World War II and Mexican American Civil Rights

By Richard Griswold Del Castilo | Go to book overview

Epilogue: Civil Rights and the Legacy of War

RICHARD STEELE AND RICHARD GRISWOLD DEL CASTILO

In the early summer of 1943, the Texas Legislature adopted a resolution affirming its commitment to civil rights for Mexican Americans. It was an unprecedented step and one extolled at the time by George I. Sánchez, a professor at the University of Texas, as heralding a revolution in the status of Mexican Americans. In fact, revolutionary change was a long way of. The resolution and concurrent events marked only the beginning of a much larger advance in civil rights activism. The war years intensified the process by which Americans of Mexican descent organized, asserted themselves, gained recognition from government, and slowly made inroads in the institutions and attitudes that had relegated Mexican Americans to second-class citizenship.

The outcome was a complex interaction between the pressures that Mexican Americans could bring to bear, and the interest the established order had in facilitating change or clinging to the status quo. The House Concurrent Resolution of mid-1943 was an outgrowth of fear on the part of Texas'governing bodies that in the absence of signs of goodwill, the state would not share in the bounty of cheap Mexican labor upon which its prosperity was largely dependent.1 But when that fear dissipated, the status quo regained ascendance. At the time of the resolution's passage, Texas had two hundred thousand fewer farmworkers than it had had two years earlier, largely the result of workers leaving the farms for the military and for jobs in the defense industry. While employers in other states had made up similar deficiencies by participating in the Bracero Program, Mexico had denied the growers of Texas this privilege because of the state's abysmal human rights record. That spring, the legislature adopted a Concurrent Resolution on the Good Neighbor, and in late June the governor, citing the resolution, declared that it was the public policy of the state to give “full and equal accommodations, advantages

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