"Black, white, and tan : the expulsion of Mexicans from SNCC and the formation of a Black Third World Left"

Márquez, Cecilia, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Halliday, Paul, Department of History, University of Virginia
Harold, Claudrena, Department of History, University of Virginia

This paper examines the role of Mexican-Americans in SNCC offering a fine grained portrait of a complex organization in which ideals and ideology were frequently colliding with organizational strategy. I examine attempts by Mexican-American members of SNCC to forge a truly "third-world" alliance with Mexican and Mexican-American organizations in California and the Southwest, as well as student organizing in Brazil and Guatemala. While nominally in line with SNCC's commitment to third world liberation, these activists faced frequent push back and little institutional support. SNCC's effort to engage with Latin America and the UFW struggles in California were undermined by its inability to move beyond the black/white dichotomy central to U.S. racial paradigms. This narrow racial paradigm coupled with the shift towards a black cultural nationalism meant that SNCC was unable to maintain or expand any relationships with third world liberation movements. This history raises new questions about the intersection of ideology and practice, or rather, the intersection of ideas about race and the realities of organizing. Specifically, Varela' s story offers an alternative explanation for the development and eventual foreclosing of transnational linkages in SNCC. I will argue that SNCC, even if unwittingly, bought into a racially binaristic ideology created by white society. SNCC too then, was limited by its inability to imagine a world outside of the strict black/white racial order, a fact that would curtail the organization's efforts to form a true third world left. Given these racial boundaries, SNCC's efforts to form meaningful third world alliances, resulted in the formation of a "black third world left" rooted in Pan African ideology. Ultimately SNCC betrayed its commitment to a third world ideology both through its expulsion of the Mexicans in its ranks and its inability to foster any lasting, institutionalized relationships with third world liberation struggles.  

MA (Master of Arts)
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