5 Times History Books Forgot the Latinx Community

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The Liberal Mystique

Just your average free-spirited menstruation enthusiast who enjoys fighting the patriarch with their uterus.

Growing up Latina, I’ve always had an internal struggle that creeps across my mind during history class and makes its way to the frustrated tears that hit history handouts. I’ve always been unsure of my significance. Unsure of where I was from and unsure of how I play a part in history. Growing up in school, I was never taught the intersections of latino movements or our significance in society. I was always taught the motives for why whitey formed a country or how the south succeeded from the north.

So many questions have popped into my mind, but I’ve never gotten answers for them. No one seems to have answers for them. I would Google, but there would be very little results.  I would read, but there would be no literature etched in black ink on a page. I don’t know where to start. My questions are simple, but why don’t these powerful resources have answers? Why can I never figure out where the latinx community was during the Civil Rights Movement? Or where we were in other eras of history?

As a senior in high school, I’m still unsure of the answers. When I was younger, mi mama and abuela would tell me stories of what it was like to grow up Puerto Rican and Mexican. Their stories would leave me hanging on a cliff and contained intricate details that created a film in my mind. But even with these stories, I’ve always wanted more. I’ve fallen so in love with my culture that having empty gaps leaves me with a broken heart. I want more. I crave more.

This month is Hispanic Heritage Month and I do not hear about the significance at school or in the media. Who are the latinx leaders who have courage as strong as steel? Where is the Chicana feminist movement? The Latino movement? Where is the coverage of the  Latinx authors who influenced sexuality and gender? Why are these questions not prevalent? When we are shut out, the internal struggle continues and an entire community is made to be invisible.

We cannot let this continue. The history of Latinx folk must be recognized. Here are five major moments in Latinx history that everyone should know about

  1. Mendez v. Westminster Decision

Sylvia Mendez sued after being turned away from a “whites only” public school in California after five Mexican-American fathers (Thomas Estrada, William Guzman, Gonzalo Mendez, Frank Palomino, and Lorenzo Ramirez) challenged school segregation after claiming that their children, along with 5,000 other children of Mexican ancestry, were victims of unconstitutional discrimination. Their children were forced to attend separate “schools for Mexicans,” which resulted in a lawsuit whose 1947 decision paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education and played an important role toward ruling the segregation of schools illegal. The decision for the Mendez v. Westminster School District influenced policies for desegregation in schools across the nation.

  1. Zoot Suit Riots

Tensions in California rose between the Chicanos and White sailors in the 1940s. White American sailors and Marines stationed in the city profiled Mexican-American youths, who favored baggy zoot suits, as criminals. Sailors would go around and beat up any youth who was recognizable by these suits. Mexican-Americans were the main profiled subject in this event but some African American and Filipino-American youths were also involved. In June 1943, tensions exploded when 200 sailors beat several “pachucos.” At times the sailors would strip their suits and violence was continuous. The Zoot Suit Riots are a prime example of discrimination faced by the latinx community and offers context for the Latino civil rights movement.

  1. The Puerto Rico Pill Trials

A large-scale human trial of the birth control pill was carried out in Puerto Rico in the 1950s. Working class Puerto Rican women were guinea pigs during the late ‘50s to test the birth control pill. Most of the women were not told that the pill could have negative side effects and they were participating in an experimental trial. Any symptoms the women faced were ignored, which resulted in the deaths of three women. An investigation regarding the deaths of these women was never conducted.

  1. Hernandez vs. Texas

Pete Hernandez, a Mexican agricultural worker, was convicted for the murder of Joe Espinosa. Hernandez’s lawyers made the argument that the jury could not be impartial unless members of non-Caucasian races were allowed on the jury-selecting committees; no Mexican-American had been on a jury for at least 25 years in Jackson County, the Texas county in which the case was tried. After appealing to the Texas Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren and the rest of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Hernandez and required he be retried with a jury composed without regard to ethnicity. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment protects those beyond the racial classes of white or black, and extends to other racial groups.

  1. 1959 Cuban Revolution

Settling in Miami, Florida, more than one million Cubans left the island of Cuba after dictator Fidel Castro formed a communist government that is still in tact today. Waves of Cubans migrated to the U.S., resulting in the transformation of present day Miami. Cuban immigration during this time period greatly characterized modern Miami since cubans remained loyal to their cultural norms, customs, language and religious affiliations. Cubans established businesses in Miami and that helped with creating what is known as “Cuban Miami”. With the growing number and power of Miami’s Cuban populations it impacted Miami’s black communities. The media and the public began to portray Miami with a fragile truce among the latinx, black people, and white people which created the present day cultural war.

While these five events are not going to fill in all the gaps, it’s important to realize that the latinx culture played a large role in American History and should not remain invisible. The knowledge I know today has been through endless nights of research and tears. My knowledge on latinx history is as small as a pea, but to me, means so much. I no longer feel like a single confused fish in the sea trying to find its way home. I feel as though I am same fish just less confused. I’m hoping that one day a chain will form and be as beautiful as the history it knows. The fight with my internal struggle is not over. I still have questions that need answers, and I will crave until I crave no longer.