1920s: “a jury indicted Bob Lemmons, an African American married to a Mexican woman, for violating the law forbidding miscegenation. He would not have been prosecuted were it not for the fact that he and his wife attempted to send their children to the white school instead of the black school.” (Foley, The White Scourge)

Miscegenation laws forbade the marriage of blacks with whites, but because Mexicans were often regarded as nonwhite, even if they were legally white, they were rarely, if ever, prosecuted.[13] In one particular case the law was applied for entirely different reasons than that of intermarriage. During the 1920s a jury indicted Bob Lemmons, an African American married to a Mexican woman, for violating the law forbidding miscegenation. He would not have been prosecuted were it not for the fact that he and his wife attempted to send their children to the white school instead of the black school. Mexican children in this township attended the white school in separate classrooms for the first two or three years; afterwards, only a token few, usually the ones Anglo teachers singled out as being “clean” and “not like the others,” were permitted to continue their education. A judge from Dimmit County, where the case was tried, told Paul Taylor: “The Negroes with Negro-Mexican children and the Mexicans wanted to send their children to the white school, so when that started… they just indicted and tried them for violating the law against intermarriage. Then they tipped off the women that if they had nigger blood they could not put the men in jail.”[14] Lemmon’s Mexican [209] wife confessed that she must be part black in order to have charges dropped against her husband for marrying a white person. This “proved that all the Mexicans were black,” reported one county resident, “so we put the Mexicans and Negroes together in school and employed a part Negro to teach them.”[15] The judge solved the problem of segregating Mexicans from whites in a town that had only two schools for three ethnic groups by changing the racial classification of Mexicans to black.

Neil Foley, The White Scourge: Mexicans, Blacks, and Poor Whites in Texas Cotton Culture (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 208-209.

 

  1. [13]Interview with H. H. Schultz, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Austin, Texas, no. 192-363, folder “American Government Officials,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers. When whites married Mexicans, especially of the “peon” class (dark-skinned), they were said to have descended “to the level of the Mexicans” (interview with Mr. Martin, county agent, El Paso County, Texas, no. 85-90, folder “Along Rio Grande,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers). For a fine study of miscegenation law and racial ideology, see Pascoe, “Miscegenation Law,” 44-69.
  2. [14]Interview with Judge Wildenthal, no. 54-644, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers.
  3. [15]Interview with John Asker, no. 42-634, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers, and interview with Bob Lemmons, no. 246-417, folder “Dimmit County,” 74-187c, Taylor Papers. Asker told Taylor that he liked Mexicans but added, “You can’t make a rose out of an onion.”

1927: Spanish Language May Be Taught In Schools In Certain Counties

In a previous Act of the legislature passed a few years before, the Texas state legislature had passed a sweeping attack on bilingual education in the state of Texas in an act forbidding the use of languages other than English in Texas schools; by 1927, it became clear from community and teacher complaints that the text of the act effectively forbade even teaching foreign languages as courses in Texas schools. The Legislature passed a second act, amending the first Act to preserve the ban on languages other than English outside of foreign-language classes, but with an exception to allow for teaching foreign languages, including Spanish, German, and Bohemian (the original targets of the English-only law, which in the 19th century had been used in many community schools as a primary language of instruction).

Spanish Language May Be Taught in Schools in Certain Counties

[…]

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

Section 1. That Article 288 of the Penal Code of the State of Texas adopted at the Regular Session of the Thirty-Ninth Legislature, 1925, be and the same is hereby amended so as to read as follows:

“Art. 288. Except as herein provided, each teacher, principal and superintendent employed in the public free schools of this State shall use the English language exclusively in the conduct of the work of the schools and recitations and exercises of the school shall be conducted in the English language, and the trustees shall not prescribe any texts for elementary grades not printed in English; provided, however, that it shall be lawful to provide text books for and to teach the Spanish language in elementary grades in the public free schools in counties bordering on the boundary line between the United States and the Republic of Mexico and having a city or cities of five thousand or more inhabitants according to the United States census for the year 1920. It is lawful to teach Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish, Bohemian or other language as a branch of study in the high school grades as outlined in the state course of study. Any such teacher, principal, superintendent, trustee, or other school official having responsibility in the conduct of the work of such schools who fails to comply with the provisions of this article shall be fined not less than twenty-five nor more than one hundred dollars, cancellation of certificate or removal from office, or both fine and such cancellation or fine and removal from office.

Sec. 2. The fact that under the present law it is unlawful to teach Spanish in the elementary grades in the public free schools of this State and that in counties having cities of over five thousand population bordering on the boundary line between the United States and the Republic of Mexico, a knowledge of the Spanish language is of inestimable value to the citizens and inhabitants of such counties and cities, and the fact that in order to obtain a speaking knowledge and mastery of any foreign language, it is imperative that instruction in such language be begun at the earliest possible period and the crowded condition of the calendar creates an emergency and an imperative [268] public necessity that the constitutional rule requiring bills to be read on three several days in each House be suspended and that this Act take effect and be in force from and after its passage, and said rule is hereby suspended, and it is so enacted.

[…]

Approved March 28, 1927.

Effective (90) ninety 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), 283-284 (link).

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.

“Further, they sought to assert their contention that they were Caucasian, as LULACers did in 1936 when the U.S. Bureau of the Census ruled that Mexicans be identified as ‘non-white’.” Administrative classification, school segregation, and LULAC. (De Leon)

LULAC’s commitment was to improving the human condition for all within the Mexican community regardless of class, even nativity. Though the organization restricted membership to the native born, it did accept those who were naturalized (the organization argued that the foreign born had their defenders in the Mexican consul, but LULAC leaders worked closely with the consuls in cases involving Mexican nationals). Ideologically, LULAC sought to act upon old problems. LULACers still combated the entrenched racist sentiments holding that Mexicans were “unclean” and the Anglo contention that Mexican Americans were not white folks.[20] In response, the organization launched efforts to secure civil liberties and access to opportunity by trying to overturn segregation; in their view the practice stood out as the most personal reminder that Anglo Americans considered Mexican Americans second-class citizens.[21] Further, they fought to assert their contention that they were Caucasian, as LULACers did in 1936 when the U.S. Bureau of the Census ruled that Mexicans be identified as “non-whites.” Protest from LULAC councils across the state forced the Census Bureau to retract the categorization. Similar pressure exerted upon the Social Security Administration that same year forced the Social Security Board to accept the application of Mexican Americans as white.[22]

Similarly, the league worked doggedly to pry open more opportunities in education. It initially challenged school segregation in the case of Independent School District, et al. v. Salvatierra (1931) arguing for an end to the deliberate segregation of Mexican children in Del Rio. A Texas Court of Civil Appeals ruled that arbitrary segregation was unjust but sided with school officials who contended that the students’ retention of the Spanish language made segregation necessary.[23] Without funds to follow up on Salvatierra, LULAC pursued other tactics, such as going before school districts and conferring with administrators to argue for better teaching for Mexican-American children. To disseminate their faith in education, LULACers organized evening schools in barrios and conducted meetings that focused on the topic of U.S. citizenship. They also undertook fundraisers to subsidize the education of good student prospects who might become skilled workers, lawyers, doctors, and teachers.[24]

De Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas, 102.

  1. [20]De León, Ethnicity in the Sunbelt, pp. 81, 86, 87-89; Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, p. 232.
  2. [21]García, Rise of the Mexican American Middle Class, pp. 301-302; Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “Let All of Them Take Heed”: Mexican Americans and the Campaign for Educational Equality in Texas, 1910-1981 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987), p. 76.
  3. [22]Mario T. García, “Mexican Americans and the Politics of Citizenship,” New Mexico Historical Review, LIX (April, 1984), 188, 198-199, 200-201.
  4. [23]Everett Ross Clinchy, “Equality of Opportunity for Latin Americans in Texas” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1954), pp. 188-189.
  5. [24]García, Rise of the Mexican American Middle Class, p. 272; San Miguel, “Let All of Them Take Heed,” p. 81; Márquez, LULAC, pp. 28-29.

“lawyers for Mexican Americans moved away from the old claim that Mexican Americans were white people” — Cisneros and Civil Rights Law (de Leon)

But newer middle-class organizations also surfaced out of el movimiento, among them the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), founded in 1968. Funded by government grants and private corporations, MALDEF–reflecting a posture between the old guard from the Mexican American Generation and the newer militancy–worked through the courts to protect Mexican-American rights. It assailed, for instance, practices that marred equal educational opportunities, such as discriminatory school funding or continued segregation. In so doing, it took several cases into the courts, among the most famous being Cisneros v. Corpus Christi Independent School District (1970).[13]

As school officials utilized the accepted Mexican-American classification of “white” as a subterfuge in school desegregation and continued the pattern of excluding Mexican Americans from Anglo schools, lawyers for Mexican Americans moved away from the old claim that Mexican Americans were white people. Attorneys adopted the position that Mexican Americans must be recognized as an “identifiable ethnic group.” This new categorization would circumvent the ploy used by Anglo-controlled school boards of using Tejanos (classified as white) to “integrate” certain schools. The Mexican-American community was gratified when in June 1970, a federal district judge ruled that Mexican Americans could be considered an identifiable ethnic minority and that the equal protection of the law guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment applied to them. Though the case was appealed, in 1973 the United States Supreme Court acknowledged the separate legal status of Mexican Americans. For MALDEF, the decision provided an important legal mechanism for its desegregation cases.[14]

Arnoldo de Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas, 129.

(footnotes to follow)

  1. [13]San Miguel, “Let All of Them Take Heed,” pp. 177-181; García, Chicanismo, p. 11.
  2. [14]San Miguel, “Let All of Them Take Heed,” pp. 177-181. Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “Mexican American Organizations and the Changing Politics of School Desegregation in Texas, 1945-1980,” Social Science Quarterly, 63 (December, 1982), 710.

“the mayor assured me that not only would they receive Mexican children gladly in the public schools, but that he would personally accompany the parents to enroll the children” (Tafolla)

But his encounters with local communities were not always pleasant. In the primarily Catholic communities in which he preached, Protestantism was seen as worse than even the Papally condemned Masonry. A community dispute in Corpus Christi over the validity of local schools and their openness to Mexican-American students proved to be a thinly veiled “civil war” between community Catholics and community Protestants. The following interchange, between Santiago and the editor of a newspaper in Corpus Christi, Texas, early in his preaching career, shows evidence of this friction.

An article in the Spanish-language newspaper El Horizonte expressed doubt as to whether the public “American” schools would accept Mexican-American children, “tiempo perdido a mandar a nuestros niños a las escuelas americanas.” So Santiago, newly arrived to town with three school-age children, goes to see the mayor “con algún temor de ser avergonzado,” and asks him if this is true.

But the mayor assured me that not only would they receive Mexican children gladly in the public schools, but that he would personally accompany the parents to enroll the children, which is what he did with me…

Any honorable man and good citizen should pledge their efforts for the education of our youth. For only in this manner will the government end up having good citizens. But I see in this article complaints against the administrators of our public school system….

[97] With that letter, (and with his vocal presence in the community) he drew the ire of the editorial staff, and a long duel of newspaper letters followed between Santiago and Santos López, where Santiago writes “Usted no ha olido la doctrina de Cristo pues pertenece al sistema esparío de la iglesia romana” and Santos López responds, “¿Dónde aprendioacute; a espresarse así, don Santiaguito? ¿Sería en alguna cantina de San Antonio?” He also accuses Santiago of preaching falsehoods, because “it is all based on absurdities, a natural fruit of Protestant reform.” The arguments descend from there to a mocking verse about a Tafolla who “confuses error with truth … ignorance with science … and vice with virtue.” Much of their dispute over educational systems appears to be mere preface for the deeper argument between them–the conflict between the two religious traditions. By, in effect, “integrating” their mexicano religious community, Santiago upset the status quo, and challenged traditional community power structures.

Carmen Tafolla, “Epilogue,” A Life Crossing Borders: Memoir of a Mexican-American Confederate. Houston, Tex.: Arte Público Press. Edited by Carmen Tafolla and Laura Tafolla. 96-97 [91-106].

[ca. 1881? maybe a few years later?]