Hidden Chapters in U.S. History: The Violence against Mexican Americans
Beginning with the feature that follows this introduction, Somos en escrito Magazine will unfold a series of works by Mexican American writers and other voices that bear witness to the history of violence perpetrated against Mexican Americans over the past 170 years. We plan to feature writings in varied formats: essays, memoirs, poems and book excerpts.
In doing so, we declare common cause in the national outrage toward the abuse of police authority and inhumane actions under the color of law and share in the determination among Americans of all backgrounds to bring about change.
Mexican Americans have common cause with other peoples of color in the U.S.A. on many levels. Despite our living in a society which is rapidly diversifying, the relentless assault for generations in order for white supremacy to prevail persists: people of color continue to be the brunt of mindless, premeditated oppression and violence.
In 1848, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed, ending the U.S. war against Mexico, the Mexican American was born. Under the Treaty, former Mexican citizens who chose to remain in the U.S. beyond a year automatically became U.S. citizens. Gradually, Mexican Americans, also known today as Chicanos, have evolved into a prominent economic and political force, especially in the Southwest.
However, school textbooks, scholarly histories, and the entertainment media have casually glossed over certain chapters of Mexican Americans’ history, if not ignored or distorted it altogether. Much remains to be written to tell the whole truth about their experience, but this Special Edition of Somos en escrito Magazine will share new writings and existing escritos to reveal the story.
Besides the obras of established authors, we also invite memoirs from Mexican Americans who wish to add to the testigos, to bear witness in their own words, to the violence and oppression against Mexican Americans. We hope to publish recollections of family stories, letters, or writings, which may date back decades, even generations, which could help open new chapters in America’s history.
With the advent of phone and body cameras, more and more incidents have been caught of police officers in the act of fatal assaults on Black people. Once in a while as an aside, politicians or cable news pundits mention Latino or Brown peoples as victims as well of police brutality. Rarely does anyone add any depth to the comment. Our guess is that a reference is just an after-thought, just to make sure no color or minority is left out.
The fact is that in a society where social, economic and political presence depends heavily on access to mass media and internet driven “apps,” Chicanos have far less access to such exposure and attention. Thus, they are unable to express a narrative which is their own and which reflects the contributions that Mexican Americans have made to the U.S.A. This Special Edition is intended to help give voice to that narrative.
The features will cover more than 170 years: first the latter half of the 1800s—starting in the mid-1800s in the gold fields of California where the “forty niners” laid claim to mines by killing or driving Mexicans off their claims; then in the early 1900s the concerted destruction of Mexican Americans’ lives along the U.S.-Mexico border through brutal lynchings and shootings of Mexican Americans innocent of any crime by the Texas Rangers; and White U.S. servicemen’s attacks against barrio youth during the WWII years. Shift to today’s digital videos of Chicanos struck down by police gunfire, to the subtlety of systemic racism carried out in segregated educational systems, denial of access to adequate health care, proper nutrition and decent housing, and finally to the even more insidious attacks against culture, language, and history as a means of destroying self-esteem, group cohesion, and social relevance.
If you are a Chicana or Chicano writer interested in adding to the whole truth, contact us at email@example.com. Armando Rendón Executive Editor
Reflections of violence in a pool of blood
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez
With sirens blaring, amid red and blue lights as far as the eye can see, I am face down handcuffed with a fractured skull, blood gushing from my forehead on a cold street in East LA. My body is paralyzed, but my head is throbbing. I cannot see what is going on and I cannot raise my head. I hear shouting, but it is faint as I have also lost my hearing.
I can actually get a glimpse of what is going on by looking into the reflection of the pool of blood that has formed in front of me, but the only thing I can see are Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputy boots frantically running in every direction as they are chasing many hundreds of youngsters enjoying the cruising and lowriding on the legendary Whittier Boulevard on this Friday night.
With each heartbeat, the pool of blood expands. Just moments ago, I had been photographing the merciless beating by a dozen deputies of a young man in a sarape, who was simply calling out to his God in the middle of this same intersection. And now I find myself here, facedown bleeding, not completely sure how I got in this position.
I now realize the pool of blood functions as a TV monitor. All of a sudden, I see myriad images flashing before me in the reflection. I see a fusillade of arrows greeting three ships that have come from across the ocean, committing genocide, stealing land and putting human beings in chains. The images fast forward and I am seeing the lynching of Indigenous, Black, Brown and Chinese peoples. I am now seeing white mobs, led by sailors, attacking mostly Mexicans but also Blacks in Zoot Suits in LA during World War II. I see Bloody Christmas with LAPD officers continually and viciously attacking a half dozen Mexicans in jail (1953).
I am also seeing deputies viciously attacking students in 1968 at Garfield High School and LAPD officers attacking students at Roosevelt during their historic walkouts for better schools. I now see Sheriff’s deputies and LAPD officers rioting, violently attacking thousands of peaceful anti-war protestors with riot sticks on the Boulevard, a few blocks down at Laguna Park in 1970. Next, I see the subsequent 1970 execution of journalist Ruben Salazar at the Silver Dollar Café by an LA Sheriff’s deputy on that same day, a few blocks down from where I am and a few blocks from where I grew up.
In the same pool, I see 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez executed by a Dallas policeman playing Russian Roulette on his head in 1974. I now see a vicious beating of Rodney King in 1991, the trials and the massive resistance and I hear the chants of: “No Justice; No Peace!” In 1996, a truck full of migrants is being chased by police on a freeway. When the vehicle stops, people scatter but police deliver a vicious beating to several of them, including Alicia Soltero. A helicopter captures this live on television in Southern California.
I close and then reopen my eyes. No, I am not dreaming. I am living a nightmare as I am now witnessing Michael Brown being gunned down in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. I am seeing mass Black-led protests across the country, heroically fighting for dignity and justice and I vaguely can hear: “Hands up, don’t shoot!” I now see an officer in 2017, gun down a great-grandfather with a crucifix in hand, Francisco Serna, from Bakersfield Calif. I see 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland being gunned down by police officers (2014) and also 13-year old Andy Lopez of Santa Rosa, California, also gunned down by officers in 2013. Both had toy guns in their hands. I see Eric Garner in New York and Luis Rodriguz in Moore, OK, utter their last words, months apart (2014): “I can’t breathe.”
I also hear Michael Barrera in Woodland, California, in 2017, and a cacophony of other voices also shouting: “I can’t breathe.” I see Allen Locke in 2014 gunned down a day after attending a Native Lives Matter rally in South Dakota and I also see Jeanetta Riley, a Native woman with mental issues in Idaho, also being gunned down in the parking lot of a hospital (2015). I see Sandra Bland’s life extinguished, while fighting for her dignity.
And I hear: “Say her name!” And that’s when I see many more hundreds of faces and hundreds of names of people racially profiled and terminated. I see Eric Salgado, Monica Diamond, Jesse Romero, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks. Stop!
And now, I am seeing something utterly revolting; an officer is inhumanely pressing his knee on a handcuffed and subdued Black man’s neck, George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as he utters: “I can’t breathe.” While doing so, he calls out for his mama, and then, as has been observed, the world sees his spirit exit his body. Again, there are Black-led mass protests everywhere and this time, the majority of the country now acknowledges the meaning of Black Lives Matter.
I need this nightmare to stop! Suddenly, I come back to consciousness, again, finding myself handcuffed on that cold street. The boots and the hell I am witnessing before me is part of my conscious state, though barely the beginning of my living nightmare; for the rest of my life I will see the world of violence through that same pool of blood.
And that world of violence has included becoming aware of thousands upon thousands of cases of police brutality, just since 2014, including many hundreds that have been videotaped.
Even though I was charged with trying to kill the four deputies that almost killed me, I eventually won both the criminal trial and my lawsuit, seven years later. Some things I never forget. Of the many blows to my body, the last one was to my forehead, in-between my eyes, leaving me with a scar in the shape of a “T” that I bear to this day. And what one of the deputies told me when they first put me into their squad car was: “You act up and I will finish the job.”
I ended up in the jail wing of LA’s General Hospital, where I learned that I had been charged with eight counts, primarily of assaulting and attempting to kill four Sheriff’s deputies. Amid several additional death threats and many subsequent arrests and countless incidents of harassment, I won two legal cases as a result of the assault against me. The first case was won after some 30 court appearances when the charges were finally dropped. Seven years later, I won again, a lawsuit against the LA County Sheriff’s Department, against the four deputies that almost took my life.
Despite these victories, I do not believe in the U.S. judicial system. And it isn’t simply because the deputies themselves never stood criminal trial for attempting to kill me, but because for all these years, I have come to know of many thousands upon thousands of other cases of police abuse, and I’ve seen every one of them through that pool of blood. And in all those cases, law enforcement officers, in effect, continue to live behind a legal wall of impunity, protected not simply by their own (higher ups), but also by the nation’s judicial system – which rarely prosecutes officers – and by the politicians that uphold this system of impunity. Contrarily, who does get prosecuted when this violence occurs are usually the victims of police abuse.
The mainstream media, television and Hollywood have also been historically complicit in this impunity. These institutions have historically created stereotypes that have demonized, dehumanized and criminalized people of color. Through the years, they have told us who the good and bad guys are, who deserves to live and who deserves to die. In a sense, they did not create the stereotypes, but perhaps took those ideas from those that believed they were sent by God to this continent, who brought their religion to this continent, with strange notions of who is human and who is less than human and who is deserving of full human rights and who is not?
Actually, all of society’s institutions are complicit. However, in the modern era, the mainstream media has always had a special role in all of this. For instance, I have pored over the numbers (Killedbypolice.net), and what I come up with are that between 2014-2020 – in total, some 6,500 people have been killed by law enforcement. 2014 is the year Michael Brown was killed. During these same years, between 1200-1400 brown peoples, mostly Mexicans/Chicanos, often labeled or mislabeled as “Hispanics/Latinos,” have been killed. These are the ones you never see on national TV or hear about during this national conversation.
The killings take place nationwide, but most have been concentrated in states such as California and Texas, the two states with the greatest number of killings every year, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. Because of the inconsistent way they are counted and classified nationwide, my own research tells me there has always been a great undercount, ranging from 20-33%, in large part because they end up in all of the racial categories, including “unknown” and many with names such as Sanchez or Garcia remain “unidentified (Washington Post Fatal Force Report). In effect, akin to the dirty wars in Central and South America from the 1970s-1980s, these casualties are “disappeared.” Regardless, with such an alarming number of killings, they remain a national secret.
Personally, I do not see the resulting obliteration of facts and silencing of voices as accidental. Either that or the mainstream media and government are being lazy by resorting back to a 1950s black and white view of the world, one that does not correspond to 2020. Generally absent from these national discussions are Indigenous peoples, who coincidentally are the peoples proportionately most impacted by police abuse in this country. They should always be at the table for these conversations. So, too, missing are Brown peoples, who are also greatly impacted by this violence. These three communities/peoples have been subjected to these violences on this continent, literally since 1492.
Through that pool of blood, I know about that historic violence against the three communities mentioned here – Indigenous, Black and Brown – that come from communities in which their/our bodies and communities are racially profiled. I’ve seen it; I’ve lived it. More importantly, these same communities continue to be targeted by this violence today.
While writing this, through that same pool of blood, I saw that 18-year-old, Andres Guardado, of El Salvadoran origin, was killed by Compton, Calif. by Sheriff’s deputies (6/18/2020). Purportedly he was on his knees when he was shot. The Sheriff’s department says he was armed and running away when he was killed. And the people protest. And closer to my home, in Tucson, a video surfaced after two months, capturing the death in April of Carlos Ingram Lopez, at the hands of Tucson Police. Handling a medical emergency as a criminal matter caused Lopez’s death, which, along with the investigation, was intentionally withheld from the Mayor/City council and the public until June. As he was dying, he called out to his grandmother for help: “Nana. Ayudame.”
In all of this, what is most important is not national media coverage per se, but that the pandemic of killings of Indigenous, Black and Brown peoples has to stop. That all the killings have to stop. If “saying our names” contributes to the end of this living nightmare, then the national media should acknowledge this reality.
Seasoned civil and human rights organizers and experienced researchers know this reality: it is the mainstream media that continues to paint the world in black and white. Also, it appears that the media has settled on a formula in which race issues correspond to Black peoples; Immigration corresponds to Brown or “Hispanic/Latino” peoples – despite the fact that a large percentage of migrants are Black – and Indigenous peoples get casino stories, if they are ever covered at all. And during the Covid-19 crisis, Asians have once again re-emerged as the “Yellow Peril.”
One thing we know is that regardless of the issues, the leading indices re violence, health, employment, education, incarceration, housing, wealth, etc., Indigenous-Black and Brown peoples consistently are always on the bottom. Such is the case with issues of law enforcement violence and killings.
In these tumultuous times, society now seems finally ready to tackle its historic and systemic racism. In doing so, it must learn to probe deeper. Society has to begin to understand the significance of 1492 and its relationship to the violence we are living today. Failure to see that will represent both a distortion of this nation’s true roots, and it will also result in the obliteration and silencing of the communities mentioned here.
Looking through that pool of blood, it is easy for me to see this. The truth is, if that is what it takes, there’s plenty of blood in the history of this country/continent for those who take the time to read an actual history book.
By the way, I did and am still acting up.
Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez is an associate professor at the University of Arizona and is the author of several books, including Yolqui: A Warrior Summoned from the Spirit World: Testimonios on Violence (2019). The book is both a memoir and an examination of violence against Indigenous, Black and Brown Peoples.
Mapping Violence: The Numbers Reveal More of the Truth
We share this link below as a public service to introduce our readers to a detailed mapping project that tracks death at the hands of police and provides graphic depictions of the date collected as well as breakdowns of the data by various factors. https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/
The section below, titled Police Violence Report, further breaks down the data, providing details of the victims by race or ethnicity (“Hispanic”). https://policeviolencereport.org/
CALL FOR MORE TESTIMONIES We open the Somos en escrito pages to receive other writings on the history of violence experienced by Mexican Americans. We are interested in particular to hear testimony from individuals about incidents going back in their family history. If you have written declarations even better. Send your information to firstname.lastname@example.org so we can respond.