Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly 33:4 (Fall 2013).
If you are an African American, a Mexican American, or a progressive Anglo who grew up in Texas in the past century, reading Brian Behnken's book, filled as it is with examples of the state's racism, is sure to tear off a few old scabs. Behnken's main objective, however, is to explain the factors that kept black civil rights activists from working with their Hispanic counterparts to reduce racial segregation and discrimination.
One factor, Behnken argues convincingly, was geography: the battleground for the black struggle was in the eastern part of the state, the Mexican American battleground hundreds of miles away, in the Rio Grande Valley. A more insidious factor was binary racialism. In Texas, a person was either black or white. For much of the twentieth century-until the 1960s-Mexican American leaders chose to pursue a "whiteness strategy." Making common cause with blacks would have compromised Mexican Americans' preferred identity. "Let the Negro fight his own battles," said League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) president Felix Tijerina, whose politics reflected his segregationist attitudes. Blacks responded in kind, buying into the negative stereotypes that white racists had devised to justify their oppression of Mexican Americans.