The Texas Observer APRIL 15, 1966 A Journal of Free Voices A Window to The South 25c Needed: A Marshall Plan for Mexican-Americans San Antonio An undernourished, dirty little river winds through downtown San Antonio as if it reflected the mood of much of the city. Typically, the Chamber of Commerce extols its beauty. In the old days the river used to go on an occasional rampage, but today a dam and steep river banks control it. The people of San Antonio are the same. Both the river and the people are exploited for the benefit of a few. The exploited are about half of the population of San Antonio who are of Mexican descent, those who have been described by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, as the “most neglected, the least sponsored, the most orphaned major minority in the United States.” Statistics lay bare the shameful abuse of Mexican-Americans in San Antonio. Of the people of this city, 28.4% live on less than $3,000 a year, compared to 10.6% in Chicago and 13.4% in New York. The percentage, of course, is higher among Mexican Americans. There are 350,000 Mexican-Americans in San Antonio; 150,000 of them live on the edge of poverty. The median annual income of MexicanAmericans is $1,400 lower than “Anglos” and unemployment is 4% higher, clearly indicating a pattern of wage and job discrimination. As a result of many years of poverty, discrimination, and injustice, MexicanAmericans in San Antonio live in 46,000 slum housing units, 11,000 of which have no plumbing. One glaring example is “Villa Coronado,” one of the worst slums in the United States, where 20 migrants crowd into one of the two-room hovels. Furthermore, the Mexican-American suffers from the highest incidence of tuberculosis and the highest infant mortality rate. San Antonio has still another dubious distinction : 107,000 functional illiterates Albert Pena, Jr., is a county commissionformer state chairman of the Political Association of Spanish-speaking Organizaorganization of Mexican-Americans in Texas. Albert Pena, Jr. live here, more than in any other city in the United States; and mostly they are of Mexican descent. The average MexicanAmerican child will not finish elementary school; he will reach only the fifth grade. CONFRONTED with these facts, why doesn’t the Mexican-American do something about them? Why doesn’t he complain? In a speech delivered in Corpus Christi last December, Franklin Roosevelt, Jr., alluded to this paradox. He said that of the more than 3,000 complaints received by the Equal Employment Commission since it began operation on July 2, 1965, only 12 had alleged discrimination because of national origin. Yet, he said, “We are aware the Spanish-speaking minority groups throughout our land suffer some of the most abysmal housing perpetuated by an educational system that makes no provision for the unique problems and unique needs of its different ethnic groups.” As if groping for answers, Roosevelt added, “There are other problems which lend themselves to some statistical tabulations and which point out the tragic socio-economic problems of the Spanish-speaking American that have developed in him a sense of social isolation, depersonalization, and hopelessness.” To understand, it is necessary to understand the history and culture of this group. Even many Mexican-American leaders really do not understand. In a letter to Roosevelt, Ed Idar, Jr., former chairman and executive director of the National American G.I. Forum, explained it very well: “To understand it requires knowledge of the group psychology which has resulted from or is the basis for the ‘sense of social isolation, de-personalization, and hopelessness.’ It requires a knowledge of the history which started in the days of Moctezuma when the Aztecs were, in effect, ‘sold out’ to the Spanish conqueror ; of how the Spanish played one indian tribe against another to divide and conquer ; of how this process continued through Mexican history as the Mestizo, or mixed blood person, fought constantly for his rightful place against the pure blooded Spaniard and his descendants; and of ensuing history when the Mexican Peon was the subject of exploitation in his own country under Santa Ana and down to Porfirio Diaz. Dr. George I. Sanchez wrote that the Mexican-Americans became a subject people following the Texas War of Independence and the Mexican-American War. Psychologically the Mexican-American retreated into his own shell. Thus, over the centuries, by culture, by history, and even by his own religious convictions, the Mexican-American has been ‘brainwashed’ into a sense of futility, docility, and resignation. “For these reasons and others, the Mexican-American has suffered from lack of leadership.” THIS IS TRUE in San Antonio, too. The Mexican-American who by economic and social success should offer leadership instead lives in the affluent Northside and seeks acceptance and recognition by the Anglo power structure. These should-be-leaders do serve on city boards and committees and are even allowed to run with the Anglo power structure-dominated city council. But San Antonio’s power structure is no friend of the Mexican-American. It is much like the modern, streamlined political machines that rule city halls all across our country. Recently sociologists and political scientists have begun to analyze and criticize these machines. There have been two books written about the power structure in Dallas, which is really not as powerful as the one we have in San Antonio. These machines will be placed alongside the Boss Tweed machines of another age by history. They are just as undemocratic, just as decadent, just as dangerous. One difference may be, however, that they first will convulse the cities they are supposed to govern. Another difference that may allow them to do this is the fact that the daily press is part of today’s city machine in most cases. Let me see if I can guide you through the structure of San Antonio’s midTwentieth Century political machine. A very, very small group of San Antonians, old families, with wealth and position, sit
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