Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.
Finger-pointing gestures and assurances that the State Department and other higher echelons will hear protests were features of an “international incident” yesterday when Dr. Francisco Villagran, Mexican Consul General, assertedly was treated discourteously by customs officials when he greeted Jaime Torres Bodet, Mexico’s foreign minister, at Los Angeles Airport.
In the verbal melee, Bruno Newman, vice president of the Police Commission and representative of Mayor Bowron in greeting the distinguished visitor, also found his police badge without effect in impressing U.S. customs officers.
Torres Bodet, the educator and poet, was in Los Angeles to receive an honorary degree and deliver a commencement address at USC. A frequent visitor to Los Angeles, Torres Bodet had been an honored guest in 1946 at a lavish Cinco de Mayo celebration before several thousand people on the steps of City Hall.
Interviewed by The Times, Torres Bodet described an enormous literacy program begun by Mexico in 1940 in which everyone who could read was required to teach writing to one of the nation’s illiterates, which he estimated at 7 million.
To be fair to the hapless customs agent, who barred the welcoming committee from greeting Torres Bodet in 1947, no one was informed that a dignitary was arriving. “Advance word might have smoothed some of this out,” said Customs Inspector S.C. Wilson.
The next day at the Coliseum, Torres Bodet addressed the largest group up to that time to graduate from USC, 2,434, of which 65% were veterans. (Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel was also among those receiving honorary degrees).
In 1963, on a return visit to Los Angeles for Mexican Independence Day, Torres Bodet said: “To be a Mexican has always required staunchness and fervor, because nothing our country has ever obtained has been doled out to it as a gift.
“The most persuasive and beautiful hours in our history have been those of intrepid strife against injustice. Jealous of our incumbent rights, we have never desired to affront the rights of others…”
Torres-Bodet, who was eventually director general of UNESCO, committed suicide in 1974 because he had prostate cancer.
Ruben Salazar, the author of the 1963 Times article, was killed in 1970 when he was struck in the head by a tear-gas canister shot into a bar during an antiwar demonstration.