Current site of El Rey Café at 922 South Central Avenue; the site is currently an empty lot near Saint Anthony Catholic Church. The El Rey Café was a site where many civil rights protests for the exclusion of African Americans from this restaurant by Mexican American owners. November 28, 2010 (Images taken by Carshenia Butler).
922 South Central Avenue, Phoenix, 85004
The El Rey Café was a Mexican restaurant in central Phoenix that is historically significant because of the dynamic racial structure in Arizona and the broader Southwest of the United States in general. Before and during the Civil Rights Movement in Arizona, this Mexican American owned restaurant served white Americans and Mexican Americans, but refused to serve African Americans. Civil Rights activists in Arizona staged a series of protests at the café for its discriminatory practices during the 1960s. The site is important because of how the Mexican American experience in the Southwest both mirrored and was paradoxical to the African American experience in the Southwest. Because after the annexation of the Southwest from Mexico in the Mexican American War in 1848, the Mexican citizens in the territory of annexation were given the legal distinction of Mexican American citizens, and the racial category of effectually legally white according to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Because of this historical legal distinction, Mexican Americans were afforded certain limited privileges that the legal definition of whiteness included. So Mexican Americans and white Americans dined at the El Rey Café together, but excluded African Americans. The legal distinction of whiteness bestowed upon the Mexican American citizens caused strife and animosity between the Mexican American citizens, African American citizens, and other minorities in the Southwest. However, the legal category of whiteness for Mexican Americans was limited and they were still seen as inferior to the white citizens in Arizona and the entire Southwest. Consequently, the Mexican American citizens in Phoenix were legally white, but actually another minority group in Phoenix and share much of the living space of African Americans and other minority groups in East and South Phoenix. So fortunately, Mexican Americans were aware of their status as an inferior minority to white citizens and would serve African American patrons in the El Rey Café when white patrons were not around. The owners of this and other Mexican American owned restaurants were cordial to African Americans and would serve them as they would any other patron when white patrons were not around. The reason that the owners of this restaurant, and others like it would not serve African Americans when white patrons were around is because white patrons would threaten to not dine in their restaurants if the served African Americans. This became an issue of economics rather than discrimination against African Americans on the part of the Mexican Americans who were practically forced to discriminate against African Americans.
The reality is that in Phoenix many Mexican American and African American were active in the Civil Rights Movement in Arizona and worked together much of the time. Because Mexican Americans, African Americans, and other minorities were prohibited from going into places of public accommodations and the Mexican Americans were segregated from white Americans in Arizona schools, housing, public buildings, etc. And the El Rey Café is on the South Central side of Phoenix where African and Mexican Americans historically shared living spaces. This site incorporates white-privilege, differential racism, and activism during the Civil Rights Movement and it shows the racial hierarchy of Arizona and much of the Southwest historically. Today the site where the El Rey Café has been abandoned and is now an empty lot which is much the same way the white American citizens of Arizona and the United States have abandoned their beliefs that Mexican Americans are almost white and therefore privileges should be extended to them. Today in Arizona there is an all-out assault on Mexican and Mexican American identity in Arizona and the nation.
- Carshenia Butler, Debra Groves, and Edell Stinett
Goddard, T. (2005, march). The Promise of Brown v. Board of Education. Retrieved November 28, 2010 from Arizona State Government: http://www.azag.gov/civil_rights/Brown%20v%20Board%20Monograph.pdf
Gomez, L. E. (2007). Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race. New York and London: New York University Press.
Heard v. Davis, 77497 (Maricopa County Superior Court may 5, 1954).
Judicial Branch of Arizona Maricopa County. (n.d.). Law Library. Retrieved October 30, 2010 from The Judicial Branch of Arizona: http://www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/LawLibrary/LegalResearch/ArizonaResearch/ArizonaCourtsResources/ArizonaCases.asp
Phillips v. Phoenix Union High School and Junior College District, 72909 (Maricopa County Superior Court February 9, 1953).
Whitaker, M. C. (2003). Creative Conflict: Lincoln and Eleanor Ragsdale, Collaboration, and Community Activism in Phoenix, 1953-1965. The Western Historical Quarterly , 165-190.
Whitaker, M. (2005). Race Work: The Rise of the Civil Rights in the Urban West. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.