The Forgotten Cause

Cesar Chavez
Cesar Chavez
A Mexican American, Cesar Chavez became the best known Latino American civil rights activist, and was strongly promoted by the American labor movement, which was eager to enroll Hispanic members. His public-relations approach to unionism and aggressive but nonviolent tactics made the farm workers' struggle a moral cause with nationwide support. | Photo: Archives | Cesar Chavez, Union, Civil Rights, Mexico, Equality, Afl Cio, Farm,

Mexican-American civil rights movement

As everyone knows, the 1950s and 60s were a turbulent time in American history. It was a time in our history where times seemed bleak and less than peaceful both at home and abroad. The most prominent issue that everyone seems to remember is the African-American Civil Rights movement. If anyone were asked to describe the Civil Rights movement there would be mentions of Jim Crow laws, Martin Luther King, and segregation. However, there was another Civil Rights movement that no one seems to hardly mention, and that is the Mexican Civil Rights movement. Now a lot of people would be surprised to learn there was a Mexican or Chicano Civil Rights movement. Some might not even know there was one, but indeed there was.

With the recent passing of Cesar Chavez's birthday earlier this month, who was not only a labor union leader and activist, but also a Civil Rights activist, it is only fair to mention the racial struggles of many Mexican/Latino Americans during a time where much opportunity was not open to anybody other than white Americans. It all started after the end of the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, the United States offered American citizenship to Mexicans as a part of the treaty to end the war. But not only were they offered citizenship, under U.S. law Mexicans would be considered as "white" Americans. However, many years later it would soon be noticed that even though Mexican-Americans were considered to be "white" they would not be treated as though they were, and were heavily discriminated against. In most cases they were treated a second class citizens and were prohibited from eating at a white-only restaurants or using white-only restrooms. This caused much confusion to many Mexican-Americans because they knew they were considered "white" under U.S. law, but were forced to use "colored" or "black" restrooms or water fountains.

Many Mexican-Americans were forced to send their children to all Mexican schools or black schools, just so their children could get an education. This caused much resentment in the Mexican-American community, which called for activism to stop the discrimination. The opportunity to for change came about with the landmark Civil Rights case "Hernandez v. Texas." In this case a Mexican farm hand, named Pedro Hern?ndez was charged with killing his employer, after an alternation at a local bar. Hern?ndez was later tried and sentenced to prison. Even though Hern?ndez was in fact guilty of the crime he was accused of committing, he was not considered to have a fair trial by many because the jurors of the case happened to be an all-white jury.

The case eventually, went up to the Supreme Court and was in the hands of a team of Mexican lawyers led by Gus Garcia. Gus would argue to the nine justices that Mexican-Americans were a part of a unique class because they did not fit into the legal structure that only recognized black and white Americans. In the end Gus and the other lawyers won their case and Hern?ndez was allowed a new trial, this time judged by a jury of his peers. This reason this case was such a landmark among the Mexican-American community is because it forced the U.S. legal system to recognize discrimination practices instead of ignore them and do nothing about it.

Following the "Hernandez v. Texas" case, there were many more efforts made by Mexican-American activists like Cesar Chavez and Rodolfo Gonzales to push Civil Rights to the forefront as a major issue in America. After all, this wasn't just an issue for black Americans, but progression for all minorities struggling for justice in America.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:10 PM EDT | More details


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