Thursday, April 5, 2012
From the Bookshelves: A Quiet Victory for Latino Rights: FDR and the Controversy Over "Whiteness" by Patrick D. Lukens
ABSTRACT: In 1936-37, the State Department stepped into a growing area of domestic policy making (administrative law) where it had little prior experience. It successfully used these unfamiliar methods to help early Mexican American Civil Rights activists achieve a quiet yet monumental victory in their efforts to be recognized as racially "white," to prevent American nativist activists from achieving judicial success in stopping Mexican immigration by applying the 1924 Asian Exclusion laws to Mexico, and to thwart a potential international incident that could have been seriously detrimental to FDR's Good Neighbor Policy.
This is a multi-faceted work that addresses issues in policy history, New Deal history, Chicano history, Latin American history and US Immigration history. This book looks at the efforts of nativist exclusionists to apply the 1924 Immigration Act to Mexican immigration. In 1935, Federal Judge Knight made such a ruling, and that decision also could have applied Plessy v. Ferguson to Mexican Americans and California's Alien Land Laws to all Latinos. Long before Knight rendered his judgment, Mexican American civil rights activists had been struggling to be recognized as a part of the white race. This decision had the potential to totally destroy those efforts. If the precedent were allowed to stand, if Mexican nationals were to be legally defined as non-white, then by default Mexican Americans would also fall under that racial classification. The legal definition of Mexican Americans as non-white would have disastrous consequences for the efforts of LULAC in its de-segregation efforts in south Texas. While LULAC had some success based on the fact that Mexicans Americans could be considered white, segregation of non-whites was still legal in 1935. Finally, being legally defined as non-white had the potential to change the perspective of white Americans for the worse. Many white Americans often had an attitude that "non-white" was synonymous with "non-citizen." To a group of Mexican Americans who sought to assert their rights as American citizens, this could be a major threat to their way of life. But the tri-lateral efforts of FDR's State Department, the Government of Mexico, and LULAC quashed the ruling. Rather than appeal the decision, the FDR Administration applied the principles of Administrative Law to race classification. It simply classified all Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans as "white." The administration implemented this policy at the same time that the federal judiciary "acquiesced" to the New Deal, which prevented further rulings similar to the Andrade petition. Because the administration ultimately managed to neutralize Knight's decision in 1937, immigration historians might view this case as merely a "blip" in the historical timeline, and possibly irrelevant in the larger scheme of immigration policy and history. However, for a brief time, the potential for a major policy change did exist because of Judge Knight's ruling.