between the two classes. Our teacher often reminded us that we should never speak Spanish, at school or at home. We tried to speak English, in school at least, since there was always the principal’s paddle to arbitrate matters. The second grade was a different matter to me. I was placed, along with five other frightened Mexican-American children, in an otherwise all-anglo class, and for the first time in my life I spoke to an anglo youngster. Even though none of the Latin kids had ever had any prolonged contact with anglos, we made friends quickly and we never minded being referred to by our classmates as “the Meskin kids.” Though there was little ethnic hatred, we were never accepted at face value. We knew, for example, that the anglo kids would not accept invitations to play at our houses, and we were never invited to the anglo homes. Outside of school, we noticed, our anglo friends never seemed to recognize us. Still, we were not excluded from much, and none of us minded it. The token integration of classrooms remained the same through the third, fourth, and fifth grades, but by the time we entered the fourth grade, the six “acceptable” Mexican-American in the predominantly anglo class had dwindled to one other and myself. It was around this time that a charismatic half-pint of a rebel leader arose from the Latin masses in my elementary school. Known Is Beto el Chote raise mobs and was notorious at fisticuffs. After trying to befriend several anglos and being regularly rejected, he went on a campaign against all anglos. His terrorist tactics sent shivers down the spines of his fellow fourth-graders. Several complained to our teacher in class one day. Once the topic had been raised, everyone enumerated the atrocities of Beto and his followers. Finally the teacher said, as I remember her words: “These Mexicans are all alike. Why don’t a bunch of you white boys get together and just beat him up? That’ll teach them a lesson!” .. . While my “equals” in junior high continued on their merry way, we continued on our not-so-merry separate-but-equal way. Robstown Junior High School taught us that not everyone should be allowed to vote, not even in school elections. A five-cent poll tax was levied on each student who wanted to vote. Some of the poorer Latins were thus excluded: some could not afford the 35-cent cafeteria lunches. Class elections turned into ethnic battles, Latin versus anglo. Campaign posters were smeared with epithets of hate. Former childhood anglo friends began to refer to me as “Meskin” and “greaser.” Ethnic gang fights became commonplace. At high school we found that cafeteria lunches were still 35 cents, but the school poll tax payments were increased to 25 cents. The poll tax cut severely into Mexican-American participation in student government. Some of us complained bitterly, but most of the Latins were apathetic. After being second-class students for nine years or longer, many accepted their subservient position. When we charged that the poll tax was unfair, the administration of the school replied that anyone who really wanted to vote could raise a quarter. This was hard to believe when there were students who wore the same shirt to school five days a week for months because it was the only shirt they had. There were students that never ate noon meals because they could not afford to pay for it, and they would not bring a sack lunch because of the ridicule they knew they would ‘be subjected to for eating tortillas instead of bread .. . SOUTH OF Robstown is Kingsville and Texas A&I. The college social life is a shock to most out-of-state students. The first day I went to A&I, I went to check into the dorm, Poteet Hall. One of the dorm managers checked me in and asked me my room preference. I said I wanted to live wherever it was quiet. “Second floor is the most quiet,” he said, and looked at the roster for vacancies, “but the only vacancy we got is with an anglo boy.” 56 The Texas Observer “Hell, I’m not proud,” I retorted with indignation. “Wouldn’t you rather room with another Latin?” “I’d rather room where I can study!” “Well, I don’t know if this guy would like to room with a Latin. Why don’t you go up an’ shoot the bull with ‘im a while. See if you can get along.” Fuming, I stormed up the stairs and knocked on the door. An anglo boy answered, and after introducing myself I blurted out, “Are you a Meskin hater?” Shock registered on his face while he said that he wasn’t in four different ways. “Good,” I said, “I’m your new roommate.” Later I found out he was from an Air Force family and thus was not acquainted with the South Texas social system .. . At A&I, while few anglos will admit they are discriminatory or prejudiced, the “I-wouldn’t-want-my-sister-to-marry-one” philosophy is quite prevalent. Anglo girls who date Latins risk losing their social life. One anglo girl I dated was advised by several “good friends” to stay away from “greasers.” She refused to comply and was so well ostracized that she finally transferred to another college. My frequent remarks against discrimination had more obvious consequences. One anglo came to me and said, “I don’t like greasers, I never have liked greasers, 1 never will like greasers. Stay out of my way, Meskin, cause I don’t want to have anything to do with you or any of your sorry lot,” and with that he left me .. . During the same period the threatening phone calls never seemed to end., Most came after midnight, the voices obviously disguised. These calls usually started with “greaser” or “Meskin” prefixed with some obscenity; the message followed. One caller advised me to “stay away from white girls” if I knew what was “good for them.” Knowing what they could do, I complied. The school year was ended with my being mysteriously hanged in effigy. I didn’t believe it until I saw it, a lifesize effigy with a symbolic brown paper sack for a head and a huge sign with my name scrawled in bold black letters. I was genuinely scared and I remained quiet for the remaining week of the school year. The lot of the Mexican-American has improved. No longer does the Ku Klux Klan ride roughshod over the Mexican-American. The girl that graduated from an area school in the middle Thirties with the second highest grade average and was never declared the salutatorian can rest assured that what happened to her won’t happen to her grandchildren. Restaurant doors no longer bar people because of their race or ethnic group. The all-Latin elementary schools are no longer called Mexican wards. But the prejudice and discrimination still exist in sophisticated and personal forms. Fraternities and sororities at Texas A&I have never found any suitable Mexican-Americans for their ranks. South Texas schools are still in many cases tokenly integrated or not integrated at all. The face-slapping terms “Meskin” and “greaser” are still used. The financially-advanced Latin still has difficulty associating with his anglo financial peers. Public schools still drill inferiority into Latins by separation and by the implication that Spanish is a second-class language. Socially, clubs with membership by invitation only systematically exclude Mexican-Americans. And the resulting feelings of inferiority among Latins are understandable but not therefore any the less real. Inter-ethnic harmony is not an impossibility; the equality enjoyed by many other ethnic groups now in America proves this. But little can be accomplished if only the Mexican-Americans try. The feeling of revenge does not run high among Latins, but the possibility of a “Brown Power” movement is high. The Mexican-American of South Texas cannot and will not be held down forever. Either the Mexican-Americans become absorbed in the culture and the pious hypocrisy ends, or they will grow powerful enough to take equality. I hope the former alternative happens, for the latter might not end discrimination but simply switch the positions.
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