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EFFECT OF FEDERAL PROGRAMS ON RURAL AMERICA
MONDAY, JUNE 12, 1967
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE,
Washington, D.C. The subcommittee met, pursuant to recess, at 10:45 a.m., in room 1302, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Joseph Y. Resnick (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding:
Present: Representatives Resnick, Nichols, Montgomery, Mathias, and Zwach.
Also present: Martha Hannah, subcommittee clerk.
Mr. RESNICK. The hearing will now begin. The first witness will be Mr. Alex Mercure, director, home education livelihood program, of Albuquerque, N. Mex.
First, we recognize our colleague, Mr. Walker from New Mexico.
STATEMENT OF HON. E. S. JOHNNY WALKER, A REPRESENTATIVE
IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO
Mr. WALKER. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to be here this morning to present Mr. Alex Mercure from New Mexico.
At this particular time I do not have any prepared statement to present, but at a later time I may have a few remarks to make, with your indulgence.
With your permission, at this time I would like to present to you Mr. Alex Mercure of New Mexico.
Mr. RESNICK. Thank you, Mr. Walker. We are delighted to have you here. We are very happy to have your statement at any time for inclusion in the record, if you wish to present one.
Mr. WALKER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. RESNICK. You may proceed now, Mr. Mercure. STATEMENT OF ALEX MERCURE, DIRECTOR, HOME EDUCATION
LIVELIHOOD PROGRAM, ALBUQUERQUE, N. MEX. Mr. MERCURE. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, and Congressman Walker, my name is Alex Mercure. I am director of the nonprofit Home Education Livelihood Program in New Mexico, which has received $4 million during the past 2 years from the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity, title III-B, to carry out educational programs in rural New Mexico for poverty-stricken farmworkers. I also had the honor of being appointed by President Johnson this year to a seven-member committee on basic adult education chaired by the U.S. Commissioner of Education.
I wish to express my thanks to the chairman and all the members of the Subcommittee on Rural Development for holding these hearings, because most Americans today are unaware of the severity of poverty and the lack of opportunities in rural America. Vor are most Americans aware that today's problems in urban America were in large measure brought to the cities by deprived and unskilled rural residents, and that the problems of urban America will become more severe in the future if we fail to develop rural America today. It appears to us who are working to solve human problems in rural America that a lack of sympathy exists regarding rural development. Therefore, services are inadequately provided to the rural poor. Instead, we wait until the rural poor migrate to urban areas before exposing them to health. housing, credit, training, and employment services. This is a national mistake because we are compounding the already serious problems in urban America; we are not considering the human element and we are not permitting a large segment of the population to make a contribution to the American social and economic system. We must never forget that some people love their homeland and want to remain living in rural America, but they need opportunities to do so. And when opportunities are not available to them, and when their instinet for human survival, decency, and justice is ignored, then, out of panic, their fear turns to hostility and hatred. In some cases, this hostility and hatred leads to acts of violence against society.
Recent occurrences in northern New Mexico are but an example of such action brought about by hostility whose roots have a long history. These people have lived in the area for over 200 years; their primary language is Spanish, as are their values and culture. They consider this part of the State their homeland. Reies Tijerina, who is alleged to have led the raid on the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, has been able to capitalize on a hostility which has become almost a natural characteristic of the people. To this point, because of the jailbreak, the shooting, and whatever else has since happened, the people directly involved in the incidents of the past few days are outside the law. But the sore that has festered for a century remains, perhaps to incite similar incidents again.
The poor people of northern New Mexico view government agencies, State and Federal, not as agencies of help for them, but for others; this is so even if these people were aware of the agencies and their resources. If the people were firmly convinced that there were other alternatives, situations such as the courthouse raid in Tierra Amarilla could have been avoided.
The land grant is the issue upon which the Tijerina movement is based. As they view it, a major part of their land has been lost, resulting in their inability to earn a living. Their feeling is that the land rightfully belongs to them and they cannot understand how the use of this land to provide a decent life for their families has been taken away from them.
Even if the present situation is controlled, the past history indicates that there may be repetitions elsewhere in the Southwest. At this moment a possibility exists, perhaps even a high probability, for incidents of this nature to spread across the breadth of the northern part of New Mexico, southern Colorado, and part of Texas. Yet, positive attention to the human problems of rural areas cannot just prevent development of lawlessness but must lead to the enrichment of people's lives.
I think it is important to discuss the issue of land, water, and grazing rights as these relate to the overall economic problems of the area.
I would like to add another point. This, also, happens to be one of the significant cultural factors of rural people, and, especially, the Spanish-speaking people of northern New Mexico. And land, water, and grazing is an important value in this culture.
For many years the people have had access to thousands of acres of grazing land, water, and wood which they maintained was guaranteed in their deeds and so recognized by the Federal Government. They used this grazing land to raise cattle and sheep, thereby supplementing the income they were able to earn from their own limited acreage. Over the past 50 years they have lost the use of much of the grazing acreage as this land was acquired for use as national forests and parks. For example, in Vallecitos, in 1947, the people of the community had 720 animals on the Alamosa grazing allotment. In 1967 they have 380 animals, or about one-half of the total of 20 years ago. This decline reflects reductions on the number of animals permitted in the grazing allotment.
In addition, over the past 2 years, administrative steps have been taken to shorten the grazing season, this action reduces family income by reducing the number of animals that the families can raise, or reducing the weight of each animal. At present, these 380 animals are owned by 37 families, or about 10 animals per family, which is obviously not enough to provide even a subsistence living for the families. Therefore, they have had to rely on entering the migrant farm labor force for additional income. At the same time, their income from migrant farm labor has declined as mechanization has increased in farm work.
I want to make it clear that I am not here today to justify the jailbreak or other unlawful actions. My purpose is to try to impress upon this committee the urgency of the situation of the poor Mexican-Americans in several southwestern States and suggest methods of solving the problem within the social and economic context of the rural villages. We should keep in mind that there are more than 5 million Vexican-Americans in this country, most of whom live in the five Southwestern States. Although the majority of Mexican-Americans live in urban areas, the poorest live in the rural Southwest.
Over the past 6 months HELP program has intensified its work with Federal and State agencies in trying to bring about solutions to prevent such desperate measures.
We knew of the growing unrest in the area because we recently witnessed a dozen forest fires and a dozen fires in haystacks and barns that were reported by the press and public agencies as having been started by arsonists.
May I add that these are fairly articulate movements, unorganized and spotted.
These incidents of arson were not as dramatic nor were they publicized to the same degree as the outbreak or arson and violence that
occurred in the Watts area of Los Angeles. However, to those of us working with the rural poor, and we have been in continuing contact with the poor in rural New Mexico for the past 2 years, we knew that the Mexican-American poor in rural areas were as desperate, demoralized, and hostile as the poor in Los Angeles and other urban ghettos.
Mr. RESNICK. If I may interrupt you, what you are saying is the outbreak of violence and arson is equivalent to the violence that has occurred in Watts ?
Mr. MERCURE. Yes. And I think it is loaded with a great deal of desperation about their own future and survival.
Mr. RESNICK. You might say that the situation in New Mexico, you have mentioned, is the Watts of rural America.
Mr. MERCURE. I believe so, because these people do not know many of the alternatives available to them-nobody seems to have devoted much interest to them, and they see the schools consolidated out from under them—they see little activity in terms of providing roads for some of these rural communities, which are isolated and have been for 200 years. They are deprived of essential medical services—one doctor within 100 miles of some communities. The desperation, I think, is very great, especially for the most poor.
Mr. RESNICK. Are these all Mexican-Americans ? Mr. MERCURE. In the area of northern New Mexico it is largely Mexican-Americans; yes.
Mr. RESNICK. Could I ask you this question? Are these recent immi. grants, or are they people who have been there quite a long time?
Mr. MERCURE. These people cannot remember when their ancestors came to the country.
Mr. RESNICK. They are not like the braceros?
Mr. MERCURE. One community was settled in 1720, which is before the Declaration of Independence. And a few were even settled before then.
Mr. RESNICK. And Spanish has been the language of these people during
the entire period. Mr. MERCURE. You see, I was one of them. I was raised in the Spanish culture. My first language was Spanish. And the first language of most of the young people, when they first get to school, is Spanish in that part of the State. Perhaps it is pride perhaps it is a lack of ability to acculturate, which may be contributed to by isolation and other things.
I feel that there is a certain pride in your own background, because we do have a colorful background.
Mr. RESNICK. In other words, this is really a significant advance as far as you are concerned. This is the same disease that is striking some of our urban centers.
Mr. MERCURE. It is.
And the potential for small explosions like this is still there. This is not necessarily new. The barn burnings, the shooting occurred in Costila for the past 2 or 3 years.
Mr. RESNICK. Would you say that this is essentially a class warfare?
Mr. MERCURE. I do not know whether you would classify it as class warfare. I think that you would classify it to some extent, at least, in that category, but I think it is a desperate plight when no other alternative is left.