Local colleges have brought Cynthia Orozco down to south Texas for Latino Heritage Month two years in a row now, and I’ve missed her both times (I teach night classes). It’s unfortunate because I would have loved to hear her talk more about the Chicano civil rights movement, but I did finally get a chance to read her book, No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.
Though this area has exploded in the past decade, growing up in the Rio Grande Valley felt isolating at times; to the south is Mexico, and the closest big city (San Antonio) is about 3½ hours north. This area isn’t usually mentioned in history books, but as Orozco shows, south Texas has a rich and complicated history. Her book, which focuses on the creation of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in the late 1920s, sheds light on a small piece of this history. Historically, scholars have dismissed LULAC’s significance in the Mexican American civil rights movement; the organization was looked at as bourgeois and assimilationist. Orozco analyzes the organization’s history in a new context, combing through private collections and obtaining oral histories to show that LULAC’s “México Tejano” founders (who identified as Mexican Texans, rather than Texas Mexicans) had the interests of all of La Raza in mind when they created the organization.
At the time, “Mexicans” (as they were referred to regardless of citizenship status or nationality) faced various forms of racism, segregation, and inequality throughout the U.S. (this picture comes to mind). Mexicans were targeted by the Texas Rangers and the KKK (I had no idea that the Klan had existed as far south as the Rio Grande Valley), and Orozco writes that the creation of the Border Patrol in 1924 “institutionalized anti-Mexican sentiment, ‘alien’ status among La Raza, and deportation…a new ‘other’ had been created.” “Mexicans” who owned land along the border were at risk of being killed or run off their land. Most of La Raza lived below poverty level, and about half worked agricultural jobs (Mexican-origin men earned about eight times less than the living wage). “Mexican” children were sent to “English-only” Mexican schools, which were notoriously underfunded and run by white teachers (even though my grandfather was born some time after this period, he went to school on the Mexican side of town and I remember him talking about students getting the paddle if teachers heard even one Spanish word come out of their students’ mouths).
There were several organizations that formed in response to all of these injustices, but in the end, they converged to form LULAC. This wasn’t without problems: ultimately, LULAC’s educated, middle class founders–which included some of the first Mexican American lawyers and teachers in Texas–felt that they were in the best position to lead the movement. One of the requirements for membership was U.S. citizenship; this move alienated working class Mexicans and Mexican Americans and caused a rift. Women, whose reputations depended on staying home and being good wives and mothers, were initially excluded from membership as well. But as Orozco reveals, there were several women working behind the scenes in support of the cause.
No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed is a welcome addition to Chicano scholarship, and I appreciate that Orozco dedicated a chapter to featuring short biographies on the people who were instrumental to creating LULAC. On a more personal note, though the book isn’t just about south Texas, I loved learning more about the activist history of all the little towns between Mexico and San Antonio–it definitely left me wanting to learn more.
No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement was released by University of Texas Press on November 15, 2009.