The Origins and Contributions of LULAC

By: Malcolm Konicek

On February 17, 1929, a group of Mexican American’s founded LULAC (The League of United Latin American Citizens) in Corpus Christi, Texas. LULAC has several goals in mind relating to Mexican American civil rights that included desegregation in schools and the unfair conditions in migrant camps. LULAC’s purpose includes defending the rights and liberties in every American citizen by the law of the land.[1] LULAC also promoted reform rather than trying to reconstruct the political and economic status of Mexican Americans.[2] This exhibit covers LULAC’s growth, goals, and involvement in local Texas towns such as the migrant camps in Robstown and Mathis, and the segregated schools in Mathis and Bastrop.

Most LULAC members came from the upper social and economic part of the Mexican American community.[3] Two events led to the creation of LULAC. After World War I, the economy sharply increased and this created new job opportunities for Mexican Americans.[4] The second event involved the flocking of Mexican immigrants to the United States after the Mexican Revolution. Over 500,000 Mexicans immigrated to the United States between 1921 and 1929.[5] This caused fear in the Anglo-American population but also steered towards the creation of political organizations such as the Order of the Sons of America. Ben Garza, Jr. contacted smaller organizations and held meetings to possibly merge all these organizations into one in 1926.[6] Other Mexican American organizations including the Older Sons of America, the Knights of America, and the League of Latin American Citizens created and formed LULAC.[7] These organizations teamed up for a cause and brought together their ideas in fighting for Mexican-American civil rights. This sparked the beginning of a unified organization that would play a direct role in the American civil rights movement.

The post-World War II era was a major turning point in Mexican American politics because LULAC had more members and involvement than ever before. Mexican American veterans believed they have proven, through their brave military service that they have the right to be considered “equal” in American society.[8] Mexican Americans created a political agenda centered on institutional reform, social integration, and equal opportunity. From 1945 to 1965, one of LULAC’s goals was fighting communism through community literacy programs, working for elimination of poverty, organizing citizenship classes, curbing juvenile delinquency, helping to eliminate school dropouts, creating equal employment opportunities, and encouraging all programs to educate their people.[9] This became an important context LULAC established because the Cold War was going on during this time between the United States and USSR. LULAC members saw themselves as joining the fight against communism and protecting capitalism but in order to do this, they wanted to blend into American society. The first problems they faced involved a contradiction between their love of the country and its widespread racism.[10] This guided LULAC’s focus with racist ideology in the nation and turned their attention to discrimination. One of LULAC’s long-term accomplishments was their attempt to desegregate the segregated schools in Texas.

            In January 1948, LULAC filed a desegregation suit clarifying the constitutional issues involved in the segregation of Mexican Americans.[11] The American G.I. Forum joined LULAC and provided support and financial aid for numerous Mexican American communities in South Texas.[12] The American GI Forum addressed the concerns of Mexican American veterans that were segregated from other veteran groups. George I. Sanchez of LULAC and Gus García of the American GI Forum appeared in front of the State Board of Education and talked about the continued segregation in schools despite the Delgado v. Bastrop Independent School District case.[13] Gus García and George Sanchez states that a desegregation state policy should be declared, and the appropriate materials should be established so that this policy is reasonable and fair. The State Board of Education released a desegregation policy in which Mexican American parents could voice their concerns to their local schools if the schools have failed to eliminate segregation.[14] This was an example of one of the goals that LULAC accomplished. LULAC’s involvement with segregated schools shaped whom the organization really was and saw this as a reoccurring issue.

LULAC also dealt with a school segregation case in Mathis, Texas. LULAC discovered a segregated school system, migrant farm workers living in terrible conditions, and a community lacking in public health resources in this small town.[15] LULAC members noted that the Mexican Ward School System had 800 Mexican students taught by sixteen teachers, the schools segregated children based on their Mexican descent, the city gave no effort to give them a language test, and the classes were arranged to fifty kids to a classroom.[16] The school buildings faced the problem with being over crowded, poorly equipped, and having no sanitary facilities.[17] By contrast, the Anglo American elementary school’s consisted of 250 children, twelve classrooms, music rooms, a two-story red brick building, a football field, tennis courts, and playgrounds.[18] The conditions between both of these schools proves that this was an unfair situation and this problem needed to be resolved.

LULAC members Alonso Perales, Louis Wilmot, and Joe Garza filed a report and the case landed in federal court seven years later in 1955; it was known as Villarreal et. Al v. Mathis Independent School District. LULAC’s involvement in this case showed a great significance because it gained national recognition and helped Mathis desegregate its school. LULAC’s involvement in these local communities had a direct impact on the residents and showed that Mexican Americans could receive better freedoms from acts of political action. LULAC also dealt with other South Texas communities including problems arising within the Robstown Migrant Camp and concerns around public health and the long struggle to end poverty in Mathis.

During the late 1960s and 1970s, the Robstown migrant camp represented a powerful physical and symbolic reminder of long running economic and social injustices.[19] The workers’ experiences in the fields, their living conditions, and the pride of inequalities fitting into Robstown’s identity as a cotton producing town stirred up debates especially among Mexican American rights organizations.[20] Interviewees described the housing as poor because each house only had one light bulb, dirt floors, outhouses, and the schools were uncomfortable and cold.[21]The chairmen of the LULAC Civil Rights Committee Tony Bonilla, states that the working fields were “unfit for humans to live on” and the camp did not have running water, sewage, or even indoor plumbing.[22] He decided to take action in dealing with the camp by writing a publication to the Nueces County Commissioners’ Court. He summarized the camp’s problems including trash buildup, the lack of maintenance, flooding, leaking roofs, and other additional issues.[23] LULAC offers to invest its own resources to improve the camps’ conditions but the Commission rejected LULAC’s offer and closed the camp instead. This shows that Tony Bonilla’s letter is a significant source in LULAC’s historical documents.

Tony Bonilla’s letter signifies LULAC’s involvement in protecting Mexican-Americans civil rights and fighting inequality so that they will be treated equally in every facility in the United States, especially migrant camps. This letter also shows the impact it had on the commission’s views since they foreclosed the migrant camp. LULAC wants to provide support for the migrant camp which demonstrates their involvement in not just federal, but local communities and the impact their organization had in South Texas. The other issue LULAC concentrated on pertained to the migrant camp’s poor conditions in the small town of Mathis, just thirty miles northwest of Corpus Christi.

LULAC’s report shows that the migrant camps conditions included poor lighting, no bathing or washing facilities, open-area outhouses, no sewage disposal, and dirt floors.[24] Investigators found some people sick with dysentery, diarrhea, “pink eye,” and other unidentifiable diseases. Some of the labor camps had no water at all.[25] The LULAC’s data on the migrant camps were sent to the Texas governor, the Texas State Department of Health, the Civil Rights Commission in Washington D.C., and the mayor of Mathis.[26] LULAC wanted not just the community, but the entire country to recognize that Mexican Americans were getting poorly treated and deserve to live in good conditions so that they can thrive in society. None of the agencies responded to LULAC’s report and Dr. Hector P. García indicated “I have never seen such general disregard for the welfare and health of any people anywhere in Europe in Africa.”[27] Dr. Hector P. García was a World War II veteran, civil rights activist, and the founder of the American G.I. Forum. García recognized that this is a national issue and the American population needs to recognize this issue. García used LULAC’s data to testify before the Truman administration’s President’s Commission on Migratory Labor in 1951.[28] Local Mexican Americans responds with a social service program aiming to help Mathis’s migrant families.[29]

Many Americans do not recognize what LULAC is and what they stand for. LULAC needs to be well known because they used activism to fight cases in helping Mexican-Americans gain civil liberties. LULAC also gave leeway for the creation of other programs and organizations to help join them in the fight against inequality. This exhibit covered some of the important goals LULAC wanted to accomplish including the desegregation of schools in Texas and helping improve the conditions of migrant camps. LULAC has an impact on federal politics and local communities. LULAC has helped Mexican Americans rise to equal citizens in American history and set an example for other activists wanted to get involved with Mexican American civil rights. LULAC will always be talked about and remembered in American history for centuries.

 

[1]Benjamin Marquez, “The Politics of Race and Class: The League of United Latin American Citizens in the Post-World War II Period,” Social Science Quarterly 68, no. 1 (1987):pg. 84 accessed February 24, 2018 http://www.jstor.org/stable/42862196. 84.

[2]Benjamin Marquez, LULAC: The Evolution of a Mexican American Political Organization (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993), 15.

[3] Marquez, 85.

[4] Marquez, 15.

[5] Marquez, 15.

[6] Marquez, 17.

[7] Marquez, 85.

[8] Marquez, 87.

[9] Marquez, 89.

[10] Marquez, 89.

[11]Guadalupe San Miquel Jr, “Mexican American Organization and the Changing Politics of School Desegregation in Texas, 1945 to 1980,” Social Science Quarterly 63, no. 4 (December 1982), America: History & Life, EBSCOhost. Accessed February 25, 2018. 706.

[12] San Miquel Jr., 706.

[13] San Miquel Jr., 707.

[14] San Miquel Jr., 706.

[15]Felipe Hinojosa, “¡Medicina Sí Muerte No!: Race, Public Health, and the “Long War on Poverty” in Mathis, Texas, 1948–1971”, Western Historical Quarterly, Volume 44, Issue 4,  (November 1, 2013), https://doi.org/10.2307/westhistquar.44.4.0437, 438.

[16] Hinojosa, 441.

[17] Hinojosa, 441.

[18] Hinojosa, 441.

[19]Christine Reiser Robbins, and Mark W. Robbins, “Spatial Relations in Oral History: The Robstown Migrant Labor Camp beyond the Federal Period.” Oral History Review 42, no. 2 (2015): accessed February 28, 2018. https://muse.jhu.edu/, 271.

[20] Robbins, 270.

[21] Robbins, 265.

[22] Robbins, 268.

[23] Robbins, 271.

[24] Hinojosa, 442.

[25] Hinojosa, 442.

[26] Hinojosa, 442.

[27] Hinojosa, 443. 

[28] Hinojosa, 443.

[29] Hinojosa, 444.

Bibliography

Hinojosa, Felipe. “¡Medicina Sí Muerte No!: Race, Public Health, and the “Long War on Poverty” in Mathis, Texas, 1948–1971”, Western Historical Quarterly, Volume 44, Issue 4, 1 November 2013, Pages 437–458, https://doi.org/10.2307/westhistquar.44.4.0437

Kaplowitz, Craig Allan. LULAC, Mexican Americans, and National Policy. Texas A&M University Press, 2005.

Marquez, Benjamin. "The Politics of Race and Class: The League of United Latin  American Citizens in the Post-World War II Period." Social Science Quarterly 68, no. 1 (1987): 84-101, accessed February 24, 2018. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42862196.

Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC: The Evolution of a Mexican American Political Organization. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.

Robbins, Reiser Christine, and Mark W. Robbins. "Spatial Relations in Oral History: The Robstown Migrant Labor Camp beyond the Federal Period." Oral History Review 42, no  2 (2015): 255-276, accessed February 28, 2018. https://muse.jhu.edu/

San Miguel, Guadalupe, Jr. "Mexican American Organization and the Changing Politics of School Desegregation in Texas,1945 to 1980." Social Science Quarterly 63, no. 4 (December 1982): 701-715, accessed February 25, 2018. America: History & Life,EBSCOhost.

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