Monday Blues (03.14.11)

Welcome to “Monday Blues”–the Spring Break Edition!

Here’s a little love song for you from Stevie Ray Vaughan (Texas, 1954-1990).  It’s his own tune, “Life Without You.”

JFK’s Last Night Alive

JFK spent his last night alive with a room full of Mexican Americans!

The above photo was taken at the Rice Hotel, in Houston, on the evening of November 21, 1963.  JFK and LBJ and their wives were the guests of honor at an event sponsored by LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens.  Both the President and Vice President addressed the gathering of Mexican American activists.  The First Lady even offered some brief remarks in Spanish.

Considering I am a historian of the 20th century US, with a specialty in the history of Latinos, and with a fixation on the Kennedy assassination that stretches back to my childhood, I am unbelievably surprised that I didn’t know this before!

The story came to my attention because of a man named Roy Botello.  The 88-year-old, Mexican American from Texas was in the crowd that night and took some 8mm home movies of the evenings festivities.  The film was “sitting in a chest of drawers” in his living room for all these years.  Botello recently decided to donate the film to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, in Dallas, the museum dedicated to the assassination.

You can read more about the story here.

Monday Blues (02.07.11)

Blues god Albert King (Mississippi, 1923-1992) and the prophet Stevie Ray Vaughan (Texas, 1954-1990) performing King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” in 1983. (King made the tune famous, but it was penned by William Bell and Booker T. Jones.)

Monday Blues (01.10.11)

Here’s a little Texas blues, Chicano style.  Los Lonely Boys performing “Cottonfields & Crossroads” from their 2006 documentary and concert performance of the same name.

Monday Blues

Let us celebrate the brilliance of Stevie Ray Vaughan!  Born in Texas, on October 3, 1954, he died tragically on August 27, 1990, now 20 years ago.  He was a blues master, possessed with an ability few people in human history have had.  Authentic blues mixed with talent is hard to come by in this world; Stevie Ray had it all and more.

Here he is performing his own “Texas Flood” from a live show in 1985.

Chicano History Month #1

It’s that time of year again, “Hispanic (Latino) Heritage Month.”  What better way to celebrate than to learn a little something?

So here it goes: for the next month, I’ll be going out of my way to post some historical primary sources relating to the Chicano experience in the United States.

Of course, it deserves mentioning that the historical experience of Chicanos (Mexican Americans) and “ethnic Mexicans” (which includes both immigrants and US-born people of Mexican descent) should not be seen as the exact equivalent of the historical experience of all “Hispanics” or all “Latinos.”  They represent about 70% of the Latin American-descent population of the United States, one that also includes a large number of people with ties to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and, increasingly, Central American nations like El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.  Each “group” not only has a unique historical experience in the US, but they also have a diverse past internal to their own ethnicity.

But there are commonalities, too.  And maybe this can be a way for us to explore some of those.  So here we go…

Source 1: New York Daily News, October 13, 1845.

This excerpt from an editorial printed in the New York Daily News opines on the recent annexation of Texas by the US, an act agreed to by the “citizens” of the “Republic of Texas” just that month.  Texas, which had been part of the Mexican Republic, was seized by a group of US Americans and, in 1836 controlled by them after they defeated the Mexican army.   For the better part of the next decade, most of them sought annexation by the US, with the full support of expansionist allies in the Congress and White House.  With the election of the expansionist Polk in 1844, their efforts finally came to fruition.  Outgoing President Tyler helped assure the passage of a resolution annexing Texas in the spring of 1845.

The author’s perspective here is reflective of the kinds of interpretations common among elites of his day, in particular those who were in favor of expansion.  Notice how the “acquisition” of Texas is contrasted with European imperialism.  Also notice how the writer views the land into which the US is moving, and by his mind, to which it intends to move.  The idea that their spread was destined to be is a powerful feature of expansionist thought, as is the contention that it is conquest for the betterment of mankind.

It is looked upon as aggression, and all the bad and odious features which the habits of thought of Europeans associate with aggressive deeds, are attributed to it. . . But what has Belgium, Silesia, Poland or Bengal in common with Texas? It is surely not necessary to insist that acquisitions of territory in America, even if accomplished by force of arms, are not to be viewed in the same light as the invasions and conquests of the States of the old world. . . our way lies, not over trampled nations, but through desert wastes, to be brought by our industry and energy within the domain of art and civilization. We are contiguous to a vast portion of the globe, untrodden save by the savage and the beast, and we are conscious of our power to render it tributary to man. This is a position which must give existence to a public law, the axioms of which a Pufendorf [Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694), German political philosopher] or Vattel [Emer de Vattel (1714-1767, Swiss political philosopher and diplomat] had no occasion to discuss. . .

It has been laid down and acted upon, that the solitudes of America are the property of the immigrant children of Europe and their offspring. Not only has this been said and reiterated, but it is actually, although perhaps, not heretofore dwelt upon with sufficient distinctness, the basis of public law in America. Public sentiment with us repudiates possession without use, and this sentiment is gradually acquiring the force of established public law. It has sent our adventurous pioneers to the plains of Texas, will carry them to the Rio del Norte, and even that boundary, purely nominal and conventional as it is, will not stay them on their march to the Pacific, the limit which nature has provided. In like manner it will come to pass that the confederate democracies of the Anglo American race will give this great continent as an inheritance to man. . . We take from no man; the reverse rather—we give to man.

Creative & Tasty Ways to Kill Yourself

Ladies and gentlemen!  Damas y caballeros! It is my pleasure, no, my honor, to present to you…


As detailed in this pleasant and panic-free story from NBC’s Today Show, this “invention” is set to premiere at the Texas State Fair later this month.

Let me save you the experience of reading the entire article (an act which might induce a heart attack all by itself) to summarize the highlights:

1. The inventor–Abel Gonzalez Jr.–is Chicano (but of course!).

2. Gonzalez won the Texas State Fair’s “Most Creative Fried Food Award” in 2006 for his previous invention of “fried Coke.”

3. Gonzalez coats the butter with a tasty crust because, as he says, “Nobody just grabs a stick of butter and eats it. That would be gross.”

4. A Texan “nutritionist,” who thinks it is bad to ban any food and, instead, advocates a moderation policy, says even this has “some” nutrition. “Fried butter has fats, and you need some fats. The dough would have some carbohydrates.”

My brain is as overloaded as the average American’s arteries right now in trying to make “sense” of this.  Should Latinos consider Gonzalez a covert re-conquistador, taking back Aztlan in a slow-motion act of heart attack?  No, too easy.  Should we not be concerned, since this “food” will really only affect Texans and, as we all know, there’s way too many of them anyway? No.  And what about the children?!? Oh!!  The CHILDREN!!!

In all seriousness, the fact that there is a competition to invent things like this is a testament to our current state of imperial decline.  This is like the Romans sitting around…wait a minute.  I just realized the only things I remembered about the Romans are from Mel Brooks. Well, that just shows you how far they fell.

Funny, though, that the oblivious excess of the whole thing is so hyperbolic as to also be uniquely “American.”  And what does that say?


Mexicans after the U.S.-Mexican War

Beginning in spring 1846, after various diplomatic, informal economic, and unofficial militaristic attempts to take and occupy part of Mexico’s northern frontier, the U.S. declared war on its southern neighbor.  A decade after their politically unresolved dispute over Tejas, this war lasted for about one and a half years and resulted in the transfer of almost half of Mexico’s territory to the United States.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848 and ratified by both nations the subsequent spring, agreed to a payment of $15 million for the lost territory; settled the dispute over Texas in the favor of the United States; made stipulations about the land transfer; and detailed responsibilities and obligations regarding the actions of the Native Americans living on much of that land (many of whom never recognized a “foreign” power sovereignty over them and, accordingly, were hostile to Mexico and the United States).  The Treaty also detailed what was to become of the Mexicans living in the newly conquered territories.

Mexicans in the now occupied lands were to be protected under the laws of the United States and the Treaty.  They retained the right to their language, religion, and culture.  Their property and land was protected by the law.  As for citizenship, they were offered one of three options: 1) declare their intent to retain Mexican citizenship; 2) leave to Mexico; or 3) become U.S. citizens by declaration or by doing nothing.

This was the first time in U.S. history that citizenship was extended to a population that was not formally recognized as “white” by the federal government.

Two generations later, most Mexicans living in the U.S. no longer held title to their lands and found their cultural way of life increasingly under attack as U.S. white supremacy came to predominate.  In California, as land transferred from Mexican to Euro-American hands, a very racially-motivated Workingman’s Party dominated the call for a Constitutional Convention.  In 1879, that new Constitution not only made Chinese immigration illegal (the primary cause of the Party), but it also destroyed the legal protections Mexicans once enjoyed, rights promised to them in the 1848 Treaty.  California once required Spanish and English as the languages of it official business.  Now the new Constitution followed the already common practice of an English language state.

The “nation of laws” violated international and domestic laws in order to secure a democracy for some (white, European, male) at the expense of others (Mexican and nonwhite).

For more information, see:
Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California (Almaguer);
Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race (Gomez); and
Border Citizens: The Making of Indians, Mexicans, and Anglos in Arizona (Meeks)

For more details on life for Mexicans in California after the war, see the classic Decline of the Californios: A Social History of the Spanish-Speaking Californias, 1846-1890 (Pitts).  The newer Negotiating Conquest: Gender and Power in California, 1770s to 1880s (Chavez-Garcia), which pays particular attention to issues of gender and sexuality, is also an excellent source.


Kids at Texas labor camp (1942)


“Boys sitting on truck parked at the FSA … labor camp, Robston, Tex.”
Photographed Arthur Rothstein, (1915- )
(January 1942)

Photograph is part of the Library of Congress collection available online at the LOC flickr page.

Chuck Norris is a Right-Wing Nut

Chuck Norris–the man who destroyed the periodic table because he only recognizes the element of surprise–turned 69 this week (March 10).  I was going to write something smart-ass or mean (or both) but then thought better of it.

And then this came my way.  Seems old Chuck is celebrating that milestone by giving us a glimpse into the cuckoo that lurks in the mind of this martial arts legend.  Sadly, it’s more scary than funny.

In a “think piece” published at WorldNetDaily, Norris declares “I may run for President of Texas.”  Here are some excerpts:

“That need may be a reality sooner than we think. If not me, someone someday may again be running for president of the Lone Star state, if the state of the union continues to turn into the enemy of the state.

From the East Coast to the “Left Coast,” America seems to be moving further and further from its founders’ vision and government.”

. . .

“How much more will Americans take? When will enough be enough? And, when that time comes, will our leaders finally listen or will history need to record a second American Revolution? We the people have the authority according to America’s Declaration of Independence…”

. . .

“On March 1, 1845, then-President John Tyler signed a congressional bill annexing the Republic of Texas. Though the annexation resolution never explicitly granted Texas the right to secede from the Union (as is often reported), many (including me) hold that it is implied by its unique autonomy and history, as well as the unusual provision in the resolution that gave Texas the right to divide into as many as five states. Both the original (1836) and the current (1876) Texas Constitutions also declare that “All political power is inherent in the people. … they have at all times the inalienable right to alter their government in such manner as they might think proper.”

Anyone who has been around Texas for any length of time knows exactly what we’d do if the going got rough in America. Let there be no doubt about that. As Sam Houston once said, “Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may.”

Norris concludes by inviting “those losing hope, and others wanting to rekindle the patriotic fires of early America” to join him and Glenn Beck for the broadcast of “We Surround Them,” an upcoming FOX News feature that smacks of a right-wing militia movement. “Thousands of cell groups will be united around the country in solidarity over the concerns for our nation,” says Norris, including a viewing party from his ranch in Texas. “We’re united, we’re tired of the corruption, and we’re not going to take it anymore!”

Norris and Beck are both part of a radical posture in the U.S. which sees plays out Conservative fears of government to an extreme.  As they do so, they pick up people who fear we have strayed from God, whiteness, and our “true” creed.

The upcoming telecast–“We Surround Them”–uses the metaphor of Oz as it promises to “show America what’s really behind the curtain.”  This FOX News-sponsored movement advertises “Nine Principles” which they use to garner support by suggesting your personal identification with their agenda.  If you believe in seven of them, they say, “then we have something in common.”  They are:

1. America is good.
2. I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.
3. I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday.
4. The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not the government.
5. If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.
6. I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.
7. I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.
8. It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
9. The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.

Those of you who know what is at work here–in both Norris’ half-cooked analysis and in the list above–know what I’m talking about.  Fear is a heavy part of this “movement” and, as such, it serves to help nurture the radical, anti-humanist and ideological “pure” stances they take.

As a person of color, I get scared at this kind of stuff.  As a parent, too.  But as a historian, I am a little bit interested in the way they construct a sense of history and then employ it to their ends.  In a perverse way, they are actually more historically rooted in the past than they think.  While they think they are being more “true to the Founders’ ideals” of government, they are actually far more in line with the Founders’ shortcomings–cultural chauvinism, racism, fear of the “other,” as well as a healthy dose of fear of government tempered with John Winthropian dystopia (omnes sumus licentia deteriores–we are all made worse by license).

This nation is still struggling with the same two-hundred year-old demons.  Let’s hope we get some therapy before we hurt someone…again.