This piece is about the movement of civil rights for Hispanics and Latinos in East Texas. The League of Latin American Citizens is the primary organization focused on in East Texas and at Sam Houston State University

Civil Rights for Hispanics
In 1953, the United States Government launched “Operation Wetback” a program that would send people of Mexican descent to Mexico, mostly against their will. More than a million people were deported with a great majority being American citizens. However, Hispanics and Latinos resisted this discrimination, even in as early as the 1920s, when the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was created.[1]

Jim Crow laws in the early twentieth century impacted African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos alike. Hispanics were considered inferior and unhygienic people. Mexican-Americans were not allowed to learn English, they were unable to vote, and many families worked in fields/farms/ranches. Children weren’t able to complete school because they were needed to work and help support their families. Children also had to attend segregated schools known as “Mexican Schools” which were in horrible conditions and inadequately staffed. Many Mexican-Americans were deemed as uneducated and untrustworthy people. In the 1960s, Latinos and Hispanics pushed even harder for equality, taking after the African American movement for civil rights. In 1962, Cesar Chavez, an American laborer, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with Dolores Huerta that advocated for equal pay and better working conditions for farmworkers. The push for equal rights in education went even further throughout the 1960s when many Latino- American and Mexican-American history departments opened at many major universities. [2]

The League of United Latin American Citizens was created in 1929 with its mission being fighting the injustices imposed upon them such as racial segregation and discrimination in hiring practices at railroads. The League was created because of prejudice and the acts of discrimination had reached a new level of terrorism and Mexican-Americans wanted to defend themselves. There were three main organizations: The Order of the Sons on America; The Knights of America in San Antonio and the League of Latin American Citizens. It was the combination of these names that lead to LULAC getting its name: The League of United Latin American Citizens. Ben Garza was the leader of the Order of the Sons of America and the firs president of LULAC. Alonso S. Perales was the leader of the League of Latin American Citizens and later the second president of LULAC. These two men were the bringers about the merger of all three organizations. They united the three organizations on February 17, 1929 in Corpus Christi. The organization then embraced the motto: “All for One and One for All”. In May of 1929 the first convention of the new organization was called to order by the first president Ben Garza. Ben Garza remained president until his health made him unable to continue. Alonso Perales, the second president, took over and his best task was the take down of the ‘Box Immigration Bill’ in 1930. John Calvin Box, a congressman in Jacksonville, Texas, created the immigration bill that would expand patrol on the Mexican border and charge immigrants with unlawful entrance. However the true nature of his bill was to stop migration because he thought Mexican and Mexican-American people were degenerative and an inferior race that could not assimilate into an American. Alonso along with Canales and Garza, other members of LULAC, stood in front of the House of Representatives committee to answer questions and delivered a speech where he did not oppose the bill but instead took great offense to the notion of Mexican-Americans being described as a degenerative race. He argued against the notion that Mexican-Americans did not want to be “proper U.S. citizens” and explained that LULAC wanted its members to be “proper, loyal, and honest U.S. citizens”. Ultimately the bill was not passed. [3]

In 1945, The League of United Latin American Citizens gained more attention when a council sued to integrate the Orange County School System which was segregated because the Mexican children were “poorly clothed and mentally inferior” to white children. Another case was the Hernandez v. State of Texas (1954). This case centered on the fact that a Mexican American had never been called to jury duty, a civic duty required by law now, in the state of Texas. Around the time of the Hernandez case, “Operation Wetback” was also occurring. The term “wetback” itself is an offensive term that is meant to be derogatory against Mexican Immigrants who crossed the Rio Grande to illegally cross into the United States. “Operation Wetback” launched in 1953 but started occurring in the summer of 1954. This operation resulted because of the public’s anger at the Border Patrol’s failure to stop the incoming of illegal workers. [4]

More recently, LULAC elected its first woman president, Belen Robles in 1994, however women have been extended membership to LULAC since 1933. Women in LULAC went national as well but there were strongest is Texas. Their main focuses were on children, the poor, the elderly, women, and politics. Women of LULAC were the first to create a junior LULAC for young people that focused on the same mission but centered more around fighting for equal education in the public-school systems. Alice Dickerson Montemayor, Belen Robles, Ester Machuca, Lucy Acosta, Mary Ortiz, Consuelo Mendez and Amanda Valdez are some of the most significant contributors to Ladies LULAC. [5]

LULAC has integrated its organization into Huntsville, Texas and into Sam Houston State University. The Huntsville chapter arranges a variety of events such as Freedom Walks for Justice. In these Freedom Walks the goal is to “elevate the issues affecting [the] communities leading to the 2020 elections”. In the description, they motivate members of the community to attend the walk for a collaborative effort in fighting against hate and discrimination. The Sam Houston State University chapter (4284) focuses on volunteering and coming together to talk about different topics relating to Hispanics and Latinos. Advisors of Hispanic/Latino organizations from the University and students of the university work diligently to be all inclusive when hosting events such as Bingo night, food pantries, and voter registration drives. They host events year round but have a majority of their events during Hispanic Heritage Month on campus which usually takes place around September. The mission of LULAC on campus is to inform and educate the Hispanic/Latino community around the United States by becoming activists for civil rights. The LULAC organization on campus creates its own constitution and message that is not far from the national LULAC organization. In the Constitution there are pre-requisites to becoming a member and an officer as well as the duties of an officer in the chapter. There are few amendments and an annual review about newly elected officers. The LULAC organization at Sam Houston State University also attends the LULAC national convention where chapters from all around the United States meet and talk about topics relating to them and the changes they want to continue making. [6]

LULAC has come far in the history of civil rights for Hispanics. Although it is not the only organization that represents Hispanics and Latinos, it is the largest organization and oldest organization in Texas for Hispanics and Latinos. LULAC has done tremendous work in representing and fighting for basic rights and liberties for Hispanics /Latinos.



Jasmine Silva, “LULAC at SHSU,” East Texas History, accessed July 17, 2024,