My husband, Héctor Ericksen, who is involved in the Lemon Grove Oral History Project, and I recently attended a screening of “The Lemon Grove Incident” (Paul Espinosa, 1985; EspinosaProductions.com) at San Diego’s Centro Cultural de la Raza.
The Lemon Grove incident refers to the first legal challenge to school segregation, argued and won in 1931. For a full narrative, see: lemongrovehistoryproject.info
The Lemon Grove PTA, school board and Chamber of Commerce decided to build a substandard “Americanization” school. They attempted to send the town’s Mexican and Mexican American children to it, so they could be taught at their purported low academic and linguistic achievement levels, without holding the white children back.
Times were hard in the 1930s. This was the time of the Mexican Repatriation, which forcibly sent up to a million people to Mexico, whether they had been born in the United States or not. A great treatment of this era can be found in “Decade of Betrayal: The Mexican Repatriation of the 1930s” (2006) by Francisco Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez.
Times are hard now, too, and the issue of immigrants is at the forefront of our ugly political discourse.
Mexican immigrants are the focus, again because they are easy to spot and the closest to us, beyond simple geography. Now the concept is “self-deportation,” a term coined in the mid 1990s by satirist Lalo Alcaraz (pocho.com) in reaction to California’s infamous Proposition 187. The term is not being used satirically today.
Here in the U.S. racism surges in direct relation to the difficulty of the economy. Maybe this reaction has an evolutionary basis. For example, hunter-gatherer tribes would have to visually identify those who threatened their well-being. They likely selected mates based on similarity of physical traits, thus perpetuating the insular mentality of the tribe.
Contemporary human beings continue to self-select for similar traits, whether it is for a mate or for co-workers.
It’s funny how we haven’t completely evolved out of our vestigial structures, either. We still have, and have to deal with, our appendix, wisdom teeth and coccyx, which were useful to hunter-gatherers, but not to us.
Perhaps useless vestigial structures of racism lie deep within us, too, and rupture when irritated.
Next time you’re faced with bigotry, ask the person how their tailbone is doing.