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WHY DID THE LONGORIA INCIDENT attract so much national and international attention? There seemed no end to the number of egregious inequalities in the climate of relations between Anglos and Tejanos in South Texas after World War II. Dr. García’s inspection of labor camps and school conditions in the spring of 1948 certainly demonstrated this point. What was it about the dispute over Felix Longoria’s denied wake that made it stand out among so many other wrongs? To answer this question we must consider the social, economic, and political temper of the time. Then we must arrive at an appreciation of the forces that shaped this incident. In order to accomplish these ends we should probably first review our answers to a number of preliminary queries. Only then can we address the overarching question of what made the Longoria incident so noteworthy in the 1949 public’s eye. Up to this point we have described what happened, when it happened , where it happened, and why it happened. An Anglo undertaker CONCLUSION 07-T2443 12/9/02 3:24 PM Page 195 F E L I X L O N G O R I A ’ S W A K E 196 in 1949 denied use of his funeral chapel to wake a dead U.S. soldier because the serviceman was a Mexican American and Anglos in the town of Three Rivers, Texas, would not like it. The resulting dispute raged for three months. Political divisions in Texas’ political culture allowed Dr. García to enlist the support of one faction in this split, National Democrats who were represented by the brand-new U.S. senator from Texas, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Together, these two individuals managed to thrust the controversy onto the national and international stage. They were able to accomplish this because communities in each zone from the local to the international level were able to connect to the issue in different ways. Some South Texas Anglos and Texas Dixiecrats (Democratic Regulars ) reacted to the funeral director’s decision out of support for local tradition, the apartheid social milieu that had developed in South Texas over the previous century. Others, in the area’s Mexican American community , and most observers in Latin American countries reacted against the inherent racism and ethnocentrism in the funeral director ’s refusal. Still others, Texas National Democrats and Americans throughout the country, primarily saw this as an antipatriotic act on the part of the mortician. Dr. García and LBJ, with their keen political instincts , understood all of these varied connections to the Longoria controversy , and the men built a lasting coalition of Mexican American and liberal Anglo civil rights activists upon these Longoria connections. This basically summarizes the whats, whens, wheres, and whys of the Longoria controversy. Yet, one preliminary, unanswered question remains before we can fully understand what made the Longoria conflict stand out. We must ask “how” this event took place. What were the dynamics, the rational and the emotive processes at play in this drama of honor, pride, and prejudice? There are at least two plausible approaches to addressing this last query. One involves a rational structuralist perspective. It assumes that the incident operated within the defined parameters of regional environmental, demographic, social, economic, and political conditions. The second line of inquiry is more humanistic in nature. This interpretation stresses the antistructuralist and more emotive stimuli that moved antagonists in the controversy. Three subschools of rational structuralist thought lend themselves to an interpretation of the dispute. David Montejano provides us with one of these slants, a Marxist analysis. Ultimately, Montejano reduces such antagonistic episodes in Anglo-Tejano relations to class conflict, 07-T2443 12/9/02 3:24 PM Page 196 C O N C L U S I O N 197 the result of South Texas’ economic transition from a patrón to a commercial capitalist agricultural system.1 He does acknowledge that race played a varying role in defining relations between the two groups, depending on the level of economic development in each South Texas locale. Race was most important in ranching areas, less important in commercial farm areas, and least important in commercial urban settings . In the final analysis, however, the controlling variable in all these settings was the group’s relationship to the mode of production, a conclusion that ultimately places class conflict above race and ethnicity in defining power relationships between Anglos and Tejanos. By the 1940s Anglos...


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MARC Record
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