I’m in Tempe Arizona this morning.
It’s a lovely place. This is alongside the river this morning.
I like to swim. I can’t swim here. So where can I swim? There’s a pool at the hotel. There’s a YMCA. Those would work. But where’s the fun in that.
In researching this I came up with some interesting history here in Tempe. Kudos to the The City of Tempe for this Hispanic History. I’ve added some emphasis to a few sentences. They’re the sentences about swimming.
As more Mexican immigrants came after 1910, tensions arose between the White and Hispanic segments of Tempe. Tempe’s Hispanic pioneer families began referring to themselves as Latin-Americans or Spanish Americans to distinguish them from the new immigrants. Yet when the new Tenth Street School opened in 1912, Hispanic children were not admitted. Nor were Hispanic families allowed to swim in the Tempe Beach Swimming Pool when it opened in 1923. The old town of San Pablo became “the barrio,” a segregated community.
Tempe’s Hispanic residents resisted discrimination, however. They joined mutualistas, like the Alianza Hispano-Americana, which provided life insurance, burials, and a political voice. Residents also joined the La Liga Protectora Latina (Latin Protection League). Some residents were more direct. In 1923, Adolfo “Babe” Romo challenged school segregation in court. A judge ruled that the 10th Street School must admit Hispanic children.
During World War II, many Mexican-Americans from Tempe served in the armed forces. After the war, returning veterans demanded changes in the segregated community they lived in. Their first success was in 1946, when Hispanic families were allowed to swim at the Tempe Beach pool. In 1964, voters elected Gil Montanez to the Tempe City Council.
That’s the US alright! And stories of indigenous, and waves of settlers, and new settlers, and laws enacted to control what was new or who is darker or who is different are a dismal fact everywhere. And these things fascinate me. They spark whatever it is in my brain that wants to reckon with complicated racial history. (I believe I’ve mentioned my comic about my own racial identity)
So if I was a kid, or a teen, or an adult, in Tempe, would I have resisted the segregation law? I have the surname “Crawford” but if it were my Mom’s surname I’d be Silva. I’m named after my grandfathers “Joseph Arthur Crawford” — for Joseph James Crawford and Jesus Arthur Silva. If the names had been flipped I’d be Jesus James Silva. My mother was pretty fair complected. I have cousins and aunts and an uncle who are not. How would I have behaved, I wonder?
Would I have passed for white? I probably could have.
In reading, I found this post: A People’s Guide to Maricopa County: Tempe Park Beach, which contains these nuggets:
Other firsthand reports mentioned experiences of lighter skin Mexicans and Mexican Americans gaining entrance to the pool while they were not accompanied by darker skinned friends or family members. If they were seen with their darker skin friends they would not be admitted again, because then it was known that they too were Mexican/Mexican American.
So that’s 1923 to 1946. And once they revoked the rule, here were the new rules:
In 1946 the Tempe Beach Board revoked the “No Mexicans” policy. Mexican American families could enjoy the recreational facilities along with their Anglo neighbors as long as they complied with the rules of the “3 C’s”
- Clean Skin.
- Clean Conduct.
- Clean speech and in English.
Prioritizing English sure does stand out as “segregation but less evil” and yet still plenty evil.
Assimilation. “Be More American.” Overrated. Though, if my mom’s family had not had that desire, would my mother have met my father? I don’t like to think too hard about my Phyllis Schlafly-loving grandmother and what they thought of this Mexican-American family that her son married into. I never got any kind of inkling there was any racial animus there, and never have.
I don’t know what this all adds up to today. I may not swim today, but that’s cool. I’m learning some history and drinking great coffee and looking at lovely vistas.
I’ll leave you with two songs. The first is Somos Más Americanos by Los Tigers del Norte.
Quiero recordarle al gringo:
Yo no crucé la frontera,
la frontera me cruzó.
América nació libre,
el hombre la dividió.
…which in English:
I want to remind the gringos:
I didn’t cross the border,
the border crossed me
America was born free,
Men divided it
Enjoy it live:
That song is great. I can absolutely feel that song in my bones.
When one person can proclaim “BLACK LIVES MATTER”–as simple and terse a factual sentence as can be uttered–and another person can call that person a troublemaker, and anti-American for it, that’s as simple a piece of evidence of the failure–to this point–to have a proper society, where all can live together positively.
And while I’ve got you here and reading and listening to music, here’s a cover song that’s absolutely wonderful. A band called EZ Band covering The Smiths’ This Charming Man but in a Norteño style. It’s an absolute delight.
Yes, when I’m on vacation I am an oddball because I like to go headlong at painful truth and try to understand how the heck the world worked, and has worked. History tells us how we screwed up so maybe when we do new things we don’t screw up.