In his scholarly non-fiction work Felix Longoria's Wake: Bereavement, Racism, and the Rise of Mexican American Activism
, Patrick Carroll traces the history of the funeral arrangements of the fallen Mexican American soldier Felix Longoria, who fought in the Philippines during the Second World War. The book traces the aftermath of Longoria's death, and how the controversy over his funeral arrangements in his hometown of Three Rivers, Texas led to a public scandal, contributed to the rise of then-senator Lyndon B. Johnson's career, and promoted activism among Mexican-Americans across the United States.
The story begins with the life and death of Felix Longoria, a veteran of World War II who fought in the Philippines and was eventually gunned down by a sniper during combat. For his service, Longoria received high honors; he earned a Purple Heart, a Bronze Service Star, a Good Conduct Medal, and a Combat Infantryman Badge. Though Longoria's death was tragic, he was honored for his military service and his body was sent home to his widow, who lived with her family in Three Rivers, Texas.
Longoria was from South Texas, a place where American nationalism and white supremacy butt up against the Mexican border. A huge number of Mexican-Americans live in South Texas, and Longoria was one of many Mexican-Americans in Three Rivers. Despite his honorable military service, however, the only funeral parlor in the small town of Three Rivers refused to hold a public funeral service for Longoria. According to the funeral director, having an event of that kind would upset the white people in town. Devastated and confused about what to do, Longoria's widow asked the funeral parlor again and again for their support and was continually rejected. Eventually, Longoria's widow went to a civil rights activist in the area, Dr. Hector Garcia, who asked the funeral parlor to change their policy; even he was turned down.
This moment of discrimination against a fallen soldier because of his nationality and skin color prompted what author Patrick Carroll considers one of the catalyzing events in the history of Mexican-American activism. It prompted Dr. Hector Garcia to step onto the civil rights stage with a freshly formed American GI Forum, a chartered civil rights organization that still advocates for the rights of Hispanic soldiers and veterans. One of the first big steps for the Mexican civil rights movement, it mobilized a huge number of Mexican-Americans to reveal the discrimination they experienced in all of the United States.
The book talks extensively about the many facets of this controversy, with a particular focus on the fallout from the event, and the way it revealed a lingering animosity between white nationalists and Mexican-Americans. Longoria's funeral became a national event when Senator Lyndon B. Johnson made the decision to honor Longoria in Arlington National Cemetery, where his funeral was held; his gravesite remains a memorial not only to his service, but also to the service of Mexican-American soldiers across the nation. Carroll discusses how this decision put Lyndon B. Johnson's burgeoning career at risk among white, conservative voters, but connected him to voters of color, veterans, and other groups.
Including images of the funeral at Arlington Cemetery and other mementos from Longoria's service and the American GI Forum, Carroll creates a well-researched account of one man's death, and the impact it had on the identity politics of an entire minority group. The aftermath of that initial skirmish between white people and Hispanics can still be seen today at the southern border, a fact that Carroll makes clear in his analysis of the event.
Patrick Carroll is the author of Felix Longoria's Wake
, which won the Tullis Prize in 2003 for the best-published book on Texas history. He has been a faculty member at Texas A&M Corpus Christi since 1976. A featured author at the Texas Book Festival, Carroll has presented his research in both the United States and Mexico.