The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), founded in 1929, is the oldest and most widely respected Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States of America. LULAC was created at a time in our country’s history when Hispanics were denied basic civil and human rights, despite contributions to American society. The founders of LULAC created an organization that empowers its members to create and develop opportunities where they are needed most.
How LULAC was founded
In 1945, a California LULAC Council successfully sued to integrate the Orange County School System, which had been segregated on the grounds that Mexican children were “more poorly clothed and mentally inferior to white children.” Additionally, in 1954, LULAC brought another landmark case, Hernandez vs. the State of Texas, to protest the fact that a Mexican American had never been called to jury duty in the state of Texas. The Supreme Court ruled this exclusion unconstitutional.
Since then, LULAC has fought for full access to the political process and equal educational opportunity for all Hispanics. LULAC’s continues to play an active role in these efforts. LULAC councils across the United States hold voter registration drives, citizenship awareness sessions, sponsor health fairs and tutorial programs, and raise scholarship money for the LULAC National Scholarship Fund. This fund, in conjunction with LNESC (LULAC National Educational Service Centers), has assisted almost 10 percent of the 1.1 million Hispanic students who have gone to college.
LULAC Councils have also responded to an alarming increase in xenophobia and anti-Hispanic sentiment. They have held seminars and public symposiums on language and immigration issues. In addition, LULAC officers have used television and radio to protest against the “English Only” movement, which seeks to limit the public (and in some cases, private) use of minority languages.
Below is an account of the struggles that LULAC and its members have had to endure in order to improve the status of employment, housing, health care, and education for all Hispanics in the United States of America.
Reasons That Lead To The Formation of LULAC
When the United States of North America annexed a third of Mexico’s territory following the Mexican War, nearly 77,000 Mexicans became U.S. citizens. For generations, these citizens were to be plagued by prejudice that would result in overt acts of discrimination and segregation. This prejudice led to the curtailment of many civil rights. The sign, “No Mexicans Allowed” was found everywhere.
In Texas, prejudice and acts of discrimination had reached such extreme proportions that Mexican Americans began organizaing to defend themselves. There were three main organizations: The Order of the Sons of America with councils in Somerset, Pearsall, Corpus Christi, and San Antonio; The Knights of America in San Antonio; and The League of Latin American Citizens with councils in Harlingen, Brownsville, Laredo, Penitas, La Grulla, McAllen, and Gulf.
The Unification Effort
Ben Garza, leader of Council #4 of the Order of the Sons of America in Corpus Christi, united all Mexican American organizations under one title, one set of objectives, and one constitution. The first of a series of attempts occurred on August 14th, 1927, when delegates from The Order of the Sons of America, The Knights of America, and other allied organizations traveled to Harlingen, to officially form The League of Latin American Citizens. The President General of The Order of the Sons of America invited the League of Latin American Citizens--then under the leadership of Attorney Alonso S. Perales of Harlingen--to unite with them in order to unify Mexican American organizations. The League of Latin American Citizens approved the idea and a resolution to bring about the merger was adopted.
There were serious doubts regarding the merger due to differences between the leaders of The League of Latin American Citizens and the President General of The Order of the Sons of America. Thus, The Order of the Sons of America and The Knights of America decided to join together regardless of The League of Latin American Citizens’ actions. Council #4 of The Order of the Sons of America and The Knights of America considered the proposed merger for a year.
During this time, Alonso S. Perales and Ben Garza were constantly discussing how to bring about the merger. However, the President General of The Order of the Sons of America never called a unification convention. This lead Council #4 of The Order of the Sons of America to withdraw on February 7, 1929. They voted to have a uniting convention on February 17, 1929, at the Obreros Hall, on the corner of Lipan and Carrizo streets in Corpus Christi.
Delegates from Alice, Austin, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Encino, Harlingen, La Grulla, McAllen, Robstown, and San Antonio opened the unification convention. They elected Ben Garza as chairmen protem and M.C. Gonzalez as secretary.
The delicate task of uniting these groups was assigned to Juan Solis and Mauro Machado, members of The Knights of America, Alonso S. Perales and J.T. Canales, members of The League of Latin American Citizens, E.N. Marin, A. DeLuna and Fortunio Trevino, member of The Order of the Sons of America. Alonso S. Perales initially proposed the name “Latin American Citizens’ League.” In response, Mauro Machado suggested they use the word “United” as apropos for the merger and as a way of differentiating the title from “The League of Latin American Citizens”. Thus, Juan Solis motioned that the union be “United Latin American Citizens.” J.T. Canales friendly amended the motion so that the name read “League of United Latin American Citizens”. The amended motion was unanimously passed.
The committee proceeded to adopt the motto proposed by J.T. Canales, “All for One and One for All”, to serve as a reminder of the difficulties of unification and as the basis for all future activities of LULAC.
Temporary rules were drawn up until a constitutional convention could be held. A constitutional convention was to be held on 18, and 19 May 1929, in Corpus Christi, Texas, and an executive committee was established to administer LULAC until the convention. The executive committee included Ben Garza as chairman, M.C. Gonzalez as Secretary, J.T. Canales and J. Luz Saena as committee members. On May 18, 1929, at the Allende Hall in Corpus Christi, Texas, Ben Garza called the first LULAC General Convention to order. The assembly promptly adopted a constitution proposed by J.T. Canales and based upon the one used by The Knights of America. Ben Garza was elected President General, M.C. Gonzalez was elected Vice President General, A. DeLuna was elected Secretary General, and Louis C. Wilmot of Corpus Christi, Texas, was elected Treasurer General. These officers guided a new organization that faced prejudice and skepticism.
Mexican Americans were not allowed to learn English. Thus, they were disenfranchised and unable to vote. Many were unable to pay voting taxes. Thus, their Anglo bosses paid this charge and told them who to vote for.
Many Mexican American families worked in fields, farms, and ranches and their children never went to school. Many were denied jobs because they were perceived as lazy, poorly dressed, dirty, ill educated, and thought to be thieves.
American children had to attend segregated schools known as “Mexican Schools.” In those days “Mexican Schools” were legal in the Southwest. These schools were staffed with the worst teachers and the buildings were in deplorable conditions.
Discrimination against Mexican Americans was rampant. During those years there were more Mexican Americans hung than the total number of blacks hung during the Civil War. A famous Anglo gunfighter was once asked how many men he had killed. He responded that each notch on the handles of his guns represented one kill and that he had twenty-seven notches, not counting Mexicans. Discrimination knew no age limits. In one incident a young Mexican American girl was eating a dry tortilla and choked to death because her peers were not allowed to get her a drink of water from a “whites only” water fountain. In another incident, LULAC members on a weekend recruitment journey stopped at a hamburger place. One of the men went to the takeout window and placed an order. When the food was ready, he was told that he had to go to the black section to eat his food. He refused, telling the food handler that he was Mexican and not black, and the food was taken away. In another instance, a LULAC member (who later became a LULAC President General) had to dress as a woman in order to get pass a sheriff with rifle in arm who had vowed to prevent LULAC from organizing in his town.
This was the discrimination that led many Mexican Americans to build strong traditions of self-determination. In 1921, courageous men and women in Texas began organizing to ensure that juries reflected the composition of the population and filed suits to have Mexican Americans placed on jury rosters. In 1929, a number of Mexican rights organizations met in Corpus Christi, Texas, and merged into a single group.
February 27, 1929
This was not a day for a meeting. It was Sunday and a day of rest. The rain was filling the dirt streets. But there was an urgent task to be done; the muddy streets were of little concern to those men about to make history. It was a meeting that would merge three largest Mexican American organizations into one.
The merger has been discussed in 1927 during an installation of officers of a newly formed Mexican American organization, “The League of Latin American Citizens”, founded in Harlingen, Texas, by Alonso S. Perales. Now on February 17, 1929 the merger was now about to take place in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Delegates from three prestigious Mexican American organizations: The Knights of America, The Sons of America, and The League of Latin American Citizens, gathered on this rainy day to attempt to unify. Although many members were hesitant, the leaders of the organizations convinced the delegates of the necessity of a merger. A committee, with two delegates from each organization, was formed. This committee had the responsibility of coming up with rules and a name for the new organization.
This was a delicate task, because each organization had a proud history, its own constitution, its own structure, and a strong leader. The Knights of America of San Antonio, the oldest of the three had done much for its community under the leadership of M.C. Gonzalez. The same held true for The Sons of America of Corpus Christi, the second oldest and under the leadership of Ben Garza. Nevertheless, The League of Latin America Citizens of the Texas Valley, although the youngest of the three, had been effective under the leadership of Alonso S. Perales and was growing at a much faster pace than the other two combined.
After a four hour meeting, the committee decided to combine of the constitutions of the three merging organizations. The name of the new organization would be taken from the youngest of the three with the word “United” added to the name. Thus, “The League of United Latin American Citizens” was formed.
The delegates were pleased with the calm leadership efforts of Ben Garza and elected him the first President General of LULAC. The delegates agreed to hold the first LULAC Convention on May 19, 1929 in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Of course, the three merged organizations, which became LULAC were not the only Mexican American organization of that era. Many wanted to revolt and regain the territories that Mexico ceded to the United States of America after the Mexico-Texas War. Others wanted to engage in widespread civil disobedience against local authorities. There were many Mexican Americans that considered LULAC members as a bunch of “vendidos.” They could not understand why LULAC members would embrace an Anglo society that had been so cruel to Mexican Americans. However, the founders of LULAC had seen many Mexican American organizations flourish and disappear within a couple of years, without accomplishments. LULAC founders were determined not to let this occur to LULAC. Therefore, the founders of LULAC forewant many of their convictions in order to avoid suspicions of un-American activities and serve as a safe haven for its members. Many of the official rites that LULAC adopted had never be adopted by any other Mexican American organization. LULAC adopted the American Flag as its official flag, America the Beautiful as its official song, and The George Washington Prayer as its official prayer. Also, LULAC adopted the Robert Rules of Order as its governing rules during meetings and conventions.
These founders envisioned LULAC as an organization that would be strongly accepted by Mexican Americans throughout Texas. In this regard they were correct. However, they were not prepared for the rapid growth of Mexican Americans in the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and California, all within the first three years of LULAC’s founding. LULAC’s founders could never have imagined that LULAC would later serve 48 states, Puerto Rico, Mexico, South America, and the armed service base in Heidelburg, West Germany. Nevertheless, the guiding philosophies of the League of United Latin American Citizens supported the inclusion of all those of Hispanic origin and not just Mexican Americans.