by Andy Porras
The noose is on the loose. Again.
Ever since those nooses dangling from a schoolyard tree raised racial tensions in Louisiana, the frightening symbol of segregation-era lynching has been hanging around the country.
The ghosts of Jim Crow and certain Texas Rangers are smiling and dancing in their graves. The rope trick they made famous is making a comeback.
Tejanos share memories of their ancestors facing situations similar to those of their darker brothers.
According to William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb’s “The Lynching of Persons of Mexican Origin or Descent in the United States, 1848 to 1928,” Texas mobs lynched at least 597 persons of Mexican descent.
“This does not include many incidents of other forms of mob violence,” writes Chicano historian Dr. Rudy Acuña. “This is considerable, considering that the Mexican population was small in comparison to the black population.”
Is placing a noose on a schoolyard tree a deplorable act of racism? Or is it just a prank, as that Louisiana school superintendent labeled his white students’ actions? Some of the current rash of “noose” incidents are being investigated as possible hate crimes. Most educators and law enforcement officials agree there’s no ambiguity. No matter their skin color, people understand exactly what it means.
The South’s brutal acts are more widely known, but Texas had its own barbarians who went around roping first and asking questions later.
Thanks to educator/journalist Jovita Idar (1885-1946), we have written accounts of occurrences during a tumultuous time for Tejanos in the border city of Laredo during the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
On U.S. soil, a second “war,” unnoticed by school textbooks, was raging. Los Rinches (Tejano lingo for the Rangers) were out and about lynching brown men, women and even children who sought refuge from their land’s political upheaval.
Jovita, whose students were mostly Mexican children, became a compelling historical figure. Throughout Texas, the lack of books and other basics often led Tejana teachers to abandon their pedagogical dreams and search for other careers. Jovita joined two brothers as a writer for her father’s newspaper, La Crónica, Her “radical” words often detailed the rabid discrimination against the Mexican students. But the reports that really ruffled Texas government’s feathers were about the Texas Rangers.
One laid bare the truth about the Rangers lynching a Mexican child in the town of Thorndale, near Austin. Another told of a 20-year-old Tejano burned alive by a mob in Rocksprings.
Soon thereafter the young periodista-journalist, called for organizing against the racist and brutal acts by the Rangers and white Texans in general. The Rangers added her to their hit list.
Jovita’s motto, Por la raza y para la raza — by the race and for the race” — became a rallying cry that led the formation of the feminist group La Liga Femenil Mexicanista.
Despite Rangers’ threats to put an end to such extreme ideas, the Tejanos formed their own schools, allowing formerly excluded students to enroll at no cost. They even provided the students with free lunch and school clothes.
Fearing the Mexican Revolution would spread into South Texas, the Rangers increased their presence along the border, continuing their repression against all people of Mexican origin. Jovita’s editorials were considered inflammatory by state and federal officials to the point that she was “cautioned” by both to curb her criticism.
In 1914 Jovita hit the hate jackpot with an article critical of none other than U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who had deployed troops to the border. it was just the thing Los Rinches needed to come calling. Sent to destroy her father’s newspaper offi ce, an entire company of Texas’ fi nest mounted their high- grade steeds, surrounded the office and demanded her presence.
A Tejano crowd gathered to see what caused so many Rangers to come to town.
They gasped as Jovita stood in the doorway resisting the Ranger captain who had ordered her to get out of the way.
Jovita stood motion less. The Ranger captain and the journalist exchanged words. She read him her rights. The tall Texan with a badge ordered his men to back off, and he did the same.
Such a stand comes with a heavy price. The men returned in the dark of night with sledgehammers. They annihilated La Crónica. They destroyed the conscience of a community, but they failed to silence its messenger. For a memorable moment in Texas history, a Tejana cut loose the noose.
Jovita would write again from a safer place, San Antonio, where she and her husband lived out their lives.
(Andy Porras is publisher of the Sacramento area bilingual monthly Califas. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org). ©2007