Latino Heritage Month: A History of Citizenship & Education

la-times_february-19-1946_400x450This may be the first time in about 10 years that I am not directly involved with planning some type of Latino Heritage Month activity on a campus I am employed in. While that may sound like a tragedy in some way given my past involvement, It really isn’t. Perhaps because I reside in New York City, where there are literally millions of Latinos, maybe I don’t have that same sense of urgency as I did as Syracuse. I noticed that Barnard College and Columbia University already has established programming for students to take part and that is what makes me smile.

This is not say that the work is done and I am over it but I think that I need to have a different, more personal, approach to Latino Heritage Month. Many times we call for action without reflection. We get angry over things that occur and we tweet about it and post Facebook statuses but then everything sorta dies down after a few days. I do contemplate if that is because we never really take to reflect on what is really happening in the world. We become more reactionary to much of what happens.

Those reactions distracts us from doing what is going on. So I would like to offer a history lesson on how Latinos had to fight for the education we enjoy today. This is part of a graduate paper I wrote last year. Warning – this is lengthy but I do think it’s worth it:

With California and Texas becoming states in the mid-1800s, there was a need for the United States to determine what it was going to do with the Mexican and Native American populations that it acquired with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Mexican population quickly became racialized by the standard of the United States, which meant that light skinned Mexicans were considered Caucasian and darker individuals (such as Native American and Afro-Mexicans) were considered Black.

This is important to recognize because this is where many Mexicans drew the line in the fight for equal opportunity. They felt that they did not fall within the racialized context of black and white. In general, most of the separation from the majority was cultural like many of the other immigrants that came before them. Immigrants from Europe that came to the U.S. earlier the century (Germans, Irish, and Italians) went through a similar plight of dealing with culture and language.  However, European Immigrants never had to fight that hard to become assimilated into the American culture and as a result lost many customs and cultural traditions that Latinos fight hard to maintain.

After the Spanish American War in 1898 resulted in the Treaty of Paris (in which Puerto Rico was acquired along with Guam and the Philippines), the United States maintained the attitude that the Latino population needed to become more Americanized by getting a better education and thus learning English. Mexicans in the west were struggling with equal rights in terms of land ownership, while Puerto Ricans and Cubans were dealing with Americanization in the north east. American politicians felt that Puerto Rico, in particular, would benefit from a better education as long as they learned English first. Cuba also fell within the protection of the United States before Fidel Castro assumed power.

The Mexican Revolutionary War from 1910 to 1920 forced many Mexicans to cross the border into the United States to escape the fighting and the bloodshed. This meant a cheaper workforce with the influx of people, but it also meant an educational challenge for school districts. Many districts in California created spaces in schools just to hold separate Mexican classes to address the needs of this new population. The focus was to Americanize Mexican children while teaching them vocational skills needed to make them a part of the workforce. Despite initial protest from parents, the Santa Ana Board of Education was the first to open a Mexican only school in 1919. The rationale being that this separate facility was in the best interest of the children.

In 1917, the Jones Act was passed that allowed Puerto Ricans to be American Citizens, which led to a large influx of Puerto Ricans into the United States. This declaration of citizenship came after years of political struggle over what exactly Puerto Rico was. While statehood was not granted, Puerto Ricans could still enjoy the status of being an American Citizen even though they are often not treated as such. Here is where many of the political issues for Puerto Ricans and Mexicans differ. Mexicans were fighting hard to cross the boarders to be naturalized to escape a war of revolution while Puerto Ricans slowly losing their ability to self-govern.

When thinking about segregation, cases like Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka Kansas in 1954 were critical. However, in 1946 Mendez v. Westminster in California is a landmark court case that changed the landscape for Latinos in Education and set the stage for the latter court case. The most import part of the fight for social inclusion is that most of the struggles for equality in school are mostly invisible. African Americans struggles for desegregation are well documented and well discussed in the history of the United States; however, Mexican Americans have been fighting the legality of segregation since the 1930s. History largely acknowledges the plight of African Americans making it difficult to really see and understand the roles that Latinos, particularly Mexicans played during the segregation era.

Cases like the Independent School District v. Salvatierra in Texas (1930) showed that segregation of Mexicans was indeed happening because of race. However, school districts could get away with this if the basis of the separation was based on lack of English language proficiency. The issue was that the Texas State constitution, which was ratified in 1876, stated that segregation of Whites and colored children was allowed. However, the term “colored” was only meant for “Negros.” Since Mexicans are not mentioned in the Constitution, the court ruled that Mexicans were considered white and thus segregation against them was illegal. The significance of this case was that the lawyers who defended Salvatierra were from the newly established League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). This case provided them with crucial experience they would need in the upcoming years.

In 1931, the Alvarez v. Lemon Grove School District was held in court in California. This can be argued as being the first real victory against segregation. The Lemon Grove District sought to build a separate school for Mexicans due to overcrowding. The District never informed the parents of this, thus never gained support from the Mexican community. In turn the parents protested and refused to have their children attend this new school that was called La Caballeriza (the stable) by much of the community. These parents wanted to maintain their right to send their children to same schools that Whites sent their children to.

The judge ruled in favor of Alvarez on the basis that the separate school for Mexican children would not be conducive to their Americanization. It was believed that this new school would severely retard their comprehension of the English Language because they would have no one to speak proper English to. He also believed that allowing Spanish speaking children to learn English and mingle with other English speaking students would allow them the best way to be Americanized. In addition, it was also found that California law had no such provisions that allowed for the district to make such a decision.

For years, California was deeply rooted in the idea of segregation. As the Mexican population increased, so was the increased demand of Anglos to create a residential and educational segregation. In 1927 the California Attorney General pushed for Mexicans to be considered as Native Americans whereby placing them under the mandate of de jure segregation. The notion that Mexicans were “colored” and should not have the same equalities as White people seemed to go against the ruling cited in Lemon Grove Case. However, when California Legislature passed a law to segregate Mexicans because they were considered Native Americans, the 1935 School code did not specifically mention them by name:

The governing board of the School district shall have all power to establish separate schools for Indian [sic] children, excepting children who are the wards of the U.S. government and the children of all other Indians who are the descendants of the original American Indians of the U.S, and for the children of Chinese, Japanese, or Mongolian parentage.

Because Mexicans were not mentioned specially, as was the case with other races, school districts in California found it difficult to legally segregate them. Mexicans did not consider themselves Native American, which created a loophole within the legislation.

A picture of the Zoot Suit Riots

Despite the inequities within the school system and the labor market, World War II was a time in which many Latinos went overseas. It was estimated that over 65,000 Puerto Ricans served in a segregated military. Due to their citizenship, Puerto Rican men were required to register and serve.  Most of them served from the 65th Infantry Regiment. World War II gave many Mexicans pride in their US citizenship. The general number of Mexican Americans that served is unknown because many were counted as White soldiers. However, despite their participation in the war, Mexicans were constantly being linked to issues of crime as much as African Americans were. The zoot suit riots in 1943, where American sailors would drive the streets of Los Angeles looking to strip Mexican youth of their clothing, marked a time of racial tension in California. The battle in the courtroom for equality became even more crucial as racial tensions were mounting outside the classroom.

In 1943, the parents of Silvia Mendez tried to enroll her into Westminster Elementary School in Santa Ana, California, where she was denied enrollment based on her skin color and Spanish surname.  It was lawful at the time for California school districts to segregate all students of color and thus deny them access into schools that were considered all white.  This prompted her father, Gonzalo, to join with other families and file a class action lawsuit against the Orange County School District. LULA took the lead on the case and represented five fathers: Thomas Estrada, Chapo Guzman, Mayo Zambada, Rosame Elcacho, and Gonzalo Mendez.

The basis of the argument was that the school district had violated the 14th Amendment. This is a similar argument made in Brown v. Board of Education that took place seven years later by Thurgood Marshall on behalf of the NAACP.  The Equal Protection Clause within the 14th Amendment states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;

What led Judge Paul J. McCormick’s ruling in favor of Mendez was not just the violation of the 14th Amendment, but the ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that guaranteed Mexicans equal rights in the United States. However, this case would be fought again in the appellate court, where the connection of the two historic court cases is made.

For years, the NAACP has been trying to win the battle of segregation in schools using the 14th Amendment as reason for the law’s is unconstitutionality. Until the Mendez v. Westminster, the standard for segregation in schools was the Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896 that upheld that States had the right to separate, provided that they granted equal facilities. The Mendez ruling was the first successful ruling toward segregation in terms of skin color.  For the most part, segregation for Mexicans was based on cultural reasons. These segregation cases really did not change much for African Americans because there was always a loophole regarding that citizenry and language issues of Mexicans in particular.

When it came time to fight the case in the appellate courts, LULAC and the NAACP (along with American Civil Liberties Union, American Jewish Congress, and Japanese American Citizens League) came together to successfully argue the case.  Ninth Circuit Judge, Justice Albert Lee Stephens, upheld the ruling April 14, 1947.  The court stated:

By enforcing the segregation of school children of Mexican Decent against their will and contrary to the laws of California, the respondents have violated the federal law as provided in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution by depriving them the equal protections of the laws.

Thurgood Marshall collaborated with David Marcus, who was representing LULAC on this appeal case that provided some of the framework that Marshall would use in the Brown case in 1954.

Two months after the ruling was passed down, Governor Earl Warren signed a bill repealing segregation in California schools, which lead to the closing of Mexican schools across the State.  This marked a second connection to the Brown case. In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice to the Supreme Court. It was Chief Justice Warren that wrote the final decision in the Brown case that ended segregation in schools across the United States.

What made this ruling so important was that it broke away from the Plessy ruling of the “separate but equal “doctrine.  While African Americans had continued to suffer under segregation in terms of physical and social equality, Mexican Americans were able to fight successfully against the issues because they were routinely seen as more than Black. However, despite the positive ruling from the Mendez case that was supposed to end de jure segregation, evidence indicated that not only did segregation not end, but that it worsened.

In 1947 Minerva Delgado was denied admission to a school in Texas on the sole basis that she was Mexican. Her grandfather sued the Bastrop Independent School District that was later filed as a class action suit on behalf of all Mexican children within the school district. Delgado v. Bastrop was another pre-Brown case that demonstrated that segregation was more customary than law. Many people in Texas had hope that this case would do for Texas what Mendez did for California.

While the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff in 1948, segregation of first graders was allowed if there was a lack of proficiency in English. This lack of proficiency made segregation justifiable in terms of separate classes, or maybe even separate schooling altogether.

Despite the various victories against segregation in various school districts in California and Texas, Mexicans were still dealing with isolation within segregated schools well into the 1950s. It is well documented that many of these school districts did not adhere to many of the court rulings until the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. However, desegregation was becoming law across the country; segregation based on language became more of the practiced custom.


  1. Donato, Rubén. The other struggle for equal schools: Mexican Americans during the Civil Rights era. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997. Print.
  2. MacDonald, Victoria. Latino education in the United States: a narrated history from 1513-2000. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Print.
  3. Navarro, Sharon Ann, and Armando Xavier Mejia. Latino Americans and political participation: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2004. Print.
  4. Pedraza, Pedro, and Melissa Rivera. Latino education: an agenda for community action research. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005. Print.
  5. Santiago, Isaura. “Aspira v. Board of Education Revisited.” American Journal of Education 95.1 (1986): 149-199. Print.
  6. Valencia, Richard R.. Chicano school failure and success: past, present, and future. 2nd ed. London: Routledge/Falmer, 2002. Print.

"I am boycotting Q-tips."

I have been thinking about this for a while now. Let me preface this by saying that this blog post is about 2-3 weeks in the making ever since “Black in Latin America Mexico & Peru: The Black Grandma in the Closet” aired on PBS. My whole thought process about this has been festering since then and I have not been able to devote the time to really express how I feel about seeing this episode.

I think that the Black in Latin America series was incredible to begin with. There was not a single episode that was not simply amazing in terms of the amount of information presented. This was a ground breaking series that all history teachers need to show their students. I enjoyed it so much because it made me realize that there so much more that I need to know about the plight of the Afro Latino. Each episode was filled with information that I enjoyed very much to tweet small bits of information that we all should remember.

My world view never really changed in any of the first 3 episodes. Most of the documentaries were not really surprising to me. Racism is prevalent in just about every Latin American country. It is a fact that most of the slaves went to Latin America and this series made it a point to reference that all the time. This becomes important when ignorant people begin to state that African Americans and Latinos do not have a shared ancestry. It even looms larger when Latinos in general start saying they are not black.

This brings me to the final episode to this series in which the two countries highlighted are Mexico and Peru. I want to say that I knew about Mexico and it’s treatment of their Black Mexicans. I personally wrote a blog about Memín Pinguín and how racist those images are. So, nothing this documentary said about Mexico really surprised me.  I was actually proud of myself for doing that type of research, but nothing prepared me for Peru.

Let me talk about El Negro Mama, which is basically a minstrel show that is shown on prime time television.  This is character that portrays Afro Peruvians in such a negative light. This is worse than any black face incident or nonsense I have ever seen. I wont get into it as much as this blogger did, but needless to say this was something I was not even expecting. I plan to do my research on this and write about this properly in time for Latino Heritage Month.

The thing that had me really upset and reeling before they even showed El Negro Mama, was this one simple fact: Afro Peruvians pick cotton in the very fields that their slave ancestors did for $5 a day. This is something that I cannot even begin to wrap my mind around. It is one thing to have blatant and apparent racism in your face everyday, but to do that same job that your slave ancestors did? That is such a slap in that face and what really breaks my heart is that this is probably one of the better jobs one can get if you are black.

Think about this: people of color in the United States have it good. If you are working in a shit job and complain about how horrible work conditions are then I suggest that you shut the fuck up and realize that there are people who look like us practically being enslaved on this side of the planet in the year 2011! It makes me angry how people do not realize the implications of this. Sure, Peru is the only Latin American country to apologize to its black population about slavery but what does that really mean? Is it still ok to apologize for something you did wrong and continue to do the same things.

After that day I was ready to boycott Q-tips. Of course, I say that not knowing if Unilever (the manufacturer) actually uses Peruvian cotton. Trust me I did look this up and while I do not think so, it was the only thing I can say to raise an eyebrow and get a chuckle. I firmly believe that humor can be a way to spread awareness because the alternative is anger and that will not do me good.

So, I had been brooding about this weeks after it aired on May 10th. I was thinking about all this so much that when I was at a reception a week later, I stated to a group of friends and colleagues at the table I was sitting at that I was planning on boycotting Q-tips. Now, this was a joke. I was just pissed about the whole picking cotton thing and we were talking about this documentary. What makes this story hilarious was that at this very table was the Dean of Student Affairs (my boss’ boss). I know him personally and he is a great guy but all he asked was….why are you boycotting Q-tips?

This of course this made me laugh as I had to carefully explain with no curses what this documentary was and what they had shown. His reaction was really serious like….“so Q-tips uses this cotton?” I wanted to bust out laughing and I told him that I was joking. But, I appreciated that he understood where I was coming from.

So where does this leave me? It leaves me with the feeling that I need to learn more about Afro Latinos. My world view has changed a bit, at least when it comes to South America. Of course, I know that Latinos are a complicated people, but there cannot be a time in which any of us really believe that it is ok in this day in age to treat others like second class citizens. More importantly, it is the mentality of many of the Afro Latinos that do not see how they are being oppressed is what makes this even more tragic.

I plan on buying this series on and I highly recommend that you all watch these episodes which are available here.

Swine Flu: If they only listened to the Black Mexicans…

Swine Flu. That is what everyone is talking about. The next big pandemic that is threatening us all. Before you can understand what I am about to say. Please read this article from Yahoo!

Let me talk a little about geography. When I look at a map of Mexico. I notice that there are a few places where Black Mexicans reside. Lets list them…Guerrero, Michoacán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatán, Oaxaca and Veracruz.

Interesting. Lets consider how Mexico feels about their black people. According to research I have done in my Master’s course, Mexico does not view their black population as Mexican citizens. So is there no wonder that the protest of the people of Veracruz has gone largely unheard. The people there are protesting that the pig waste is making them sick.

Now, if the Mexican government remotely cared about the poor and black, perhaps this outbreak would have never happened, or at least not to the extent in which we are seeing today. Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova claims that it was only a 4 year old boy from Veracruz that contracted the disease and the rest of people simply had the flu. Of course, all but one of the samples were destroyed.

So we have to take Cordova’s word that the outbreak is not that bad. Yet there were people who have been sick since February. That does not seem right to me. I think something is being covered up. Sure, the reports say that Granjas Carroll de Mexico has no signs of Swine Flu within the herd or the employees but that does not explain why the people are protesting.

The fact of the matter is that the Mexican government is just grossly responsible for what is happening here. When you treat a certain number of the population as non citizens and you ignore their pleas for help, then you reap what you sow…

Black Latinos

I want to start off today by saying that I am Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian. My mother is a dark skinned Latina (Puerto Rican) who worked for Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx. More profoundly, she was at the bedside of Betty Shabazz before she passed away. My father is your typical light shinned Latino Male (Puerto Rican/Ecuadorian). He has worked his ass off for Con Edison and is blissfully retired in Florida. I define who I am through them.

The difficulty with being a Latinegro is not knowing where you are placed in general society. I was able to identify with both Black & Latinos growing up. I was able to be on both sides of the same coin. As a little kid in Catholic School for 8 (and 4 more if you count High School), I just went with the flow. However, I remember feeling that I was the ugly kid in class (braces didn’t help) and at one point wondering why I wasn’t born with the lighter skin or the nice hair. My family would make fun of my pelo (hair) and compare it to Brillo. Not to mention that I would be told that my abuelito (grandfather) was the reason for the bad hair.

A few of my female cousins are light skinned and to be honest, can pass for white. I remember them being told not to date black men. I was never really sure why they would say to them nor why they would say this with me in the room; as a matter of fact why anyone in my family would say it considering that we have some pretty dark people in my family was completely beyond me. As I grew older I began to realize that they were referring to African Americans. Being that I could not tell the difference at that time, I was told that I was not black because I am Hispanic (obviously). My ignorance ran so deep that when a white kid called me a Nigger, I said (and I shit you not) “I am not a black, I Spanish”. Yeah his jaw dropped too.

Let me fast forward to college, because I think my point has been made. By this time in my life I have already told myself that I am black Hispanic. What really made me see how I fit in this world was when I had to sort of choose in a non verbal way who I would have to spend my time with. I love being Latino, but I was too dark to hang out with them in college. I just did not feel right. So I hung out with African Americans, but even then I felt a bit out of place. Kinda like a screw that quite didn’t fit a hole. Frankly, I thought maybe it was just me. But now I know it is a shared experience.

I don’t write any of this for sympathy. I write this because I know i am not the only one who have dealt with this. I have only dealt with this about a fraction of a degree that other Afro Latinos have dealt with it. In my last post I asked the question have you seen a Black Mexican? Well I here they are. Once that tickles your fancy as it did mine, click here for a brief history. The significance of all this is that as much as I may complain about where I stand in this world, I think about places like Costa Chica and Oaxaca. These Afro Mexicans are pretty much invisible to the rest of the world.

Funny thing…in my fury of writing my last post I was talking about how seeing if 5 famous Afro Latinos can be named outside of David Ortiz or Rosario Dawson. I am very surprised that I was able to do it. Anyway…I am going to list them: Arturo Schomburg, Celia Cruz, David Sanchez, Tego Calderon, & Gilbert Arenas. I purposely stayed away from baseball because that would have been way too easy.


I have been spending the last couple of days thinking about why I really started this blog. What is the purpose of me writing to a few friends and virtual strangers. When I lived in NYC, I used to blog everyday about life as a New Yorker. I would write about my various mis-adventures in the subway or my experience with how crappy America Online was. Come to think of it there was no cable modems or wireless routers that I have come to enjoy so much. But, I digress. When I finally chose my career path, the time that I once had for writing disappeared.

The last few years have been very challenging for me personally and professionally and what I have discovered is that I did not have a way to express myself. I wrote a few short stories here and there, even did some poetry. All, which I must say, are rather good. But blogging just does something that the other forms of writing doesn’t. It is about maintaining a certain discipline. I made such a broad sweeping resolution for New Years which I can only describe as me redefining who I am.

A part of that is me being able to finish something I start, which is hard to do when you are writing a story long or short. Then, there is the part of me that looks for gratification in pleasing others. Some would consider me a pretty nice guy, however I am not writing this blog for the benefit of others. I write for me. To say that I do not care if people read my blog or not would be false. I welcome the criticism because it would make me better. Then it hits me. I want to be better at everything. I felt for years I have just been passing through life just being average. Because I can get away with it.

The best advice I have received was from Juno Diaz, the Pulitzer prize author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, who came to speak at Syracuse University. In his talk, he expressed that he simply did not care about what people thought about his writing. He wrote because that is what he loved to do. Juno was going to do it his way and take as long as he wanted until his writing was good enough to satisfy himself. If you ever read his books, then you would know how amazing he truly is.

The funny thing is, I wanted to be a comic book writer. I wanted to write stories about Latino superheros from the Bronx that saved the world a dozen times over. Even as a kid, I knew that dark Latinos were not represented in any form of entertainment outside of Baseball. Which brings me to the other reason for the blog. I call myself a latinegro, which can be described as a Negro Latino, or a Afro-Latino, or just black. I have come to understand how I am placed in this world, particularly when I started taking Masters Courses in Race and Ethnicity. I have very radical opinions about my people. I once had my father tell me not to date a black woman, in which I can only respond, “that is hard to do when I look like my mother”.

Let this not be about my father or any of my family since they are just cogs in a larger society that tells them that having lighter skin is just better. I mean, look at Univision and Telemundo and tell me how many Afro Latinos you see in the Novelas? Better yet, name 5 famous Latino Negros that are not David Ortiz or Rosario Dawson? Here is the best question of the night…Have you ever seen a black Mexican?

I am writing this blog because the truth hurts.