Vintage and Latino Racism

Dear Mexican,

My Dad says when he was a kid growing up in Downey, California, they used to open the local plunge (pool) to mexicanos and negritos on Thursdays only because the pool was cleaned once a week on Friday mornings. Is this an accurate account of racism in the 1940s or an exaggeration? Do you know of other blatant racial policies back then, and which ones still exist against Mexicans today?

Pocho Pendejo Who Can Barely Hablo Español

Dear Pocho,

Absolutely true story. Gabachos think that the desegregation movement was a primarily African-American affair, but that's nowhere near the verdad — fact is, Mexican-Americans not only suffered a lot of the same discrimination (work, school, housing, even pools) as African-Americans, they were also at the forefront of the legal battle to overturn such pendejo laws — especially in Southern California. For instance, a Mexican-American from Fullerton named Alex Bernal was sued by his gabacho neighbors in Orange County Superior Court when he moved into an all-white neighborhood; the case, Doss vs. Bernal set legal precedent against housing covenants, as Bernal won his case against those idiots. 1944's Lopez vs. Seccombe took on the issue of segregated swimming pools in San Bernardino; a federal judge found such discriminatory policies illegal. And Mendez, et al vs. Westminster, et al. found five OC Mexican familias take on school districts that made their children attend all-Mexican schools; that case went all the way up to a federal court of appeals, with an amicus curae brief from the NAACP (which, of course, would go on to argue the far-more-famous Brown v. Board of Education). Add in all the legal desmadre waged in Texas during the 1950s (especially the efforts of the brilliant Tejano legal team behind Hernandez vs. Texas (a 1954 Supreme Court case that found Mexis were humans under the 14th Amendment), and the current effort by folks today to fight for undocumented folks, and Mexicans not only have suffered from discrimination — we fight back for everyone's rights, as our legal precedents benefit todos.

Dear Mexican,

I'm a U.S.-born Latina whose family has lived in Colorado for generations. Over the last few years, I've noticed that more Latinos from the Caribbean and Central and South America are moving to our beautiful state. I've also noticed how pendante many of these newcomers are. One Puerto Rican executive is giving presentations to public relations firms in Denver, telling Anglos that not all Latinos are "poor or brown or Mexican." Why is it okay for every new group that moves to this state to use Mexicans as scapegoats?

Colfax Chica (But not the Streetwalking Kind)

Dear Dear Wabette,

Because that's the American way, chula. If there's one thing that new immigrants quickly learn after bus routes and how to get on welfare, it's to hate Mexicans. It gets particularly heated with Latinos, though, because many of them want to assert their own ethnic identity in a country that, outside of Washington, D.C., Florida, and parts of the East Coast, is almost exclusively Mexican when it comes to Latinos. Then again, while I don't blame the boricua for wanting to let people know he's not Mexican but rather Puerto Rican, I must also wonder why he wants people to know he's Puerto Rican in the first place...

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My Voice Nation Help

Which is to say, by wondering why anyone would want to identify as Puerto Rican, that you're perpetuating the racializing logic that animates this idiot Puerto Rican executive and missing the opportunity to address how class is implicated in US discrimination against ALL Latinos. FYI, this mutual racializing between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in the US has been amply documented in both popular media and scholarship. This phenomenon involves a shared subordinate structural position and the racism that has characterized both communities' experiences in the US for centuries now.

It's interesting to note, in your previous question, which I totally agree with, that you overlook how the family in Westminster was constituted by a Mexican father and a Puerto Rican mother. Which in itself documents how a Puerto Rican presence in the US West and Southwest has largely been ignored or erased. Puerto Rican numbers in these have certainly been lower than those for Mexicans, but it's not new and it's increasing, much as Latino communities in the South and the Northeast of the US are increasingly diverse.

I'm aware that I'm supposed to take your responses (at least, partially) as humorous. (I think.) But mutual racializing isn't helping anyone. And the ongoing racism isn't too funny anyway. Or it's not  in certain contexts, when Latino communities are suffering, while those of us who are journalists or writers or academics or executives have the advantage to participate in public fora that are not open to others of us. Lastly, when humor, which is certainly a very powerful and strategic tool, indulges in historic reductionism and erasure, it lends itself to reproducing the racist stereotypes that affect us.

Yes, I'm Puerto Rican, but like many other Puerto Ricans,  I've always kept in sight the larger contexts of US colonialist interventions and the history of oppressive relations it maintains with Latin American societies and immigrants. Indeed, we tend to be extremely self-critical and to cannibalize each other, which I think happens with many other Latino national groups. Please don't do stuff that plays into the US's hegemonic strategies because it simply keeps us divided. It's not that I believe either in some lame kumbaya spirit of Latino togetherness, but that political mobilization is hampered by the perpetuating of mutual snarkiness. Juntos pero no revueltos.