Thursday, October 30, 2014

State attention focused on Duval County politics in 1948

Lyndon Johnson
In 1948, newspapers across the state focused on political developments in Duval County like never before. The county had seen its share of notoriety but this year was different. The events that unfolded following the Democratic primary were widely reported by local and area newspapers, but to get a feel as to how the world saw Duval County it is instructive to see how events were reported by newspapers such as the Dallas Morning News.

The year started out rather uneventful. The News reported in its January 29 issue that President Harry Truman appointed Euna C. Kelly as postmaster at Freer. The News interviewed Calvin North, a longtime Benavides area cotton farmer, while he attended the Texas Cotton Ginners Association Convention in Dallas. In April, the News reported that the State Board of Education purchased $40,000 of San Diego school bonds.

As far as political news, the Dallas newspaper paid close attention on the races for Congress. In February, it ran a story suggesting that Duval County political boss George B. Parr would likely lend his support to Laredo’s candidate for the Congress, Phillip Kazen, over the Rio Grande Valley’s ultimate candidate. Duval County was not in this congressional district but Parr’s apparent influence reached well beyond Duval County, including Zapata, Jim Hogg and Starr counties, all in the congressional district that stretched along the Mexican border.

In June, the News ran a story on the congressional race that included Duval County. Incumbent John Lyle had Parr’s support and his opponent, Morris Knight indicated he would not waste his time campaigning in Duval County.

The big race in 1948, however, was for U. S. Senate, pitting former governor Coke Stevenson against Hill Country Congressman Lyndon Johnson. The election was held on Saturday, August 28, and initial reports gave Stevenson a close lead it what promised to be a cliffhanger. On Sunday, however, Duval County reported results of an additional box not previously reported.

Initial reports from Duval County showed Johnson with 4,195 to Stevenson’s 38. On Sunday, the county’s new vote totals gave Johnson 4,622 and Stevenson 40, propelling Johnson into the lead statewide by a mere 693 votes out of nearly a million cast. The reports were unofficial and the Democratic State Executive Committee would not certify them for another two weeks. During that time, the lead would change a number of times.

Stevenson and the News were not waiting for the official results to start their attacks on Duval County voting. The News wrote that Duval County’s “Latin American” voters were in the habit of casting “block votes.” The county would usually report vote totals even before the polls closed. Stevenson echoed the newspaper’s remarks adding that Duval County was an “area which has been known for its peculiar position in Texas politics.” He criticized the machine and block-voting Duval County produced.

This was only the Monday after the Saturday election. The fireworks were just getting started and the News kept a vigil on Duval County for the remainder of the year. Next week I will review what happened next and how the world viewed Duval County.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Future priest has roots in Duval County

Today I want to take a point of personal privilege and write about a family member of whom we are all rightfully proud. Just to keep myself honest, this has to do with history in the making and it certainly has a tie to Duval County.

Our nephew Eric Chapa is the grandson of Mrs. Lupe Chapa, who many of you know simply as "Miss Chapa" who had a long and illustrious career as a teacher in Duval County schools. His father is G.R. Chapa of San Diego and his mother is Priscilla Ibanez Chapa (my wife's sister) of Alice.

He is a seminarian for the Diocese of Corpus Christi at the North American College in Rome. Currently, he is doing his pastoral year at Ss. Cyril & Methodius Parish in Corpus Christi. A seminarian's pastoral year gives him the opportunity to experience life in a parish before he completes his studies and is ordained a priest.

One of the experiences is that of doing a reflection on the Sunday readings so that he can gain experience as a future homilist. Eric gave his reflection at all Sunday Masses this past weekend. The audio above is of his reflection. The photo of Eric with Pope Benedict was taken a couple of years ago.

At the conclusion of his pastoral year Eric will likely be ordained a transitional deacon and a year after that as a priest.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reader provides copy of 1948 Facts

(Since my birthday is around the corner, I thought it would be fun to share this information with you.)

After reading my columns on the history of newspapering in Duval County, Alice reader Jeorge Garza sent me a 1948 copy of the Duval County Facts. I found it particularly interesting because 1948 is the year I was born and wondered what my parents were observing and experiencing during that time.

The newspaper is for the week of April 9. Before reviewing the news of the day, it is noteworthy to point out some facts about the Facts. This issue indicates that it is volume 23 of the newspaper. This would mean that the Duval County Facts started publication in 1925. The “sole owner” in 1948 was J. L. C. Beaman. I remember Mr. Beaman as a colleague of my father’s. He would bring us bags full of apples and oranges during Christmas season.

At first glance, it appears that 1948 was a rather uneventful time for the politically charged Duval County atmosphere. It may have been, as the saying goes, “the calm before the storm.”

The newspaper reports results of the San Diego city and school elections. Both elections were uncontested yielding a low turnout. Mayor C. G. Palacios and election judge Domingo Gonzalez, Jr. reported that only 125 people voted. Avelino E. Garcia and R. J. Rogers were reelected. The voting for school trustees was even scarcer with only 58 voters participating. Voters were not the only things scarce as it seems so were candidates. Voters also reelected Rogers as a school trustee along with Clemente Garcia.

More exciting than the voting was the report that Dan Adami, Jr. killed a Mexican lion that got caught in a coyote trap in his ranch 57 miles west of San Diego. Adami set the traps the week before after he noticed the cat’s tracks. He used a small deer, killed by the lion, as bait. The 180-pound lion’s front paw got caught in the trap and Adami shot it with a 30-30.

On a lighter note, 4-H parents held a “Noche Mexicana” night at the Guajillo School. Alicia Saenz did fortune telling and Belia Garcia and Esperanza Garza sold balloons. Mr. and Mrs. Raul Valadez oversaw games and Maggie Garza sponsored the dance. Club sponsor Rebecca E. Pena reported the event netted $79.50. For those too young to remember, Guajillo is located south of San Diego off FM 1329.

The 4-H Clubs seemed quite active in Duval County. Home Demonstration Agent Nellie Cundiff made a presentation to 165 members from the San Jose, Guajillo, Cruz Calle, Concepcion, Realitos, Sejita and Rangel clubs.

Speaking of being too young to remember, this writer does not remember--actually I never knew--what the organization AAA was about or what it did. But a committee representing seven communities in Duval County met to develop the 1949 program for farmers. Serving on the committee were Juan O. Garcia, Jesus M. Salinas, Enrique G. Ramirez, Hilario Saenz, Jose Israel Saenz, Gerald F. McBride, Eugenio Hinojosa, Karl Mann and Macedonio Rangel. County Agricultural Agent H. B. Haegellin and Administrative Officer Minerva A. Perez were also present.

The American Legion Auxiliary No. 202 initiated 10 new members, among them Felipita G. Garcia, Jesusa L. Saenz, Estela Elizalde, Mrs. Donato Serna, Jesusa G. Garcia, Berta Garcia, Melida Garcia, Carmen Reyes, Rebecca Trejo and Maria Refugio Gonzalez. Auxiliary President Minerva A. Perez presided over the installation. Assisting Perez were Mrs. Louis Yaeger, Mrs. Adan R. Garcia, Julia de la Rosa and Mrs. H. B. Haeglin.

Other notes reported April 9, 1948 included results of a track meet in Benavides; a new oil well was reported; 18-year old Francisco Sisto Garcia enlisted in the Army; the Alpha Pavonis Club of Benavides slated a dance at Momeny Gym to raise funds for a new Catholic school building; internment services were held for Isidoro Garcia, Sr. 75; Dan Tobin returned from a beer distributors convention held in Galveston; and Maria C. Garcia, 65, passed away.

Six months later, had my father been reading the Dallas newspaper he would have had nine stories on Duval County to read. Of course my father did not subscribe to the Dallas paper nor would have he had time to read it on the morning of October 28 since I was making my grand entrance into the world as my sisters left for school. In those days, doctors (an often midwives) still delivered newborns in their homes.

In truth, my birth was not the big news of 1948. As it often happens in Duval County, the big news was filled with political overtones. More about that next week.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mexican-Anglo differences were always a factor in early Duval County

A note that appeared in the Corpus Christi newspaper of July 9, 1887 reveals much about attitudes in Duval County at the time regarding race (ethnic) relations. Although today, Duval County has an overwhelming Mexican-American population, in those days there was a considerable Anglo presence in the county. I, of course, use these terms loosely.

The facts are that while many “Mexican-Americans” were in fact born here and were “Americans”, many others were Mexican nationals who were not born locally or obtained citizenship. The same was true of “Anglos”, which of course is a further generalization since many of the “white” residents were not of Anglo descent. A few were native born, but many came from other parts of the state, country, or world. They descended of Slavic, Hebrew, Irish, French, Russian, Arab, and other nationalities.

It seems that a “Mexican” went on trial in Benavides in what the newspaper’s correspondent described as an all-Mexican event. The journalism of that day was not what it is today. The newspapers could not afford to have reporters gallivanting across the wide south Texas plains or brush country on horseback. They did not have the luxury of e-mail, either. Therefore, they all relied on correspondents who mailed in their weekly columns or stories. 

These correspondents, or the newspapermen for that matter, did not have journalistic training, and were not subject to the politically correct mores of today. In fact, they felt no compunction to refrain from making observations that today we see as racists, at worst, or insensitive, at best. The correspondent for the Corpus Christi newspaper of the day was a fellow named Jeffreys.

But, let me get back to our story. Jeffreys does not mention what the dispute in the case was; rather what impressed him was the fact that the county attorney had a “purely Mexican case.” According to Jeffreys, no one in the case spoke in English, not the jury, witnesses, defendant, nor opposing counsel. “The court and audience were all Mexicans,” Jeffreys observed.

Then, he adds that even though they were all Mexicans, the jury fined the defendant $5. He seemed surprised that a Mexican jury would find the defendant guilty and then fine him for his violation. In yet another seeming surprise to Jeffreys, the defendant paid the fine and the court costs. Jeffreys found it surprising that a Mexican would actually pay a fine; furthermore, he added that the defendant felt “lucky” with the jury’s decision.

The newspaper’s correspondent casually makes yet another revealing observation; “they say Mexicans don’t want the law enforced.” The question is who were “they” that said Mexicans did not want the laws enforced. Why would they say that?

Oh well, those were other times. One can be generous and say those were the views of that one correspondent, but history would suggest otherwise, although it would also be correct to point to many instances of the two groups not only getting along but also joining families and customs.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pan de campo belongs to community of San Diego, it has always been a community event

When I started this blog I said that from time to time I would comment on current issues that affected the history of Duval County. One such issue, the Pan De Campo, is currently being heatedly debated on Facebook.

Via Facebook my dear friend and classmate José Lauriano Hinojosa asked for my opinion on the subject–as a former mayor of San Diego, which prompted Delia Ibáñez to add her desire to hear from the man who made “Telling It Like It Is” a popular column in the Duval County Picture. To which Carmelinda García added the Duval County Picture would be all over this story.

My initial inclination was to stay out of the fray. As the old saying goes, I don’t have a dog in this hunt or as our ancestors may have said, “no tengo vela en este entierró.” But, alas, I will venture a few comments in deference to my friends’ request. But I will do it my way–which is to say not on Facebook, which I do not believe is the best venue for serious public policy discussions. Instead I will use this blog to share my views.

First, let me say I will not address any of the current controversy. While many may have thought in the past that “Telling It Like It Is” was a column of pure personal opinion, it was not. My opinions were not based merely on what I thought; they were firmly based on what I thought of the facts that I had uncovered first hand. I have no first hand knowledge of what has been transpiring regarding the Pan de Campo Fiesta.

What I do know first-hand is that the Pan de Campo was founded and funded by Duval County specifically to benefit the community. It was never a private enterprise; it was always a community event. When the San Diego Chamber of Commerce took it over, it remained a community event as it did when the Rotary Club took it over. Secondly, the Pan de Campo is not only a community asset, that community is San Diego. In other words it belongs to the people of San Diego and no one else and it should be held in San Diego and nowhere else.

None of this is to criticize the current organizers, merely to acknowledge the facts. Indeed, the current organizers should be applauded for trying to keep the fiesta alive. Whether these efforts were carried out appropriately or not, I have no first hand knowledge.

I would also venture a suggestion to the mayor and city council, moving forward. One idea that I did not have time to implement during my two terms as mayor–because of the tremendous number of pressing problems we were addressing at the time–was the of creation of a “Fiestas Patrias Commission” to oversee, implement and regulate citywide festivals, parades and celebratory events. These would include the Pan De Campo, Fiesta Navideña, Fourth of July activities, homecoming parades, etc.

The city should provide a modest budget for the commission’s operations but most of their operating revenues should come from the events themselves. The commission should be composed of a cross section of citizens committed to the well being of the community. It would be a magnanimous gesture to include the current Pan de Campo promoter as a member of the commission.

Everyone should approach this issue and others like it as a community for the community and not to bolster personal egos or to advance political agendas.

I can tell you from personal experience that those who serve in public office usually do in a selfless manner. There is no financial gain to serve on the city council. It involves long–and often thankless–hours. Let us remember that these folks came forward and offered themselves to serve, they allowed the community to pass judgment on whether they were worthy and the community said yes.

If these individuals have not lived up to their promise of service, the opportunity to make a change is at the next election. Meanwhile I would suggest that those involved in this debate agree to disagree; that they disagree agreeably

I pray that everyone agrees to move forward as a community, as family.