In Defense of Klanaheim

The Los Angeles Times story published this Monday telling the world Anaheim is now majority-Latino has drawn nothing but derision from the Latino Anaheimers I know (read this musical takedown by Weekly contributor and KPFK-FM 90.7 Subversive Historian Gabriel San Roman). "Oh no, they didn't put in a picture of lucha libre!" another pal cracked, referring to the Mexican wrestling matches that have been occurring every Sunday at the Anaheim Indoor Marketplace for so long that the second piece I ever did for this rag was explaining it to gabachos. I'm not going to knock the piece, since author Tony Barboza is a good guy who can write great articles. But I will take him to task on one issue: his retelling of Anaheim's racial history.

"Latinos have not always felt entirely at home in Anaheim, which was founded as a colony of German farmers in 1857 and has a history of racial tension," Barboza wrote. "In the 1920s, four Ku Klux Klan members were elected to the City Council and briefly took control of the government, earning the city an uncomfortable nickname: 'Klanaheim.'"

Stop right there. Mentioning that the Klan controlled Anaheim, even staged a 10,000-strong rally in the city, is the easy jab people always employ against Anaheim specifically and Orange County in general whenever they want to describe us as fundamentally racist. But, as I wrote in my expose of Orange County founding father (and the proud Klansman shown at right) Henry W. Head:

How Head's KKK membership was wiped from the Orange County history books is really a story of how local scholars highlight selected parts of our story. The Klan's rise in Anaheim and other cities during the 1920s is well-documented--as a stand by good people against racist terror, an easy narrative to write and honor. The misdeeds of Head and other notorious county moments in race relations such as the Citrus War, the 1906 burning of Santa Ana's Chinatown and the lynching of Francisco Torres? Not so much.

Besides, the Klan's time in Anaheim had little to do with suppressing minorities--especially Mexicans.

One of the best scholarly studies of the Klukkers' time in my hometown is the essay, "

The Invisible Empire and the Search for the Orderly Community: The Ku Klux Klan in Anaheim, California," by Christopher N. Cocoltchos, part of the anthology, The Invisible Empire in the West: Toward a New Historical Appraisal of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. In it, Cocoltchos methodically examines the background behind the rise of the Klan in Anaheim, arguing it resulted from out-of-towners and temperance fools who chafed at the old German guard of Anaheim and their near-aristocratic ways. He could only find three violent incidents related to the Klan trying to terrorize a religious or ethnic group: crosses burnt in front of St. Boniface Catholic Church and in undisclosed spots in Fullerton and Yorba Linda. All other efforts of indimidation occurred against those people the Klan disagreed with politically, and were usually whites. Of Latinos--who were increasingly becoming the city's backbone of its lucrative citrus industry and included among its ranks my grandfather--Cocoltchos wrote they were "a group the Klan totally ignored."

To mention Klanaheim as a key moment in Anaheim's racist history, then, is not only lazy but flat-out wrong. I'm sure the Mexicans of the day didn't like to see hooded pendejos dominating city politics but the evidence shows it was more white-on-white troubles than anything racial (it also helped that Mexicans made up only about 10 percent of the population then and lived in segregated camps). Besides, Barboza could've easily cited more-recent scuffles to prove Anacrime's bubbling melting pot such as the Gigante supermarket battle (which, while an absolute sham, did rile up the professional brownies) and the saga of Harald Martin. Don't worry, Tony: you won't be the last journalist or scholar to commit the historical faux pax. Now, everyone else: leave the Klan alone and remember the Citrus War!


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