From the Consent of the Governed: The State of (In)Equality for Mexicans, Vietnamese, and the LGBTQ Community in Texas

Endorsed by the OAH Committee on the Status of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American (ALANA) Historians and ALANA Histories, Immigration and Ethnic History Society (IEHS) and the Western History Association

Friday, April 3, 2020, 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM

Type: Paper Session

Tags: Immigration and Internal Migration; Latino/a; LGBTQ History and Queer Studies


In accordance with the 2020 OAH Annual Conference theme, “(In)Equalities,” our panel’s research explores how various groups in Texas have been affected by a culture and society in the United States that has often been adversary to their struggles for equality. More specifically, our panel addresses these issues in Texas during the late twentieth century when conservative tendencies across the state stood firmly in the way of liberal progress.

In one paper presentation, Dr. Peter Martínez discusses some of the difficulties that people of Mexican descent have had in claiming socio-political equality by virtue of equal representation in municipal governance. Even today, as millions of Mexican immigrants have crossed the border, with or without documentation, Mexicans fight for the rights of citizenship, even if legal citizenship has already been granted. While white conservative Americans often attempt to suppress Mexican political power, and liberal white Americans frequently take power with claims that they are able to suitably represent Mexican interests, Mexicans themselves have struggled to take power and hold power, much less gain power.

Next, Dr. Karen Wisely’s research digs into legal equality for the LGBTQ community in North Texas. Like Mexican-American issues, LGBTQ rights have been in the forefront of national headlines over the past few years, but the fight for equal recognition by state and federal laws eludes the LGBTQ community. In this particular paper, Dr. Wisely narrows down the research into Texas legal codes that criminalize homosexual behavior, thus effectively making it more difficult to live a lifestyle in accordance to one’s beliefs and preferences. Furthermore, by enacting these laws and arresting gay men in disproportionate numbers, Texas has a history of essentially attempting to prevent gay behavior from entering the public realm.

Finally, Dr. Roy Vũ, the child of Vietnamese refugees himself, will present research over some of the struggles experienced by Vietnamese refugees in the late twentieth century in Texas. As a result of the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese immigrants made their way into the United States in the 1970s, a nation that had severely limited (and often eliminated) Asian immigration for most of the twentieth century until immigration legislation passed just a decade earlier. As though the struggle to establish oneself in a new nation was not difficult enough, Dr. Vũ’s research explores some of the difficulty that Vietnamese refugees faced in losing a second home and community in Houston, Texas as a result of American capitalism and gentrification in a large Euro-American led city.

Each of the aforementioned presentations will address (In)Equality, whether the issue be equal representation, equality before state law, or equal opportunity for immigrants. This panel will be chaired by the highly respected Dr. Max Krochmal from Texas Christian University, an expert in the field of civil rights struggles, and Ms. Tiffany González, a remarkable, up-and-coming Latina historian who will soon earn her PhD in history from Texas A&M University will serve as the panel’s commentator.

Papers Presented

Population Gained and Power Lost: Unequal Mexican Representation in Fort Worth, Texas

Despite the fact that people of Mexican descent have a rich and lengthy history in Texas, Mexicans have struggled mightily to gain equality with Euro-Americans through representational power in Fort Worth. Not until after Fort Worth residents narrowly voted to create single-member districts in 1975 did Fort Worth see its first Latino city council member with the election of Louis Zapata in 1977 at a time when Latinos (primarily of Mexican descent) made up nearly 13 percent of the city’s population. Moreover, between 1977 and 2017, Fort Worth’s Mexican population increased by 600 percent, growing from just under 50,000 to nearly 300,000 over a 40-year span, making up approximately 35 percent of Fort Worth’s total population as we move further into the twenty-first century. Even with this tremendous growth, never have Mexicans held more than one seat on the nine-member city council, and for nearly a third of that 40-year period Mexicans were not represented whatsoever. This paper explains how Mexicans were successful in gaining political representation in the Fort Worth City Council during the 1970s, only to lose that representation in the 1990s despite their rapid population upsurge. In exploring the causes of this collapse in power and step backward in Mexican struggles for equal representation, this research dissects power struggles among Mexicans, Euro-Americans, and African Americans as well as internal struggles among Fort Worth’s Mexican community leaders.

Presented By
Peter C. Martínez, Tarrant County College

Operation Documentation: The Quest for Equal Enforcement of the Public Lewdness Statute

This paper will examine the Dallas LGBTQ movement’s struggle against the unequal enforcement of laws pertaining to sexual behavior in the state of Texas. Article 524 of the (1943) Texas Penal Code outlawed sodomy without regard to the sex of the participants, but was rarely enforced against same-sex couples. A similar phenomenon occurred after the 1973 Texas Penal Code took effect with Section 21.07, public lewdness. In response to the disproportionate number of gay men arrested under this statute, the Dallas LGBTQ movement began a process of information gathering to document the harassment of the Dallas Police Department vice squad. These efforts led to lawsuits and negotiations between the police and the community to end police harassment.

Presented By
Karen Sue Wisely, Tarrant County College–Northeast Campus

A Double Home Loss? Last Days of Little Sài Gòn in Midtown Houston

When the Republic of Việt Nam was first created as a temporary nation-state by the 1954 Geneva Accords, it was the beginning of an arguably fictitious homeland yet a real one for South Vietnamese anticommunists, constructed in the early Cold War. With the Communist takeover of South Việt Nam and the end of the Việt Nam War on April 30, 1975, approximately 130,000 Vietnamese refugees fled Việt Nam and resettled in several host nations, including the United States. Eventually, thousands of Vietnamese refugees made a secondary migration after their initial place of resettlement. Most Vietnamese refugees resided in California but many resettled in Houston, Texas and there, they constructed a multi-nodal residential and commercial Vietnamese American community.
By the mid-1980s, Vietnamese Houstonians established a vibrant business district, dubbed Little Sài Gòn. Unfortunately, toward the end of the 1990s, the Little Sài Gòn commercial district began to decline due to gentrification, rising cost of rent for tenants, a decrease in the number of consumers and city leaders’ attempt to “revitalize” the Midtown district. Consequently, Vietnamese Houstonians experienced a double home loss—first with the suffering from the loss of South Việt Nam, and secondly, gradually losing Little Sài Gòn. Despite enduring the inevitable loss of Midtown’s Little Sài Gòn, Vietnamese Houstonians have constructed an exceptional, multi-nodal community that remains in flux. Thus, Vietnamese Houstonians are more inclined and equipped with sufficient political and social capital to further construct and preserve their new, de facto Little Sài Gòn in Southwest Houston.

Presented By
Roy Vu, North Lake College

Session Participants

Chair: Max Krochmal, Texas Christian University
Dr. Max Krochmal is an Associate Professor of History, and founding Chair of the Department of Comparative and Ethnic Studies (CRES) at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. His research examines coalition-building among African American, Chicano/a-Latino/a, and white community organizers across the long civil rights era, from the 1930s to the 1980s. He explores how a wide range of activists organized their separate bases and how and why they frequently built alliances across the color line. Dr. Krochmal weaves together traditional written records from buried archives with new oral history interviews. With these sources, he writes narrative histories that combine scholarly analysis with accessible prose for popular audiences. Dr. Krochmal’s work contributes to the separate fields of African American, Chicano/a-Latino/a, and labor and working-class history.

Dr. Krochmal’s current project, Civil Rights in Black and Brown: Oral Histories of the Liberation Struggles in Texas, uses more than 530 new interviews with on-the-ground organizers to reconstruct the history of the intersecting African-American and Chicano/a freedom movements across the Lone Star State. Not one but two insurgencies challenged the state’s twin caste systems, and they did so in intimate conversation. They flourished in unlikely places, urban and rural, and spanned decades before and after 1965, continuing into the 21st century. The research has been funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research Grant and is featured on NEH for All.

Dr. Krochmal’s first book, Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era, follows diverse activists as they organized their communities and built a formidable political coalition by the mid-1960s. Avoiding the poles of black/brown cooperation or conflict, the text recasts coalition-building as a process, one fraught with missteps but also immense potential. Dr. Krochmal shows that intra-racial conflicts raged within each group, leading the most liberal, aggressive activists to cross the color line in order to outflank their self-declared “race leaders.” Blue Texas won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award of the Organization of American Historians and best book awards from several state scholarly societies, including the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Foco.

Dr. Krochmal’s teaching draws on this research to create a democratic, inquiry-based learning environment. He teaches community-engaged courses on oral history methods and he is the faculty co-director of the TCU Justice Journey, a distinctive experiential-learning course on the African American and Chicano/a liberation struggles.

Dr. Krochmal’s service centers diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus and beyond. In the community, he serves as co-chair of the Fort Worth Independent School District Racial Equity Committee and he is an active member of United Fort Worth, the city’s immigrant rights movement. A native of Reno, Nevada, Dr. Krochmal majored in Community Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, before earning his graduate degrees in History at Duke University

Commentator: Tiffany Jasmin Gonzalez, Texas A&M University
Gonzalez is a Ph.D. candidate at Texas A &M University specializing in Borderlands, Chicana/o-Latina/o history, women & gender and American political culture. She earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Texas Tech University. Her dissertation examines the ways in which Chicanas organizing in electoral politics and government shaped the Chicana/o movement in Texas. Her research on Chicanas in government and the Chicana/o movement has earned fellowships from the Texas State Historical Association, the East Texas Historical Association, the Texas Association for Chicanos in Higher Education, and the Coalition for Western Women’s History.

Gonzalez has published numerous online articles and biographies on Chicana/Latina women’s political engagement. She is an active member of the Western History Association and the Coalition for Western Women’s History.

Presenter: Peter C. Martínez, Tarrant County College
Peter Martínez grew up in San Antonio, Texas as a 3rd generation Mexican American. Dr. Martínez excelled at team sports throughout his childhood and into his teenage years in addition to being an outstanding student. As a result of his excellent performance in school, Dr. Martínez was granted an academic scholarship at the age of sixteen to the University of North Texas through the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS), allowing him to skip his last two years of high school.
During his freshman year of college, Dr. Martínez decided that he did not desire a career in math or science so he left college for a few years in the 1990s. After deciding he wanted to pursue a career in history with an ultimate goal of obtaining a PhD, Dr. Martínez returned to academia, attending the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) while working full-time. After graduating magna cum laude in 2003, Dr. Martínez returned to UTA for his Master’s degree before attending the University of North Texas (UNT) where he ultimately earned his PhD in History after successfully defending his dissertation, Ready to Run: Fort Worth’s Mexicans in Search of Representation, 1960-2000 in April of 2017 under the tutelage of Dr. Roberto Calderón and Dr. Todd Moye.
As a result of his work while undergoing his undergraduate and graduate programs, Dr. Martínez was repeatedly honored for his outstanding research and writing. In 2003, during his final year as an undergraduate at UTA, Dr. Martínez won an award for Best Undergraduate Paper by the National Political Science Honor Society (Pi Sigma Alpha) for an essay he wrote entitled, “The Underrepresentation of Hispanics in Congress.” This paper assessed the low number of Latinos in the United States congress during the late 1990s and early 2000s, endeavoring to explain why Latinos did not have equally apportioned representation on a national scale.
While working toward his Master’s degree, Dr. Martínez was again recognized when he was awarded the George Wolfskill Award for Best U.S. History Graduate Paper in 2009. This award was granted to Dr. Martínez for a paper entitled, “Helping and Hurting the Poor: Mexican Americans in the Way of Fort Worth’s First Public Housing.” In this research, Dr. Martínez detailed how a Fort Worth Mexican community was removed in order to construct public housing for white Fort Worth residents in the mid-to-late 1930s following the establishment of the United States Housing Authority.
Finally, after successfully defending his dissertation, the Tejas Foco of the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) awarded Dr. Martínez for writing the Best Dissertation in Tejana/o Studies in 2018.
Dr. Martínez is a seasoned conference participant and he currently serves as an Associate Professor of History at Tarrant County College – Northeast Campus, where he is actively involved with the Men of Color Collaborative – an organization that is designed to support, strengthen, and promote student success for all male students, with an emphasis on African Americans and Latinos.

Presenter: Roy Vu, North Lake College
Son of Vietnamese refugee parents, Roy Vũ was born and raised in Houston, Texas. His parents and their generation’s refuge inspired him to pursue a degree in history and passionately study and conduct research on the struggles of the Vietnamese diaspora. He earned his Ph.D. (2006) in history at the University of Houston. He is currently a history professor and coordinator at North Lake College in Irving, Texas.
Prof. Vũ’s recent publications include co-editing Feasted Landscapes: Sustainability in American Topics (Kendall Hunt, 2nd edition in 2018 and 1st edition in 2015); Our Finite Bounty: An Anthology of Sustainability Topics (Kendall Hunt, 2017); “Turbulent Seas” in Sugar and Rice Magazine, Issue 2 (2014); and “Natives of a Ghost Country: The Vietnamese in Houston and Their Construction of a Postwar Community” in Asian Americans in Dixie: Race and Migration in the South, edited by Khyati Y. Joshi and Jigna Desai (University of Illinois Press, 2013). Prof. Vũ is currently writing a book tentatively titled Farm-to-Freedom: Vietnamese Americans and Their Home Gardens. The book project is under a publishing contract with Texas A&M University Press.
A few of Prof. Vũ’s recent awards and recognitions include First Place, Sadie Ray Graff Educator Award, Keep Texas Beautiful (2018); North Lake College Innovator of the Year Award (2016-17); and University of California-Irvine Libraries Southeast Asian Archive Ambassador (2016-present).
In addition, Prof. Vũ remains involved in the Irving community. He volunteers to serve Keep Irving Beautiful, and participates in their Trinity Trash Bash and Don’t Mess with Texas cleanup events.
He and his wife, Ngọc, reside in Irving, Texas.

Presenter: Karen Sue Wisely, Tarrant County College–Northeast Campus
Dr. Karen Wisely earned her Ph.D. in history from the University of North Texas in December 2018. Her dissertation examined the Dallas LGBTQ rights movement from the 1960s through 2003, particularly the efforts of Dallas’s first LGBT organization, the Circle of Friends, and some of the organizations that emanated from that group, such as Dallas Gay Political Caucus which later became the Dallas Gay Alliance. This work follows up on her Master’s thesis on a similar topic.

She is a three-time recipient of the C.M. Caldwell Memorial Award, sponsored by the Texas State Historical Association, which recognizes excellence in historical research and writing on Texas or local history topics. She has presented papers at the Oral History Association’s annual meeting, at the East Texas Historical Association’s meeting, and organized the first ever LGBT-related panel at the Texas State Historical Association’s annual meeting in April 2016.
Wisely has conducted dozens of oral history interviews with members of the Dallas LGBT community, available through the UNT Oral History Program, and is working with the organization, The Dallas Way, to collect and archive even more. In the summer of 2016, Wisely worked as a research assistant for the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project, collecting interviews of 83 people in West Texas involved in the social movements to gain equality there.
Currently, Wisely teaches for Tarrant County College while continuing her research into Dallas LGBTQ history.