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.
President John F. Kennedy named postal clerk Jose Gonzalez as the first Spanish-speaking postmaster of Tampa, Florida. He served from 1962 until 1975, rising in the ranks to become head of the Tampa Sectional Center, which gave him oversight of seventy-one post offices in Western Florida.
Gonzalez’s parents emigrated from Spain to Tampa, where they found work in the cigar industry. Gonzalez was part of Viva Kennedy in 1960. The appointment made him one of the highest-profile Spanish-speakers in the city. As a prominent civic figure, Gonzalez served in a number of civic positions, including as the president of the Centro Asturiano de Tampa, a fraternal club started in 1902 to provide social activities for Spanish Americans in the cigar industry.
Shortly after his death, President Jimmy Carter appointed his son, Jose A. Gonzalez Jr, to became U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Florida.
It was quite a trajectory: from immigrant cigar maker to federal judge by way of the post office.