Rodolfo F. Acuna, “Crocodile Tears: Lynchings of Mexicans,” Rough Draft, June 18, 2005
The U.S. Senate just the other day issued an apology for its history of inaction on lynchings. It acknowledged decades of obstruction. The Senate heard testimony from more than 150 descendants of lynching victims. More than 200 anti-lynching bills had been introduced, three passed the House and seven U.S. presidents lobbied for such laws. Tellingly, Congress has never apologized for slavery.
It has been documented that a total of 4,742 Americans were lynched between 1882 and 1968, Of these 3,452 were African Americans.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) sponsored the bill after she read James Allen=s "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America." Opportunistically some right wing radio hosts have been comparing the filibuster of anti-lynching laws by Democrats to threatened filibuster to prevent the life appointment of right wing judges.
Related to this, I have received several interesting calls from reporters. A Los Angeles Times writer called me about El Clamor Publico, a Spanish-language newspaper published in Los Angeles from 1855-1859. It is the 150 anniversary of the founding of the paper and the Times wanted to acknowledge that it had existed.
On June 15, I received an Email from Armando Miguelez, one of the foremost experts on 19th Century Spanish language newspapers. Armando commented on an article published by the Washington Post, pointing to the irony of the Senate=s actions. He observed that in a four-year period in the El Clamor Publico alone, he counted 80 linchamientos of Mexicans, Chileans, Peruvians, Indians and Blacks in California. It is doubtful whether the Allen book included this source and the figures generally do not include those of Spanish-language newspapers in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. For example, the files at Tuskegee Institute, considered the most comprehensive count of lynching victims, lists the lynching of fifty Mexicans in those states.
William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb=s AThe Lynching of Persons of Mexican Origin or Descent in the United States, 1848 too 1928," has different figures. Between 1848 and 1928, mobs lynched at least 597 Mexicans. This does not include many incidents of other forms mob violence. This is considerable taking into account that the Mexican population was small in comparison to the Black population.
Webb and Carrigan described how on November 16, 1928, four masked men broke into a hospital in Farmington, New Mexico. They seized Rafael Benavides who was dying of gunshot wounds and hanged him from a locust tree. Benavides was the last known lynching; not the last victim of mob violence.
As mentioned, many of the lynchings of Mexicans have been lost in the pages of Spanish-language newspapers such as El Clamor Publico. Its publisher, Francisco Ramirez espoused the return to Mexico movement. According to Ramirez, Mexicans could not find justice in the United States. On May 10, 1856, Ramírez wrote “California has fallen into the hands of the ambitious sons of North America who will not stop until they have satisfied their passions, by driving the first occupants of the land out of the country, vilifying their religion and disfiguring their customs.”
The Clamor described how Texans from El Monte threw hot tar on Diego Navarro=s family home and broke into the house, dragged him out, and executed him, along with two other Mexicans whom they accused of being members of a rebel gang.
There was also the case of the Berreyesa family. Its problems began with Bear Flaggers. They assassinated an elder Berreyesa and his two nephews in 1848. In July 1854 a band of Euroamericans dragged Encarnacion Berreyesa from his house while his wife and children looked on, and suspended him from a tree. When Berreyesa did not confess to the killings, vigilantes left him half dead and hanged Berreyesa=s brother Nemesio.
The most flagrant act of vigilantism was at Downieville in 1851. A kangaroo court convicted a Mexican woman called Juanita who was pregnant and lynched her as 2000 miners looked on. She was the first woman hanged in California. Popular lore rationalized that Juanita was a prostitute (inferring that the lynching was lamentable but, after all, Juanita was antisocial). Years later her husband sued but was ignored by the courts.
Beyond the acknowledgment that these incidents happened, history has its lessons. For example, there is a difference between a senate filibuster to prevent the appointment of a racist judge and a filibuster to prevent the passage of a law to prosecute lynching.
There is also historical context. You would think that people would think about consequences of unjust wars. Clark Clifford and Robert McNamarra have admitted that the Vietnam War was wrong. Fifty years from now, will it make a difference if Congress admits that Americans were wrong for the U.S. imperial wars in the Middle East?
The lynchings were wrong then, and today the hatred and the terrorism of minutemen on the border draw from American root. Racism and violence at anytime or anywhere.