Advocacy For Mexican American Rights From Different Perspectives
This is a series of documents written in English. They were produced on a typewriter, with some edits made by hand. These documents were produced in order to plan a speech John Tower was to give about advancement of opportunities and equal rights for Mexican Americans living in Texas. In the proposed speech, Tower advocates reforms such as supporting bilingual education, hiring more Mexican American teachers, and encouraging government officials to grant more contracts to Mexican American workers. The first in the series of drafts of the speech is dated May 4th, 1972, although this may have been the date that members of Tower’s staff made handwritten revisions on this draft of the speech. Such revisions made by staff members are visible in every draft of the speech, highlighting certain sections, asking challenging or clarifying questions and suggesting different wording for specific sentences. One reviser even added items to a numbered list of ways that Jon Tower had encouraged the economic growth of Mexican Americans. Someone else scrawled “beware!” with an arrow pointing at one of the new items. This addition reads “supported several housing projects for Mexican Americans,” which was clearly considered a sensitive subject by at least one aid.
John Tower’s “Proposed Statement to Mexican-Americans” is an important historical document, because it takes part in a conversation that is still extremely relevant in modern political discourse. Tower was composing his remarks in 1972, and exploring topics very similar to those Anzaldúa considers from a Mexican American perspective in her 1987 piece “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Both authors advocate bilingual education and more equal opportunities and respect for Mexican Americans in Texas. Anzaldúa writes about the oppression of Mexican Americans in Texas from personal experience, while Tower draws on more removed political knowledge. Anzaldúa describes encounters with many white Americans who were not interested in multiculturalism or bilingual inclusion. John Tower’s “Proposed Statement to Mexican-Americans” is a valuable insight into white discourses around Mexican American equality. Although Tower’s proposals are far from perfect, they illustrate a surprising progressivism, especially for politically conservative Tower. These views were not shared by all of his contemporaries.
While Tower emphasizes the importance of bilingual education for Mexican American students, Anzaldúa describes the violence, both physical and emotional, that was used to discourage her from speaking any language besides English. Anzaldúa remembers that when she was “caught speaking Spanish at recess – that was good for three licks on the knuckles with a sharp ruler” (2947). By contrast, Tower insists that “we must: 1. Continue the bilingual programs; 2. Teach in Spanish as well as English; 3. Allow students to speak bilingually” (2). Tower was certainly not alone in his views, as Anzaldúa also advocated bilingual inclusion and respect for hybrid languages. But Anzaldúa’s perspective showed that many white people in power did not ascribe to such egalitarian views. It is important and significant that Tower used his position of power to further progressive agendas.
One of the main themes of Digital Frontiers in American Literature is what happens when different groups meet on a frontier, whether it is a physical or a social one. Many of these meetings result in racism and oppression, and it is refreshing and inspiring to see a white American attempting to reverse this pattern. The title of this speech, “Proposed Statement to Mexican-Americans,” implies that it was directly addressed to Mexican Americans. However, much of the content is also directed at white Americans with the power to change social infrastructure. For example, Tower points out that “Mexican-Americans comprise almost 19% of the state population and they have not in my opinion, received their fair share in business and industrial contracts at the state and local levels. It is my contention that we can correct this” (3). The “we” he refers to in this case is not Mexican Americans, but white men in privileged positions like himself who have the resources to change the status quo. This speech is just as much of a call to action to white Americans as it is meant to reassure Mexican Americans that someone was advocating on their behalf.
By Carly Banner
Anzaldúa, Gloria. “How to Tame a Wild Tongue.” Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987. Online.