The Right to Look at the Water–or, When Protest is Not Hate, but A Stand for Justice & Dignity

In 1947, it was considered illegal to simply stand near the local springs in my home town and look at the water if one was of “Latin American descent.” It was also illegal to swim in it, or drink water from the springs.

ComancheSpringsc1945

Fortunately, my grandfather, M.R. González, Sr., knew the value of protest and went and stood atop an elevated piece of land nearby with my then pregnant grandmother, Carmelita, until they were forced to leave by a local “non-Latin” (read: non-Mexican) citizen of the town who, as my grandfather told me in the last conversation I had with him before he died in 1985, said to him, “Now, M.R., you know you shouldn’t be standing here…” That was before he grabbed my grandmother by the arm to force her to move, and invoking in my grandfather the ire and conviction that was his trademark, and responsible for his lifelong commitment to justice, political action, and protest.

The protest was not just about the prejudicial discriminatory law about the water at Comanche Springs; it was about the fact that at the time, in addition to being forbidden to swim, drink, or ostensibly even *look* at the water, if a “Mexican” wanted to get an accredited high school diploma and go to college, s/he needed to be allowed to go to the then whites-only Fort Stockton High School (whites then were simply referred to as Anglo–in Texas, the labels then had to do with the language that was spoken, providing insight into the history that led to these circumstances).

This protest was joined and collaboratively led by many of our town’s most courageous and virtuous Mexican-American elders who have all since passed on. My grandfather was the target of three different attempts to murder him, the final time an apparent plan to lynch/execute him, had he not been in hiding when they came for him at his home, with burlap sack and rifles ready for him. You see, protest makes those who are benefitting from unjust laws and ‘the way we do things around here’ very uncomfortable.

To have the right to go to school, to be educated, to look at the water that nourished your ancestors, to live on whatever side of town you wanted to…these were what was equated with living in the U.S.A., and my grandfather and those like him, protested for those rights. From where I’m standing, to be protesting against the flag right now is not so much an act of hate, as an act of grief and desperation–to be held in the sort of turmoil that leads one to say that this flag has been sullied, and we are not supposed to hang and honor a dirtied flag.

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