PBS American Experience~A Class Apart 2009 02 23
349mb/ 60 min
In 1951 in the town of Edna, Texas, a field hand named Pedro Hernández murdered his employer after exchanging words at a gritty cantina. From this seemingly unremarkable small-town murder emerged a landmark civil rights case that would forever change the lives and legal standing of tens of millions of Americans. A team of unknown Mexican American lawyers took the case, Hernandez v. Texas, all the way to the Supreme Court, where they successfully challenged Jim Crow-style discrimination against Mexican Americans.
AMERICAN EXPERIENCE presents A Class Apart from the award-winning producers Carlos Sandoval (Farmingville), and Peter Miller (Sacco and Vanzetti, The Internationale). The one-hour film dramatically interweaves the story of its central characters— activists and lawyers, returning veterans and ordinary citizens, murderer, and victim — within the broader story of a civil rights movement that is still very much alive today.
The film begins with the little known history of Mexican Americans in the United States. In 1848, the Mexican-American War came to an end. For the United States, the victory meant ownership of large swaths of Mexican territory. The tens of thousands of residents living on the newly annexed land were offered American citizenship as part of the treaty to end the war. But as time evolved it soon became apparent that legal citizenship for Mexican Americans was one thing, equal treatment would be quite another.
“Life in the 1950s was very difficult for Hispanics,” Wanda García, a native of Corpus Christi, explains in the film. “We were considered second-rate, we were not considered intelligent. We were considered invisible.”
In the first 100 years after gaining U.S. citizenship, many Mexican Americans in Texas lost their land to unfamiliar American laws, or to swindlers. With the loss of their land came a loss of status, and within just two generations, many wealthy ranch owners had become farm workers. After the Civil War, increasing numbers of Southern whites moved to south Texas, bringing with them the rigid, racial social code of the Deep South, which they began to apply not just to blacks, but to Mexican Americans as well.
Widespread discrimination followed Latinos from schoolhouses and restaurants to courthouses and even to funeral parlors, many of which refused to prepare Mexican American bodies for burial. During World War II, more than 300,000 Mexican Americans served their country expecting to return home with the full citizenship rights they deserved. Instead, the returning veterans, many of them decorated war heroes, came back to face the same injustices they had experienced all their lives.
On May 3, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling in the case of Hernandez v. Texas. Pedro Hernández would receive a new trial — and would be judged by a true jury of his peers. The court’s legal reasoning: Mexican Americans, as a group, were protected under the 14th Amendment, in keeping with the theory that they were indeed “a class apart.”
“The Hernandez v. Texas story is a powerful reminder of one of many unknown yet hard-fought moments in the civil rights movement,” says AMERICAN EXPERIENCE executive producer Mark Samels. “It’s easy to forget how far the country has come in just fifty years, reshaping our democracy to include all Americans.”
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Mar 01, 2009, 01:59:56
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