Mexican Americans write towards justice in Texas, 1973-1982



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"Mexican Americans Write Toward Justice in Texas, 1973 - 1982" examines literature produced in the course of struggles for justice conducted by Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and their allies, the origins of this literature, and its effects.

Three areas -- police brutality, exploitation of farmworkers, and inequitable, inadequate public education - troubled Mexican Americans activists across the political spectrum. Additionally, many people were appalled by U.S. treatment of immigrants. The poetry and plays of Nephtalí De León, Heriberto Terán, Gil Scott-Heron, Carlos Morton, and an activist teatro in Houston exemplify a long tradition of cultural production that simultaneously mourns and organizes in response to violence against Mexicans in Texas. The Texas Farmworker Union (TFWU) newspaper, El Cuhamil , documents the cacophony of voices participating in farmworker mobilizations for social justice in Texas. El Cuhamil also reorients the narratives about farm worker organizing from a U.S.- centered "civil rights" perspective to a Mexican-centered one. Two U.S. Supreme Court decisions arising from Texas, San Antonio v. Rodríguez (1973) and Plyler v. Doe (1982), illustrate how federal courts began to retreat from the engagement with social justice that had characterized much civil rights jurisprudence between roughly 1946 and 1973. These decisions also reveal the contradictions at the heart of constitutional equal protection at its "best" or most effective.

This dissertation seeks to understand how Mexicans and Mexican Americans tested a variety of rhetorical strategies - U.S. citizenship, Aztlán, the international working class, Catholic universalism, and human rights - to articulate their needs and desires and make claims in popular culture, labor organizing, and the law. I situate these writings historically and in U.S. Southwestern literature, Mexican American literature, U.S. civil rights jurisprudence, and Mexican intellectual traditions.

A subsidiary contribution of this dissertation is its tentative exploration of the distinct trajectories of Mexican Americans in what is now the Texas Plains and Panhandle. The alienating sense of "nothingness" that some people attribute to this region derives from the conditions under which Anglo settlement began in the 1880s. Modernity, here, did not alter or overlap with the modes of production that preceded it, but violently obliterated them.