Ruben Salazar remembered
Today the United States Postal Service adds Ruben Salazar to its honor role of American journalists by issuing a first-class Salazar postage stamp. But the former Times columnist had left his mark long before his death during the 1970 Chicano Moratorium March. As both a columnist and news director of the television station KMEX, Salazar was an important figure in L.A. journalism.
Salazar’s death on August 29, 1970 made him a symbol of multiple issues from that era. He became, in part retroactively, a central figure of the Chicano movement of the 1960s, and his name is still associated with suspicions of police corruption. The circumstances of his shooting (with a tear gas canister) by an L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy remain murky to this day, and the site of the Silver Dollar Café where the shooting took place remains a staple of east-side walking tours. Salazar’s death also led to Hunter S. Thompson’s landmark article “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan,” which attempted to piece together the many conflicting official and eyewitness versions of the tragedy.
Salazar’s own writings ranged from coverage of the protests and moratoriums of the late ‘60s to an assignment as a correspondent in Vietnam. He also headed the Times Mexico City bureau. The selection of columns below, beginning with his last, give a flavor of Salazar’s journalism during the last year of his life.
The Mexican-Americans NEDA Much Better School System | Who Is a Chicano? And What Is It the Chicanos Want? | Mexican-American’s Dilemma: He’s Unfit in Either Language | Chicanos vs. Traditionalists | The ‘Wetback’ Problem Has More Than Just One Side | Chicano’s Long Love Affair with Democratic Party Ends | Don’t Make the ‘Bato Loco’ Go the Way of the Zoot Suiter | Why Does Standard July Fourth Oratory Bug Most Chicanos? | Chicano Reminds Blacks They Are Not the Only Minority | A Mexican-American Hyphen | Best Kept Secret in L.A. Television | Police-Community Rift | Maligned Word: Mexican
The Mexican-Americans NEDA Much Better School System
August 28, 1970
A week ago today Vice President Agnew stood in a sea of television lights at the Century Plaza Hotel to announce the formation of a new national organization to promote business development among the nation’s 10 million Spanish-speaking citizens.
Agnew said the undertaking would help ensure that “Americans of Hispanic descent get a fair chance at the starting line.”
By the end of the day, thanks to the great coverage the Vice President gets from the news media, the whole nation knew of the formation of the National Economic Development Assn. or NEDA.
In the barrios Chicanos immediately started calling NEDA NADA, which in Spanish spells “nothing.”
Why this rude put-down about an organization which undoubtedly will help some worthy, energetic Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs?
The bitterness stems from the distortion of priorities in this country.
Just two days before Agnew made his announcement, Sen. Mike Mansfield complained that too much attention was being given to the ABMs and the SSTs [*] and not enough to the ABCs.
NEDA, started with a grant from the Small Business Administration, will initiate business development for the Spanish-speaking through public and private sources, it was announced. Fine. Great. Long overdue.
But is it accurate for the Vice President to say that NEDA will ensure that “Americans of Hispanic descent get a fair chance at the starting line”?
NEDA, as good a concept as it is, will invariably help only those who have already made it--those who are in business or ready to go into business. This is hardly the “starting line” for the Mexican-American in this country.
The following has been said and written many times but it has yet to effectively penetrate the minds of our national leaders: The Mexican-American has the lowest educational level, below either black or Anglo; the highest dropout rate; and the highest illiteracy rate.
Yet, bilingual education was one of the items President Nixon vetoed in the educational bill. The veto was overridden but the veto indicates a strange definition the Administration has about where the “starting line” is.
Martin G. Castillo, chairman of the Nixon Administration’s Cabinet Committee on Opportunity for the Spanish Speaking, said during the NEDA press conference that the Vice President had recently donated $10,000 to the Salesian Boys Club from proceeds of the sale of Spiro Agnew watches.
Castillo complained that this gesture typifying the “other side of the Vice President” got little mention in the news media.
That may be. But something besides the Vice President’s Spiro Agnew watch gesture was being ignored by the news media.
On the same day that Agnew was getting nationwide publicity over the formation of NEDA, the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Equal Educational Opportunity was winding up a two-day hearing on minority educational problems. The Vice President and NEDA got the lion’s share of the publicity.
Complained Sen. Walter Mondale, chairman of the committee: “We found that the best way to get television cameras out of this room and reporters to leave is to hold a hearing on Mexican-American education. There doesn’t seem to be any interest. Yet this is the second largest minority in America.”
Mario Obledo, director of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, told the senators that it was a “tragedy on the part” of federal and state government to ignore the educational problems of Mexican-Americans.
“How do you bring this to the attention of the American public?” asked Obledo. “Does it require some overt act of violence to bring it forth, or can it be handled in a manner that is conducive with the American way of life?”
Father Henry J. Casso, also of the Mexican-American Defense Fund, asked Sen. Mondale: “How long would you and I continue to do business with a lawyer who lost eight out of 10 cases; a doctor who lost eight of every 10 of his patients? Being a religionist, what would my bishop do if I lost eight of 10 parishioners?”
“Yet, the institutions, including government, have remained mute to see eight out of every 10 Mexican-American children drop out, kicked out and pushed out of the educational institutions of this country. No one has asked an accounting for the vast sums of public money that have been wasted. But the young are demanding an accounting and I stand with them.”
Dr. Hector Garcia, a Texas physician and former member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who was dumped from the commission by the Nixon Administration, testified that 80% of Mexican-American students in Texas never get past the sixth grade.[*]
” . . .the system has not worked for us,” Dr. Garcia said. “I am here as a capitalist. I am one of the few Mexicano capitalists. They say, ‘Dr. Garcia, why do you criticize?’ I say, I only criticize because I want more Mexicano capitalists, educated, in college . . .”
NEDA, then, will mean little until the government is serious about creating more Chicano capitalists--through good schools.
Who Is a Chicano? And What Is It the Chicanos Want?
February 6, 1970
A Chicano is a Mexican-American with a non-Anglo image of himself.
He resents being told Columbus “discovered” America when the Chicano’s ancestors, the Mayans and the Aztecs, founded highly sophisticated civilizations centuries before Spain financed the Italian explorer’s trip to the “New World.”
Chicanos resent also Anglo pronouncements that Chicanos are “culturally deprived” or that the fact that they speak Spanish is a “problem.”
Chicanos will tell you that their culture predates that of the Pilgrims and that Spanish was spoken in America before English and so the “problem” is not theirs but the Anglos’ who don’t speak Spanish.
Having told you that, the Chicano will then contend that Anglos are Spanish-oriented at the expense of Mexicans.
They will complain that when the governor dressed up as a Spanish nobleman for the Santa Barbara Fiesta he’s insulting Mexicans because the Spanish conquered and exploited the Mexicans.
It’s as if the governor dressed like an English Redcoat for a Fourth of July parade, Chicanos say.
When you think you know what Chicanos are getting at, a Mexican-American will tell you that Chicano is an insulting term and may even quote the Spanish Academy to prove that Chicano derives from chicanery.
A Chicano will scoff at this and say that such Mexican-Americans have been brainwashed by Anglos and that they’re Tio Tacos (Uncle Toms). This type of Mexican-American, Chicanos will argue, don’t like the word Chicano because it’s abrasive to their Anglo-oriented minds.
These poor people are brown Anglos, Chicanos will smirk.
What, then, is a Chicano? Chicanos say that if you have to ask you’ll never understand, much less become, a Chicano.
Actually, the word Chicano is as difficult to define as “soul.”
For those who like simplistic answers, Chicano can be defined as short for Mexicano. For those who prefer complicated answers, it has been suggested that Chicano may have come from the word Chihuahua--the name of a Mexican state bordering on the United States. Getting trickier, this version then contends that Mexicans who migrated to Texas call themselves Chicanos because having crossed into the United States from Chihuahua they adopted the first three letters of that state, Chi, and then added cano, for the latter part of Texano.
Such explanations, however, tend to miss the whole point as to why Mexican-American activists call themselves Chicanos.
Mexican-Americans, the second largest minority in the country and the largest in the Southwestern states (California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado), have always had difficulty making up their minds what to call themselves.
In New Mexico, they call themselves Spanish-Americans. In other parts of the Southwest they call themselves Americans of Mexican descent, people with Spanish surnames or Hispanos.
Why, ask some Mexican-Americans, can’t we just call ourselves Americans?
Chicanos are trying to explain why not. Mexican-Americans, though indigenous to the Southwest, are on the lowest rung scholastically, economically, socially and politically. Chicanos feel cheated. They want to effect change. Now.
Mexican-Americans average eight years of schooling compared to the Negroes’ 10 years. Farm workers, most of whom are Mexican-American in the Southwest, are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act, unlike other workers. Also, Mexican-Americans often have to compete for low-paying jobs with their Mexican brothers from across the border who are willing to work for even less. Mexican-Americans have to live with the stinging fact that the word Mexican is the synonym for inferior in many parts of the Southwest.
That is why Mexican-American activists flaunt the barrio word Chicano--as an act of defiance and a badge of honor. Mexican-Americans, though large in numbers, are so politically impotent that in Los Angeles, where the country’s largest single concentration of Spanish-speaking live, they have no one of their own on the City Council. This, in a city politically sophisticated enough to have three Negro councilmen.
Chicanos, then, are merely fighting to become “Americans.” Yes, but with a Chicano outlook.
Mexican-American’s Dilemma: He’s Unfit in Either Language
February 27, 1970
”. . . A Los Angeles Police Department officer was beating a Spanish-speaking motorist, calling him a dirty Mexican. Occupants in the motorist’s car yelled out to the police officer that the person he was beating was not a Mexican, but that he was a Nicaraguan.”
“At that moment the officer stopped beating him and obtained medical help for him.”
So testified a psychiatric social worker at a hearing before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in December of 1968.
The testimony gives some insight into the complicated subject of the differences among the Spanish-speaking people in the United States.
Mexican-Americans, about 8 million of the 10 million Spanish-speaking people in the country, are, ironically, among the most abused of this minority simply because they’re Americans. This holds true for Puerto Ricans who are also Americans.
Non-American Spanish-speaking people, like Nicaraguans, Argentineans and Colombians, are as the police officer knew instantly, treated with more respect.
The reason may be that Americans, originally immigrants to this country, show more consideration for other immigrants than they do for indigenous people like Mexican-Americans and Indians.
Because of the civil rights movement, there has been an intense search for Spanish-speaking teachers, journalists, social workers, salesmen, etc.
Invariably, when found, these specialists turn out to be non-American Spanish-speaking people--Cubans, Central Americans, South Americans and native Mexicans.
The reason is simple. Non-American Spanish-speaking people have a better education--and so speak good Spanish--and assimilate well into Anglo society because they came here expressly to do this.
The Mexican-American, meanwhile, many of whom speak neither good Spanish nor good English, are victims of an educational system which purports to “Americanize” them while downgrading their ethnic background.
For instance, the first truly bilingual education program in this country was set up not for Mexican-Americans but for Cubans in the wake of the Cuban crisis. Bilingual education was made available to Cuban refugees at Florida’s Dade County schools in 1963.
Yet, as late as December 1966, educators testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that Mexican-American children were being punished for speaking Spanish on school grounds in other parts of the country.
Cubans today, then, have a better chance of obtaining jobs requiring bilingual people--now that Spanish has been discovered as an asset instead of a liability--than do Mexican-Americans.
Belated bilingual education programs for Mexican-Americans are geared toward using the Spanish language as a tool only until the Chicano kid has learned enough English to overcome the “problem” of speaking Spanish. These are not truly bilingual programs, which should be the teaching of both languages on an equal basis.
The truth of the matter is that despite our talk in the Southwest about “our great Spanish heritage” and the naming of our towns and streets in Spanish, the Spanish language has never been taken seriously by American educators even in areas where both languages could be learned together and correctly.
Too often the difference between a Mexican-American and a non-American Spanish-speaking person is that the non-American can speak better Spanish than the Mexican-American--and so is more qualified for the emerging bilingual job.
And the difference between the Mexican-American and the Anglo-American is that the Anglo speaks better English than the Mexican-American and so is better equipped for the more conventional jobs.
The pattern could change when the American educational system is as considerate of Mexican-Americans as it was of Cubans in 1963.
Chicanos vs. Traditionalists
March 6, 1970
Last Saturday’s Chicano Moratorium and the activities of the Catolicos por La Raza dramatize the gulf which exists between the traditional-minded Mexican-Americans and the young activists.
Unless this is understood, observers can fall easily into the simplistic conclusions that the traditionalists are Tio Tacos (Uncle Toms) or that the activists are irresponsible punks.
Either conclusion misses the essence of the present Mexican-American condition.
Traditional-minded Mexican-Americans blush at the mention of the word Chicano. They blanch at the thought of being called brown people. The reason for this, outside of personal views, is the psychological makeup of the Mexican in general.
Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet-essayist-diplomat, has tried to explain it this way: “The Mexican, whether young or old, white or brown, general or lawyer, seems to me to be a person who shuts himself away to protect himself . . . . He is jealous of his own privacy and that of others . . . . He passes through life like a man who has been flayed; everything can hurt him, including words and the very suspicion of words . . . .”
The Mexican, says Paz, “builds a wall of indifference and remoteness between reality and himself, a wall that is no less impenetrable for being invisible. The Mexican is always remote, from the world and from other people. And also from himself.”
Is it any wonder, then, that the more conservative Mexican-Americans--and there are many of them--are embarrassed and angered at Chicanos (suspicious word) who say they don’t want to fight the war in Vietnam and Catolicos who are questioning the church and the world about them?
The Mexican, says Paz, wears his face as a mask and believes “that opening oneself up is a weakness or a betrayal.”
The Chicano activists are trying to rid themselves of their masks and to open themselves to themselves and to others. It is significant that in doing this they should pick as a means the Vietnam war and the Catholic Church.
That more than 3,000 people braved torrential rains last Saturday to participate in the Chicano Moratorium is important not because so many people showed a distaste for the war--Anglos have done this in a bigger way--but because it was Mexican-Americans who did it.
Mexican-Americans, who include a disproportionate number of Medal of Honor winners and who, like the blacks, are suffering a disproportionate number of deaths in Vietnam, had up to now fought our wars without question.
It was part of the “machismo” traditions. When called to war, Mexican-Americans showed everyone how “macho” or manly they were and never questioned the justification for the war.
Mexicans, says Paz, judge manliness according to their “invulnerability to enemy arms or the impacts of the outside world. Stoicism is the most exalted of (Mexicans’) military and political attributes.”
The Chicano Moratorium strove to end this stoicism, which is hardly a democratic attribute.
“We weren’t shedding our machismo,” said a young marcher. “We were proving our machismo by asking the establishment the tough question: ‘Why are we dying overseas when the real struggle is at home?”’
When the Catolicos por La Raza demonstrated during a midnight Christmas mass last year, they were also breaking with tradition and asking tough questions at the cost of going through the ordeal of being tried for disturbing the peace.
A San Antonio teacher, testifying before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last year, said he has noted that the difference between Anglo and Mexican-American students is that when “some situation befalls the Mexican-Americans,” the Mexican-American tends to leave things up to God while the Anglo tries to solve it on his own.
Catolicos por La Raza, who greatly embarrassed the traditional-minded Mexican-Americans by their questioning of the Catholic Church’s relevance to present society, were breaking with this concept.
Chicanos and traditional-minded Mexican-Americans are suffering from the ever-present communications gap. Traditionalists, more concerned with the, to them, chafing terms like Chicano, are not really listening to what the activists are saying. And the activists forget that tradition is hard to kill.
The ‘Wetback’ Problem Has More Than Just One Side
April 24, 1970
When la migra calls, the Mexican trembles.
La migra is Chicano slang for the U.S. Immigration Service which, with the Border Patrol, plays an important and sometimes terrifying role in the lives of thousands of Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and other Latins in the Southwest.
A recent crackdown by the immigration department against illegal entrants in the Los Angeles area has again dramatized the human tragedy which can occur when a poor country, Mexico, borders on a rich country, the United States.
The fact that at least one American citizen, a mentally retarded Mexican-American boy, was mistakenly deported in the immigration service dragnet indicates the vulnerability of the underprivileged Chicano to la migra’s power.
Wetbacks and Chicanos look alike to the border patrolman. The problem of illegal entrants to the United States can be looked at very coldly. It is illegal to enter the United States without the proper papers, so, from time to time, these people must be rounded up and deported.
A closer look at why Los Angeles has become the wetback capital of the world, however, shows why it’s unfair to blame only the illegal entrant for the breakdown of the law.
Why is it that it is estimated that at certain times of the year there are at least 80,000 wetbacks working in California? Because employers are willing to hire them.
A wetback lives in constant fear. Fear that he will be discovered. Fear of what might happen to him once la migra finds him. Fear that he will not be paid before being deported.
The wetback employers know no such fear. There is no law against hiring wetbacks. There is only a law against being a wetback.
A sweat shop employer of low-paid wetbacks has only one small worry--the temporary stoppage of production between the time his wetbacks are discovered in his plant and the time the next wave of wetbacks arrives.
When the wetback is caught he is jailed and deported. Nothing, however, happens to the employer. As a matter of fact, the employer can gain from the wetback raid on his plant because he can easily get away without paying the wetbacks’ salaries due at the time of the arrests.
State Sen. Lewis Sherman, a Republican from Alameda County, would like to change this. He feels the employer should bear some of the responsibility for the wetback situation. He has introduced a bill (S.B. 1091) which would make it a misdemeanor to knowingly hire wetbacks. Under the proposed law, the employer could be fined as much as $500 for each wetback he hires. Sen. Sherman contends that with “reasonable care” employers could detect wetbacks from legal workers.
Most people concerned with the problem feel this would help immensely.
But it would probably not solve the basic reason for the wetback problem: poor Mexicans willing to take a chance at arrest for what they think will be a good job and the employers willing to take a chance at getting caught because they want cheap labor.
Bert Corona, a leader in the Mexican-American Political Assn., claims that the immigration service, in its dragnets, is “conducting a reign of terror and exploitation against the Mexican people” and that among the 1,600 recently deported there were persons born in the United States who did not have their papers with them, Mexicans with valid tourist visas, persons separated from their families.
The policeman, this time the immigration and border patrol man, is invariably accused of “brutality” when enforcing the law and undoubtedly they have made mistakes.
But anyone who has seen the fetid shacks in which potential wetbacks live on the Mexican side of the border can better understand why these people become wetbacks. In comparison, the detention center for wetbacks in El Centro--called a “concentration camp” by Chicano activists--looks like a luxury hotel.
The point is that Mexico has a grave poverty problem which is growing alarmingly. Mexico, with its limited resources, has grown from a nation of 15 million in 1910 to an estimated 44 million in 1966. In another 10 years some Mexican demographers estimate an increase to 61 million people and by 1980, to 72 million. Many, many of these will be potential wetbacks.
Though Sen. Sherman’s proposed bill should help alleviate the wetback problem, it is obvious that the United States and Mexico must talk and plan on the highest level to forestall an even more serious wetback explosion in the future.
Chicano’s Long Love Affair with Democratic Party Ends
May 29, 1970
Covering Mexican-American candidates in Tuesday’s primary election, a reporter can get the impression that they are more interested in gaining independence from the Democratic Party than they are in getting elected.
The Chicano candidate looks back in bitterness at the Democratic Party and casts a cynically hopeful eye at the Republican Party.
With the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, who publicly thanked the Chicano vote for its significant help in winning the California primary, the Mexican-American politician ended his long love affair with the Democratic Party.
“Actually,” says a Chicano party worker, “we discovered that it wasn’t a love affair at all but really a kept woman situation. The party took us for granted and gave little in return.”
This bitterness stems from the reapportionment of California’s political districts in 1962 by a Democratic Assembly under Jess Unruh.[*]
“Those were hopeful days for the Chicano community,” recalls Bert Corona, a longtime Mexican-American activist. “We thought we could get at least four ‘safe’ Chicano districts. After all, the reapportionment committee was made up of so-called liberal members and who had been more loyal to the party than the Mexican-Americans.”
“Instead, we got nothing.”
“Why do you think Ed Roybal can not afford to be a truly Chicano congressman?” asks Enrique (Hank) Lopez, another longtime Mexican-American activist. “Because the district he ended up with has more blacks and Anglos than Chicanos.”
Lopez, who ran for California secretary of state as the Democratic candidate 12 years ago, recalls his campaign with anger.
“The party gave me a piddling $1,500 to run a difficult statewide campaign and Pat Brown refused to appear on the same platform with me,” says Lopez. “Hell, the party wouldn’t even let me use a float in a parade.”
Lopez, who is now a New York attorney and author but is presently teaching a Chicano course at UC Riverside, feels strongly that one of the reasons blacks have been more successful politically than Chicanos is that they don’t allow either party to take them for granted.
“Blacks have learned to work within both parties and have not been blinded by unrealistic party loyalty as have Chicanos,” says Lopez.
Chicano politicians think that as a result of the treatment they have received from the Democratic Party, Mexican-Americans are becoming politically sophisticated enough to ignore their differences for the sake of eventually electing Chicano candidates.
The trend in the barrios right now is Chicanos first, party second. And the emphasis is on organization more than election.
Herman Sillas, who is running for state controller, is the only Mexican-American candidate officially endorsed by such Democratic bigwigs as Jess Unruh and Sen. Alan Cranston as well as the Mexican-American Unity Congress and the Mexican-American Political Assn.
The two Chicano organizations, however, have refused to endorse Unruh in the primary as they would have automatically in the past. Instead, they are supporting Richard Romo, a Peace and Freedom party candidate for governor, if for nothing else because he’s a Chicano.
At the Mexican-American Political Assn. endorsing convention in Fresno, MAPA president Abe Tapia, a candidate for the 45th assembly district, urged Chicanos not to support “traditional liberal Anglo candidates, merely because they are ‘friends,’ unless they declare themselves as being in full support of all Mexican-American candidates as well as in full support of the farm workers and the grape boycott.”
In the barrios at least, Tapia, who has been endorsed by Cesar Chavez, seems to be getting the message through.
As for the Republicans, Chicano politicians feel Mexican-Americans will fare better when a presumed Republican-dominated Assembly will reapportion political districts in 1972.
“In wanting to strengthen their own districts, the Republicans will tend to isolate the Chicano districts the Democrats should have given us and never did,” say MAPA strategists.
Don’t Make the ‘Bato Loco’ Go the Way of the Zoot Suiter
June 19, 1970
A bato loco is a zoot suiter with a social conscience.
He may be an ex-con, a marijuana smoker and dangerously defiant. But the difference between the zoot suiter or pachuco of the early 40s and a present bato loco, literally a crazy guy, is that the bato loco is experiencing a social revolution and so is learning and liking political power.
The difference is so important that unless we understand it we can contribute toward reverting the bato loco to an anarchistic zoot suiter.
An anarchistic zoot suiter, as we learned just before World War II, can be easily driven to violence. A bato loco, though impossible to convert into an Eagle Scout, can be dealt with on a political basis.
Because of the civil rights revolution, the so-called Establishment had deemed it necessary to accept innovations ranging from Head Start to Chicano Studies.
A countering “silent majority” revolution, however, is trying to reverse this acceptance and the trend today is to junk social innovations because, it is felt, they only “pamper” militants.
What we must realize is that it is easier to open a Pandora’s box than to close it.
The economy slowdown, the lingering Vietnam War and surging “hard hat” militancy are beginning to strip the bato loco of his newly gained social conscience.
“The gabacho (white man) never really changes,” a bato loco said recently. “He gives you an inch and takes away a yard.”
It is easy to understand the silent majority’s frustration with high taxes, disrespectful militancy and seemingly unending social innovations. But to the bato loco in the barrio this frustration is a luxury which he cannot afford and does not understand.
All the bato loco knows is that things were looking up for a while and that unlike his zoot-suiter predecessor he could get involved in such projects as the Neighborhood Adult Participation Project. Now he knows the heat is on and that such projects are being condemned by political and law-and-order leaders as subversive and money-wasting.
Stripped of his potential political power--and that, after all is what barrio and ghetto social innovations produce--the bato loco has no way to go but to the dangerous shell of an anarchistic zoot suiter.
Recently, a front-page story appeared, in of all places, the Wall Street Journal , which warns of possible violence in the Southwest’s Chicano barrios.
According to the newspaper, Jose Angel Gutierrez, a Texas Chicano activist who holds a master’s degree in political science, said that “It’s too late for the gringo to make amends. Violence has got to come.”
This may sound scandalously alarming but the mood in the barrios seems to back it up.
This mood is not being helped by our political and law-and-order leaders who are trying to discredit militants in the barrios as subversive or criminal.
In the traditionally quiet town of Pomona, for instance, a crowd of Mexican-American parents, not known for their civic participation, recently applauded Brown Beret speakers.
The importance of this is that a year ago it would be impossible to find Mexican-American parents hob-nobbing with Brown Berets. Police chiefs, mayors and other leaders must learn that they can no longer discredit a movement by just pointing out that the Brown Berets, or any other militant group, are involved.
In other words, whether we like it or not, Brown Berets are gaining the respect of barrio people at the expense of traditional mores.
But perhaps more importantly, the Mexican-American establishment is finding it more difficult every day to communicate with barrio Chicanos.
Before we scrap all the social innovations which gave the bato loco hope we should probe the probable consequences.
Why Does Standard July Fourth Oratory Bug Most Chicanos?
July 10, 1970
A small group of Chicanos sat before a TV the Fourth of July to watch Honor America Day for the explicit reason of trying to determine why such events bug them.
How could a show honoring the Flag, God and country offend any American? The Chicanos knew they had tackled a tough one and that any answer to the nagging question could be easily misinterpreted.
But being that they were merely indulging in mental and emotional calisthenics they tackled the job with alacrity.
The trouble with such patriotic bashes as Honor America Day, the Chicanos decided, is that they tend to dehumanize the Flag, monopolize God and abuse the word America.
For too long the American Flag, the Chicanos agreed, has been the symbol of those who insist that property rights are more important than human rights.
Fourth of July oratory, the Chicanos noted, tends to paint God as a super American who has blessed this country with its great wealth and power because right thinking people--like those who attend Honor America Day celebrations and wave the Flag vigorously--run the place.
But the thing that bugged the Chicanos the most was that the United States is called America, as if that name belonged exclusively to Anglo United States.
All this spelled one thing to the Chicanos: our system insists on Anglicization.
Most Anglos, the Chicanos decided, are unconscious of this and so cannot comprehend why Honor America Day could offend any “good American.”
After watching Honor America Day and making their comments the small group of Chicanos unwound and had a good Fourth of July, just like many other Americans.
The thing to remember, however, is that this small group of Chicanos voiced the thinking of a significant part of the Chicano movement. Chicanos are resisting Anglicization.
UCLA’s Mexican-American Cultural Center has just released the first issue of a “Chicano Journal of the Social Sciences and the Arts.” The journal is called Aztlan for the Mexican Indian word which describes the Southwestern part of this continent which includes the five U.S. Southwestern states and Northern Mexico.
Chicanos explain that they are indigenous to Aztlan and do not relate, at least intellectually and emotionally, to the Anglo United States.
The journal, written by Chicano university scholars, starts off with the “Spiritual Plan of Aztlan” which was adopted by the Chicano Youth Liberation Conference held in Denver in March, 1969.
The wording of the “plan” may shed some light for those wishing to understand the Chicano movement:
“In the spirit of a new people that is conscious not only of its proud historical heritage, but also of the brutal ‘gringo’ invasion of our territories, we, the Chicano inhabitants and civilizers of the northern land of Aztlan, from whence came our forefathers, reclaiming the land of their birth and consecrating the determination of our people of the sun, declare that the call of our blood is our power, our responsibility, and our inevitable destiny.”
“We are free and sovereign to determine these tasks which are justly called for by our house, our land, the sweat of our brows and by our hearts, Aztlan belongs to those that plant the seeds, water the fields, and gather the crops, and not to the foreign Europeans. We do not recognize capricious frontiers on the bronze continent.”
“Brotherhood unites us, and love for our brothers makes us a people whose time has come and who struggles against the foreigner ‘gabacho’ (white) who exploits our riches and destroys our culture. With our heart in our hands and our hands in the soil, we declare the independence of our mestizo nation. We are a bronze people with a bronze culture. Before the world, before all of North America, before all our brothers in the bronze continent, we are a nation, we are a union of free pueblos, we are Aztlan.”
Whether we like it or not Fourth of July Americanism is in disrepute among minorities because they can’t seem to relate to it.
Singer Joan Baez, who is part Chicana, recently said that the defense of country, as used in Fourth of July oratory, “has absolutely nothing to do with the defense of people.” She continued:
“Once we get rid of the obsession with defending one’s country, we will be defending life . . . . That’s why I hate flags. I despise any flag, not just the American Flag. It’s a symbol of a piece of land that’s considered more important than the human lives on it . . . .”
Whether we agree or not, it behooves us to revamp our Fourth of July oratory to relate to people instead of to fixed ideas that apparently are not working.
Chicano Reminds Blacks They Are Not the Only Minority
July 31, 1970
It takes a bold Mexican to address the Urban League and tell its members that too much attention is given blacks at the expense of Chicanos.
But that’s the kind of guy Dionicio Morales is. Speaking before the League’s recent 60th anniversary convention at the New York Hilton, Morales told his hosts that most Mexican-Americans “reject the oversimplification that everything that is good for blacks is good for Mexican-Americans.”
Morales, who has said that one of the reasons Chicanos and black don’t get along too well is that Negroes tend to be black Anglos, reminded the Urban League that it was Booker T. Washington who warned of the danger of standardization.
In his book “Up From Slaver” the black educator, Morales pointed out, says that “No white American ever thinks any other race is wholly civilized until he wears the white man’s clothes, eats the white man’s food, speaks the white man’s language and professes the white man’s religion.”
In Washington, D.C., where the power is, and even in the Southwest, where Mexican-Americans outnumber blacks, the word “minority” is equated with the term “black,” Morales said. Because of this, Morales warned, blacks and Chicanos are on a collision course.
Morales, executive director of the Los Angeles based Mexican-American Opportunity Foundation, told his hosts that blacks and Mexican-Americans together “could make unprecedented progress of unimaginable mutual benefit.”
“But if we muff it, and miss the opportunity, the black may end up with another unexpected burden on their backs--on top of all the rest--and that burden may well be the frustrated, rejected, neglected and hostile Mexican-American.”
Morales, a fighter for “la raza” when many of the present Chicano leaders were in diapers, is used to tackling tough issues. An early foe of the bracero system, Morales traveled to Mexico City once and publicly told the Mexican government that it should do something about stopping the flow of cheap Mexican labor to the United States because Mexican nationals were taking jobs away from Mexican-Americans white the Mexican nationals themselves were being exploited by American employers.
Both governments issued cool statements against Morales.
Now Morales is saying, to the Urban League yet, that “blacks get a disproportionate number of the important opportunities and appointments intended for minorities.”
“This fact,” Morales told the historic 60th anniversary Urban League conference, is becoming more and more abrasive to my people throughout the Southwest.”
According to a study by the Metropolitan Applied Research Center, there are 1, 586 elected black officials in the United States, including 10 members of Congress (one senator), 173 state legislators, 51 mayors, 701 “other city, county officials,” 423 school board members and 228 law enforcement officials.
“I would propose,” Morales told the League, “that we emphasize to black representatives in positions of influence and authority that the word ‘minority’ includes other than blacks--and that this fact is more of an opportunity than a threat.”
Morales reminded the League that though blacks are the nation’s largest minority, with some 20 million people, and Latins the second largest, with 10 million, Mexican-Americans are the largest minority in the Southwest.
“It worries me that our two groups are pretty much doing their own thing, each with little regard for the other,” Morales said. “Each without communication with the other, in a total absence of mutual understanding and organization.”
Morales said his message was that “the mobilization of the black community must not be accomplished as though the brown community does not exist. Nor should the converse be allowed to come about.”
Morales said Dr. Charles Hamilton of Columbia University summed up the whole problem when he said: “We have allowed ourselves to be caught up in time consuming public debates with each other, while our true oppressors go right on oppressing us.”
The fact remains, however that Morales was really indicting Washington more than any one else for its easy way out of equating “minority” with black.
This was reenforced recently by the filing of petition for redress of grievances against the Administration by, among others, the California Rural Legal Assistance, the Mexican-American Political Assn., and the Chicano Law Students Assn. of California.
The petition pointed out that “the executive branch, despite eloquent promises and the presence of 10 million Spanish-surnamed Americans, has virtually no Spanish-surnamed Americans at policy level jobs--only 35 of 9,286.”
A Mexican-American Hyphen
February 13, 1970
The U.S.-Mexican border, or la frontera, is an 1,800-mile-long, virtually imaginary line of barbed wire fencing, an undergrowth of mesquite or chaparral and an easily forded river.
Orators, both American and Mexican, like to describe the border separating their countries as one of the two only such unfortified frontiers in the world, the other being the U.S.-Canadian border.
To many Americans living in the Southwest and to many Mexicans living in northern Mexico, however, the border is symbolic of the negative differences between the two nations.
Americans who know only the shady aspects of the border towns think of Mexico as a place where they can enjoy doing what is not allowed at home--but would be shocked, the morning after, if such goings on were allowed in “America.”
Mexicans not lucky enough to be among the Latin affluent think of the American border towns as gold mines where nuggets can be picked off the streets. And when they discover this is not true, they blast the Americans as exploiters, unmindful that they had created their own false image of the United States.
These superficial and inaccurate concepts of both countries help only to widen the understanding gap between two peoples who are so close geographically and in many other ways so far apart.
That may help explain why Mexican-Americans can feel a deep and agonizing ambivalence about themselves.
They can love the United States for reasons Mexicans cannot understand, while loving Mexico for reasons Americans can understand.
Being a Mexican-American, a wag once said, can leave you with only the hyphen.
On the United States’ other border there are no such esoteric considerations.
Canadians may conceivably feel bitter about the fact that the British Empire lost the 13 colonies but this chauvinism is tempered by knowing that, after all, Canadians and Americans communicate easily and enjoy more or less the same material goods.
Chauvinistic Mexicans, however, are very cognizant of the fact that Mexico lost what is now the American Southwest to the United States in the Mexican-American War which even Gen. Ulysses S. Grant called “unfair.”
Mexicans like to argue that if the United States had not “stolen” half of Mexico’s territory, Mexico would be as rich as the United States is now. This historical controversy, now for the most part taken lightly, might have disappeared altogether by now, it is said, if Mexicans and Americans spoke the same language on both sides of the border and so understood each other better.
Yet, many Mexican-Americans in the Southwest, who speak both languages and admire both countries, feel strangely foreign in their own land.
Members of other minorities--Italians, Irish, Poles, etc.--often wonder why Mexican-Americans have not been able to assimilate as well as they have.
They tend to forget that Italy, Ireland, Poland, etc., are oceans away from the United States while Mexico is very much in evidence to the Southwest’s eight million or so Mexican-Americans.
This makes it difficult for the Mexican-Americans to think of Mexico in the abstract as, for instance, Irish-Americans might think of Ireland.
The problems of Mexico are and will remain relevant to the Mexican-American. Relations between Mexico and the United States can affect the Mexican-American in the Southwest materially and emotionally.
In the border areas, for instance, the large number of Mexicans crossing the international line everyday to work in the United States can directly affect the economic lives of Mexican-Americans, who must compete with this cheap labor.
Projects such as Operation Intercept, a crackdown on dope smuggling across the Mexican border, hurt the pride of southwest Mexican-Americans who feel the United States is trying to blame Mexicans for a problem which is to a large extent uniquely “Anglo.”
The border may indeed be unfortified, but it separates two people who created the Mexican-American--a person many times tormented by the pull of two distinct cultures.
Best Kept Secret in L.A. Television
May 8, 1970
When I left he staff of The Times a few weeks ago to become news director of KMEX, the Spanish-language TV station (Channel 34), it was after a great deal of soul searching, plus explanations to co-workers who asked me: “KM what?”
Even though KMEX is a station whose newscasts have more viewers than George Putnam or Tom Reddin and almost as many as KABC’s Eyewitness News, it is not that well known except among Spanish-speaking Angelenos.
The first time I heard of KMEX was some eight years ago when a man came to my home and installed a UHF converter on my TV set so I could write an occasional article about the station’s programs in The Times.
From time to time I wrote a piece and then lost interest.
I became a foreign correspondent in Vietnam, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. In January, 1968, I came back to Los Angeles to cover the Mexican-American story which was changing radically since I had last covered that community.
Starting form zero, KMEX, I learned was not reaching about 1.5 million viewers and had become the first commercial UHF station to win a National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences award--for its documentary on prominent Mexican-Americans.
Impressed With Figures
Advertisers, at first skeptical about Spanish-language television, finally became impressed with the figures: Los Angeles is the sixth largest Spanish market in the world. And though New York is the fifth largest Spanish market, national advertisers have been more attracted by Los Angeles where the average Latin yearly income is $5,762 as compared to $4,610 for New York.
But news was what I was interested in. I learned that under the direction of Joseph S. Rank, KMEX’s general manager, and Danny Villanueva, formerly news director and now station manager, KMEX had become the prime communicator in the Southland’s Latin community.
Los Angeles’ “best kept secret,” as Rank puts it, is that KMEX’s newscast (Noticiero 34) has astounding ratings. Med-Mark, Inc., which conducts surveys of UHF-station audiences, reports that Noticiero 34 (Monday through Friday 6:30-7:30 p.m.) has a daily audience of just under 300,000. George Putnam’s News, according to American Research Bureau figures, has an audience of just under 200,000, while Tom Reddin’s News is 150,000 at 5 p.m. and 100,000 at 10 p.m.
The statistics show that KMEX news, with close to 300,000 viewers, is just a few thousand below KABC’s Eyewitness News and KNBC News.
John Tebbel in a Saturday Review article entitled “Newest TV Boom: Spanish-Language Stations” says Med-Mark Inc. found “illuminating” statistics in its surveys of Spanish-language television.
“ while many Americans with Spanish surnames were bilingual,” writes Tebbel, “they strongly preferred Spanish-language broadcasting, even though they had no trouble understanding the English programs. Moreover, they were quick to develop a loyalty to advertised products--a brand loyalty far exceeding any exhibited by Anglo-American viewers--and they were also more receptive to advertisers promotional campaigns.”
One Myth Dispelled
Who are most of these people who watch Spanish-language television? Old people from the old country who never learned English? Med-Mark surveys dispel this myth. At KMEX, for instance, among the largest audience groups are men ages 18 to 34 and women 18 to 49.
The reason, undoubtedly, is a newly gained pride in the Spanish language by the nation’s second largest minority. The California Supreme Court recently recognized the importance of the Spanish-language news media when it ruled that Spanish-speaking citizens, who do not speak English, are entitled to vote just like any other American citizen. The reason, the court said, is that the Spanish new media furnishes enough information to make Spanish-speaking people qualified voters.
It is estimated that by 1975 there will be 15 million Spanish-speaking people in the United States. KMEX, part of the Spanish International Network, which includes KWEX in San Antonio, WXTV in New York and stations in five border cities, is now reaching some 10 million Latins.
I still miss newspaper work, but its good to know that the phrase “Aqui se habla espanol” has a future.
April 3, 1970
Los Angeles police sergeant Robert J. Thoms, formerly a “community relations” officer, has gone into the intelligence business and has testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee about what he considers subversive and violent organizations.
As a community relations officer from March 26, 1967, to Feb. 11, 1968, Sgt. Thoms worked with many of the barrio and ghetto organizations which, if nothing else, understand the problems of people who do not relate to, much less participate in, the mainstream of American life.
Thoms gained the confidence of leaders in the barrios and ghettos who felt there was still hope for at least a working relationship between frustrated and disadvantaged communities and the equally frustrated but relatively powerful police force.
After working for a year in this sensitive area, Sgt. Thoms was transferred by the police department to intelligence work.
The next time the communities, which had known Sgt. Thoms as a community relations officer, heard from him was as an intelligence officer testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating subversive and violent organizations.
Sgt. Thoms told the subcommittee chaired by Sen. Thomas J. Dodd that “the organizations in Los Angeles that are considered to be violent or subversive in nature are: Ron Karenga’s US, the Black Congress, the Black Panther Party, the Friends of the Panthers, and the Brown Berets.”
In the 59-page report, however, Sgt. Thoms also touches upon such diverse organizations as the Ford Foundation, the League of United Citizens to Help Addicts, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, the UCLA Industrial Relations Commission and the East Los Angeles Community Union.
Nowhere does Sgt. Thoms say that these organizations are subversive or violent but he leaves the clear impression that they are somehow unsavory. J. G. Sourwine, the subcommittee’s chief counsel, asked Thoms, for example, why the sergeant had mentioned the East Los Angeles Community Union.
“Is the organization a violent one?” Sourwine asked.
“No, sir,” answered Thoms.
“Perhaps I do not follow you,” pressed Sourwine. “Why is it brought out here?”
To this Sgt. Thorns answered: “Just as an example of the umbrella organizations we deal with which will contain some good intentioned organizations to give it an air of respectability.”
On page 22, Sgt. Thorns tells the subcommittee that “Next I would like to deal with the federal funding of various organizations in the Los Angeles area.”
Sourwine: “Funding subversive and violent organizations?”
Thoms: “Yes, sir.”
Sourwine: “Go ahead.”
Thoms: “One program known as the educational opportunities program (EOP) for the California State College of Los Angeles, was funded in 1968 in the amount of $250,000 for 124 students.”
After explaining that the money was used to give minority students “a monthly stipend for attending school and also used for books and a place to live,” Sgt. Thoms said: “I can document that there are 43 students [of the 124 students receiving EOP funds, presumably] attending Cal State College at Los Angeles that belong to militant organizations in Los Angeles.”
Perhaps the most revealing part of the Thorns testimony is when Chief Counsel Sourwine asks Thoms whether his information was gathered from a reliable source. Yes, answers Thorns, “the report was made public in May in Chicago.”
Who put the report out? asks Sourwine. “I made the report to a convention of the International Security Conference.”
Retorts Sourwine: “When I asked you if it came from a source you believed to be reliable I am not surprised you said, ‘Yes.”’
Thoms’ report should be read by all Americans concerned with the problem of the credibility gap.
Maligned Word: Mexican
April 17, 1970
Mexican. That good name has been vilified for so long that even in the Southwest, where Mexicans are as plentiful as Yankees in New England, the word is used cautiously.
Most Mexican-Americans have experienced the wary questions from an Anglo: “You’re Spanish aren’t you?” or “Are you Latin?” Rarely will the Anglo venture: “You’re Mexican aren’t you?”
The reason is that the word Mexican has been dragged through the mud of racism since the Anglos arrived in the Southwest. History tells us that when King Fisher, the famous Texas gunman, was asked how many notches he had on his gun, he answered: “Thirty-seven not counting Mexicans.”
“Remember the Alamo!” is still used as an anti-Mexican insult where “Remember Pearl Harbor” has been forgotten.
Carey McWilliams in his enlightening “North from Mexico"[*] notes that the word “greaser” was well-known in early California and that it was defined as “Mexican: an opprobrious term.” He also reports that “greaser” is “California slang for a mixed race of Mexican and Indians.”
“Greaser,” McWilliams points out, is defined in the Century Dictionary as “a native Mexican . . . originally applied contemptuously by the Americans of the Southwestern United States to Mexicans.”
All this, and more, has contributed to the psychological crippling of the Mexican-American when it comes to the word Mexican. He is unconsciously ashamed of it.
State Sen. Jose Bernal of Texas told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights last year that the “schools have not given us any reason to be proud” of being Mexican. People running the schools “have tried to take away our language,” the senator continued, and so Mexican-American children very early are embarrassed by the Spanish language and by being Mexican.
One of the reasons for this, Bernal told the commission, is that “it has been inculcated” in the minds of grammar school children that the Mexican “is no good” by means of, for instance, overly and distortedly emphasizing the Battle of the Alamo and ignoring all contributions made by Mexicans in the Southwest.
Unfortunately, California Superior Judge Gerald S. Chargin has dragged the word Mexican to a new low. In sentencing a 17-year-old Mexican-American boy for incest in San Jose last Sept. 2, Judge Chargin looked down from the bench and told this American citizen that “we ought to send you out of the country--send you back to Mexico . . . You ought to commit suicide. That’s what I think of people of this kind. You are lower than animals and haven’t the right to live in organized society--just miserable, lousy, rotten people.”
Is it any wonder, then, that the Mexican-American community is bitterly disappointed in that the California Commission on Judicial Qualifications recommended that the Supreme Court publicly censure Judge Chargin instead of recommending that he be removed from the bench? The commission, in making its recommendation, calls Chargin’s remarks “improper and inexcusable” and says, they “constituted conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.”
The commission goes on to say, however, that “there is no evidence of bias or prejudice by (the judge) except for the incident of Sept. 2, 1969. There is evidence,” concludes the commission, “that apart from this (the judge) has been a tolerant and compassionate judge with a background of understanding and interest in the problems of the underprivileged and ethnic minorities.”
The Mexican-American community seems not to buy that. The general feeling seems to be that if Judge Harold Carswell [*] was denied a seat in the Supreme Court for, among other reasons, making a racist speech in his youth, Judge Chargin should be removed from the bench for making anti-Mexican remarks, on record, from the bench.
This, the community seems to feel, would help cleanse the much maligned word Mexican.