Contrary to the much-publicized struggle against segregation by African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans’ fight for social, economic, and racial inclusion remains relatively unwritten. Stories of white discrimination against the Hispanic-Americans remain untold, while the closer attention is paid to the struggles of the Black-Americans. Probably this gets attribution to the fact that most activities against segregation hailed from the Black-American community.
Rosa Parks, the women behind the post-war struggle for equality and war on racism came from the black community. Martin Luther King Jr., the force behind equality also originated from blacks. However, it is vital to note that the Hispanic-Americans were vocal in the fight for equality too. In a society where the Whites felt superior, the Declaration of Independence brought up avenues for social, economic, and political equality.
Together with the fight by Blacks, Latino civil groups, and individual activists played a crucial role in creating a society that appreciated the liberty and equal justice for all the citizens. Through education and civil disobedience, the Hispanic community demystified stereotypes that presented the Latinos as racially inferior and intellectually below the levels of the white counterparts in the country.
Moreover, through lessons in schools, educators taught against playing second level citizenry, creating increased self-esteem among the Latinos. These coupled with other measures helped in crafting a society that appreciates equality across all groups of citizens.
When President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery and all forms of servitude, marginalized groups such as Blacks, Latinos, and the Indian Americans sighed with relief. The future seemed bright with equality taking center stage. However, the struggle remained the same; Whites continued to oppress the minority groups.
For example, only white men were entitled to voting rights while women remained quasi-members of society. Increasing civil disobedience, social strives, and rising number of activists reshaped the struggle for inclusivity. Martin Luther King Jr., in borrowing much from Mahatma Gandhi’s style of social disobedience, preached peace, love, and harmony as he embraced discourse towards an all-inclusive society.
The Ku Klux Klan, on the other hand, believed in an eye for eye revenge, in which violence played a great role in retaliatory actions against the white oppressors. Hispanic Americans, on their part, remained relatively less vocal in this respect even though their complete dissatisfaction with white domination was evident.
1900-1920: Origin of the Struggles
In one patrol instance, immigration officers in border patrol unit arrested Puerto Rican’s activist, Isabel Gonzalez, a Hispanic migrant in the Port of New York. After the officers denied her entry into the US on racial grounds, she picked up a fight with the officer, assaulting many in the end. With Isabel’s case leading to the then greatest legal battle on racial segregation in the Supreme Court, more than one thousand two hundred workers from the Mexican and Japanese origin teamed up to form the first farm workers union in 1903.
The Japanese Mexican Labor Association became the first union to organize a successful labor strike with protection from the courts against the Californian Agricultural Industry. After a long legal battle, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Isabel Gonzalez, setting up her dream for social activism in the US.
To counter the entry of more radical Hispanic Americans, the US government launched the first border patrol units to block the alien from sneaking into the republic via the Mexican Gulf. On several occasions, when the Mexican Revolution insurgents destabilized the ruling unit, several Mexicans would cross the border of the US for asylum, safety, and employment opportunities (Gonzalel, 2000).
El Primer Congreso Mexicanista marked the beginning of a long and tedious period of fighting against social and political biases in 1911. This convention dubbed Mexican American against social injustice that took place in Laredo, Texas with leaders calling the Mexicans to stand up for their dignity and social rights.
Through these struggles, the prohibition of social segregation of children with Hispanic origins and the introduction of bilingual teaching structures in educational centers represented the development made through the struggles of this period. The period between 1914 and 1916 marked the most trying moment of struggle by the marginalized Hispanic groups.
To make the Whites realize the extent of their dissatisfaction, the Colorado militia organized an attack by striking coalmine workers in the Ludlow Massacre in which more than 40 people died (Menchaca, 2001). The following year, race wars erupted in Texas with Hispanic American instigating the first rebellion against organized groups from the white population. Land, slavery, mistreatment, and discrimination in farms represented the born of contention during this period.
The struggle resulted in a redistribution of land to the locals and poor marginalized communities oppressed by the Whites. Violent social strives continued for the better part of this period with the destruction of properties belonging to the Whites, destruction of railroads was meant to sabotage transportation of farm inputs and clashes with federal troops taking up major resources from the Hispanic Americans (Donato, 1997).
White vigilante groups, rangers, and other militia outfits emerged to protect their interests during this time. It is during this time that the US experienced the highest number of the shooting of Mexicans across the South of Texas. This forced the federal government to impose curfews on Mexicans to regulate their time of movements (Menchaca, 2001).
As Maclean (2014) remarked, towards the end of 1919, more than five thousand Mexicans had succumbed to mistreatment and shootings, while thousands of other people were forced to drive out from their own lands. Mexican revolutionary leader, Francisco Villa aka Pancho formed an insurgent group that seemed to address the mistreatment of Hispanic Americans.
In 1916, Pancho masterminded an attack in the town of Columbus as a protest which leads to the death of several whites. In a reactionary move to Pancho’s move, the US government closed its borders with Mexico. This further created animosity between the Anglos and the Hispanic population. As conservative Americans like Jim Crow fought for the institutionalization of segregation laws, more violence continued to erupt.
1921-1940: Struggles amid Economic Crisis
Between 1918 and1920, civil strives and racial wars forced several Mexicans out of the US. However, during the early 1920s, relaxed civil and migration laws coupled with the creation of employment in mining and coal industry re-energized the entry of Hispanic-Americans into the US.
The return of the Mexicans created a new era of social struggles for equality. However, their return found a relatively low level of changes in the civil organization in the US. Hispanic-Americans remained a second-class citizen, and discrimination in the educational institutions was at its peak. Mexican-American children were considered intellectually inferior compared to their White counterparts (MacDonald, 2004).
Four years later, American rancher, Adolfo Romo Senior, took the Temple Elementary School to court for rejecting his children. Even though many Whites considered this suit low level and second class, McKissack (2000) notes that its impact on the fight for social and civil equality was quite significant at the time.
Mexican farm workers formed the Federation of Mexican Workers Union with the aim of consolidating the Mexican workforce through these fights and return of workers into the US. Geared towards collective bargaining powers, this union looked forward to expressing the workers’ dissatisfaction with their wages, treatment levels, housing, and compensations.
It is these workers unions and lobby groups that enabled Octavio Larrazolo to become the first Senator from the Hispanic group in 1928. After his election, Larrazolo marshaled independent interest groups with Hispanic bearing to form the umbrella union of Latin organization named the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in 1929 (MacDonald, 2004).
The Onset of the Great Depression in 1929 presented another hurdle for the Hispanic Americans’ struggle for equality. With job losses due to the closure of companies, the US faced a major financial crisis needed a desperate solution to the rising employment and compensation troubles.
Leaders and county official in Texas, California, and Arizona capitalized on the Deportation Act with searches and deportation of Mexicans. They deported leaders of labor unions, activists, as well as vocal individuals suspected to be spearheading the struggle for equality (Contreras, 2013).
As deportation continued, LULAC moved to court with the first desegregation case in school. Even though they lost the case on appeal, the court ruled in their favor – directing all educational institutions to prohibit discrimination against the Hispanic children. Several other cases came to court with LULAC as the plaintiff; for example, LULAC versus Southern Pacific Railroad, which intended to compel the company to accord skilled apprenticeships to Mexican Americans.
The overall leadership of the Black workers led by Philip Randolph pressurized the US government to come up with the Fair Employment Practices Committee to address issues of workers’ victimization in all sectors. This period marked the beginning of the end of discrimination against Hispanic America. For the first time in American history, several Latinos were recruited into the federal forces to join World War II. At the end of the war, thousands of Latino soldiers earned a great number of medals (Contreras, 2013).
1941-1960: Social Segregation and America after World War II
This era marked radical resolutions that influenced relationships between the Whites and the Mexicans. Even though the Bracero program of 1942 acknowledged the Mexicans’ work status as temporary, it acted as a reprieve for the Mexicans. However, the entry of Mexicans into the US was an inflow of low-cost labor which provoked several Whites. In 1943, one of the worst racial assaults in Mexican history took place.
In the eyes of the local Sherriff departments, the navy, army, and marines drag out several Mexican children from movie hangouts and assaulted them in the streets. The following year, 1944, New Mexico senator developed the employment practices bill to check on employment concerns of the marginalized groups and oppressed communities. Even with the Senate’s decline to pass the bill due to its Mexican origin, it acted as the foundation stone for the famous 1964 Civil Rights Act (Faville, n.d).
In 1947, the founder of Industrial Areas Foundation, Saul Alinsky employed Fred Ross Sr., a Mexican civil rights activist, to marshal Americans of Hispanic origin in California. Ross formed the infamous Community Service Organization (CSO) with a view of encouraging registration of more electorates, as well as offering free civic education on issues such as human rights, wellbeing, occupation, and tutelage.
It is vital to note that this organization grew to produce some of the most vocal social and civil activists such as Ed Roybal, Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, and Cruz Reynosa. Notably, Roybal became the first Californian congressional representative of the Mexican community, while Reynosa became the first Latino in the Federal Supreme Court of California (Faville, n.d).
As more community empowerment and civic education gained ground in the Mexican communities, pressure for social equality increased. Organization of workers in the Mine, Mills and Smelter industries planned the longest work go-slow that totally reshaped the trends in civil disobedience. This union, which was composed of Latino men and their wives, is still considered as one of the bitterest strikes ever witnessed in the history of the mines.
Both the local and state law-enforcement officers came out eloquently in support of the striking workers. After a fifteen month battles between the union and their employees, the union won the case against all the odds. With several strikes rising in the US at the time, the immigration department stepped in to control the entry of illegal immigrants from Mexico. Dubbed Operation Wetback, border patrol officers arrested over 7 million Mexicans in Texas, Arizona, and California, and sent them back to Mexico (Menchaca, 1999).
After 1960: Reprieve to the Oppressed
This era marked the end of social seclusion since Congress passed the Civil rights Act in 1964. Before the enactment of what remains as America’s most powerful act, the Chicano acted as a language, culture, style, and identification for most youths with Mexican origins. The Chicano played an imperative role in embracing inclusivity, social equality, and civic education among the marginalized communities.
Likewise, it helped increase the level of human rights awareness among the Mexican groups, leading to rising pressure on the government to ensure equality. With Martin Luther King Jr. coming into the picture of civil strives and social disobedience, more youths from the Mexican community gained entry into civil activism (MacDonald, 2004).
During this period, the Chicano youth leadership and individual activists such as Dolores Huerta and Chavez Cesar led Mexicans into a nationwide boycott on national grape to disrupt the operations of the Di Giorgio Corporation Products and Schenley Industries. Markedly, this boycott played a crucial role in shaping the civil justice movements.
The Cuban American Adjustment Act of 1966 created a window for the Cubans to earn American citizenry within one year of residence in the US. Such was the first of its kind for the Hispanic community (Menchaca, 1999). More laws to liberalize the social setting came into force after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Bilingual Education Act of 1968 as well as the Equal Education Opportunity Act of 1974 guaranteed social equality in schools; the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provided for the legalization of illegal immigrants under certain conditions. Clearly, these acts paved the way for relatively equal treatment of the Hispanic Americans in the US (MacDonald, 2004).
Social stratification remains one of the ghosts of American history. Activists lost lives, the oppressed destroyed properties while White landowners lost control of their relatively cheap workforce. However, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, the passing of relevant laws to ensure every individual enjoys the inalienable rights and freedoms played an inordinate role in stemming out social inequalities.
Even though gaps in housing, education standards, health care, and employment distribution still exist in the social setting, the Latinos currently have access to more basic services enjoyed by the Whites. As development takes place coupled with the dynamism in the social, economic, and political setting, it is imperative to note that the governments in place remain committed to stamping out the post-war social inequalities.
Contreras, R. (2013). Latinos inspired by 1963 march to push for rights. Web.
Donato, R. (1997). The Other Struggle for Equal Rights: Mexican Americans during the Civil Rights Era. New York: State University of New York Press.
Faville, A. (n.d). A Civil Rights History: Latino/Hispanic Americans. Web.
Gonzalel, J. (2000). Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. New York: Penguin Books.
Johnson, F. M. (2001). Defending Constitutional Rights. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
MacDonald, V. M. (2004). Hispanic, Latino, Chicano or Other: Deconstructing the Relationship between Historian and Hispanic-American Educational History. History of Educational Quarterly, 41(8): 365-413.
Maclean, N. (2014). The Civil Rights Movement:1968-2008. National Humanities Centre. Northwestern University Press.
McKissack, F. l. (2000). This Generation of Americans: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement. Columbus, Ohio: Jamestown Publishers.
Menchaca, M. (1999). The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Racialization of the Mexican Population. Harvard Education Press, Cambridge.
Menchaca, M. (2001). Recovering History, Constructing Race: the Indian, Black and White Roots of Mexican Americans. Austin: Texas University Press.