so enacted.

[Note.–The above act, though carrying the emergency clause, did not pass in the Senate by a roll call vote. Received in Executive Office March 15, 1927, and in Secretary of State’s Office March 16, 1927, without Governor’s signature.]

Effective ninety (90) days after adjournment.

H. P. N. Gammel, The Laws of Texas, 1927: Supplement Volume to the Original Ten Volumes, 1822-1897 (Austin, Texas: Gammel's Book Store, 1927), 154 (link).

See also: Full Power to Define