HISTORY MAKERS ARE ALL AROUND US!
One thing I’ve learned in my close-to-50 years of organizing and being in the trenches of the civil-rights movement is that if we are to understand and influence our present, we need to study our history.
The following did not happen magically: Mexican Americans can register to vote and vote and run for office without being terrorized or threatened. Our children can swim in public pools. We can eat in public restaurants. Men and women of Mexican descent are hired for all kinds of jobs in the private and public sectors. At one time we weren’t hired in public schools and colleges and universities. Today we are professors, teachers, principals, counselors, administrators, superintendents, chancellors, and presidents. Mexican Americans can live wherever they want to.
Many folks take all these things and many more for granted, as if things were always this way. But when it comes to civil rights, whatever progress we have made we have had to fight for. Those struggles—and the victories they describe—are our history.
[An aside: I have a deep and abiding disdain for those who, having walked through the doors opened for them by those of us in the struggle, berate us and our work. It seems these folks love civil rights as long as they don’t have to do civil rights. There should be a reciprocity rule: Anyone who has walked through a door opened by civil-rights activism must be required to openly stand up against injustices without expecting some benefit for her/himself—no fancy job, no photo-op.]
There are many ways to study our history. We can enroll in Mexican American/Chicano Studies courses if these are available. We can organize history seminars/lectures in the community in the evenings and on weekends. We can read and discuss books such as “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” and “¡Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement,” which accompanies the video series of the same name. [Most libraries have these and related books, and if not they can obtain them through inter-library loans.]
One of the best ways to learn history is to talk to the history makers, who are all around us. Every community has them. These history makers are usually willing to share their piece of history. If they are deceased, their families often are willing to share the stories and memorabilia.
In no particular order, the following are examples of Arizona and Tucson history makers I have been privileged to have known and learned from.
Juanita Loroña was part of a group that led the fight to desegregate public facilities in Arizona. Ten years after a 1944 federal court case that established that not allowing Mexican Americans to use public facilities was illegal, many Arizona cities did not allow Mexican children to swim in public pools. Loroña’s group, with the help of the unions (International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers/United Steelworkers) in Arizona’s mining towns, petitioned, picketed, and took the case to court—and won!
Tucson labor activist Maclovio Barraza (International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers/United Steelworkers) conceptualized the Southwest Council of La Raza in Tucson in 1969 and was the founding president of the council, which evolved into the National Council of La Raza, the most comprehensive Latino organization in the country.
Julia Soto was a one-person civil-rights agency in Tucson in the 1960s, advocating for Mexican American children in local schools. As a member of the Tucson Human Relations Commission, she facilitated a public forum on Mexican American education at which Mexican American students testified about issues they were confronting in local schools. This forum set the stage for the historic 1969 high-school walkouts. High-school student leaders Grace and Edna Fimbres, David Valadez and Juan Brito and many others organized the 1969 High-school Walkouts that fundamentally changed the local educational system.
Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the “Bilingual Education Act,” is rooted in Tucson. Local educators Adalberto Guerrero, Enrique Oyama and others brought the issue of bilingual education to the country’s attention in the 1960s. Their testimony before Congress led to congressional hearings in Tucson, resulting in the 1968 passage of Title VII, a historic piece of legislation. Before this, in 1959, Oyama made history by successfully challenging Arizona’s miscegenation law.
Christine Marín was the moving force behind the establishment of the nationally renowned Arizona State University archival collection on Mexican American life in Arizona and the southwest, the Chicana/o Research Collection. The papers of some of Arizona’s most prominent history makers are in the ASU Chicana/o Research Collection.
Antonio D. Bustamante and Danny Haro, who were then third-year law students, organized the National Hanigan Coalition, which led the movement to achieve the federal prosecution of the Hanigan brothers for torturing three Mexicans in Arizona. This was the first time that the United States government brought a prosecution to vindicate the human-rights protections of undocumented workers who had been physically abused in the U.S.
Lorenzo and Anita Torrez were involved in the historic 1950 strike for better wages and working conditions led by the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers against Empire Zinc Corporation in Bayard, N.M. Lorenzo and Anita both appear in the iconic movie “Salt of the Earth” which depicts that historic strike and its many dimensions.
Space limitations keep me from listing many others. The point is that every community, including yours, has history makers. Many of them have passed away, but their stories can be found in the newspaper archives of local libraries and in the papers and memorabilia kept by their families. Find them and learn from, and be inspired by, them. c/s
copyright 2014 by Sal Baldenegro. To contact Sal write: firstname.lastname@example.org