tv Book Discussion on Texas Mexican Americans and Postwar Civil Rights CSPAN August 5, 2015 6:37pm-6:54pm EDT
we really trace our indigenous roots to the very beginning of when texas had people on it. after the u.s.-mexico war, there was the treaty of guadalupe-hidalgo which gave about a third of mexico's landmass to the united states. they sold it for $15 million. as part of the treaty, the people of mexican descent who are left in what used to be mexico and now was part of the united states were supposed to have all the same rights as any american citizen. but what ended up happening was that pretty soon they were relegated to second class citizenship. we had segregated schools, no schools and a lot of places. we had segregated public institutions. in places where you would see
signs that said we don't surf mexicans or dogs, that was very prevalent throughout texas. my book focuses on post-world war ii events. it focuses on post-world war ii because that was a generation of men and women who were able to challenge some of those segregationist institutions we had in texas. after world war ii, the mexican-american men and women who went into the military got a new mindset. they had been wearing the military uniform all of a sudden a much greater numbers than before world war i. when they were wearing their uniforms in europe or in the pacific theater, they found that they were treated like americans. it is one of my favorite
stories. we have a man whose family had been one of the original spanish land grantees in the corpus christi area. when we interviewed him he brought the land grant papers with him because he wanted to show -- during world war ii he was in the military and he was standing on the tarmac at an airfield in texas. it is cold and there is wind whipping through the plane and he and all the other men are standing there with their hands in their pockets -- down to their pockets. one of their commanding officers comes along and says, soldiers at attention. american soldiers do not stand with their hands in their pockets. when he told us this story, he was really amused by it and he
said the reason i remember that is because no one had ever called me an american before. i had been called a lot of other things, but never american. that is what this was about for them. they saw themselves in a different way. they saw themselves as americans. that created a different mindset. the other part of it was the world war ii provided the returning gis benefits. a lot of them were able to get educational benefits they were able to go to college, trade school. some of them were able to go to law school. that had a huge effect on the larger mexican-american community. this book really centers on three stories. one of them is the integration of public schools in outline, texas in 1969. alpine, texas is a beautiful town kind of in a higher elevation than austan.
they had segregated schools, a school for the anglo kids north of the border -- train tracks at a school for the train tracks. they also had a separate school for african-american students. after 1954, after brown versus board of education, those black students were incorporated into the mexican american schools. they said we don't have segregated schools but they very much had segregated schools. they did not get desegregated until 1969. one of the reasons they wanted so much to integrate the schools was the issue of language. those children that were growing up in alpine, texas, the mexican-american children of this time and earlier, they grew up in spanish-speaking households. at home they would speak spanish.
then they would go to this segregated school and all of their friends also were all from spanish-speaking households. those kids were all talking to each other in spanish. there is english -- even though instructional was in english they were told you have to speak english -- they still were speaking spanish all the time. when they did speak in english a lot of them had a very heavy accent. the parents recognized that this would handicap their children, that not speaking the best english was going to hurt their children's chances later on. what would happen with these kids is the dropout rates were high, and the children felt that -- there was a sense that we are not as smart as because our english is not as good. that was like the big impetus
for a lot of these parents. they wanted their children to speak the same quality of english. in el paso -- el paso is right on the border with mexico. in 1957 the elected their first mexican-american mayor, raymond sais. raymond theus was a world war ii era veteran. he had a background in accounting. he understood that if he rocked the boat too much, the powers that be would not allow him to stay in office and in fact, every time he had gone up for election there had been powers in the community not the mexican-american community, who had pushed back and try to prevent him from getting elected trade how he was able to effect change was that he named to the civil service commission a man.
albert was a world war ii era veteran from el paso. he was very much i'm not going to take this from anybody. when the mayor named albert to the civil service commission, he knew that albert would be able to make significant changes because it was very clear to everyone that the police and fire departments had hardly any hispanics at all even though it was majority mexican americans. he goes to a meeting and they had a system. the civil service would get a list of all the applicants for the police and fire departments. on some of them there would be a line drawn through them. those people were not to be considered any further. >> i went into the archives.
i spent almost one week in that office. i took out every folder involved in the study and here are the conclusions that are reached. number one from 1963 -- 1953 to 1963 and before, because i took 10 years i stated this was prevailing before. every hispanic that ever pass the exam had been deleted from consideration as a policeman in the city of el paso. number two there were anglo
names that were deleted departmental refusal. [indiscernible] to facilitate the discrimination. anglo names were there. i looked at their records. they were doing the same thing to the black. either they were black or the men -- because it was all male, no female -- every name on that list anglo had a mexican mother or a mexican wife. they went that deeply into it. it was that deep rooted that
they would look at the man's mother, who happen to be half-and-half. professor rivas-rodriguez: they asked for a new rule that said the police and fire departments are not allowed to use this exclusion without giving just cause. because of that, they were able to finally integrate the police and fire departments. it was one of those things that how are you going to effect that kind of change. the third one is the third part of this book is about the creation of the mexican american legal defense and educational fund. it has all these people that are part of the story have the same childhoods. segregated schools, lack of opportunities, very little
expectation that things would be different for them. they go into the military. they come back and they are fired up, they think they can make significant changes for their people. one of the people that was part of that wave was a man from laredo texas. he started practicing law. right from the very beginning he opened his doors and he is flooded with people who are ready to press their cases. he becomes very involved in an organization called the league of united latin american citizens, and becomes their civil rights person for the local chapter. because he's that civil rights head, people begin to funnel all these complaints and petitions to him. the petitions themselves don't
accomplish anything. what did accomplish something was that newspapers were reporting on these. newspapers were saying lluulac council wrote a letter complaining of being kicked out of this restaurant or not being allowed service at this or that place, complained about not being considered for a job because they were mexican. every complaint you can imagine. he began making a name for himself. >> our first concept was to organize. i have no idea of the problems in the other states. professor rivas-rodriguez: the story of mexican-american civil rights gets lost when you are talking about civil rights. when people in our country think
about civil rights they usually think about african-american civil rights. in large measure, it's because that was a very dramatic story. that was a story that was televised. that was a story that people could switch on their television sets and they could see women children men getting hit by fire hoses in alabama. they could see the events on the bridge. that story has been told, and not that there is ever enough but that story is ingrained. that is part of our american psyche. we know those stories and those are really dramatic story straight the story about mexican-american civil rights was not as documented as that. and so although there were also
school walkouts, lynchings of mexican americans, large-scale police abuses, it did not get that level of national attention. i think that is because when people think -- there is still an idea that the mexican-american story is a regional story. i think that is a huge mistake because all the regions are part of the national story. because of our historical presence here, that is very much a national story. it is a continuing story. today it has become very intertwined with the immigration story. unfortunately, i think we do ourselves as americans a disservice by not understanding the broad scope of civil rights
in our country. it is really about all human beings demanding to be treated as human beings. >> texas used to be a solidly democratic state. coming up, the c-span cities tour gets a history of texas politics from wayne thorburn author of the book "red state and insider posterity of how the gop came to dominate texas politics -- an insider's story of how the gop came to dominate texas politics." mr. thorburn: when people think of texas politics they think of the recent presidents who have come from texas, starting with lyndon johnson in the 1960's and then the two bushes. that is probably the first thing they think of. beyond that they think of texas and how it has changed and become a very republican state. the history of texas politics is that for over 100 years texas was a one-party democratic state. the democratic party was the party of the south and it really
came out of the outgrowth of the civil war where the republican party was regarded as the party of the north, the party of the yankees, the party of the blacks. during the period of the 19th century, the base of the republican party up until the 1920's was black voters. as more and more black voters were excluded, so too republican votes went down. by the beginning of the 20th century, the democratic party was totally dominant. within the democratic party there were conservatives and as the 20th century went on, a number of liberal democrats. the contest became between conservatives and liberals within the democratic primary. up until about 1960, almost every elected official in the state was a democrat, and most of the elections that shows officials for public office took place in the democratic primary. you had a pattern up until about 1960