The Racial Politics of Americanizing the Barrio Diet (1920s)

Is what you eat political? Do you accept the claim that your food choices determine your social order in this world? And do you accept that conforming to white American norms in eating is important in transforming people of color into better citizens? Will assimilating ones food choices make people of color less prone to crime and revolutionary tendencies?

AmericanizationThroughHomeMakingPearlEllis

Believe it or not, this is something that has been explored and well discussed in our communities for over a century.

In the 1920s in Southern California there were social reformers who were sent on transform the eating choices made by the public, especially among the immigrant working-class.

One of the most notable reformers to arise in this era was a lady by the name of Pearl Idelia Ellis, of the Department of Americanization and Homemaking, of Covina City Elementary Schools. She was the author the guide “Americanization though Homemaking” which was published in 1929, detailing her work.

Ellis’ work was based in Southern California, which put her in contact with local Mexican American homemakers. Where she would set an agenda for transforming their food choices into ones which made them more like the Anglo Americans they were expected to model.

In 1915 the California state legislature had passed the Home Teacher Act, which would allow school districts to employ teachers “to work in the homes of the pupils, instructing children and adults in matters related to school attendance,… in sanitation, in English language, in household duties,… and in fundamental principles of the American system of government and the rights and duties of citizenship.” This legislation was largely born out of an Americanist panic which arose at that time, as nativists insisted that society demanded that these so-called uncultured immigrants be Americanized.

This legislation enabled reformers like Pearl Ellis to take her work directly into the homes of the people she was trying to effect, with the official authority of state and local government behind her. While the work of Ellis extended into modeling almost every form of homemaking, she took special attention to food. She spent much time and energy with special concern for the nutrition of families and trying to influence their food choices.

PearlEllisPrefaceShe would encourage certain food choices for Mexican American mothers: giving up tortillas, and replacing them with sandwiches on store-bought white bread, made with mayonnaise and “commercial spreads,” and minced meats. They were further encouraged to give up essential staples of their diets like beans, and replaced them with lettuce and mixed salads (example: boiled spinach with mayonnaise, mixed fruit with mayonnaise, cherry-topped banana with mayonnaise, and even “pineapple and avocado salad with mayonnaise to carry out the color scheme”.)

In this manner she instructed mothers in making what she determined to be affordable and suitable food choices. She even went as far as to provide menus for their school lunch choices: “One glass of milk; one cheese sandwich; one lettuce sandwich; one graham cracker sandwich; one apple or pear; one cooky [sic]”.

She would set for people a top-down approach in how to transform Mexican homes into Americanized homes, starting with their choice for a child’s lunch. And based on the assumption that the dietary issues of the community was not based on a lack of food, but rooted in their poor choices of foods.

Professor George Sanchez of USC sheds some light on this for us:

“Food and diet management became tools in a system of social control intended to construct a well-behaved citizenry. A healthy diet was seen not only as an essential for proper health but as fundamental for creating productive members of society. In the eyes of reformers, the typical noon lunch of the Mexican child, thought to consist of “a folded tortilla with no filling,” became the first step in a life of crime. With “no milk or fruit to whet the appetite,” the child would become lazy and subsequently “take food from the lunch boxes of more fortunate children” in order to appease her or her hunger. “Thus,” reformers alleged, “the initial step in a life of thieving is taken.” Teaching immigrant women proper food values would keep the head of the family out of jail, the rest of the family off the charity list, and save taxpayers a great amount of money.”

(Mothers and Motherhood: Readings In American History; “Go After the Women: Americanization and the Mexican Immigrant Woman, 1915-1929)

The ideas of Americanization would not just be taught to mothers, but it would carry over into the education of girls in the school system. As young Mexican American girls were taught these values in order to model them for the home. With the idea that gradually one could transform the tastes of the family into more Americanized ones; which was further reinforced by the school lunch system.

The very table and every meal plate thus became battlefields for cultural assimilation.

Though make no mistake about it, their proposed model American-style diet was even intended to do nothing less than help maintain social order itself.

In her work titled “Americanization though Homemaking,” published in 1929, Pearl Ellis contended:

“The old adage, ‘ As a man thinketh so is he,’ might be easily translated to, ‘As a man eatest, so is he,’ for his thinking is controlled to a greater extent. Than we are wont to realize by his eating and digestive processes… Employers maintain that the man with a home and family is more dependable and less revolutionary in his tendencies. Thus the influence of the home extends to labor problems and to many other problems in the social regime. The homekeeper creates the atmosphere, whether it be one of harmony and cooperation or of dissatisfaction and revolt. It is to be remembered that the dispositions, one angelic, become very much marred with incorrect diet and resultant digestive disturbances.”

Yeah… how about that take on dietary pseudo-science based in classism.

Now think about that, vato, next time you find yourself eating your bologna and mayo, on white bread, that somehow found its way into your face!

And seriously, I also hope people give this all some real good consideration before you even listen to some politicians suggest replacing a big part of our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) with “Blue Apron” type meals sent down to us from a government-based central planning, developed by the current administration and rolled-out by private corporate contractors. Think of how bad it could go, if our food is directly chosen for us by them; with food being sent to us regardless of our specific dietary needs and cultural customs.

History tell us that people who lack cultural sensitivity take the reins, they do more damage than just make culturally inappropriate food choices. They also tend to want to change our diets as a form of maintaining the social order.

Topics of further discussion:

  • The social pressure to Americanize ones diet was also experienced by other immigrants as well, especially among the Jews in the “corn beef belt” of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. The dietary choices of Ashkenazi Jews from the east were often considered too exotic and rich; they were expected to conform to a more Americanized diet. In some cases Jewish social service organizations even encouraged what they considered cheaper and more mainstream treif (non-kosher, religiously inappropriate) foods. When the Los Angeles Council of Jewish Women in 1928 published their “Helpful Hints for Jewish Housewives,” they included recipes for Virginia ham, pork chops, oysters and other non-kosher recipes as well as advertisements for Best Foods Mayonnaise, Maxwell House Coffee, and branded canned vegetables and other processed foods.

  • Lunchtime social pressure to assimilate. In Fred Okrand’s interview for the UCLA Center for Oral History Research, “Forty Years Defending the Constitution, Oral History Interview” Tape 1 side 2 – Feb. 4th, 1982, Okrand speaks of his classmates at Lorena Street School in Boyle Heights: “… The kids would make fun of me…because they would be eating sandwiches on white bread, on what we would call kvachehdikeh, soft white bread. But my mother was a Jewish woman; she would go to the varshehveh bakery on Brooklyn Avenue and get good Jewish rye bread. And I remember being ashamed somehow, that I was eating rye bread and the other kids weren’t….” He was shamed for eating cheaper and darker Jewish rye bread, instead of grocery store-bought white bread.

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My Arrest as an Anti-Fascist Protester in Orange County, Calif.

Southern Californians Counter-Protest against the so-called “Alt-Right”

Shmuel Gonzales, activist historian, arrested at Counter-Protest of Alt-Right in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Shmuel Gonzales, activist historian, arrested at Counter-Protest of Alt-Right in Laguna Beach, Calif. Being extracted military-style by five police officers in riot gear after he was himself attacked by fascists.

My name is Samuel “Shmuel” Gonzales, I am an activist historian and community organizer from Southern California; many of you might know me as the author of the Barrio Boychik blog, which is dedicated to presenting our local heritage of civil rights activism, with special focus on the historical and present inter-section of Jewish and Latino civil rights organizing. As a Mexican American of the Jewish faith, I also proudly serve as teacher of Jewish education and leader in sacred Hebrew ritual, serving Southeast Los Angeles and North Orange County.

Today I will be presenting to you some unique archival footage I took at a counter-protest of the America First Rally – an anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rally organized by the so-called “alt-Right” – at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, California on Sunday, August 20, 2017.

Where I was ultimately arrested.

On this day I was in attendance to stand with local friends and business people as they stand against hate. Among them my good friend and a father figure to me, Irv Weiser; whose family came to this country as refugees following the holocaust. I came to stand shoulder to shoulder with him as he protested against this nationalist hate rhetoric.

There were just a few dozen anti-immigrant/refugee protesters that day, a mixed race group of far right extremists that noticeably even had neo-Nazis and white supremacists participating in the event; while there were several hundred counter-protesters in attendance.

After the right-wing protesters group dwindled they started making incursions into the counter-protest, to get in people’s’ face and to agitate the crowd; they caused some minor scuffles and were shooed back by the police.

While documenting the event on video, I followed the right-wing group back. By this time the right-wing protesters on the other end were encircled and engaging a crowd.

I engaged the right-wing protesters in their rhetoric angering them several times with just verbal rebuttals, while also taking video of the protest.

In this video you will see the presentation in which they call illegal immigrants and refugees drug dealers, rapists and murderers. I will be present standing with Irv Weiser behind me, and to my right shoulder would be the local news media; including Fox and Latino news outlet Estrella TV.

After the further dwindled group begins to repeat their presentation, I again begin to engage their rhetoric. Speaking truth in to hate. Engaging these extremists to the point of agitation.

As I was still documenting this event on video with the camera running, I went in for a close-up shot as we argued, and one of them quickly approached and hit my hand, sending my camera flying.

At that point I was immediately arrested by five officers in riot gear from the Laguna Beach Police department. I was arrested, instead of these nationalist extremists who wanted to assault me.

And that was just the begin of a long ordeal. I would be arrested, taken to central jail – where I would be subjected to racist and anti-semitic treatment by the jailer. We are going to talk more after presenting the video from the protest.

What is most important to note is that I have an upcoming court date set for next week: Monday, September 18, 2017 at 8:30am, at Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach, California.

At that time I will be arraigned for the false charges of resisting arrest.

For these reason, I am now releasing this video at this time.

First, in order to prove my innocence.

Second, to start an honest conversation about the realities being faced today by progressives in the front lines of our current anti-fascist resistance.

So without further ado…. The protest video….

[Video Notes: Protest Footage, begins at 4:05. Arrest takes place at 35:00. ]

Afterwards:

So now we’re back to talk about what transpired from the moment my video footage ends.

As you can see from video and pictures presented from media sources, I was taken into custody by five Laguna Beach Police officers in riot gear. It is immediately after my camera is struck – even before I have a chance to respond or react – that I am taken into custody by these officers.

Me, the Mexican American kid in the yarmulke that got attacked, was arrested by the police and was sent to jail instead of my attacker.

Now, before we go on I want to make this point clear. These so-called “alt-right” Trump supporters are confederates of white supremacists and fascist; period.

These people’s goal is incitement, under the guise of legitimate political protest and the protection that is granted.

Oh yeah, they were there to just engage is healthy political discourse, so that why they just brought out these fine gentlemen they know from their local white supremacist prison gangs!

Look how they love to push forward their token minorities, like this wannabe white supremacist here; Colombian born fascist Juan Cadavid – who goes by the fake name Johnny Benitez, who organized these protests.

Alt-Right leader, Juan Cadavid a.k.a. Johnny Benitez; wanna-be white supremacist

Alt-Right leader, Juan Cadavid a.k.a. Johnny Benitez; wanna-be white supremacist

RELATED ARTICLE: OC GOP Rejects Alt-Right Figure Johnny Benitez Over Alleged Anti-Semitism

These groups scream with indignation at being equated to white supremacists while holding banners alongside people with iron cross tattoos and swastikas. Guys that you can smell the whiskey and the effects of the meth amphetamines on their breath as they spew their vitriol; these are just everyday white thugs.

Like these idiots here… who insist that they aren’t white supremacist, that the racist prison gang created tattoos they are sporting are just symbols of their individualism.

Tweaker Trump Supporters

Trump supporting spewing racial bullshit to the media. Claims he’s not a Nazi – despite the SS tattoo on his face and the Swastika on his neck – he claims that the tattoos are just signs of his individualism.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: “Laguna Beach Anti-Immigrant Rally Turns Into Left/Right Shoutfest, with PD in the Middle.” – Benitez invited the neo-Nazi Hammerskins.

And that is what pisses them off more than anything… not just that I destroy them when it comes to policy. It’s that I destroy their claim that all the drugs, gangs and violence is brought in the neighborhood by immigrants and refugees. Instead I point the finger right back at them.

And that… that is really what set them off the most. I pointed out their dishonesty and hypocrisy, and that is what instigated them to try to shut me up and shut me down.

They hit at my camera… and I was immediately arrested.

Though it should be noted that according to observers, five police officers in riot gear, were already heading my direction in a single line when this incident took place, then extracted me, military style, from the crowd.

I’m still stunned by the pictures of my small little frame being hauled away from the crowd with such overwhelming force. Like I’m somehow such a fierce threat.

As I was being dragged from the crowd, the media began to ask me questions.

Such as Estrella TV who asked me , “We got it on camera! Why did they hit you?”

My response being: “They attacked me for speaking truth to hate. They hit me because they couldn’t handle my responses!”

The media began to ask me more questions about my motivation for counter-protesting. At which time I begin to passionately speak about the history of American Jews fighting fascism here in California; how we have historically had to fight against the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazism and all forms of nationalism… here in our very own communities.

RELATED VIDEO: “See how the rally in Laguna Beach unfolded” (Orange County Register)

Yes, I had a lot of emotions cycling through me in the moments after being arrest. Though as you see, at no time did I ever resist arrest.

protester-is-arrested-after-the-america-first-pro-trump-group-clashed-picture-id836153394

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A group called America First! rallies against illegal immigration and in support of a stronger border as they meet up with counter protesters in downtown Laguna Beach.

The media began to ask me more questions about my motivation for counter-protesting. At which time I begin to passionately speak about the history of American Jews fighting fascism here in California; how we have historically had to fight against the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazism and all forms of nationalism… here in our very own communities.

Laguna-protest-arrest-1024x710

Again, I’m still stunned by the pictures of me being taken away from the protest with such display of force.

 

 

Protest FOX News Arrest Post

For some time no one knew why I was even being arrested. In the end it became clear, I was arrested simply for exercising my First Amendment rights – for speaking truth to hate.

The arresting officer, officer Bammer of the Laguna Beach police department, informed me that I was being cited and released. He said I was being charged with CPC 148(a)(1) / resisting arrest – for not following police instructions. Loosely interpreted to mean that I was doing something he didn’t want me to do. I informed him that I did not hear any order to disperse or receive any verbal instructions. I also insisted that I did not in way threaten anyone but had been struck at, myself, though the officer contended that the right-wing protester had only pointed in my direction when the camera went flying

When I was taken into custody sometime around 7:30 PM I was informed I would be ticketed and released within a couple of hours. I was then taken to another site where I was held for some time.

While in custody, I was repeatedly asked throughout the night whether I was the leader of the counter-protest, to which I responded that I was not.

The police went through my wallet and identified me as a Jewish religious figure – an “assistant rabbi” for my area – and kept asking berating questions about my fitness of character as a religious leader. They also went through my professional business contacts, whose cards were found in my wallet, asking accusatory questions about them.

I was then held in an Orange County Sheriff’s bus – in a small cage and in handcuffs – for the next four to five hours, joined by only one other person after the first few hours. We were ultimately transported sometime after midnight to the Orange County Sheriff’s Central Jail in Santa Ana.

The condition of the jail cells was pretty gross. There were several people passed out on the floor, and there was even bloody gauze left on the floor. There were 8 people, including myself, being kept in the holding cell.

Though nothing that night was as grotesque as the racism and antisemitism I was subjected to while in custody at the jail.

After several hours I was taken to be fingerprinted by a middle-aged white jailer, at which time the following verbal incident took place.

OFFICER: “So you are the leader of the protest out there? You fucking minorities, all having a temper tantrum because you can’t have Hillary as president. You guys are just out there to hate at white people.”

ME: “No, I was just in attendance, to stand with some families of holocaust survivors as they protest. Why would I hate white people? Do you believe that Jews somehow hate white people?”

OFFICER: “Oh, I’m sure many do. You minorities hate America so damn much…”

ME: “Why would we hate America? This is the freest country we have ever been in.”

OFFICER: “It’s not free anymore.”

ME: “Really? I don’t know about that. Because my ancestors suffered terribly in so many other places in the world, this is the most free and safe we have ever been. That is why this country and our values are worth defending.”

OFFICER: “So that’s what it comes down to, some white people killed your Jew family members somewhere and now you hate all white people. You are the leader of a hate organization; standing with Antifa and Black Lives Matter. You’re standing and defending cop killers, you’re just as bad as them…”

I declined to engage this officer in unnecessary direct conversation after that.

Though other sheriffs in the jail continued to try to engage me in similar conversation – not always as racially charged, but still accusatory of me being the leader of the protest and of a hate organization, standing shoulder to shoulder with anarchists and “cop killers.”

The other sheriffs in the jail continued to try to engage me in such conversations up until the very last-minute that I was released, some 14 hours after being taken into custody.

After a long night, I was released around 9:30 AM from the Central Jail, without bail.

I was given my citation and a court date scheduled for arraignment at Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach on Monday, September 18, 2017, at 8:30am.

I have retained an attorney who will be defending me in court on that day.

And as so many of you dear friends and allies have asked…. Yes, I would be honored for you to come out to support me on my court date!

It is our hope that the charges will not be pursued by the district attorney, and that charges for resisting arrest be completely dismissed.

Now at this time I want to thank everyone who has been supporting me through this ordeal.

First, Robert Robertson and Irv Weiser, for being there through this all.

I must especially thank my friend David Herrera, who not only was up all night drumming up the “FREE Shmuel Gonzales” campaign online while I was in jail, he has also helped me get the best legal representation in town. You’re a total mensch!

I also want to thank my amazing activist attorney Jaime Gutierrez, El Luchador del Pueblo.

And I also want to thank all of you who have been lending me your strength and inspiration.

Now I want to dedicate my resistance to the inspiration of one of my dearest friends.

As many of you know, I am not only an activist. I am a Los Angeles community historian, dedicated to preserving and maintaining our local social justice tradition and anti-fascist heritage. My inspiration has come from the oral histories of those who have come before me, from much older friends who have handed down their experiences in protest and their know-how in organizing.

Today I want to dedicate my resistance to my 87 tear old friend Don Hodes who grew up in my neighborhood of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who came to the United States as illegal immigrants, by way of Canada before the start of World War II. While much of the rest of his extended family remained stuck behind in Europe.

Anti-Nazi Protest Boyle Heights (original)

The Anti-Nazi Protest of November 22, 1938

On November 22, 1938 – when he was just 8 years old at the time – he marched in the Anti-Nazi Parade in Boyle Heights, protesting the savage treatment of Jews by the Nazi German government, and also the threatening rise of American Nazism that was spreading hate and plotting violence from its downtown Los Angeles headquarters.

Don Hodes marched with candles and signs, demanding the admittance of Jews fleeing the Nazi savagery in Europe, which had been barred entrance to the US and every other country in the world prior to the holocaust. Under the guise of them being racially undesirable, and even dangerous and murderous villains, they were being denied entrance as refugees by our government.

AntiNaziProtestBoyleHeightsPicketting

Residents of Boyle Heights protesting Nazi persecution of Jews of a the plight of the refugees fleeing the Nazis, Nov. 1938,

As he marched with people carrying signs declaring that Nazism and fascism have no place in civilization, he also recalls singing a song: “A tisket, a tasket… we’ll bury Hitler in a basket!”

Yes. That is the type of example I am proud to take after!

I am the person I am today because I was privileged to learn about our local heritage from people like Don Hodes and Irv Weiser, people who are like this who are father figures to me. I am proud to take their charge to hold the line of our local anti-fascist heritage in my generation!

Don Hodes and Shmuel Gonzales

Don Hodes (left) and myself Shmuel Gonzales (right): This is my friend Don, he marched in the Anti-Nazi Parade of 1938 here in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. He was about 8 or 9 years old when he marched with his family carrying a picket sign. He remembers singing protest songs like, “A-tisket, a-tasket… we’ll bury Hitler in a basket!”

In closing, I want to give a word of warning to my fellow activists, be careful out there. It is very important that people make sure to be careful to not be targeted to become the victim of protest related violence. The sad reality is this, that when push comes to shove, the authorities are prone to seeing the liberals and the minorities as the aggressor, as my arrest so sadly demonstrates.

We will talk more about this in the near future.

For now, most of my energies are focused on my upcoming court date.

See you all on September 18.

Until then…. Shalom chaverim!

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