Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

On the broader legacy of Dr. King, revisited

Last year on this day, while reading the many once-a-year tributes honoring the civil rights legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of my favorites was a series of letters sent in by readers to USA on what King meant to them.

I posted an excerpt then from one of the letters, written by Aurora Ramirez Krodel of Cincinnati, which resonated especially.

It still did when I re-read it today - so here it is again:

“This holiday honoring Martin Luther King has nothing to do with us,” said my older sister’s co-worker, a newer immigrant from Mexico. “He only helped the black people.” “Oh, no!” my sister responded. “If it hadn’t been for Martin Luther King, you and I wouldn’t be free.”

My sister explained how, when she lived in Texas in the early ’60s, Mexican Americans had to drink from separate drinking fountains and attend schools for Mexicans. She also recalled a restaurant in Florida that wouldn’t allow Mexicans to eat inside. They could order food, but they had to eat it outside in their cars.

Every year, as my children grow in understanding, I share these stories with them. They know that King didn’t fight just for the equal treatment of African Americans, he fought for the rights and freedom of all Americans.

A few other interesting MLK reads today, beyond the newspaper tribute stories:

KCET Departures has a timeline of "The Long Road to Martin Luther King Jr. Day," which includes a link to the text of a 1990 speech on King and his lessons by Cesar Chavez.

ColorLines has a sweet short piece, illustrated, on "How to Be a Racial Justice Hero."

And there's a great KCRW story from last year that's worth a second read. It was reported by LA Observed's Kevin Roderick, who revisited the segregated San Fernando Valley of 1961 to which King traveled that year to give two sermons. An excerpt from that piece, involving the era's real estate rules:

When the wheat fields were first subdivided into yards and suburban homes, the deeds stipulated that the land could never be sold or rented to anyone of African, Chinese or Japanese descent.

Those covenants were also used to limit where Mexican Americans could live. In the first years of Canoga Park, the field workers whose families might have been in the valley for half a century were confined to a section called Cholo Town.

Many hands have been involved in the changes since, but Dr. King's legacy is broad indeed.