League of United Latin American Citizens
|Founder||Pedro and Maria L. Hernandez (La Orden Caballeros de America)Ref. Library of Congress|
|Focus||Civil and social rights organization to protect the rights of all non whites.|
|Area served||United States|
|Key people||Margaret Morán, President
Brent A. Wilkes, National Executive Director
|Slogan||"All for One, One for All"|
The League of United Latin American Citizens, usually known by the acronym LULAC, was created to combat the discrimination faced by Hispanics in the United States. Established on February 17, 1929 in Corpus Christi, Texas, LULAC was a consolidation of smaller, like-minded civil rights groups already in existence. Since its creation, the organization has grown; it has a national headquarters, active councils in many states, and a professional staff.
Despite its national visibility, LULAC has lost strength in recent years because of a declining and less-active membership base and decreasing operating funds.
LULAC follows an assimilation ideology which emerged among cholos groups around the time of the Great Depression. During this time, the population of Mexican descendants in the United States experienced a demographic shift. During and after the Great Depression, a larger share of the Hispanic population was born with American citizenship. The deportation of an estimated 500,000 Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans during the depression caused the proportion of Mexican descendants who could claim U.S. citizenship to increase greatly. Benjamin Marquez asserts, "This demographic shift favored the rise of a more assimilated political leadership". Unlike earlier organizations, such as the mutual-aid associations (mutualistas) and labor-based groups (which emphasized the importance of cooperation among recent Mexican immigrants, Mexican residents, and Mexican Americans to combat economic, cultural, and political discrimination), LULAC specifically excluded non-American citizens from membership.
While praising its Mexican cultural heritage in its rhetoric, LULAC promoted the full adaptation of its members into the dominant US Anglo-Saxon culture, believing this strategy would be the most successful in combating discrimination. Asserting that it was not the economic or political intuitions that were flawed but discrimination was the result of racism alone, LULAC took an arguably conservative stance. It promoted capitalism and individualism and believed that through hard work and assimilation into American culture, Mexican Americans could improve their socioeconomic standing in American society. That is, by adapting to American institutions, LULAC believed individuals could change negative perceptions Anglo-Saxons held of Mexican Americans and achieve economic success.
As a method of increasing assimilation, LULAC emphasized American patriotism. It asserted that Mexican Americans should disavow any allegiance to Mexico, remain permanently in the United States, and commit fully to the democratic ideals of the US. This patriotism is evident in the structure of the organization. The league's official song is "America"; its official language is English and its official prayer is the "George Washington Prayer". Its constitution is modeled on the United States Constitution.
Because of LULAC’s assimilation ideology, it advocated immigration restriction. LULAC's central means of achieving equal status with Anglo-Saxons was dependent on promoting the image of Mexican residents as conforming to the cultural norms of the United States. Even though the league was ultimately concerned with the status of Mexican American citizens, it recognized the fact that the dominant society did not distinguish between those of Mexican descent. (For example, during the Great Depression, both non-citizens and citizens alike were deported back to Mexico.) New immigrants from Mexico facilitated against this strategy. The new immigrants brought with them stronger ties to their native culture, limited English proficiency, and were willing to work for low wages. Mexican Americans knew that they would be lumped together with the recent immigrants and also seen as "un-American", "backward", "poor" and would be discriminated against. The league also shared the fear of many working-class Americans that the new immigrant, willing to work for low wages and contributing to job competition against Mexican Americans due to their numbers, would economically harm Mexican Americans.
A focus on education was perhaps another byproduct of the assimilation ideology. Benjamin Marquez asserts, "Segregated schools, inferior equipment, and the lack of qualified teachers were seen as the primary obstacles to the full economic and social assimilation of the Mexican American". LULAC believed that the public-school system, with the aforementioned issues corrected, would serve as a central instrument in the assimilation process of children, and thereby the Mexican American community as a whole. Through formal education, Mexican Americans would learn how to function in American institutions, socialize with Anglo-Saxon children, and would be able to qualify for more-skilled jobs.
Comparisons with the NAACP
With respect to organizational structure, the League of Latin American Citizens was similar to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). David G. Gutierrez claims, "considering themselves part of a progressive and enlightened leadership elite, LULAC's leaders set out implement general goals and a political strategy that were similar in form and content to those advocated early in the century by W.E.B. Du Bois and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: for an 'educated elite'".
Though the two civil rights groups may have possessed some institutional similarities, LULAC tried to distance itself from the African American struggle against discrimination and racism. LULAC believed that blacks were more oppressed; thus, joining forces with them would not strengthen its own struggle for equality. Probably due to its understanding of the already-existing race relations in American society, LULAC asserted the idea that Hispanics fell into the "white" category of the dichotomous black-white construction of race. In 1936 the league even "engaged in a series of lobbying activities as soon as it invented that Mexican Americans would be categorized as part of a group of dark-skinned minorities" by the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
Before World War II
Overall, LULAC was consistently politically involved as it struggled to erase discriminatory laws and practices in the U.S. Southwest. Although it was a nonpartisan group, it encouraged members to vote for candidates who were supportive of the group’s ideals. During the 1930s, LULAC’s activities included voter-registration and petition drives, poll-tax repeal drives and litigation to improve the conditions of Mexican Americans. They also worked to improve education for Mexican Americans by conducting community-education campaigns and setting up a college scholarship program. These activities conformed with institutional structures already existing in the United States. A major event was the 1930 court case of Del Rio v. Salvatierra where LULAC sued Del Rio Independent School District for segregating Mexican Americans due to their race. Although it was not completely favorable in its ruling, the case made an important inroad for desegregation cases to come.
After World War II
During World War II the membership and activity of the organization decreased significantly, as many of the members joined the armed forces hoping to prove their patriotism (or were drafted). LULAC campaigned against the Emergency Farm Labor Program (also known as the Bracero Program), which began in 1942 to fill the farm-labor shortage which accompanied the US involvement in World War II. Although Mexican workers in this program were under contract with the government to come to the United States to work and then return to Mexico after a set amount of time, LULAC saw the program as paving the way for increased permanent immigration from Mexico. LULAC's opposition to the Bracero Program was consistent with its support for restricted immigration, as described earlier.
When the war ended, LULAC experienced a rebirth in enthusiasm, as returning veterans sought to claim the civil liberties they felt they were owed. The group continued to help the Mexican community with local activities such as Christmas toy drives, sponsoring Boy Scout troops, and campaigns against poll taxes. During the 1950s, LULAC began the Little School of the 400 program, which was a precursor to Head Start. The program was designed to teach Mexican American children 400 English words before they began first grade. The project was initially run by volunteers, and shown after the first class to be successful; out of 60 participating children, only one had to repeat the first grade.
The program expanded, and LULAC convinced the Texas legislature to underwrite it. Between 1960 and 1964 over 92,000 children benefited from the LULAC-initiated, English-centered preschool program. LULAC also sued school districts which practiced segregation. Examples of successful cases include Mendez v. Westminster in 1945 and Minerva Delgado V. Bastrop Independent School District in 1948. As Marquez notes, "Relying strictly on the volunteer labor of LULAC attorneys and their staff, from 1950-1957, approximately fifteen suit or complaints were filed against school districts throughout the Southwest". These victories would help lead the way to the outcome of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case.
Towards the end of the 1950s, members decreased their active support for LULAC. Marquez attributes this largely to the group's conservative ideology, which "prompted many of its members to restrict the number of hours they were willing to contribute after many of the goals they had set for themselves seemed to have been achieved." That is, LULAC consistently emphasized the importance of individual success for the improvement of the Mexican American community's status as a whole. By this time, most of the members were predominantly middle-class and upper-class; as race relations began to improve, members did not derive as much benefit from LULAC.
LULAC also faced competition from other, more radical Mexican American groups. The league found it difficult to meet the needs and desires of an increasingly-diverse Mexican American population. Thus, with only social solidarity as a benefit, "while the league's public profile grew in the mid-1960s and the group was involved in a wide range of political activities, these events occurred with decreasing mass participation, increased leadership innovation and a heavy dose of outside financial support”. The mass media continues to seek out the opinions of LULAC leaders and former leaders such as Arnoldo Torres on current events; these leaders are viewed as experts on Latino affairs because of the organization’s rich history.
The LULAC National Educational Service Centers (LNESC) are part of a non-profit educational advancement organization which helps students with direct-service programs and scholarships.
- American GI Forum (AGIF)
- Arnoldo Torres
- Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)
- Mexican-American Education Council (MAEC)
- National Immigration Forum
- National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
- "LULAC No. 7 recognized", Laredo Morning Times, July 2, 2013, p. 3A
- Gutierrez, David G. (March 1995). Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-20219-1, p. 9
- (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 105)
- (Marquez, Benjamin.Constructing 3)
- (Gutierrez 75)
- (Marquez, Benjamin. Constructing 3-15)
- (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 23)
- (Gutierrez 134-6)
- (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 28)
- (Gutierrez 77)
- (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 31)
- (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 32)
- (Gutierrez 78)
- (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 7)
- (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 45)
- Craig A. Kaplowitz, LULAC, Mexican Americans, and National Policy (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2005), 33
- (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 115)
- (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 51-52)
- (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 54)
- Marquez, Benjamin (1993). LULAC: The Evolution of a Mexican American Political Organization. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-75154-0, p. 84
- Marquez, LULAC, p. 105
- Marquez, LULAC, p. 111
- Marquez, Benjamin (2003). Constructing Identities in Mexican-American Political Organizations: Choosing Issues, Taking Sides. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-75277-1.
- Orozco, Cynthia E. (2009). No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-72132-6. History of the development of LULAC and of its predecessor organizations.
- Strum, Philippa (April 2010). Mendez V. Westminster: School Desegregation and Mexican-American Rights. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1719-7.
- "LULAC main webpage". Retrieved 11 August 2010.