Farmers Branch, TX: The New All-American Sundown Town

Date Put forth on May 15, 2007 by XicanoPwr
Category Posted in Nativism, News/Noticias, Prejudices, Racism, Raza, Segregation, Texas, Xenophobia


In nearly every category that measures social well-being, the conditions of racially oppressed people have worsened. In the communities of the [tag]African American[/tag], [tag]Latino[/tag], [tag]Asian American[/tag], [tag]Native American[/tag], and other nationally and racially oppressed peoples the situation is at crisis levels. Adding another blow, the xenophobic resident of [tag]Farmers Branch[/tag], TX has approved by a 68% – 32% vote an ordinance that would fine landlords and property managers $500.00 for renting to the undocumented. However, what occurred in Farmers Branch is not unusual – it is one of America’s best guarded secrets. Towns such as Farmers Branch are often called “[tag]sundown towns[/tag]” – where communities systematically exclude people of color – mainly African Americans – from living in it.

A practice that began in the South in 1864 and later adopted by thousands of towns across the US in the late 1890s and continuing until 1968, where whites across the US conducted a series of [tag]racial expulsions[/tag], driving thousands of blacks from their homes to make communities lily-white. Some towns went as far as putting signs outside the city limits that normally said “Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on You in __,” according to James Loewen in Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. But sometimes, the signs were never came out expressing their hatred and tried to be a bit clever in their messages such as, “If You Can Read … You’d Better Run … If You Can’t Read … You’d Better Run Anyway.” The signs are gone now but they are a part of America’s racist past, signs that could be found along the highway outside the city limits or county line. Just because the signs are gone, does not mean these practices do not exist today.

When one mentions [tag]Jim Crow[/tag], one often thinks of segregation and a problem that only occurred in South, with the exclusion of African Americans from private and public institutions in the Southeastern US. The truth is, the Southwest was produced through the practices of Jim Crow, which were not based explicitly on race, but also on language and culture inextricably tied to race. The history of Mexican Americans and Jim Crow in the Southwest demonstrates that state officials have been describing their discriminatory practices in terms of language and culture for most of the twentieth century, even when they were engaging in explicit racial discrimination.

In California, Mexican Americans as well as Asian Americans, Indians, and blacks were prohibited from white schools. Although, Loewen’s book chronicled the history of thousands of all-white “sundown” towns and suburbs across the West and North, a reader might get the impression that these towns only kept out African Americans, however, this is not true these towns also kept out Asian Americans and Mexican Americans. Loewen wrote:

Other towns passed ordinances barring African Americans after dark or prohibiting them from owning or renting property; still others established such policies by informal means, harassing and even killing those who violated the rule. Some sundown towns similarly kept out Jews, Chinese, Mexicans, Native Americans, or other groups.

In Texas in the 1930s and 1940s, as in much of the Southwest and California, most Mexican-American children attended, separate schools; by 1930, 90% of South Texas schools were segregated. In agricultural areas, many Mexican-Americans lived in “company towns” likeTaft Ranch and the King Ranch with all separate institutions. In northern and southern Colorado, companies created “company towns” where the “Others” could be hidden from view. Those who lived in these towns included poor working class whites, African Americans, and Latinos, along with immigrants from Asia and central and Eastern Europe.

In Texas, Mexicans were regarded as subhuman, lower than dogs or worse.On cattle drives to the railroad loading docks, there was a clear “racial” hierarchy between Mexicans and Anglos; the former were the workers, and the latter, the bosses. What is often lost because of the legendary kineños fairy tale, is that not all ranches and “company towns” provided the same living conditions like the King Ranch. It was very typical to find deplorable living conditions on Texas ranches where both Mexican and “white” laborers were employed, the Mexican workers were paid one-third less than “any white man.”

Mexican-Americans were also discriminated against in jury selection and in voting and were often shut out of public accommodations like swimming pools, theaters, pharmacies, restaurants, shops, banks and schools together with African Americans. At Anglo cafes, Mexicans could not stay in the premises and were required leave with their purchases. School segregation was established, reflecting the established general pattern of racial discrimination. Not only were Mexicans forced into segregated inferior schools, few of them were admitted to high schools.

According to historian David Montejano, in Texas, the general tendency for racial [tag]segregation[/tag] against Mexican Americans was to use ethnicity and national prejudice as a basis for separation and control the same way the segregationists in the South used it against African Americans during the same period. Thus, Mexican-Americans suffered many of the same Jim Crow practices as African Americans.

Because most people today equate Jim Crow with racial discrimination, it has now allowed towns like Farmers Branch to defend cultural discrimination and distinguish it from discrimination on the basis of race. The history of the twentieth-century Southwest shows why we cannot prohibit racial discrimination while allowing cultural discrimination. Because racism has expressed itself in cultural terms, race and culture cannot be disaggregated without ignoring the way cultural discrimination reinforces racial hierarchy.

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6 Comments

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  1. Gravatar Icon Tom May 15th, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    XicanoPwer,

    Do you know of anyone organizing a letter-writing campaign, helping families who have been displaced?

    Thanks
    Tom

  2. Gravatar Icon Sylvia May 15th, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    This is a great post, XP; I think a lot of people forget how the public discrimination often saw violent reinforcement in the private sector. I think you laid it out bare in the last paragraph: there’s no way to extract cultural discrimination from racial discrimination because both use the same tools within the same system. And people are using the cultural earmarks to bolster their racism — a problem that we can’t let slide or sift through. They’re symptoms of a larger and more invidious problem.

    Anyway, thanks ‘mano. Great analysis.

  3. Gravatar Icon XicanoPwr May 16th, 2007 at 8:01 am

    Tom – I really don’t know of any group that is doing anything, but maybe Brave New Foundation can do something about it. Their Outreach Director dropped me a note looking for groups who are pushing for Al Gonzales impeachment. They claim to be progressive, maybe they can take on this project.

    Sylvia – thank you. When are you done with law school again, because I think we can use a hand, especially framing it in a legal point of view.

  4. Gravatar Icon James Loewen May 27th, 2008 at 7:16 am

    Regrettably, I don’t read Spanish.
    I wrote the book SUNDOWN TOWNS, discussed here.
    Do tell me, in English (!), about Farmers Branch, TX, as a sundown town. Also tell me about any other towns that kept out blacks, Mexicans, or others. Thank you. — James Loewen, jloewen@uvm.edu

  5. Gravatar Icon Hugh Aug 2nd, 2008 at 10:19 am

    I checked with Mexican authorities regarding individual(s) wanting to visit or have an extended stay in Mexico: I was told that to cross into Mexico one must have a visa, no exceptions. employment is permitted but jobs go to Mexican Nationals first; If one crosses over into Mexico without a visa, they will be detained and sent back over the border, no exceptions; Employment in Mexico must be justified-lots of paperwork; If employed, taxes will be payed…

    Seems to me, what is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

    As one recent immigrant from Mexico has stated, she understands why Americans are angry, even American-Mexicans. She stated that many illegals do pay taxes and want to become American citizens but that many cross over to get what they can get, with no intentions of becoming citizens, having no concern about America, taking advantage of social services at tax payer expense, tossing out the “race-card”. She has heard several comment on how they can get this or that i.e. medical services, mental health services, food and housing assistance, etc, and that it is FREE. She informed them that the services they receive are not free but paid for by tax dollars taken from American citizens…An American-Mexican man told me that he employs several illegals knowing that they need the jobs but makes sure that he takes out the necessary taxes, etc, out of their paychecks. He said that they become angry and most of the time end up quiting and going elsewhere to seek employment.
    I think you get my pt.

  6. Gravatar Icon Alphredo Fenstermucker Apr 2nd, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    The “xenophobic resident” of Farmers Branch have simply had enough of the nonsense that Criminal tresspassers are merely “undocumented.”

    The whole point is to punish landlords who violate public law by taking MONEY from people who are in Texas ILLEGALLY!

    This is not discrimination. It is obeying the law, something that is obviously ignored by the residents of the US who allow and tolerate this practice.

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