Presidents and their political parties used the position of postmaster as a political reward prior to it becoming integrated into the civil service system. The first Latino to head a post office in a city of significant size and import was Hilario Delgado in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He served from 1929 to 1934.
Politics drove Delgado’s rise and fall in the postal service. He was, by all accounts, a dedicated public servant and outstanding accountant. The Republican Party nominated him for state auditor, a statewide constitutional officer, in 1922. He was also a World War I hero and community leader, having served with distinction in France. He enjoyed a statewide network as vice commander of the inchoate and politically potent American Legion in New Mexico.
The largest newspaper in the capital city supported his 1922 campaign with gusto. Its enthusiasm practically jumps off the page: “The New Mexican will take great pleasure in supporting the candidacy of Hilario Delgado for State Auditor. We believe there is no nominee of either ticket more clearly deserving of the vote of the people of New Mexico, regardless of party.”
Biographies in academia are increasingly rare, particularly for scholars seeking to highlight the collective voice in ethnic and working-class history. The form works well in James J. Lorence’s Palomino: Clinton Jencks and Mexican-American Unionism in the American Southwest.
Clinton Jencks is credited for empowering subjugated Mexican American hard-rock miners in Grant County, New Mexico. Local 890 of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (Mine-Mill), for which he served as president, is best known for its role in the classic 1954 labor film, Salt of the Earth. The miners, or more precisely their wives, emerge as the resolute heroes of a bitter strike seeking economic and racial justice by raising wages and ending the “dual wage” system, whereby Mexican Americans earned less than Anglos on the job and faced discrimination in the community.
Jencks was shaped by his parents’ commitment to the Social Gospel prevalent during the Progressive Era and his coming of age during the Great Depression. He sought to change the world by joining the Communist Party. His penchant for activism expressed itself largely through leadership in a series of broad-based, progressive organizations in the thirties, forties, and fifties: most notably the American Youth Congress, American Veterans Committee, and Mine-Mill.
Research is needed on the history of Latino Republicans in California. In an article that seeks to draw lessons for the present, Gene Kopelson focuses attention on this dynamic in his article in the current issue of California History, entitled “‘Ya Basta?!’ Ronald Reagan’s 1966 Success with Mexican American Voters.”
Reagan campaign poster. Reprinted from my book, The Search for a Civic Voice: California Latino Politics.
Ya Basta translated into “Had Enough?”, a phrase intended capture multiple frustrations held by Mexican Americans. The mid-sixties was a time when the long-dominant Democratic New Deal coalition, in the aftermath of the party’s 1964 landslide, was coming apart.
The author seeks to place Mexican American support for the former actor in the context of state and national politics in the mid-sixties. Liberal activists were angry with Governor Pat Brown and President Lyndon Johnson for failing to meet the rising expectations among Mexican Americans for appointments and policy changes during the first half of the 1960s. Activists and elected officials alike criticized Johnson for funneling more Great Society resources into African American neighborhoods than into Latino enclaves, despite there being more low-income Mexican Americans than blacks in California. At the same time, some culturally conservative Mexican Americans joined the larger Anglo backlash protesting against the social upheaval of the era as symbolized by the Watts riots and student demonstrations at UC Berkeley.