“Sir, that we have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race… To incorporate Mexico would incorporate an Indian race… These Mexicans would be equal to the people of the United States. I protest against such a Union as that!”
– U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun, 1848.
Sadly, those words sealed the fate of 1848 Native American, Mexican-descent people of Texas, and the entire Southwest. Said another way, it is how the U.S. government (and state) officials crafted policy regarding its new citizens.
Although those wicked words were spoken many years ago, their echo has returned with a vengeance. Alarmingly, the descendants of the Spanish Mexican pioneers who first invited Anglo U.S. citizens to immigrate to Texas are once again the target of bigotry. Two examples quickly come to mind.
* First, the Texas Governor has signed into law what can only be described as the most brazen, unfair anti-voting legislation. Aimed at discouraging the right to vote, such a scheme is designed to intimidate Mexican-descent Texans and other minorities.
* Second, the Texas Governor’s interference in the classroom is most worrying. Driven solely by a political agenda, he’s forcing teachers to:
(1) Hide the fact that slavery gave birth to 1836 Anglo Texas, and
(2) Nor does he want students to learn the bitter reality of how the Texas educational system failed many generations of Mexican-descent families.
Granted, these well-documented facts are not pleasant. Nevertheless, they must be included in social studies and history classes as a learning experience for students of all backgrounds. In the words of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Quite bluntly, in trying to mandate solely a Southern Anglo-centric version of Texas history, the Texas Governor is destroying the core of hard-won justice victories. To understand what’s at stake, let’s look back and review what it took supportive Anglo elected officials and our intrepid elders to achieve “liberty and justice for all”.
* Perhaps one particular court case (Hernández v. Driscoll, Texas CISD) demonstrates the deliberate discrimination against Texans of Mexican-descent. After the historic 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court Decision, the reality was that anti-Mexican racism was rampant here in Texas. Countering that injustice in 1955, a group of Mexican-descent students courageously appeared before U.S. District Court Judge James V. Allred.
They were there to testify against the official school board policy that segregated Mexican-descent students supposedly because they didn’t speak English. Appallingly, Mexican-descent students were forced to repeat first grade for three years, making them in reality forgotten pupils. As one would expect, many dropped out of school, unable to cope with the blatant racism.
Upon listening to the students’ command of the English language, Judge Allred ruled that the school board’s program was illegal, meant to separate Mexican-descent students based on their ethnicity. That led to the intolerant program’s termination.
For the record, Mexican-descent children in Driscoll, and throughout Texas never knew what they had done wrong to be so ill-treated by an educational institution that was supposed to protect them and nurture their young minds.
For those who wish to learn more of this incredible episode exposing the 1950s unequal Texas education system, please search online for the film, “Stolen Education” by Dr. Enrique Alemán. His mother Lupe (fourth-generation Texan) was one of the plaintiffs in the 1955 Driscoll CISD case.
* Indeed, Anglo colonial-style rule in Texas and the Southwest continued for over 100 years. In addition to the Driscoll case, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court Class Apart Decision found the State of Texas guilty of depriving Mexican-descent people of equal liberty and justice by treating them as a class apart.
* Although, bigotry subsided somewhat, it took President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 Civil Rights Act to bring about real change. No doubt, President Johnson recalled the abhorrent prejudice toward Mexican-descent students and their families he observed while teaching at a “Mexican” School in Cotulla, Texas.
* Equally important, the 1965 Voting Rights Act secured the right to vote for minority groups. Disturbingly, this landmark decision is being attacked today by not only the Texas Governor, but equally intolerant governors and racist politicians throughout the country.
* Of historical significance, the 1968 Equal Housing Act was another giant leap forward. This legislation granted Mexican-descent citizens the same housing choices as those provided to Anglo Saxon- and northern European-descent citizens.
Yet, in spite of the fact that the 1960’s introduced historic human rights laws that opened doors wide open for minorities, racial/ethnic discrimination has persisted. In effect, the battle is on-going.
* For instance, well into the 1990s, school lesson plans still treated Mexican-descent students in Texas and the Southwest as foreigners in their own homeland. Accordingly, the Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program was a major endeavor to ensure equality in the classroom.
Briefly, the MAS program seeks to convey the idea that Mexican-descent students’ heritage/cultural awareness is as important as the mandated New England-influenced, Anglo-slanted mainstream curriculum.
* Last, but certainly not least, Remember the Tejano Monument!Unveiled in 2012 in Austin, Texas, it’s the first memorial on the grounds of the state capitol that honors the Spanish Mexican founders of Texas. Using bronze and granite, sculptor Laredo-born Armando Hinojosa memorializes forever more the true origins of Texas. As I often urge people I meet, if you haven’t already visited the inspiring Tejano Monument, you are strongly encouraged to do so. Be sure to take your family.
Sadly, and on a personal note, it does concern me that today, some young people of Mexican-descent don’t appear to take the threat seriously posed by intolerant racists who wield political power in Texas. That’s why they must learn about the long road their elders travelled to gain basic human rights now taken for granted.
Additionally, my sincere advice to them is to start learning now by joining the nearest Texas State Hispanic Genealogy Society. If you are of voting age, vote for candidates who respect you, your heritage, and diversity. Make your vote count by casting it in honor of your ancestors who at one time weren’t allowed to vote.
In summary, it’s clear that the Texas Governor doesn’t understand that freedom isn’t freedom when you take it away from somebody else. Hence, remember these two important details:
* Sympathetic, supportive elected officials in the 1960s helped Mexican-descent Texans and other minorities achieve the liberties we enjoy today.
* By the same token, callous politicians are maliciously shaping unjust legislation to destroy those hard-won human rights victories.
(Note: Before closing, here’s an important point to keep in mind. Spanish-surnamed Texans of Mexican-descent are poised to regain majority status in Texas as soon as next year. Equally important, the Pew Research Center describes Hispanics (Mexican-descent majority) as the largest racial/ethnic minority group in the U.S.
In my view, this diverse group should put their differences aside and vote for common needs/issues. If they could unite, the resultant political power would be a force to be reckoned with.
Lastly, the question remains: What is it about equal voting rights and students learning the truth in the classroom that frightens the Texas Governor and his intolerant base? Sir Winston Churchill gives us the answer and is a great way to end this article.”The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by author and historian José Antonio López. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. López can be reached by email via: [email protected].
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column shows Dr. Enrique Alemán. (Photo courtesy: West Texas A&M University)
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