Many of the photos capture these communal moments: A formal wedding party featuring 12 bridesmaids. Men of modest means who managed to look dapper in double-breasted suits and Panama hats. A festival queen and her court riding in an open 1941 Ford coupe. Old people relaxing on front porches. A group of workers and customers happily arrayed in front of a market called El Gordito, which means "the little fat guy" in Spanish.
Several photos show students at those Mexican schools, including one campus that was racially divided by a chain link fence across a common playing field. Gomez, the El Modena author, recalled that Mexican students at Lincoln School, which he attended, got the hand-me-downs from Roosevelt, the all-white school on the other side of that playground divide.
At the reception, Gomez joked about having to work with broken crayons and patched athletic equipment. "Well, (the supplies) were recycled," he said. "They (the schools) were being environmentally correct."
Humor in the face of such obvious disparities was something Alvarez found time and again in her research. Despite being discriminated against at restaurants and movie theaters, Mexican Americans of that era seemed content with their strong sense of community. Alvarez--who was 5 when her family moved to a white neighborhood in Santa Ana and became targets of a petition to run them out--would ask about injustices. Residents responded with a favorite phrase: "We didn't know any better. . . . It was fun."
That spirit impressed Alvarez, who plans to turn her exhibit into a book.
"People didn't complain," she said. "That's one of the courageous and beautiful things about our people. . . . They don't carry the bitterness with them. They don't let it eat up their lives."
Agustin Gurza's column appears Tuesday and Saturday. Readers can reach Gurza at (714) 966-7712 or firstname.lastname@example.org