Did You Know?

There was a time in the history of our Nation where Mexicans and other Latino groups endured fierce racism and oppression. For some reason stories such as these were omitted from the U.S. history textbooks I read and I grew up thinking that Latino contributions to U.S. history began and ended with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

I’ve been reading the most recent version of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez. This book has opened my eyes to a history I didn’t even know existed and that isn’t taught in classrooms. Reading Gonzalez’s book paints the true story of how America was built and often times marred with egregious racism, greed, and injustice. Below are three facts that I found shocking and both fascinating from the book.

  1. Mexicans experienced segregation and lynchings in Texas.

This fact was probably the most shocking and disturbing fact I have found out on my quest to study the history of Latinos in the United States because this isn’t common knowledge and sure wasn’t taught in schools while I was growing up.

♦Hernandez e al. v. Driscol Consolidated Independent School System outlawed segregated schools for Mexicans in 1957.

♦Texas had restaurants and other public areas that had signs saying “NO MEXICANS SERVED” and bathrooms that said “HOMBRES AQUI”.

♦After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican American War and made the Rio Grande a boundary between Mexico and United States, Mexicans who found themselves in what was now considered U.S. territories were cheated out of their lands because they weren’t informed of their rights to said lands, couldn’t read and write, and the new laws for land registration, inheritance, and tax were administered in English, a language a majority of Mexicans didn’t understand. Mexican’s lands were auctioned off for pennies an acre when Mexicans had failed to pay taxes. Naturally, this caused violence between Anglos and Mexicans. Mexicans were lynched into the early 1900s in an attempt for Anglos to forcibly remove Mexicans from their land.

2. The cowboy is today viewed as one of the most quintessential “American” things. Well, it’s not. It’s actually a very Mexican thing.

“The vaqueros, or cowboys, were generally mestizos or mulatos, sometimes even blacks or Indians…So dominant was the Mexican vaquero in the [cattle] industry that Anglo cowboys copied virtually all the culture of the range from them.”

3. Some Latinos or non-Latinos are shocked when they meet another Latino who doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish even though they “look Mexican”. They sometimes attribute it to being “white washed” or ashamed of their culture.

Only history can provide an explanation to this phenomenon. When children of Latino migrant workers attended schools in the 1950s in states like New York they were forced to figure out their place in a black and white world. With a high population of Puerto Rican immigrants from varying skin tones, Puerto Ricans in New York who looked black or white enough were forced to not speak Spanish and choose what side they could be more accepted in. Schools anglicized Spanish names and some Latino parents of these children made the difficult choice of choosing not to teach their children Spanish as a protective mechanism from an environment that was fiercely discriminatory and to ensure their children had a chance to succeed in life.

So when these children grew up to be parents they were incapable of passing on Spanish that was never taught to them to their children despite “looking” Latino. I wish this part of our history was taught in our classrooms so that there wouldn’t be so much division among our community when it comes to how much Spanish you speak determining how Latino you are as well as teaching non-Latinos the struggles Latino immigrants faced.

The fact that U.S History omits our stories signifies our responsibility as a community to claim our space in American History and preserve our stories for generations to come. Incorporating our contributions and history into American history textbooks will help quell the ignorance that befalls so many Americans that accuse all Latinos of being foreigners in a country that was actually first ours and help Latinos that don’t feel quite Latino or American to accept themselves because both cultures aren’t mutually exclusive.



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