Threads Episode 2: Latino Americans Tell Their Story
Story by: Monica Solis with THREADS – The Stories That Bind Us
“American broadcast television has been around since 1939, so that’s 74 years of television. So here we are in 2013 and over that huge time period, there has never, in the history of American television, been a telling of the Latino story, of our participation in this great narrative of this country. It’s never appeared on American television; it’s taken until this moment,” says John Valadez
Meet John Valadez, New York filmmaker, and for the past 14 years, producer for PBS. Most recently, Valadez got on board to help produce a 6-hour documentary series titled ‘Latino Americans.’ Texas State opened its doors last week to a pre-screening with Valadez as a guest. He and others in attendance say the documentary was long overdue.
“It’s really important, particularly in this day and age when Latinos are essentially pressured into finding a nice, quiet place in American society. They need the tools to challenge others who think of them only as recent immigrants who should stay out of the way and in the background.”
-Dr. Jesus Francisco de la Teja
Meet Dr. Jesus Francisco de la Teja, director for the Center of the Southwest at Texas State. De la Teja was interviewed for and featured in the first episode of the documentary.
“Documentaries like ‘Latino Americans’ show Latinos have actually been here for a very long time, fully participating in the society, in the governance of the United States; those experiences need to be put out before the public,” Teja says.
It’s week one of Hispanic Heritage Month. I’m Mexican American, and as my segment suggests, a pretty huge fan of stories. Like so, it’s a good time to share with you some of the narratives I encountered behind the PBS documentary “Latino Americans.”
“I think for most of American history and most of America, the baseline for what it is to be American has always been white,” Valadez says. “If you go back to before World War II, Mexican Americans were just Mexican. Mexican Americans and Asian Americans and African Americans were all at various points segregated. There was this psychological underpinning that if you weren’t white you weren’t American.”
Valadez says he wanted to emphasize in “Latino Americans,” that our history is just as rich as the history of any other culture, that we must look at this American history from all perspectives.
At the pre-screening, I’m entranced by the segment on the Chicano movements that have occurred since the early 1920’s, and I want to find personal narratives. Sentence briefly describing the Chicano Movements featured in the documentary. It’s here that I meet Gloria de Leon, co-founder of the National Hispanic Institute. She has some advice:
“Start with your family – you’d be surprised what our parents did, what they were involved in, what their thoughts were,” Leon says. “Know yourself, know your family, be proud of who you are, because when you root yourself in that sense of power- from that point forward- nothing, nothing is ever going to shake you.”
-Gloria de Leon
”I asked if he had any experiences with the Ku Klux Klan,” Gaby Solis says. “I don’t know, because we learned about it last year and it’s actually kind of interesting, but scary, but it’s interesting.”
That’s my 13 year old sister. I decided to take up De Leon’s advice and see what I could unearth about Chicano movements from the past while visiting with my dad. My sister took it upon herself to ask her own question after she heard my dad and I talking:
“Yes, I do,” Javier Solis says. “The Ku Klux Klan, more or less 1983 was gonna march in Austin. So the first thing we did was to go to protest at city hall where they were going to vote on whether to grant them the permit to march.”
Meet my dad Javier Solis, Mercedes resident and attorney at law.
“Because there’s always been a lot of Chicano activism in Austin, they often have the police on standby and police with riot gear came in to city council chambers,” Javier Solis says. “Some of the community activists started saying ‘No marcheran, no marcheran!’ All of us joined in saying ‘no marcheran.’ You know, nobody was getting violent. We were just raising our voices and clenching our fists going ‘No marcheran.’ It was one of those moments you remember because you remember it as friends sticking by each other. ”
As a student at UT in the early 80’s, my father was involved in Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan or Mech-A , and the university’s Chicano Culture Committee. It was his involvement with these groups that led him to a lot of political activism such as this particular protest of a KKK march, which made national headlines in 1983.
The permit for the KKK to march was granted. Protesters who were present in city council chambers at the time, like my dad and his friends, didn’t face physical confrontation from the police. But after their stance in the chambers, they discovered it wasn’t the same outcome for other protesters that day.
“We had seen one of the community activists just a few minutes before, Paul Hernandez,” Javier Solis says. “Allegedly, what happened was they were trying to hold him back and the rest of the crowd from getting to the Klan, and what they claim was that Paul was pulling on the billy club. I don’t know if that policeman or another hit him to let go of the billy club. What happened after that was not only did he hit him, because Paul Hernandez was often an activist who protested police brutality, himself and his brother Sam Hernandez; at least half a dozen to a dozen policemen joined in on beating Paul.”
A New York Times piece from February 22, 1983 says a tape provided by Houston television station KPRC, showed ten officers surrounding and striking Hernandez and others.
“There’s film of policemen jumping over each other to get a hit in when he was pretty much already subdued,” Javier Solis says. “It was really uncalled for when you think about it; maybe two or three can bring him down, but not to the point where everyone and their mother is trying to get a billy club strike to hit you.”
My father and many other activists stood outside the police station and protested against police brutality for what he remembers to be several weeks, possibly months, after that.
I ask my father for some values instilled in him as a child, as a Mexican American, though I feel I already know because the same has been taught to me: hard work, respect, perseverance, but also…
“Stand up for people. People, who are not able to defend themselves, you should stand up for them, in one way or another. Help your neighbors, help your family.”
– Javier Solis