America's Mistreatment Of Hispanics Is Harrowing, But Should We Be Hopeful?

Heirs to our nation's Hispanic heritage know the rigorous nature of our fight for decency and equality.
Sgt. Macario Garcia receives the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman.
Sgt. Macario Garcia receives the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman.

“We don’t serve Mexicans here,” said the restaurant owner at The Oasis Café. Macario García became enraged, and a fight ensued. Bottles of ketchup and salt shakers and bowls flew across the room, shattering a mirror and windows, according to accounts. An arrest followed. Macario was in handcuffs. They said he was drunk, unruly, and that he started the fight. The same accusations were leveled against countless Mexican-Americans who fought back because they recognized that they were being denied their humanity.

“I’ve been fighting for people like you, and now you mistreat me,” he said.

The year was 1945. Only a few weeks before this incident, President Harry S. Truman had presented Sergeant Macario García with the Congressional Medal of Honor. He also received the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry Badge. Macario was born in México, but he served and fought for his home country, the United States.

Felix Longoria died fighting in the Pacific in 1945. He was a Mexican-American from Three Rivers, a quiet rural town in south Texas that was home to segregated cemeteries and a racially-divided population. Longoria returned to his family in a coffin only to be denied a proper wake at the town’s sole funeral home. T.W. Kennedy, the owner, said he could not hold Longoria’s wake at Rice Funeral Home because “the white people would not stand for it.”

Pvt. Felix Longoria.
Pvt. Felix Longoria.

These are only two historical anecdotes of the countless instances of racism and inequality that Mexican-Americans endured for centuries. Both are painful to read and difficult to comprehend, yet these incidents that happened decades ago feel eerily familiar nowadays. We are living under a presidential administration staffed by people who blatantly hate Hispanics, like Stephen Miller. It’s an administration with policies that were at one point influenced by a white nationalist, Stephen K. Bannon, and a president who began his campaign calling Mexicans criminals, rapists and thieves. Racist attacks against Mexicans and Latinos have increased, fueled by a president who disparages our community and toys with the lives of Dreamers by threatening to deport them every time he wants to cheer up the racists in his base. It’s an administration that is proposing policies that will cause irrevocable damage to the civil rights that members of the Hispanic, African-American, and LGBTQ communities fought for and, in many cases, died for.

When we recognize that history repeats itself, as it is doing now, we must seek to understand the patterns that emerge in the most iconic historical anecdotes of discrimination and civil rights violations, one harrowing and the other hopeful. The harrowing part of these incidents is that when they occurred, they were legal. The hopeful part is that in many incidents, helpers emerged from within the community and its allies to help change the course of history by correcting the wrongs committed against the oppressed.

Our eyes are a bit downcast this year as we continue through Hispanic Heritage Month, our smiles a bit weathered after eight months of attacks, and that is okay."

For instance, leaders of the Mexican-American community, including LULAC, rallied in support of Sgt. Macario García until the charges were dropped. In Felix Longoria’s case, the American G.I. Forum, guided by Dr. Hector P. García, advocated on behalf of the Longoria family, and in a way, lit the match that kindled the Chicano movement’s fire. Longoria was buried with full military honors in Arlington Cemetery thanks to a young U.S. Senator named Lyndon B. Johnson. These situations were among the precursors to the Civil Rights Movement as were landmark trial cases such as Hernández v. Texas, which offered equal protection under the Constitution to Mexican-Americans and other nationalities. Laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Higher Education Act of 1965 ― the results of the fight for equal justice lead by community leaders from all backgrounds ― became the promise of the future, the promise of our future. They are proof that we do not have to sit back and accept the status quo or laws designed to weaken our civil liberties.

Our eyes are a bit downcast this year as we continue through Hispanic Heritage Month, our smiles a bit weathered after eight months of attacks, and that is okay. But there is one thing that must remain as strong as it did for those who bore the struggle before us: our corazón. We have been the downtrodden, victims of everything from casual discrimination to lynchings, yet we’ve always emerged with strength and determination to offer our children a better future. Raza, there’s always hope. We just have to fight for it.