HISTORY MATTERS IN POLITICS.
Historian Rudy Acuña periodically reminds us that history matters. Indeed it does, and it behooves us to remember that during the political season. Our history teaches us that (a) political machines trying to keep our community powerless have plagued us for decades, and (b) our community always fights back. Here are some Arizona-Tucson examples. Every community has similar examples.
A. As early as during Territorial days, the mutualistas (mutual-aid societies) fought nativist groups that sought to keep “foreigners” and Catholics (i.e., Mexican Americans) from being elected to office. Under the leadership of La Alianza Hispano-Americana, the first mutualista in the country, the Mexican American community in Tucson beat back the nativists—the political machine of their time—and soon was well represented in Tucson and Arizona politics.
B. In 1962, popular restaurant owner Eduardo “Guayo” Esparza of Miami, Arizona, was severely beaten by the Sheriff, the head of the local political machine. This led to the Mexican American community taking on the machine by running candidates for city council. Three of their slate, David Barragan, Sal Portillo and A.J. Flores won, the first time in Miami’s history that Mexican Americans were elected to the City Council. This began a movement among Arizona mining-town Mexican Americans to take back their communities from political machines.
C. Héctor Morales’ 1965 election to the Tucson City Council changed the face of Tucson’s politics. Since statehood (1912), only three Mexican Americans had served on the council before 1965. The Democratic political machine that determined who was allowed to run for office made sure Mexican Americans were not in the equation. Morales and labor leaders-political activists Maclovio Barraza, Rodolfo García, and others took on the Democratic machine, successfully running Morales for City Council. There has been Mexican American representation on the council since.
D. In Phoenix in the 1960s, Manuel “Lito” Peña fought the machine led by Barry Goldwater, who kept the Mexican American community powerless by intimidating voters at the polls (e.g., questioning their citizenship and literacy). Peña registered voters and urged people to run for office. He himself ran and lost three times before being elected to the state legislature in 1966, where he served for 30 years and became known affectionately as the “Godfather” of the Arizona State Senate.
E. In 1968, Héctor Morales and his supporters again took on the Democratic political machine. Morales ran for the Pima County Board of Supervisors, on which only one Mexican American had served since 1920. Morales lost, but he made the point: six Mexican Americans have served on the board since he planted the seed.
F. In the 1970s Tucson’s Democratic machine-establishment controlled politics to the point that Mexican Americans were not elected in predominantly Mexican American districts. Pascua Yaqui Village native Luis Gonzales and a group he organized took on the machine-establishment. In 1977, they elected a slate of Mexican Americans, including Gonzales, to the state legislature from then-District 10, the first time in its history that this Mexican American-dominant district had 100% Mexican American representation. With the election of Camilo Castrillo and Dan Fernández, Gonzales’ group also integrated the Sunnyside School Board, which serves an area that is about 85% Mexican American.
Gonzales’ actions inspired others, resulting in Mexican Americans being elected in every Mexican American-dominant district in Arizona. All those districts have had Mexican American representation since then, as has the Sunnyside School Board.
G. In the 1970s, the Chicano Generation, my generation, also took on the Democratic machine and establishment of our time—within the Democratic Party structure and then through La Raza Unida, a Chicano-based party. We lost elections, but we changed the political culture in our communities. Many of you are also of this generation.
The machine-establishment did to us what their predecessors did to Héctor Morales and the others who challenged the machine-establishment of their time. They blacklisted us (kept us from being hired and tried to get those of us who were working fired). They called us names (radicals, militants, Communists, hippies). They made up vicious lies about us to use in rumor campaigns. But, as our ancestors did, we survived.
Today, like the generations before them, our children’s generation are forging their own destiny. Which means that in the political arena, they will have to deal with the political machine-establishment. My son Salomón, who recently ran for State Senate, and those who worked with him, found that out. Garnering 41% of the vote, Salomón did well, given that this was his first time running, and that the local Democratic machine-establishment worked against him.
But, as our history attests, those from our community who had the courage to stand up to the political machines and establishment eventually won. So will our children’s generation. History is the proof: political machines can’t stop intelligent, independent-thinking Mexican Americans from pursuing their destiny.
Indeed, history matters, and our children and their generation are writing their chapter of our community’s history. As our ancestors did, we all need to consult our conscience, our value system, our upbringing—and those of us who are parents-grandparents need to square what we do and support with what we teach our children-grandchildren about honesty, fair play, lying and rumor-mongering, and bullying—and decide which side of history we want to be on, which side we will be proud to tell our children and grandchildren we were on when it mattered. c/s
Copyright 2014 by Salomon Baldenegro. To contact Sal write: email@example.com
Special Thanks for her invaluable assistance to Dr. Christine Marín, Professor Emerita, Arizona State University; Founder, Chicana/o Research Collection & Archives, Arizona State University.
Hector Morales photograph courtesy of Andy Morales
Sal Baldenegro, Jr. photograph courtesy of Salomón R. Baldenegro
Sal Baldenegro, Sr. photograph courtesy of Salomón R. Baldenegro
Manuel “Lito” Peña photograph courtesy of Christine Marín
Baldenegro for Senate Logo courtesy of “Baldenegro for the People”
Facebook image of Maclovio Barraza used by “fair use”proviso of the Copyright law.