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League of United Latin American Citizens
LULAC logo.jpg
Founded 1929
Headquarters Washington, DC
Staff Rosa Rosales, President; Brent A. Wilkes, LULAC National Executive Director
Area served United States, Puerto Rico
Focus Civil rights organization
Volunteers 115,000 (members)
Members 115,000
Motto "All for One, One for All"
Website http://www.lulac.org

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was created with the aim of combating the discrimination that Mexican Americans faced in the United States Southwest. Established February 17, 1929 in Corpus Christi, Texas, LULAC was consolidation of smaller, like-minded civil rights groups already in existence. Since its creation, the organization has grown and now boasts a national headquarters, active councils in many states, and a professional staff (Gutierrez 9). LULAC continues to operate and, while it is perhaps more nationally visible than ever, in recent decades it has lost considerable strength, due to a decreasing and less active membership base as well as decreasing funds (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 105).

Contents

Founding Ideology

LULAC follows an assimilation ideology that emerged among Mexican American groups around the time of the Great Depression. During this time, the population of Mexican descendants in the United States experienced a democratic shift. Due to population increases, which led to a greater number of the population being born with U.S. citizenship, as well as the deportation of an estimated 500,000 Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans during the Great depression, the proportion of Mexican descendants who could claim U.S. citizenship greatly increased. Benjamin Marquez asserts that, “[t]his demographic shift favored the rise of a more assimilated political leadership” (Marquez, Benjamin. Constructing 3). Unlike earlier organizations, such as the mutual-aid associations, or mutualistas, and labor-based groups, which emphasized the importance of cooperation between recent Mexican immigrants, Mexican residents, and Mexican Americans in order to combat economic, cultural, and political discrimination, LULAC specifically excluded non-American citizens from membership (Gutierrez 75).

While praising its Mexican cultural heritage in its rhetoric, LULAC promoted the full adaptation of its members into the dominate U.S. Anglo-Saxon culture, believing this tactic would be the most successful in combating discrimination. Asserting that it was not the economic or political intuitions that were flawed, but rather that discrimination was the result of racism alone, LULAC took an arguably conservative stance. It promoted capitalism and individualism, believing that, through hard work and assimilation into American culture, Mexican Americans could improve their socioeconomic standing in American society (Marquez, Benjamin. Constructing 3-15). That is, by adapting to the American institutions, LULAC believed individuals could change negative perceptions Anglo-Saxons held of Mexican Americans and find 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 U.S. (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 23). One can see this patriotism in the very structure of the organization. The league’s official song is “America,” the official language is English, and the official prayer is the “George Washington Prayer.” It’s constitution is also structured like 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 dominate 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 tended to work for critically 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 in general. 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 sheer numbers, would economically harm Mexican Americans (Gutierrez 134-6).

A focus on education was perhaps another bi-product of the assimilation ideology. Benjamin Marquez asserts that “[s]egragated 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” (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 28). LULAC believed that the public school system, with the afore stated 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.

Similarity and Contrast to NAACP

In respect to organizational structure, the League of Latin American Citizens was similar to the structure of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). David G. Gutierrez claims that, “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. DuBois and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: for an ‘educated elite’” (Gutierrez 77).

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 and, 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 (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 31). In 1936 the league even “engaged in a series of lobbying activities as soon as it discovered that Mexican Americans would be categorized as part of a group of dark-skinned minorities” by the U.S. Bureau of the Census (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 32)

Pre-WWII Activities and Achievements

Overall, LULAC was consistently politically involved as it struggled to erase discriminatory laws and practices in the U.S. Southwest. It was a nonpartisan group, but encouraged members to only vote for candidates that were supportive of the group’s ideals (Gutierrez 78). Throughout the 1930’s, LULAC’s activities included setting up voter registration drives, petition drives, poll tax drives and engaging in litigation to improve the conditions of Mexican Americans (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 7). They also worked to improve education of Mexican Americans, through such means as conducting community education campaigns and setting up a college scholarship program (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 45). It should be noted that these are all activities that conformed to the institutional structures already existing in the United States.

Post-WWII Activities and Achievements

Throughout World War II, 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 did campaign against the Emergency Farm Labor Program, also called the Bracero Program, which began in 1942 to fill the farm labor shortage that accompanied U.S. involvement in WWII. Even though Mexican workers in this program were under a contract with the government to come to the United States to work and then return to Mexico after a set amount of time, LULAC correctly recognized the program as paving the way for increased permanent immigration from Mexico. The fact that LULAC did not support the Bracero Program is consistent with its support for restricted immigration, as described earlier (Gutierrez 134-6).

When the war ended, LULAC experienced a rebirth in enthusiasm, as returning veterans sought to claim the civil liberties they felt they were owed (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 115). The group continued with its local activism to help the Mexican community, such as holding Christmas toy drives, being involved in Boy Scout troops, and holding poll tax drives. In the 1950s, LULAC began the program “Little school of the 400,” which was a precursor to preschools. The program was designed to teach Mexican American children 400 English words before they began the first grade. The project was initially run by volunteers and shown after the first class to be successful, as out of the sixty participating children, only one had to repeat first grade. The program expanded and LULAC convinced the Texas legislature to sponsor the program. Between 1960 and 1964 over 92,000 benefited from the LULAC-initiated English-centered preschool program (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 51-52). LULAC also sued school districts practicing segregation. Examples of successful cases include Mendez v. Westmister School District in 1945 and Minerva Delgado V. Bastrop Independent School District in 1948. As Marquez notes, “[r]elying strictly on the volunteer labor of LULAC attorneys and their staff, from 1950-1957, approximately fifteen suites or complaints were filed against school districts throughout the Southwest” (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 54). Undoubtedly these victories would help lead the way for the outcome of the monumental 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case.

Current LULAC Struggles

Towards the end of the 1950s, members decreased their active support for LULAC. Marquez contributes this largely to the conservative ideology of the group, 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” (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 84). 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- and upper class so as race relations began to improve, members did not derive much benefit from LULAC. LUAC also had to compete with other, more focused Mexican American groups. The league found it difficult to meet the needs and desires of an increasingly diverse Mexican American population (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 115). 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 finical support” (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 105). The mass media continues to seek out the opinions of LULAC leaders on current events. The leaders are seen as experts on Latino affairs because of the organization’s rich history (Marquez, Benjamin. LULAC 111).

Subsidiaries

The LULAC National Educational Service Centers (LNESC) is a Non-Profit educational advancement organization which helps students with direct-service programs and sholarship assistance.

See also

External links

References

Gutierrez, David G. Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995

Marquez, Benjamin. Constructing Identities in Mexican-American Political Organizations: Choosing Issues, Taking Sides. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2003

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

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