Page 6


BOOKS & THE CULTURE A Political Generation BY DAVID MONTEJANO MEXICAN AMERICANS: Leadership, Ideology, and Identity, 1930-1960 By Mario T. Garcia Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1989; 364 pages, $35.00 THOSE TEXAS OBSERVER readers who are puzzled about the current leadership struggles within LULAC or the furor over Richard Rodriguez’s apologetic autobiography, Hunger of Memory, should find this history by Mario Garcia informative and interesting. This important study of ethnic leadership and ideology is basically a collective biography of the “political generation” forged by the experiences of the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. According to Garcia, this Mexican American Generation differed from previous generations because by the 1930s Mexican Americans self-consciously recognized themselves as U.S. citizens, had become socialized to U.S. culture, and expected to be treated like other Americans. A fundamental barrier to such Americanization, however, was the starkly segregated world in which this generation lived. In response, they organized significant civil rights protests \(the groundwork for the Chicano Generation of the 1960s and 1970s. The narrative history is organized around a compilation of 10 case studies \(of which six into three parts. Part One describes the “middle class” leaders who struggled for civil rights, ethnic respectability, cultural pluralism, and political representation. The first case study deals, appropriately, with the League of United Latin Americans Citizens ganization of Mexican Americans. This is followed by case studies of educator Eleuterio Escobar and the School Improvement League, which protested school conditions . in San Antonio; of Ignacio Lopez, the muckraking editor of El Espectador of Southern California; and of Raymond Telles and his stunning election as mayor of El Paso in 1957. Part Two, on “Labor and the Left,” examines working-class leaders who figured in the organizing struggles of the Congress of InDavid Montejano is an associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. 20 SEPTEMBER 16, 1990 Front alliances. These activists fashioned aspirations for full citizenship in terms of working class rights. These case studies focus on Josefina Fierro de Bright and the Spanish Speaking Congress, an alliance of democratic forces based principally in Los Angeles; the labor activities of the Mine Mill workers of El Paso; and the Asociaci6n a united front organization headquartered in Denver. Due to police and FBI harassment, none of these “radical” organizations, except for perhaps the Mine Mill unions, enjoyed long or very successful tenures. The third section focuses on “Mexican American Intellectuals” namely, historian Carlos Castafleda, educator George Sanchez, and folklorist Arthur Campa whose collective work framed the ideological arguments for cultural pluralism. Much like the political organizations, the scholarship of these academics varied in emphasis and tone. Castafleda, a LULAC activist and intellectual, wrote history that romanticized the Hispanic-European-Christian foundation of the Southwest. Sanchez, who expressed both moderate and radical tendencies in his lifetime, wrote sociology and history that discussed the impact of conquest, annexation, and exploitation on the “forgotten” Mexican-American people. Campa, less involved politically, nonetheless established the “validity” and through his folkloric studies, the distinctiveness of Mexican-American culture. Taken together, these case studies succeed in portraying the complex and often conflicting responses to the Jim Crow conditions of the recent past, and they succeed further in suggesting that these responses were the result of never-ending discussion and strategizing in the barrios of the Southwest. These strategies spanned the range of political ideologies. Some middle-class leaders embraced an accommodating Americanism and supported controversial policies aimed at Mexican nationals \(like mass deworking class, emphasized Mexican ethnicity and class solidarity as a basis for political activity, and were thus suspect of being “unAmerican”; still others used Mexican nationalism to organize a fascist Sinarquista movement, modeled after the Spanish Falange, in the 1930s. These various leaders and organizations, whether on the right, left, or middle, all challenged the Jim Crow structure they faced, but the results they achieved were mixed. In spite of their struggles to achieve first-class citizenship and a “secure identity,” Mexican Americans were fundamentally limited by their status as cheap labor of color in the Southwest. As Garcia notes, reforms and a new consciousness did not alter these structural limitations. A mild disappointment in this meticulously researched history is the conclusion, which fails to summarize various underlying themes. Many of the provocative questions raised in the introduction are left for the reader to answer. What is the relationship, after all, between ethnic identity and organizational “success”? Other questions which naturally arise are left unanswered. What are the lessons to be learned from this survey of organizations? Has LULAC survived \(to this philosophy, or have other factors been involved? Along the lines of “other factors,” how did the FBI, whose files were an important part of Garcia’s research, fit into the picture? And finally, why did these particular individuals become leaders \(or how is This points to a related criticism regarding the selection of the case studies. Why not a chapter on the fascist Sinarquistas, which would have broadened our understanding of the range of political ideas expressed by Mexicans in the United States? And why not a chapter on Ernesto Galarza, the Columbia University Ph.D. who became a labor organizer? This certainly would have expanded our vjew of intellectual work and its relevance for the larger community. Nonetheless, Garcia’s work succeeds because he has cast a broad enough net to suggest the diverse character and tendencies of the Mexican American Generation. We may never know what the “community” was thinking or discussing, but we know that women Josefina Fierro de Bright, Luisa Moreno, Emma Tenayuca, for example played key roles. Likewise we know that labor activists articulated ideologies and political platforms that differed significantly from that of accommodating LULACers. Even here, on the question of accommodation, Garcia forces us to deepen our impressionistic judgments. In short, Garcia’s work is a significant, effective contribution to our understanding of Southwestern history and politics. We can now ask better, more direct questions about that recent political generation and its connections with the present one. `,…-1. migfte.