MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., December 2, 2014 — PBS aired the documentary “Latino Americans” at the end of September and the beginning of October 2013 in celebration of Latino month. The documentary had an on-air time of six hours.
The documentary starts with the early years of colonization of California and the South West and the creation of missions. One of the commentators states that the first European language spoken in what today is the U. S. was Spanish. First the Spanish and later the Mexicans governed these territories like absentee landlords. Those who had moved to the area were left to their own devices and created their own societies.
As those living in the 13 colonies and then the US moved to the West in pursuit of their “Manifest Destiny”, they were generally received well by the people in the South West and California. There was a lot of land and residents saw the American’s participation as positive for these territories.
As the XIX century increased the movement of Americans from the East, the situation started to change. Adventurers of all kinds started arriving into the Mexican territories with the only goal of making their fortune. They saw the Mexican citizens in the same light as the Indians that they feared and tried to defeat.
Many Mexicans living in the territories believed that the Central government in Mexico City did not have their interests in mind. They saw the arrival of Anglos as possible allies in becoming independent of Mexico.
The Mexican settlers offered a welcoming hand to the American arriving into their lands until it was too late. As the Anglos took over their lands, and especially after the Mexican American War, the original Spanish and Mexican settlers found themselves treated as second class citizens in their own land. Finding gold in California in 1849 sealed the demise of the local Mexican dominance.
The subsequent episodes documents how Mexicans were treated badly. Lynching of Mexicans in Texas was a common occurrence. The famous Texas Rangers were an integral part of the abuses committed during the late XIX and early XX centuries. While in many areas the Mexican Americans were the majority, they were kept out of government.
While places like New Mexico and California did not see as great abuse of the civil rights of Mexicans, there were horrific episodes such as the Zoot Suit or Pachuco riots in Los Angeles in 1943. Friction between sailors and local Mexican Americans erupted in violence in the days following June 3. Hundreds of Mexican Americans and a few sailors were arrested. Sailors ran wild in the Mexican barrio near their base assaulting anyone wearing a Zoot Suit, cutting the suit off and exhibiting it like a trophy. Friction had developed between the locals and the sailor when the former believed their female family and friends had been treated like prostitutes by the sailors. The police stood by and mostly arrested the locals.
Another episode describes how Macario García, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1945 for actions the prior year, was denied service in the Oasis Café in Richmond, Texas. He was arrested for disorderly conduct and became a cause celebre. He later met John Kennedy and was one of the last public persons to meet with the President prior to JFK’s assassination in Dallas in 1963.
Later episodes show how the Chicano movement started and eventually how the Latino movement became important in local and national elections. During this journey there is the narration of how an ex service man, known as CC, decided to sit in the Anglo section of a movie theater in a small town in Texas and was arrested. Not having any reason to hold him in jail he was soon released. Next night many more Mexican Americans sat in that section, desegregating the theater. Later we learned that the pioneer CC was in fact Cesar Chavez, a well know Chicano activist. He went on to be the face of the Latino movement and emulated Martin Luther King and other activist in the African American civil rights movement.
The series also follows ordinary immigrants that ended up achieving the American Dream. One of them, a Cuban, came to the US hidden in the engine compartment of a truck. It ends with a montage of celebrity Latino Americans that have distinguished themselves in politics, the arts and other endeavors.
In the last two episodes the series explains the reasons for the large Central American immigration in the last part of the XX century. It also describes the successes of the Cuban immigrants in Florida and the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs.
The series is an accurate account of historical events. It shows the macro history of the Chicano movement with some personal histories to balance out. While the target audience appears to be other Latinos, everyone would benefit if members of other cultures watch it.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is on Google+, Facebook (Mario Salazar) and Twitter (@chibcharus).