Texas Mexican Americans & Postwar Civil Rights

By Gutierrez, Felix | Journalism History, January 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Texas Mexican Americans & Postwar Civil Rights


Gutierrez, Felix, Journalism History


Rivas-Rodriguez, Maggie. Texas Mexican Americans & Postwar Civil Rights. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015. 171 pp. $24.95.

Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez's latest contribution is a well-researched and well-written descriptive analysis of three key MexicanAmerican civil rights actions in Texas in the twenty-five years after World War II, an active era of equal rights advocacy that has received less attention than parallel actions by African Americans in the same era.

Using her education and experience as a journalist and scholar, Rivas-Rodriguez carefully draws upon newspaper accounts, public and private documents, and bilingual oral history interviews to artfully weave together compelling accounts ofTexas's efforts to desegregate public schools in Alpine, integrate the police and fire departments of El Paso, and organize the national Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) in San Antonio. She draws upon a wide-range of interpersonal and documentary sources to report and assess how local equal rights efforts were both influenced by and had an impact on national civil rights actions by the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government at all levels.

Her three cases show how Mexican Americans of the era drew on various bases of power to move their agenda forward. The Alpine schools desegregation was one of several postwar efforts led by parents and community members across Texas challenging local districts for sending their children to schools less equal than those attended by Anglos. The El Paso police and fire departments were integrated after a newly elected Mexican American mayor appointed an activist attorney to the city's Civil Service Commission in 1960. MALDEF was organized and funded in the late 1960s as a result of civil rights attorneys mobilizing to have an impact beyond individual cases and initiate class actions.

The book documents how Mexican Americans became shrewd and effective advocates in confronting and overcoming longstanding practices enforced by government officials to keep them in a subordinate position. Rather than fall into the familiar journalistic storyline of Mexicans in the United States as a passive "sleeping giant" suddenly awakened in the 1960s, Rivas-Rodriguez references the deep roots of Mexican American activism and shows how key players in these cases developed as advocates. Especially important to some were their World War II experiences. They fought for others around the world to have freedoms they did not fully enjoy at home and had the opportunity to show what they could do if given a chance to show their stuff.

Rivas-Rodriguez uses her journalism experience to tell these stories from more than one side and does not fall into the too-familiar scenario of heroic people of color battling evil Anglos. …

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