Here’s Why the Voices Caught Between the Black/White Binary Aren’t in American History Books

Most Latino-American civil rights movements, like the Texas farm-workers strike in 1966, never made it into mainstream history.

By Joy DiazAugust 12, 2016 10:51 am|

This is part two of a two-part series looking at the historical 1966 farm workers strike in Texas. 

Our collective dictionary for the concept of civil rights, historically speaking, includes heroes such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. It includes iconography like the white signs held by striking Memphis sanitation workers, proclaiming “I am a man” in bold capital letters. It includes songs, like “We shall overcome.”

But our dictionary is incomplete without the names of people like Daria Vera from Rio Grande City, Texas – a heroine in her own right.

“Yo todo el tiempo anduve delante, yo nunca tuve miedo.”

“I was always at the forefront of the fight,” Vera says in Spanish, “and I was never afraid.”

At the time Vera was 20 years old.

“Yo sabia que nos iban a golpear, que nos iban a arrastrar, que nos iban a arrestar – muchas veces hasta podrian habernos matado.”

Vera says in Spanish that when she walked off her farm-working job in 1966, she knew Texas Rangers would beat her up and arrest her. She says she knew she could’ve been killed. But Vera stuck with the strike.

The strike was to protest subhuman working conditions, child labor and extremely meager wages. Strikers even marched to Austin and Washington. But, the nation barely heard them – it barely saw them – and their stories didn’t made it into our history books.

Max Krochmal leads the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project at Texas Christian University. He also teaches history. Krochmal says one reason why the labor and civil struggles of south Texas were overlooked at the time was because Washington was so out of touch.

“The American understanding of race and racial inequality has been largely dictated along the lines of a black/white racial binary,” Krochmal says. “The intellectuals in New York and in Washington, and the policy makers – they don’t really understand what is a Mexican-American. Asian-Americans are also excluded and not highly prevalent. So race, for them, is still black and white.”

History has been largely written based on a “strong-man” narrative, Krochmal says.

Most of us know Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s voice when we hear clips of it, and we can identify photos of the man as well. But do we know what the voice of Cesar Chavez sounded like? And his is the only name that gets some kind of recognition when it comes to the labor rights and civil rights of brown people – the people caught in between the black/white binary.

Krochmal says another reason that the struggles of brown Americans have rarely made it into the history books is the language barrier. Just like strikers in Memphis – strikers in Rio Grande City carried signs. But their signs were in Spanish. Just like marchers in Selma sang, “We Shall Overcome,” strikers in Texas told their stories through song. But the songs were in Spanish.

Once you hear this music – and once someone translates the lyrics – the words can be unforgettable.

Voy a cantarles, señores,
De los pobres infortunios
De algo que sucedió
El día primero de junio.En el condado de estrella
En el merito Rio Grande
Junio de ’67
Sucedió un hecho de sangre.

I’m going to sing
Of the sad misfortune
That occurred
On the first of June.In the year of ‘Sixty-seven
In Star County
There was blood spilled
Right by the Rio Grande.

Daria Vera is now 70 years old. She recently received news the state of Texas plans to erect a historical marker in Rio Grande City, commemorating the strike and march of 1966. Although her story isn’t in the history books, soon it’ll be set in stone.