A Critical Review of The Longoria Affair,

A PBS Production by John Valadez


Few question that the Felix Longoria Affair occurred in the late 1940s, or that Dr. Hector P. Garcia used it to draw national attention to the plight of poor Mexican Americans in South Texas. Many say it gave Garcia and his GI Forum a national platform for active civil rights pursuits.

At the same time, few know the positive impact it had on the political aspirations of Lyndon B. Johnson, John F. Kennedy, and Garcia. The Longoria Affair became the common cornerstone to their respective political empires, which director-writer John Valadez clearly and powerfully demonstrates in his documentary.

However, a troubling problem with the Longoria story has been repressed since 1949. Valadez's documentary, which was screened at the University of North Texas in Denton on Wednesday night, October 13, 2010 alluded to this problem. Astute viewers asked why it was not more clearly explained.

Three Rivers, the small multi-cultural farm and ranch town featured in Valadez's film, continues to be accused of racial bigotry. Until Wednesday night, dissenting voices have gone unheard. And, to the thinking or prudent viewer, this suggests another side to the Longoria Affair. This counter-perspective is suppressed because it detracts from the message activists, like the American GI Forum, wish to convey.

The problem is that the Affair didn't happen exactly as the documentary tells it. Thinking people search for balance because they know filmmakers, authors, and even historians tend to write with bias. During the panel discussion, Valadez said that "none of us has a monopoly on the truth," and that it is up to the viewers to draw their "own conclusions."  To do that, viewers need comparative information.

The greater truth in 1949 is that Mexican-Americans in South Texas were mainly poor, uneducated, and faced acts of discrimination while trying to overcome their situation. At the same time, it is not true that all whites discriminated against them. It is true that Mexican-Americans suffered more in some towns in South Texas, but it is not true that all towns in South Texas engaged in the bigotry and mistreatment the documentary depicts. 

David Montejano, an American author and sociology professor who grew up Mexican in South Texas, says in his book, Anglos and Mexicans, that it was the "white merchants" who helped Mexican-Americans improve standards of living and welcomed them into their stores because their money was just as good as that of Anglo customers. It is true that some South Texas white business owners hung signs in their windows that said "No Mexicans Allowed," but it is also true that many more did not.

Jesse Moreno, born in Three Rivers in 1936, grew up in its "Mexican town." He now lives in Battle Creek, Michigan, comfortably retired after a successful career he credits to Three Rivers' Anglos. "Ray Bomar, gave me a job, three meals a day and encouraged me to stay in school, " says Jesse, "He was like a father to me."

Moreno viewed the documentary and said that "No Mexicans Allowed" signs did not exist anywhere in Three Rivers as portrayed in the introduction, and as Sara Posas said. Moreno said he gave the director-writer multiple opportunities to include his testimony, but that Valadez declined.

"Mexicans shopped anywhere in Three Rivers. We sat with Anglos in the local theater," Moreno says, "and it didn't have a balcony. If there was a 'No Mexican' sign in Three Rivers, I never saw it. I have wonderful childhood memories. I was there working at Ray's Café when the Longoria incident happened. The town has been badly misrepresented."

In the film, as the camera panned the city council meeting," Sara Posas said that Three Rivers "was racist, that they'll be racist until they die." But Moreno, who knew her family, says her remarks come "from personal childhood disappointments unrelated to Three Rivers." He did not elaborate.

He also said it was unreasonable to lay the blame on Three Rivers for burying Felix so far away from home. Moreno said, "It didn't have to happen because the Mayor of Three Rivers made every effort to clear up the misunderstanding and have Felix buried close to his family and friends." The telegram from the mayor in Three Rivers to Garcia explaining the misunderstanding, offering the chapel, his home, or the American Legion Hall for the wake arrived at least five hours before Johnson's. Yet, it was not mentioned.

 "The town polarized," says Moreno, "after Dr. Garcia accused the funeral home director of refusing to bury Felix. Let me tell you, I knew Mr. Kennedy. I knew the Longoria family. Mr. Kennedy did not refuse to wake or bury Felix as he was accused. If you want to know why, read the Floore Report in the LBJ library."

The Floore Report is the result of a joint investigation into the Affair by the Graves Division of the US Army and the Texas Funeral Association. It contains the sensitive information that influenced Mr. Kennedy, the funeral home director, to encourage the widow to wake Felix's remains in their home. Kennedy did not refuse to wake or bury Felix as the Longoria documentary says. He did refuse the widow's request to exclude Felix's parents and family from the funeral home chapel, which was omitted from the documentary.

Betty Dickinson, pianist in the chapel during the discussion between Beatrice and Kennedy, recently provided a court notarized statement. It said the widow requested Kennedy to turn her husband's parents away because she feared the possibility of a fight like the one earlier between Longoria's father and her boyfriend the year before.

 Kennedy's failure in the incident was his lack of clear explanation for his decision. In the heated political climate of the times and against powerfully persuasive and charismatic political personalities like Garcia and Johnson, Kennedy didn't stand a chance. He, his family, and Three Rivers were considered to be a small sacrifice for the greater good of the Mexican-American people.

Valid complaints of discrimination in other towns were heaped on an undeserving Three Rivers, the proverbial scapegoat. Garcia used a World War II soldier of Mexican descent killed in action to carry his message of discrimination to a nation deeply indebted to veterans, especially those paying the supreme sacrifice.

Maintaining the illusion of the Longoria Affair required suppressing contradicting inquiries and continuing the vilification of Kennedy and Three Rivers. Both are dependent on the mantra, "the whites wouldn't like it," taken completely out of context.

So, when viewing The Longoria Affair, pay close attention to how Three Rivers is depicted.

When Patrick Carroll says "whites could not sell their houses to Mexicans," ask yourself if Carroll is talking about Three Rivers, where Garcia admitted to interviewing Mexicans who bought and lived among the whites, or Corpus Christi, where Garcia had to buy under an Anglo friend's name to live in a white neighborhood. If whites are all racist, explain why an Anglo helped Garcia get a home. And while you're at it, please explain why Garcia would not allow a Forumeer to have a home built for him on Ocean Drive by whites.  We're not making this up, you can find these stories locally with a little research.

Watch for sleight-of-hand, such as the GI Forum march into Three Rivers to rename the post office. The march unrelated to the post office occurred four months later. The film fails to mention that the two-year plan by Hernandez to rename the Three Rivers post office was sprung on the town with just a few days notice. The Hispanic Mayor and the city council comprised of three Hispanics and two Anglos rejected Hernandez's resolution, not the white population as the film suggests.

Look for subtle shifts from "chapel" to "burial," or "refuse to bury" and ask yourself if the director-writer is confused or if the message is deliberately subliminal. This message has been inconsistent since 1949. Did Kennedy refuse use of the chapel, refuse to wake, refuse funeral services, or refuse to bury? These contradicting accusations thrown at Kennedy are not cleared up by the documentary, which shows a news reel of the Arlington burial with the commentator saying "a Texas war hero refused burial at his home town."

The streaming telegrams provide an intriguing visual effect to the film, but notice the omission of showing Garcia's full telegram. Part of Johnson's responding telegram was read, but what was in Garcia's telegram that provoked Johnson's caustic criticism of the funeral director? Garcia's telephone call to Kennedy was about where to wake Longoria. The telegram he sent accused Kennedy of denying "reinterment" and "last funeral rites." This in turn provoked outrage by a nation believing Kennedy had refused to bury a war hero.

And, the "commissioners," who could not agree whether Kennedy had discriminated or not; there were no commissioners. Archival evidence say they were State Legislators assigned to a 5-man investigative committee. A majority of four to one ruled Kennedy had not discriminated. Their report was tabled, not ruled against, by a State Legislature beset by the longest, most productive session in State history. The majority's ruling is recorded in the Journal of the House of Representatives with all four affirming signatures exonerating Kennedy.

The one dissenting voice, Frank Oltorf, who ran Johnson's Senate campaign in 1948, said in a minority report that he could not "look into the heart of Mr. Kennedy" to know whether he committed the "alleged discrimination."  But, Oltorf did agree with the rest of the committee when he said in the same report that "there is no evidence" of discrimination "reflected in the views of the citizens of Three Rivers." Oltorf released for the record a similar statement in the March 13, 1949, Sunday Caller-Times. This was omitted from the Longoria documentary.

The Longoria Affair gives viewers no reason to see Mr. Kennedy as kind, gentle and devoted to humanitarian service. The viewer does not see Kennedy's selfless loyalty to wounded soldiers, his kindness for clients grieving over lost loved ones, the countless victims he rescued from auto accidents, and his tenderness toward his daughter, spouse, and to the greater community.

"The film has left out some pretty important facts," says Patty Reagan of Three Rivers. "Mr. Kennedy was not found to be un-American and guilty of discrimination in several official investigations. Three Rivers was no more racist than any other town in South Texas in post World War II. Yet, the film bases the whole civil rights movement on this one small, unproven incident. Why would you do that?"

Susan Zamzow, Kennedy's daughter who still lives in Three Rivers, says "The film does not answer questions. It does not promote harmony between Mexican-Americans and Anglos. The producer seemed grieved when he learned that last May my grandson and his family were called racist by a Hispanic history teacher in class because of the story. My grandson and one other were the only Anglos in the class. No one helped; no newspaper and no school administrator. Where will this all stop?  The film could have been a starting place."

John Spivey grew up in Three Rivers. He told Valadez and the audience at the University of North Texas that the film's "depiction of my home town is incorrect...there is more truth. I want to make sure you understand that the film does not represent Three Rivers. It does not represent the actions and attitudes of my parents, grandparents, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and many friends. It does not represent me." The audience gave him a robust applause.

Some film producers mistakenly believe that the mark of a successful filmmaker is not in telling the truth, but knowing what power is. "And power," they say, "is the ability to take an event and frame it to get a desired reaction from the audience." Only discriminating and judicially-minded viewers will catch the subtleties.

Ask yourself what type of viewer you are. The answer to that question will determine whether you view The Longoria Affair critically or fall under the persuasive power of the director-writer. It will determine whether you grow objectively, are able to think and speak freely, or are reduced to a captive sycophant caught in the vortex of duplicity.

For a different perspective, read the "Felix Longoria Legend: The Untold Story" in Ten Spurs, Vol. 4, 2010, a publication of the ten best stories from the 2009 Literary Nonfiction of The Mayborn Conference, sponsored by the Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas. Copies of Ten Spurs are available at cost while quantities last. Please contact The Friends of Three Rivers to purchase a copy. Postage free.




The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

The Longoria Affair Revealed, Friends of Three Rivers, "Critical Review of The Longoria Affair," accessed from the date of your use here.

Uploaded on August 12, 2011. Modified on February 7, 2019. Published by Agarita Publishing.