Fighting Their Own Battles: Mexican Americans, African Americans, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Texas

By Brian D. Behnken | Go to book overview

Conclusion

The 2001 mayoral race in Houston pitted incumbent Democratic mayor Lee P. Brown against Republican challenger and Houston City Council member Orlando Sánchez. Mayor Brown, an African American political wunderkind, had served as police chief in Houston, police commissioner in New York City, and “drug czar” during the presidency of Bill Clinton before his election as mayor of Houston in 1997. Brown represented liberal, Democratic politics in the Bayou City. He made concerted appeals to Mexican American voters and had appointed a number of Hispanics to positions in his administration. Sánchez, a fair-complected, blue-eyed Cuban American, seemed politically out of step for the Mexican-origin community. He was a conservative Republican in a city where most Mexican Americans voted Democratic. And, of course, he was not of Mexican descent. Yet 72 percent of Hispanics voted for Sánchez, while 90 percent of African Americans voted for Brown.1

The Houston mayoral race demonstrated once again the Mexican American/African American divide in Texas. Mexican Americans voted for their candidate; African Americans voted for theirs. Despite Brown’s appeals to Mexican American voters, he could not overcome Mexican American ethnic solidarity with Sánchez. By the same token, Orlando Sánchez failed to overcome black racial solidarity with Lee Brown. While this seemed to astonish many political observers, the broader history of African American and Mexican American relations shows that the political contours of this election were hardly surprising.

Throughout the twentieth century, and clearly into the twenty-first, unification eluded Mexican Americans and African Americans. While both groups fought a powerful and entrenched racial caste system, they ultimately did so alone. Blacks and Mexican Americans had many obstacles to overcome in their respective civil rights movements. Aside from combating segrega-

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