It never ceases to amaze me how much history I come across in my various research projects that is connected to El Paso. It surprises me, not because it involves El Paso, but because the rich historical connections are routinely ignored by the El Paso elites. I know there is much history in El Paso and it frustrates me to no end because El Paso is constantly and always looking to emulate other cities. At first, I thought that the historical aspects of El Paso were ignored because no one had taken the time to properly document the history. Unfortunately, as I better understood El Paso’s oligarchy, I soon realized that it was not ignoring El Paso’s history but rather re-envisioning it into something less Mexico-centric.
El Paso has always used certain historical aspects to identify itself but those historical events are nothing more than an attempt to shed El Paso’s “Mexicanisms” and make it more Anglo-centric. Take, for example, the “First Thanksgiving” branding event the city has been peddling for a few years now. Thanksgiving Day has always been identified with the Anglo-centric north-eastern part of the country – basically the region of the original thirteen colonies. Thanksgiving is as “American” as apple pie is.
The problem for me with this bastardization of a US holiday is that there is no need for it. El Paso is rich in history, more so than the original thirteen colonies. In many ways, El Paso is representative of what the US is, an assimilation of various ethnicities and cultures coexisting and melding into a country made up of various identities.
The fact is that the Anglo-centricity of the US is slowly diminishing and evolving into a multicultural identity that is representative of a country based on various cultures all striving to lead the world well into the future. Tacos are now as common as hotdogs in almost every city across the nation.
However, therein lies the problem, tacos and everything else associated with El Paso’s rich history is apparently too Hispanic or too connected to Mexico for the oligarchs of the city. This is precisely why El Paso is always comparing itself to other cities; celebrating when an Anglo-centric overpriced grocery store opens up in the city or El Paso gets noticed in some uppity magazine for something not too Mexican, or ethnic for that matter.
I started thinking about this again when I came across Oscar F. Perdomo in some research material I am working on currently.
First Lieutenant Oscar F. Perdomo was born in El Paso, Texas. I believe that not many reading my blog today have ever heard of Perdomo although he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for “extraordinary heroism” in combat. I had never heard of him until I came across his name in a thesis I am reading for a current project I am working on. In a city dependent and coexisting with the military, it saddened me that no one had ever brought him to my attention.
So why did I care about Oscar Perdomo?
Combat pilots who shoot down five or more aircraft in combat have been accorded the distinction “ace” since air combat became part of war. As technology increased in air combat achieving the honorific title of “ace” became more difficult. As a matter of fact, Cesar Rodriguez, who retired from the US Air Force in 2007, has the most air-to-air kills of any US pilot then and currently on active duty. Rodriguez retired with three kills to his credit, not enough to earn him the title of “ace.”
Oscar Perdomo has the distinction of being the last “Ace in a Day” fighter pilot for the United States in World War II. On August 13, 1945, Perdomo shot down five Japanese fighters in a single day, earning him the honorific title of “Ace in a Day.” As far as I can ascertain there have been less than fifty “Aces in a Day” pilots.
Perdomo was the last US fighter pilot to have earned that distinction in World War II.
I realize that the story of Oscar Perdomo may not be significant enough for recognition within the general community of El Paso. However, his achievement should have been noted somewhere in a community where the military is a significant participant. I point out the story of Perdomo because, although not significant enough to warrant a whole event around, the fact that I had not heard about him before shows me that El Paso doesn’t seem to care to embrace Hispanic, or Mexican-centric history. Instead, El Paso is always looking to invent Anglo-centric holidays and historical events in what I believe is a continued attempt to distance the city from its Mexican roots.
Just as many of the readers today were probably not aware of Oscar Perdomo, like me, there are many more significant historical events centered on El Paso – that not only is the basis of the identity of the city, but also could be the catalyst that El Paso is so feverishly searching for in economic development.
The problem, though, appears to be that the El Paso leadership wants nothing to do with El Paso “Mexicanism” and instead looks for ways to be like other cities, the more Anglo-centric the better it seems.