In the Felix Longoria story, how did the community address diversity and in what ways was the community empowered?
One of those “Rashomon”-like moments in which differing perspectives can be applied to one story, what has been dubbed “the Felix Longoria Affair” involves multiple perspectives with respect to funeral arrangements for Private Felix Z. Longoria, killed in action in the Philippine Islands during World War II. Longoria had initially, along with many others killed in action abroad, been buried in the region where he was killed pending the end of the war. His remains were eventually exhumed for transport to his hometown in the state of Texas. It is here where the story grows blurry and highly contentious. According to Private Longoria’s family, their efforts at having the only funeral home in their town of Three Rivers was rebuffed by a racist funeral home director who refused to serve Hispanics. According to that director, Tom Kennedy, his sole concern was not the Longoria family’s ethnicity, but what he described as a feud within the Longoria family that would have proven disruptive to the funeral home’s operations. In any event, the matter escalated and eventually involved then-Senator and future President Lyndon B. Johnson, who came to the aid of the Longoria family and secured burial rights for Felix at Arlington National Cemetery just outside of Washington, D.C.
The full story of Felix Longoria’s burial may never be known. What is known, however, is that racism towards Hispanics in South Texas was a wide-spread problem, and that the kind of pettiness and vindictiveness described by the Longoria family was not uncommon. Consequently, the matter of the burial of Private Felix Longoria became something a catalyst for social movement in Texas, as Hispanics cited the Longoria family’s travails as illustrative of the institutionalized racism to which they had been subjected for many years. The emotional scars of that conflict, however, have not entirely disappeared. As recently as 2004 the Longoria family was again embroiled in controversy regarding proposals to rename a local post office after Felix and, in 2010, a documentary about the case was released, “The Longoria Affair,” which repeated the original story without regard for the entirety of the facts involved. As subsequent accounts, including in Robert Caro’s critically-praised biography of Lyndon Johnson, Master of the Senate, the facts were far from clear, and the funeral home director, Kennedy’s claim that a feud within the Longoria family rather than racism was the more substantive factor involved in the affair.
Controversy aside, the Longoria matter was the spark that motivated Mexican-Americans to agitate for better treatment in the American southwest, especially in Texas. The political pressure, especially as applied by Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson, elevated the profile of Longoria’s story and highlighted the enduring racism that did exist in Texas. With the national spotlight placed squarely on the town of Three Rivers and the region of South Texas, the incentive for liberalization on the part of the Texas establishment was firmly established.