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Dismantling Cradle to Grave Segregation

July 7, 2017

Before WW II, discrimination against Mexican-Americans throughout the Southwest looked very much the same as it did for black folks in this country. 

 

In 1943 the Méndez family sought to enroll their children in the one of the schools in Westminster (CA). They were told their kids were too dark, had a Mexican last name, and would have to enroll in the “Mexican” school further from their home. This led to the little know lawsuit Méndez v. Westminister challenging the segregation of Mexican American children in the California schools. The Méndez’ won this lawsuit when the Court of Appeals held it violated the US Constitution. In fact, Méndez was cited as precedent in the United States Supreme Court in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. See https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2014/05/before-brown-v-board-of-education-there-was-mendez-v-westminster/

 

In preparing for the presentation of Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?, my one-woman show in San Antonio on July 21, 2017, I reacquainted myself with the case of Felix Longoria and its role in the Mexican-American civil rights movement.

 

Longoria was killed in the final days of World War II in the Philippines. Three years later, the US government was finally returning his remains to his family for a proper burial. The only funeral home in Three Rivers, the pueblito where the Longorias lived, would not let the family have the wake in the chapel because “the whites wouldn’t like it.”

 

Dr. Hector P. Garcia and the American GI Forum brought the story to the public’s attention and Lyndon Baines Johnson, a US Senator from Texas, arranged a military burial for Felix Longoria with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery. http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/longoria.htm.

 

Flimmaker John J. Valadez tells this painful and complicated story and the impact the incident still has on the community of Three Rivers (and for that matter throughout South Texas) in a PBS documentary, the Longoria Affair. More info at: 

http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/longoria-affair/

 

Fast forward . . . to 2016 (YES, that’s last year). The American GI Forum and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), sued the Normanna Cemetery Association, which oversees the San Domingo Cemetery in South Central Texas. The widow of Pedro Barrera was told he could not be buried there “because he’s a Mexican.” She was directed to “go up the road and bury him with the n----- and Mexicans.” https://www.texastribune.org/2016/05/05/texas-cemetery-sued-over-whites-only-policy/

 

Government-sanctioned segregation was the law of the land for centuries, and the impact of these laws is still very much with us. Civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination have been on the books for only decades, and today efforts are being made to weaken or eliminate these laws. I am grateful for all those organization and individuals who fight for fairness and equality.

 

The Longoria Affair is featured in one of the scenes of my one woman show, Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name? at the Guadalupe Theatre in San Antonio, Friday, July 21, 2017. Tickets at: http://www.guadalupeculturalarts.org/why-would-i-mispronounce-my-own-name/

 

 

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