Before all Hell broke lose AKA El Corona Virus – I visited an area in Texas, that for whatever reason had escaped me. Some call it the Big Bend Area, some just simply say the area on the way to El Paso. Pero, it is an absolutely must see.  


Big Bend National Park with over 800,000 acres has the vast Davis mountain region that is home to reportable over 30 black bears and the remains of creatures from thousands of years past. The scenery is beautiful with the towering mountains and vast desert in thriving riparian environment.  The whole area has many stories to tell, like the Terlingua Ghost Town area- just west of Big Bend Park, the Marfa Lights E mas. Pero, today I want share with you a story about los Mejicanos de Marfa and how the movie opened Americas eyes to their plight and in turn all our plight.



First as for the 1956 Movie classic that starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Dennis Hopper with Elsa Cardenas also in this movie was Sal Mineo as Angel Obregon Jr that in one scene brings tears to eyes of many movie goers. Thanks to that scene the Mexican Americans were first seen as real Americans but also as second class citizens. At the time of the movie they had at least the top two actors in the business with many of the others going on to join them at the top. As you might imagine the production of this movie with its star-studded cast toke over this little unassuming West Texas that back then had a population of around 5,000. Now it is down to around 2,000 and dropping that is not counting the tourists that still coming look for any remains of Giant.  And, while the main movie plot was about Texas ranchers seemingly fighting a losing battle against the growing number of rich Texas oilman, it was more then that. 


  Giant based on the novel by Edna Ferber was about male chauvinism with Elizabeth Taylor starring as Leslie Lynton Benedict as Bick Benedict Jr wife pushing back and what were the expected roles of that time. In addition, this movie may have been one of the first to point out the outright segregation of Mexican Americans. Which of course led to widespread discrimination in all life domain areas. Pero, for the purpose of saving space I will focus on the educational aspect only. For those of the Baby Boomer era and not white back then experienced daily discrimination in school and back them most of didn’t even know it. First, most of us attended Mexican schools – many may have gotten punished for speaking Spanish. It may have been wearing a cone on your head that said something like No Spanish speaking or being sent to principal’s office for a few swats of the paddle. I witnessed the first and experienced the later, in fact to this day I have a clear memory of that day. And, it was not so much that the paddling hurt that much, no it was because my I felt bad for my mother. I guess that at the very least she was informed of the incident and tried to intervene on my behalf with her limited English. Predictably for back then her actions on my behalf failed and she was asked to leave before I was to receive what was labeled as corporal punishment. Three swats of the paddle and a waring that next time it might be worse if I ever spoke Spanish again.


  Which leads me to the children of Marfa that attended Blackwell School that served Mexican American children from first to eighth grade. The school opened in 1909 and remined open until 1965. As I stated above discrimination against all non-white children was the norm back then and for the most part accepted as “Well what can you do”. And speaking Spanish in school was worthy of corporal punishment, Pero in Marfa a teacher had an idea to deal with this “problem” for once and for all. According to an interview with Maggie Marquez on the PBS Documentary the Children of Giant, her fourth teacher instructed them to write “I will not speak Spanish in school or the playground”. After all the children completed their notes the notes were placed in a cigar box and placed in a hole at the base of the flagpole and buried. This was meant as a funeral for Spanish, it would now be buried and officially dead. Pero, according to the PBS documentary Marquez said ‘Nadie me quitar que hable el espanol (No one will take Spanish from me). Unfortunately, a teacher heard her and she just like me and thousands of other kids of that time was marched into the principal’s office and was sentenced to corporal punishment with the business end of a paddle. Reportable she ran home black and blue and refused to come back.  That is until her dad made her go back after all ‘What can you do’.  

  There is a lot more to this story and if you are interested you can stream the PBS documentary Children of Giant on Prime Video. Pero the lesson to be learned by those that came after them is that even though some hoped that our community would eventually lose our ancestor’s language and culture, but we did not. And for that perhaps we owe the children of Marfa a debt of gratitude and all those other Marfa’s that we will never know of. Make sure to vote so we do not repeat this dark history.

By A. Govea

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