Friday, February 22, 2013

Deport the Gringos?

Do you know who a  gringo is?

It's probably you.  Unless you are of Latino descent.

"Gringo" was the Latinos' term for non-Latinos in California in the 1940s and 1950s when non-Latinos were calling Latinos "Mexicans."  Of course they weren't Mexicans.  They were United States citizens.  In fact, many of them were of families that had been living in the United States since before it was the United States.

Neither "gringo" nor "Mexican" was meant as a friendly designation, though neither was always hostile.  The wholesale misuse of "Mexican" was chiefly the product of ignorance of history and also of an era in which labeling was routine.  So-and-so was a "kike" or a "colored" or a "Chinaman" or a "papist" or whatever.  The key thing was that so-and-so's principle identity was not WASP, not white Anglo-Saxon Protestant.  So-and-so did not, therefore, matter.  I was a so-and-so, definitely not a WASP.

As for the Latinos, at least some of the ones I knew in the 1940s and 1950s thought that the gringos ought to be deported from California, Arizona, and New Mexico.  One young man named Rodney, a friend of my brother put it simply:  "The gringos stole my people's land."  Rodney was twelve years old.

The gringos used more than the Mexican-American War to get land away from the inhabitants.  Although the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidlago ostensibly protected the property rights of the resident Mexican land owners now within USA borders, the "yanquis" quickly contrived to get these holdings away from them, chiefly by abuse of the legal system. No sooner was the treaty signed than vast holdings passed from Mexican hands to gringo hands.

By a quirk, I was living on the tiny remnant of one such holding in 1960 when my first child was born.  Up the hill from us on successive terraces lived the last of the family that had once owned much of the land between Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles and Malibu, a huge rancho.  Now the old grandparents on both sides of the family grew corn on the hillside and tended grape vines.  Grandpa Jose made big clay ollas for wine and for olive oil from the olive trees.  The kids played all over the hillside, and their joyful Spanish rang out through the canyon.  Mrs. Sanchez, one of the grandparents, gave my baby daughter the baby gift of a "pink blanky" that she dragged with her everywhere throughout childhood, leaving the last fragment by mistake in Vermont when she was eleven.  At Thanksgiving and Christmas Mrs. Sanchez made sure we had their homemade tamales for our dinner.  They were good friends and good neighbors.

When things began happening in Delano under the leadership of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, I sent money.  In subsequent years, kids and all, I helped in person.  By 1960 I had seen Edward R. Murrow's program "Harvest of Shame", and I had read an article in the New York Times Magazine about the dreadful conditions inflicted on farm workers.  The farm workers' "la causa" became my "causa"  for almost thirty years.  Somewhere I have tucked away a thank you letter from Cesar Chavez for the work I did.  Dolores Huerta and I were friends.  When she recently got the Presidential Medal of Honor from Obama,  I cried for joy.

I wish all the people who hate the Latinos and want to deport eleven million "illegals" could live on that hillside and eat tamales and know Mrs. Sanchez and watch the children play.  I wish they could be in the fields of the Great Central Valley in the 100 degree heat, bending to pick tomatoes.  Or in the fields of the Salinas Valley, bending, endlessly bending, to pick strawberries.  And there is no water. And there are no outhouses.

Viva la raza!  Viva la causa!  Viva all our brothers and sisters everywhere.  And may the ignorant and hating gringos of today either get with the program and grab a tamale or else self-deport!

And viva Obama for helping our brothers and sisters and for giving Dolores that well-deserved medal.  I wish someone would give Obama a medal!        

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