Sunday, September 13, 2015



Things Latinos Gave To America

Hispanic Heritage Month is great and all, but Spanish-American and Latino influence goes much deeper than tacos and salsa music.
A fun fact to remember for Hispanic Heritage Month: The Spanish arrived in what is now the U.S. well before the pilgrims, and a huge chunk of the country used to be Mexico. What this means (besides the downer, “Our genocidal conquerors arrived before yours!”) is that A LOT of American culture comes directly from Spanish-American culture and from Latinos in America. Here are some examples:


You heard that right! We think of cowboys as lonesome, taciturn white men — as American as apple pie. But the original cowboys were vaqueros, Mexican ranch hands, which is where Anglo cowboys pretty much got their whole thing.
[The History of the Vaquero
Rooted in necessity and shaped by the land, the Mexican cowboy tradition influenced the origin of cowboys.
1519–1700s After the Spanish arrived in Mexico in 1519, ranches were established and stocked with cattle and horses imported from Spain. Landowners mounted native Indians on well-trained horses and taught them to handle cattle. By the early 1700s, cattle ranching had spread north into what is now Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico and south to Argentina. The native cowboys were called vaqueros(from the Spanish word for cow) and developed roping skills, using braided rawhide reatas (the root word for lariat). Starting in 1769, a chain of 21 Franciscan missions eventually stretched from San Diego to San Francisco, marking the beginning of California’s livestock industry.
- See more at:]

Place names!

You can’t throw a rock Out West without it hitting a sign with a Spanish name on it. Some of them are obvious (San Luis Obispo?) while others are less so — Alamo, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Napa, and on and on. Even Utah comes from yuta, the Spanish pronunciation for the Ute native people.
Los Angeles, though? It may have been El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reyna de los Ángeles, or maybe it was El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula. A reference to “the queen” being a difference. Two best friend historians are actually having a fight about it — it’s a whole thing — but either way it has Spanish origins. []

Omg barbecue!

Humans have been cooking meat over fire since about 10 minutes after humans learned how to make fire. But that distinctly American brand of Southern Barbecue originated when the Spanish introduced pigs to the New World and encountered the Caribbean natives’ method of cooking things slowly, over indirect heat, and with a lot of smoke. In fact, the word barbecue comes from the Spanish barbacoa
[If any gastronomical treat could give the proverbially American apple pie a run for its money, it might just be barbecue. The culinary tradition of cooking meat low and slow over indirect flame (the true definition of barbecue – imposters who grill, take note) has become so prevalent over the years that BBQ itself represents a sort of pop culture, spawning TV shows, historically-focused road trips, and even fusion dishes like BBQ tacos. Barbecue’s ability to reflect whatever might be hot at the time (from reality TV to the taco craze) isn’t new; in fact, barbecue has a long history of permeation, perhaps best experienced by the ongoing barbecue feud that plagues the South. From the Atlantic to the Gulf, bordered by the western outposts of Texas and Kansas City, the area of the United States known as the “barbecue belt” houses four distinct barbecue traditions – Carolina, Texas, Memphis and Kansas City. From where did these traditions come, and how, in a relatively small region of the country, have they evolved along such different paths? The history of American barbecue is as diverse as the variations themselves, charting the path of a Caribbean cooking style brought north by Spanish conquistadors, moved westward by settlers, and seasoned with the flavors of European cultures.
The first indigenous tribes Christopher Columbus encountered on the island he named Hispaniola had developed a unique method for cooking meat over an indirect flame, created using green wood to keep the food (and wood) from burning. Reports indicate that the Spanish referred to this new style of cooking as barbacoa: the original barbecue. As the Spanish explorers who followed Columbus turned their expeditions north, they brought the cooking technique with them. In 1540, close to present-day Tupelo, Mississippi, the Chicksaw tribe, in the presence of explorer Hernando de Soto, cooked a feast of pork over the barbacoa. Eventually, the technique made its way to the colonies, traveling as far north as Virginia.]

Oh nothing, just feeding the home front during WWII.

OK. Let’s get somber for a minute. Aside from the fact that hundreds of thousands of American Latinos (mostly Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans) served in World War II, there’s also the fact that, to make up for lost labor on the home front, the U.S. and Mexico set up the bracero program to bring Mexican farmworkers stateside.
That program laid the groundwork for the system of migrant agricultural labor that exists to this day.

(Los Veteranos: Latino Americans in WWII

Over 500,000 Latinos (including 350,000 Mexican Americans and 53,000 Puerto Ricans) served in WWII. Exact numbers are difficult because, with the exception of the 65th Infantry Regiment from Puerto Rico, Latinos were not segregated into separate units, as African Americans were. When war was declared on December 8, 1941, thousands of Latinos were among those that rushed to enlist. Latinos served with distinction throughout Europe, in the Pacific Theater, North Africa, the Aleutians and the Mediterranean. Among other honors earned, thirteen Medals of Honor were awarded to Latinos for service during WWII.
In the Pacific Theater, the 158th Regimental Combat Team, of which a large percentage was Latino and Native American, fought in New Guinea and the Philippines. They so impressed General MacArthur that he called them “the greatest fighting combat team ever deployed in battle.” Latino soldiers were of particular aid in the defense of the Philippines. Their fluency in Spanish was invaluable when serving with Spanish speaking Filipinos. These same soldiers were part of the infamous “Bataan Death March.” On Saipan, Marine PFC Guy Gabaldon, a Mexican-American from East Los Angeles who had learned Japanese in his ethnically diverse neighborhood, captured 1,500 Japanese soldiers, earning him the nickname, the “Pied Piper of Saipan.”
In the European Theater, Latino soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division from Texas were among the first soldiers to land on Italian soil and suffered heavy casualties crossing the Rapido River at Cassino. The 88th Infantry Division (with draftees from Southwestern states) was ranked in the top 10 for combat effectiveness.
Latino Women and WWII
Latinas served during WWII despite cultural barriers that had in the past prevented them from leaving their families and traveling long distances alone. Bilingualism was highly sought after during the war and so they found important work in cryptology, communications and interpretation. As linguists, nurses and Red Cross aids, and in the WAACS, WAVES, and Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, Latinas broke through both gender and cultural barriers to serve their country.
On the Home Front
Thousands of Latino men and women on the Home Front worked on railroads, in mines, shipyard and airplane factories and as crucial agricultural labor. A shortage of manual labor jeopardized the war effort, so the US government established the Bracero Program, allowing 50,000 Mexican agricultural workers and 75,000 railroad workers to come as guest workers to the United States. These workers were crucial to the country’s wartime economy.
Zoot Suit Riots
During the 1930s and 40s, many Latino youths in the Southwestern U.S. developed their own sub-culture, which included distinctive fashions, music, and slang. These youths, rebelling both against Anglo culture and even against elements of their own culture, called themselves Pachucos. To the White community, Pachuco culture soon became synonymous with gang culture, and social tensions threatened to erupt in several urban areas. On the night of June 3, 1943, eleven U.S. Navy sailors on shore leave in Los Angeles claimed they were attacked by a “group of Mexican kids.” Soon after scores of sailors and Marines invaded the Latino community of East Los Angeles, targeting anyone they saw wearing a “zoot suit,” a Pachuco style of clothing, featuring a long dress coat with baggy pants. The riots continued for another two nights and the sailors and Marines were portrayed in the press as heroes suppressing a “Mexican crime wave.” In some cases, police actually accompanied sailors and Marines and then arrested their beaten victims.
After the War
Latinos felt their efforts and sacrifices during the war had earned them equal rights. But, Latinos, like other minority groups in the United States, faced discrimination when they returned from war. Many future leaders of the Latino and Chicano Civil Rights Movements began their efforts after having served in uniform. Most prominent among these was Dr. Hector Garcia, founder of the American G.I. Forum, a civil rights group still active today fighting for Latino rights in health care, education, labor agreements, and the court system. []
The Bracero History Archive collects and makes available the oral histories and artifacts pertaining to the Bracero program, a guest worker initiative that spanned the years 1942-1964. Millions of Mexican agricultural workers crossed the border under the program to work in more than half of the states in America.

Historic school desegregation

Most of the credit for mid-20th Century social progress rightfully goes to the Black Civil Rights Movement, but the Chicano Movement did its part: Before Brown v. Board of Education, there was Mendez v. Westminster, which desegregated California schools and provided a big leg-up in terms of momentum and legal precedent.

[Mendez, et al v. Westminster [sic] School District of Orange County, et al64 F.Supp. 544 (S.D. Cal. 1946), aff'd, 161 F.2d 774 (9th Cir. 1947) (en banc), was a 1947 federal court case that challenged racial segregation in Orange County, California schools. In its ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in an en banc decision, held that the segregation of Mexican and Mexican American students into separate "Mexican schools" was unconstitutional. 


Mexican American school children in the 1940s
Five Mexican-American fathers, (Thomas Estrada, William Guzman, Gonzalo Mendez, Frank Palomino, and Lorenzo Ramirez) challenged the practice of school segregation in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. They claimed that their children, along with 5,000 other children of "Mexican" ancestry, were victims of unconstitutional discrimination by being forced to attend separate "schools for Mexicans" in the WestminsterGarden GroveSanta Ana, and El Modena school districts of Orange County. Soledad Vidaurri went to the Westminster Elementary School in order to enroll her children and her brother Gonzalo Mendez’s kids, Gonzalo, Geronimo, and Sylvia to the school. The Westminster School informed Viduarri that her kids could be admitted to the school. However, Gonzalo, Geronimo, and Sylvia could not be admitted on the basis of their race and skin color. (Viduarri’s children had light complexions and French surnames and therefore would not be segregated into a different school.) Upon hearing the news, Viduarri refused to admit her children to the school if her brother’s children were not admitted as well. The Mendez family tried to arrange for Geronimo, Gonzalo, and Sylvia to attend the school by talking to the school administration but both parties were not able to reach an agreement. Gonzalo Mendez dedicated the next year to a lawsuit against the Westminster School District of Orange County. The School District offered to compromise by allowing the Mendez kids attend the elementary but no other student of Mexican-American descent. The Mendez family declined the offer and continued the lawsuit. The Mendez family believed in helping out the entire Mexican community instead of a handful of children. The Mendez family covered most of the expenses for the various witnesses that would be present in the case. [1]
See also: LULAC

Court Case[edit]

The plaintiffs were represented by an established Jewish American civil rights attorney, David Marcus. Funding for the lawsuit was primarily paid for initially by the lead plaintiff Gonzalo Mendez who began the lawsuit when his three children were denied entrance to their local Westminster school.[2] Senior District Judge Paul J. McCormick, sitting in Los Angeles, presided at the trial and ruled in favor of Mendez and his co-plaintiffs on February 18, 1946, finding segregated schools to be an unconstitutional denial of equal protection.[3] The school district appealed to the Ninth Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which upheld Judge McCormick's decision, finding that the segregation practices violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Governor Earl Warren, who would later become Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court and preside over Brown v. Board of Education, signed into law the repeal of remaining segregationist provisions in the California statutes. Several organizations joined the appellate case as amicus curiae, including the NAACP, represented by Thurgood Marshall and Robert L. Carter.[4] More than a year later, on April 14, 1947, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling, but not on equal protection grounds. It did not challenge the "separate but equal" interpretation of the 14th Amendment announced by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Instead, the Ninth Circuit held that the segregation was not racially based, but that it had been implemented by the school districts without being specifically authorized by state law, and was thus impermissible irrespective of Plessy.


On December 8, 1997, the Santa Ana Unified School District dedicated the Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez Intermediate Fundamental School in Santa Ana, California.
In 2003, writer/producer Sandra Robbie received an Emmy Award for her documentary "Mendez vs. Westminster: For All the Children / Para Todos los Niños."
On September 14, 2007, The United States Postal Service honored the 60th anniversary ruling of Mendez v. Westminster with a 41-cent commemorative stamp.[5]
On November 15, 2007, the United States Postal Service presented the Mendez v. Westminster stamp to the Mendez family at a press conference at the Rose Center Theater in WestminsterCalifornia.
In September 2009, Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School opened in Boyle Heights. The school was named after Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez, parents of American civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez, who played an instrumental role in the Mendez v. Westminster case.
On October 14, 2009, Chapman University's Leatherby Libraries dedicated the Mendez et al v. Westminster et al Group Study Room and a collection of documents, video and other items relating to the landmark desegregation case. Chapman also owns the last standing Mexican school building from the segregation era in Orange County, CA.
On February 15, 2011, President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Sylvia Mendez, the daughter of Gonzalo Mendez who was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. Sylvia along with her two brothers, Gonzalo, Jr. and Jerome, were some of the Mexican American students who were denied admission to their local Westminster school, which formed the basis for the suit. Sylvia was awarded the honor for her many years of work encouraging students to stay in school and to ensure that the importance of Mendez v. Westminster in American history will not be forgotten.[2]
In September 2011, the Museum of Teaching and Learning (MOTAL), in partnership with a half-dozen government agencies and universities, opened a nine-month exhibition about Mendez v. Westminster at the Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana, California. The exhibition, for which the team won a 2013 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History, continues to travel to other locations to educate the public—both adults and students—about the details around this landmark case.]

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