Dirty Mexicans

In today’s La Times Opinion Section, David Dorado Romo, author of Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez, 1893-1923 wrote about the delousing of Mexican border crosses and related it to changes in immigration policy.

All immigrants from the interior of Mexico, and those whom U.S. Customs officials deemed “second-class” residents of Juarez, were required to strip completely, turn in their clothes to be sterilized in a steam dryer and fumigated with hydrocyanic acid, and stand naked before a Customs inspector who would check his or her “hairy parts” — scalp, armpits, chest, genital area — for lice. Those found to have lice would be required to shave their heads and body hair with clippers and bathe with kerosene and vinegar.

My great-aunt, Adela Dorado, would tell our family about the humiliation of having to go through the delousing every eight days just to clean American homes in El Paso. She recalled how on one occasion the U.S. Customs officials put her clothes and shoes through the steam dryer and her shoes melted.

My grandfather’s family moved to Juárez during the Mexican Revolution because if they would have stayed in their home state of Zacatecas, they probably would have starved. My grandfather was born in Juarez in 1920. I wonder if his mother, father or older siblings ever had to go through the humiliating delousing when they crossed in to El Paso.

Although this occurred in El Paso, there were also fears that Mexicans were dirty and spreading disease in Los Angeles. Social reformers in Los Angeles who advocated Americanization for Mexican immigrants. They worked with Mexican women being a good citizen also meant being of clean mind and body. However, the reformers were told that thei task would be difficult because, “Sanitary, hygienic, and dietic measures are not easily learned by the Mexican. His philosophy of life flows along the path of least resistance and it requires far less exertion to remain dirty than to clean up” (from Becoming Mexican American, by George J. Sánchez).

At the same time, many Mexicans in Los Angeles lived in slums constituted a quarter of the tubercolisis cases despite making up ten percent of the population at the time. However, a study found that those who had tubercolosis had lived in the US for over five years and suggested that the tubercolosis was a result of living in substandard conditions and was not specifically something they brought from Mexico as they escaped war and poverty.

A stereotype and Americanization programs are just words and indoctrination. However, when you see it in the form of the delousing, it really hits how messed up things are and makes me question how much still needs to change.


Snooze button

I normally set two alarm clocks. One on my cell phone and the other on a clock radio on the bookshelf.

This morning, I must have hit the snooze button on each about 20 times.

This quarter is kicking my ass and all I want is to sleep.


Mil palabras: perfil

Nancy draws
Pomona Art Walk

My almost twenty-one year old cousin Nancy is artistic and beautiful, but you hardly every see all of her pale visage and both broody brown eyes. Her long dark brown bangs usually cover the left side of her face. She reminds me of me — not the artistic and beautiful aspects, but the hair. I’ve now come to repeating the words a classmate once told me to Nancy, “hey, Cousin Itt, move your hair so we can see your pretty face.”


Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain

El músico My dad used to take his guitar everywhere he went. Well, it seemed that way. When we went to Mass on Sunday morning, he’d take his bass. If there was a birthday party for a family member or some compadres’ kid we’d pack along a gift and the guitar. Camping? Beach trip? Picnic at the park? Pre-school graduation? The guitar was there.

I never saw him take it to work, but then again I was fast asleep when he left around 6 or 7 a.m.

I loved listening to my dad play and sing. The songs were always in English and Spanish. Some were seasonal, others strictly for kids, and some with more grown up themes of love and loss. One of the songs I loved most was “Rhythm of the Falling Rain” by the Cascades.

Aside from nursery songs, I’m pretty sure “Rhythm of the Falling Rain” is the first song I learned in English. The lyrics puzzled me. I didn’t understand how a girl could have stolen the poor guy’s heart. I didn’t know what it meant that he would “cry in vain.” I didn’t even know what vain meant, but that didn’t matter.

All that mattered was that my dad was singing one of my favorite songs.


Mendez v. Westminster

Gonzalo y Felicitas Mendez Tomorrow, February 18, marks the 60th anniversary of an important school desegregation case. No, it is not Brown v. Board, and the segregated schools in question were not located in the south or midwest.

This legal challenge occurred in California eight years prior to Brown v. Board. The Mendez v. Westminster (1946) case challenged the segregation of white and Mexican students in Westminster, Garden Grove and El Modeno school districts. It was the first time ever that a judge wrote an opinion stating that separate is never equal.

“On March 2, 1945, five Mexican-American fathers, Gonzalo Mendez, Thomas Estrada, William Guzman, Frank Palomino, and Lorenzo Ramirez, challenged the practice of school segregation in the Ninth Federal District Court in Los Angeles. They claimed that their children and 5,000 other children of “Mexican and Latin descent” were victims of unconstitutional discrimination by being forced to attend separate “Mexican” schools in the Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and El Modeno school districts of Orange County.

Judge Paul J. McCormick ruled in favor of Mendez and his co-plaintiffs on February 18, 1946, and more than a year later, on April 14, 1947, McCormick’s ruling was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco. On June 14 of the same year, Governor Earl Warren signed into law a repeal of the last remaining school segregation statutes in the California Education Code. Thus did “separate but equal” end in California schools and with it ended de jure school segregation, legally and administratively enforced separation of racial and national groups in the public education system. Judge McCormick’s decision reflects significant social and intellectual movements which produced a remarkable change in educational and judicial attitudes on matters of segregation and race during the 1930’s and 1940s. The Mendez case is equally important as a part of the history of Mexican and Mexican-American people in the United States and their experience in Anglo-American schools.”


Additionally, the court held that segregating Mexican children in a separate school went against the social equality purpose of public education because it was not open to all. Segregated schooling would retard the English-language skills and learning of Mexican children. The court also spoke to the positive benefits of commingling and suggested that segregation fosters antagonisms and suggests inferiority among the childnre where none exists.

I think it’s a shame that I didn’t learn about Mendez v. Westminster until I got to college. I went to a California school and learned about civil rights and school desegregation. Perhaps this case was not in my history books because it was much more limited in scope than Brown v. Board and civil rights are frequently viewed as a black and white issue.

Sylvia Mendez, the daughter of Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez (pictured above), wants to make the case more well known and continue the work that her father began. She wants teachers to teach this alongside Brown v. Board in discussions on civil rights and desegregation.

‘The equal protection of the laws’ pertaining to the public school system in California is not provided by furnishing in separate schools the same technical facilities, text books and courses of instruction to children of Mexican ancestry that are available to the other public school children regardless of their ancestry. A paramount requisite in the American system of public education is social equality. It must be open to all children by unified school association regardless of lineage. (from Judge McCormick’s opinion)

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