- Reading Tejano History
University of Texas Press
189 Pages; Print, $24.95
Since Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez established the U.S. Latino & Latina World War II Oral History Project (now the Voces Oral History Project) at the University of Texas at Austin, her project, its personnel, and students have conducted important oral histories of World War II veterans. Likewise, journalist-trained Rivas-Rodriguez has authored or co-authored five books on the topic. This book continues that tradition.
In Postwar Civil Rights she addresses three topics, one of national significance and two local. The national topic is the founding of Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), a group of lawyers funded to take on key Latino legal cases and patterned after a similar operation in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1948. MALDEF’s purpose is to address legal issues related to employment, immigration, and education affecting the Latino community. It was founded in 1968.
One of the local topics discussed here is the challenge to institutional racism in civil service jobs by the city of El Paso by newly elected Raymond Telles in El Paso in the early 1960s. The second local topic is the racial integration of Alpine, Texas schools by Mexican descent children in 1969. While the El Paso and Alpine stories are not statewide or national in scope, they had significant local impact in Texas. Indeed, one might argue that the Three Rivers burial issue (1948); Delgado vs. Bastrop school desegregation case (1948); the Hernandez vs. Texas murder and jury case (1954) were the three most important statewide Tejano civil rights issues but these issues have been addressed already by historians Patrick Carroll, Guadalupe San Miguel and Ignacio Garcia, respectively.
The chapter on MALDEF is the best chapter. Though the chapter title is “MALDEF: Born into the Crosswinds of the Chicano Movement” it shows how WWII veterans (especially Pete Tijerina) played a major role in founding MALDEF in the late 1960s. It establishes the key role that Tijerina as well as liberal European American Jack Greenberg of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund played in obtaining its first funds. Tijerina was a World War II veteran largely active in the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the American G. I. Forum (AGIF). It was LULAC and the AGIF as well as the shifting civil rights environment of the late 1960s that brought MALDEF into fruition along with the monies of white liberals including the Ford Foundation.
Attention to early Mexican American lawyers, precursors to MALDEF’s lawyers, is included in the introduction but should have been moved to the MALDEF chapter. Appropriate attention is not given to pre-WWII lawyers Alonso S. Perales, M. C. Gonzales, and J. T. Canales of Texas within LULAC as the unfunded and unofficial MALDEF. Likewise, brief mention might have been given to the Salvatierra vs. Del Rio, the first Mexican American school desegregation in Texas in the 1930s and lawyered by Perales, Gonzales, and Canales with LULAC funds. The author erred in noting that the Mendez v. Westminster School District case in California was the first case against segregated schools for Mexicans or Latinos. Rivas-Rodriguez also named attorneys Carlos Cadena and Gus Garcia, key in the 1940s, but both were influenced by Perales. Vilma Martinez, the first woman MALDEF general counsel in 1973, is not mentioned but she too was mentored by Perales.
While the MALDEF chapter is excellent it missed some topics, some previous secondary works, and a key archive. This chapter may have commented on the end of World War II veterans’s civil rights influence and the rise of the Chicano movement. If not for the rising Chicano movement and the national context of African American and youth protest, MALDEF may not have been funded. Also, the author might have told us more of MALDEF’s successes over the decades so readers would understand its significance. For instance, MALDEF lawyered Plyler v. Doe in 1982 which allows undocumented students to a free...