Private Felix Longoria was a Mexican American who made a difference. So as we begin our political debates regarding immigration, I want not only those who use the issue of immigration as a proxy for discrimination, but those who accept an ambivalent position as well to remember the names, faces, stories and significance of those they speak against and consider the contributions to freedom and equality made. Private Longoria is just one out of many.
When the body of Private Felix Longoria returned home to Three Rivers, Texas after World War II, the local funeral parlor refused to hold a wake, claiming “the whites would not like it.” Longoria, a war hero was killed in the Philippines, died fighting for the freedom and interest of his country.
Like Black Americans, Mexican Americans could only be buried in the separate Mexican section of the cemetery.To be born of a race other than White in American during this time meant you were taught that you were different in such a way that made many internalize and unfortunately accept the idea that they were somehow unequal. So when you were freed from the evils of racism, you were dealt a final indignity by having your remains buried in segregated cemeteries.
Side-Note: Too bad segregation itself won’t die, so we can issue it the same indignity as it has issued upon others by discarding its remains found in our behaviors, language and perceptions today in a tomb of its own, ever to be opened again by anyone.
But what was significant about Private Longoria was not only his contribution, but the will and efforts of his wife, Beatrice and mother who went to Hector Garcia, founder of the American G.I. Forum about this injustice and indignity of a fallen soldier. Dr. Garcia contacted several congressmen including a Texas Senator by the name of Lyndon B. Johnson.
In true political correctness and fashion, he denouncing the obvious prejudice, but Sen. Johnson said he had no authority over private funeral homes, but he could arrange for a burial for Private Longoria with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. The funeral took place a month later at Arlington, with Johnson in attendance.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t laid to rest here, because today it continues to be disputed to where a recent move to honor the soldier’s memory renewed a 55-year-old quarrel and set the town on edge.
“You cannot imagine the stir this has caused,” said Patty Reagan, a resident and Kennedy family friend. “All the old wounds have been reopened.”
At the center of the dispute was the Rice Funeral Home. Its chapel was open to whites, but its availability to the town’s Latinos – such as the Longorias – was unclear.
Denial is a tall mountain for many to overcome, but out of the mountain of despair still remains a stone of hope. A hope that the efforts of one may be enough to transform the jangling discords of racial discrimination and bias so many unconsciously sing and implicitly play by the melody of their words and action into a beautiful symphony of true freedom and equality.
Today we act as if this story is isolated to our distant past, but if you surveyed your city’s funeral homes and cemeteries you would not see much change. You wouldn’t see much overt racism in the same fashion Mrs. Beatrice Longoria and family experience, but you will find that we still carry the remnants of those divisive traditions ever so subtly to our graves.
We must understand that racism, discrimination, bigotry and its relatives are not members of one racial classification, but is found within us all. When we are silent and sit long enough to see the image of beauty in others, perhaps we will recognize that we all can defeat what continues to defeat us; racism.
Thank you Private Felix Longoria for your sacrifice and may you continue to rest in peace.
> Valentine, Timothy. “Divided In Death”. https://timvalentine.wordpress.com/2009/07/24/divided-in-death/, July 24, 2009. > Cobas, José. “Racially Segregated Cemetery in Texas”. http://www.racismreview.com/blog/2008/07/07/racially-segregated-cemetery-in-texas/, July 7, 2008.