This post appeared first on Technorati: http://technorati.com/lifestyle/article/the-longoria-affair-part-1/
I watched a documentary on PBS the other day, called the “Longoria Affair” that blew my mind. And, no it is not about Eva Longoria or her recent separation from her husband.
It is about a brave Mexican-American soldier, Felix Longoria Jr., that fought for our country in World War II, and was killed while on a mission.
So far it is a common story that we hear about all the time, but this one is different. Longoria lived in the Mexican neighborhood of Three Rivers a Texan small city that was split into two by the rail tracks, one side with street names are in English, predominantly white; and the other side with street names are in Spanish, predominantly Mexican.
What they had in common was World War II as most families at that time, had at least a family member fighting in the war. Men from both sides of the tracks volunteered to fight.
What really surprised me is to know how this story initialized the grass roots of the Mexican Americans civil rights movements and was also the mute reason behind the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 issued by President Johnson.
Now back to the details, Felix Longoria was drafted in November of 1944, and was killed in the Philippines while on a mission, seven months after beginning the volunteer tour of duty. He was a decorated soldier. Pvt. Longoria’s remains were not returned to the US until 1949.
What happened after that is argued by the two sides on the opposing tracks. Longoria’s wife tried to have a wake at the only funeral home in Three Rivers. To her surprise, Mr. Kennedy the funeral home owner, refused to allow a wake for a Mexican-American soldier; allegedly telling her – as per her narration – that the “Whites won’t like it”. She couldn’t believe that the Americans that her husband died to defend them, considered him as a 2nd class citizen.
In Texas during the 1940s, as in other parts of the country, Mexican Americans were considered non-white. Segregation of Mexican American children in schools and employment discrimination against Mexican American workers was omnipresent in some parts of the South.
Generally Mexican American World War II servicemen were integrated into regular military units but some served in segregated Mexican American units such as Company C of the 141st Regiment, 36th Infantry Division.
On top of that; Felix Longoria a fallen serviceman, was to be buried in the “Mexican” section of the cemetery which was separated by barbed wire as the only cemetery in Three Rivers was segregated.
The Longoria story was one of the reasons to start AGIF (American G.I. Forum) in 1948 by Dr, Hector Garcia; whom some accused of using the Longoria affair to his own personal gain in building a political career for himself. AGIF role was initially to address the concerns of Mexican-American veterans, who were kept apart from other veterans groups. AGIF was formed to help the Mexican veterans in World War II to have access to their medical services, if they were denied. But, it soon spread into advocating for the civil rights of all Mexican Americans in general as voting rights, school segregation, Jury duty, etc…
Dr. Garcia requested the intervention of President Johnson that was a Senator at the time, who secured Longoria’s burial in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Longoria was the first Mexican American serviceman in history, to be buried in the Arlington National Cemetery in history.
Dr. Garcia used his growing cloud from both the AGIF and the Longoria affair to demand the Veterans Administration to offer and pay the same benefits to Mexican Americans as it did to white veterans.
He also fought for to obtain rights for the Mexican Americans otherwise considered basic rights as the poll tax. In some states like Texas, the voters were charged a compulsory fee before casting their votes, which meant that most minorities at the time as Mexican Americans who were out of luck due to their low income
In the next post, we will discuss the effects of the Longoria affair on helping President Kennedy win the elections, how the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 was initialized, and how it created a lifelong bond and political partnership between Johnson and Garcia, as well as drawing attention to the American GI Forum.
Till then, remember Diversity starts at home,
Diversity Consultant – Social Media Strategist
Sahar Consulting, LLC.
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