The League of United Latin American Citizens, more commonly known by its acronym LULAC, is the oldest and largest Latino civil rights organization in the United States. LULAC was founded in 1929 with the merger of several smaller Latin American civil rights groups that had emerged in the 1920s in response to widespread discrimination against Mexican Americans in southwestern states like Texas. LULAC has played a major role in fighting for Latino civil rights and advancing the interests of the broader Latino community in the United States over the past nine decades.
When and where was LULAC founded?
LULAC was founded at a unification convention held in Corpus Christi, Texas in May 1929. Several existing Latino civil rights organizations came together at this convention to form a national umbrella group that would have more power to advocate for Latinos at the national level. The key groups that merged to form LULAC were the League of Latin American Citizens from south Texas, the Order Sons of America from west Texas and New Mexico, and the Knights of America from New Mexico. There were also several independent Latino councils that joined LULAC at this founding convention.
Why was LULAC created?
LULAC was created in response to the widespread discrimination and segregation facing Mexican Americans in the 1920s, especially in Texas. At the time, Mexican Americans faced severe discrimination in housing, education, voter rights, jury selection, and employment opportunities. Many southwestern states had passed laws segregating Mexicans into inferior “Mexican schools” and preventing them from participating fully as citizens. LULAC was founded to address these injustices and advocate for full civil rights and inclusion for Latinos in American society.
The founders of LULAC believed that the only way to improve conditions for Latinos was to organize a strong civil rights organization that could fight discrimination through the legal and political system. The existing local and regional groups that came together to form LULAC had realized that they could accomplish much more at the national level by banding together. LULAC was modeled on the civil rights advocacy of organizations like the NAACP and aimed to use similar tactics such as lobbying, voter registration drives, and lawsuits to aid Latinos.
Who were the key founders of LULAC?
Some of the key founders and early leaders of LULAC were:
- Ben Garza: Considered a founding father of LULAC who helped bring the various local groups together into a national organization.
- Alonso S. Perales: A lawyer and civil rights activist in Texas who helped draft LULAC’s early constitution and vision.
- Manuel C. Gonzales: The first elected president of LULAC who served from 1929-1931.
- J.T. Canales: A state legislator in Texas who helped organize LULAC chapters throughout south Texas.
- Andres de Luna: An organizer who recruited several independent Latino groups to join LULAC at its founding.
These early leaders of LULAC were professionals, small business owners, and political activists who came together around the shared cause of advancing Latino civil rights. They organized local LULAC councils that then sent representatives to the national convention to formalize the establishment of the league.
What were LULAC’s early priorities and goals?
LULAC’s main goals at the time of its founding in 1929 were to:
- Fight racial discrimination against Latinos in all areas of life including education, employment, housing, and the judicial system.
- Ensure voting rights and political representation for Latinos.
- Advocate for just immigration policies and fair treatment of Latino immigrants.
- Promote educational opportunities and improve public schooling for Latino children.
- Advance Latin American history and culture as part of the U.S. identity.
The preamble to LULAC’s original constitution laid out the group’s goals clearly: “to develop within the members of our race the best, purest and most perfect type of a true and loyal citizen of the United States of America.” This suggested LULAC’s strong desire to be recognized as fully American, at a time when many Anglo Americans questioned the “Americanness” of Mexicans in the southwest. LULAC believed that Latinos could be both proudly Latino and fully patriotic Americans.
What were LULAC’s major early achievements?
Some of LULAC’s key achievements during its first decade included:
- Helping win a 1929 court case (Del Rio ISD v. Salvatierra) that outlawed segregation of Mexican American students in Texas schools.
- Organizing voter registration drives that significantly increased Latino voter participation and political influence in the 1930s.
- Filing legal challenges that removed restrictions on Latino jury service in Texas.
- Successfully campaigning for the hiring of Latino teachers for predominantly Latino schools.
- Lobbying against proposed immigration restrictions and deportations of Latino immigrants in the 1930s.
- Pressuring major movie studios in the 1930s to stop negative portrayals of Mexicans and Latinos.
Through a groundswell of local organizing combined with national-level advocacy, LULAC was able to achieve major gains in Latino civil rights during its earliest years. These early victories built crucial momentum that allowed LULAC’s membership and influence to steadily grow over subsequent decades.
How did LULAC expand and grow over time?
LULAC experienced steady growth in membership and chapters during its first decades. By 1935, just six years after its founding, LULAC had grown to nearly 20,000 members and more than 150 local councils around the country. The group continued expanding and having impact on the national level during the 1940s and 1950s.
Some key developments that allowed LULAC’s continued growth include:
- The addition of women’s auxiliary groups in the 1930s, broadening LULAC’s base.
- Strong advocacy for equal rights and opportunities for Mexican Americans who served in World War II.
- Backing of a groundbreaking lawsuit in 1954 that led to the integration of LULAC chapters.
- Advocacy for greater representation of Latinos in President Kennedy’s administration in the 1960s.
- Leading Latino voter registration and education campaigns starting in the 1960s.
This steady track record of impact and expansion allowed LULAC to consolidate its stature as the nation’s premier Latino civil rights organization. LULAC also became increasingly inclusive over time – in addition to Mexican Americans, it advocated for the rights of Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and other Latino groups.
LULAC’s protests against job discrimination
One area where LULAC was particularly influential after World War II was in pushing for equal employment opportunities for Latinos. Many employers and unions routinely discriminated against Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans, restricting them to the lowest paying jobs. LULAC organized major national boycotts and protests against institutionalized job discrimination during the 1960s and 1970s. This advocacy directly led to new federal laws and executive orders prohibiting employment discrimination.
Advocacy for Latino inclusion in the New Deal
LULAC was also at the forefront of advocating for Latino inclusion in major New Deal economic and social programs enacted during the 1930s. Though administers like the Civilian Conservation Corp initially excluded Latinos, LULAC’s sustained lobbying ensured that job and housing provisions were expanded to Latinos as well.
Campaigning for Latino political representation
A major thrust of LULAC’s work from its earliest days was increasing Latino political representation. LULAC successfully campaigned for the first Latino governor of New Mexico in the 1930s and the first Latino federal judge in the 1950s. It also pushed the Kennedy administration to appoint more Latinos to high-level posts. LULAC helped grow Latino voter rolls and turnout through major registration drives.
How did LULAC help advance Latino civil rights in the 1960s and 1970s?
LULAC played a crucial role in the major civil rights advances of the 1960s and 1970s. Some examples include:
- Backing the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.
- Protesting discriminatory immigration policies like the bracero program.
- Suing Texas over the denial of education financing to undocumented immigrant children.
- Leading grassroots voter registration campaigns across the Southwest.
- Calling for improved bilingual education programs in schools.
- Advocating for designation of the first Hispanic Serving Institutions in colleges.
During these pivotal decades, LULAC consolidated its reputation as one of the “Big Three” national Latino advocacy groups, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).
LULAC’s role in the Chicano Movement
The more militant Chicano Movement grew out of the civil rights era in the late 1960s. While some activists accused LULAC of being too accommodating, LULAC supported most Chicano Movement goals like the Grape Boycott and the formation of Chicano studies programs. LULAC’s reputation as a nonpartisan, mainstream group committed to legal tactics helped it make major gains through cooperation with white politicians.
Battles over bilingual education
Bilingual education was a hotly contested issue during these decades. LULAC advocated for more spending on bilingual education programs to help Latino students, putting it at odds with groups who pushed for English-only schooling. Key LULAC education victories included getting Congress to designate Hispanic Serving Institutions and winning landmark migrant education federal funding.
Leadership in the Latino anti-war movement
As the Vietnam War escalated in the 1960s, LULAC emerged as a leading Latino voice against the war. LULAC protested the disproportionate casualties suffered by Latino soldiers in Vietnam. It also criticized the spending on war instead of on Latino education and economic advancement at home.
How did LULAC help spearhead Latino empowerment in the 1980s and beyond?
From the 1980s immigration reform battles to today, LULAC has remained an influential advocate for the nation’s Latinos. Some more recent LULAC achievements include:
- Playing a central role pushing for the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
- Backing the creation of the National Museum of the American Latino in the 2000s.
- Campaigning heavily for Latino voter turnout and representation.
- Advocating for just immigration policies towards Latin American refugees and asylum seekers.
- Leading Latino opposition to 1990s state ballot initiatives seen as anti-immigrant.
- Criticizing immigration restrictions imposed after 9/11 as discriminatory against Latinos.
LULAC has continued growing into the 21st century, with hundreds of councils across nearly every state. It remains a powerful voice keeping Latino civil rights issues on the national agenda.
Battles over 1980s immigrant rights
LULAC was on the frontlines opposing anti-immigrant policies in the 1980s. It criticized employer sanctions in the 1986 reform law but helped get protections for immigrant farmworkers included. LULAC also led Latino opposition to California’s Proposition 187 denying services to undocumented immigrants, seen as a precursor to the 1990s state ballot initiatives.
Campaigning for Latino representation
Equal political representation has remained a core LULAC focus. It campaigned heavily for the election of Latino mayors and governors in the 1980s and 1990s. LULAC also pushed for appointment of more Latinos to high office, aiding the elevation of the first Latino Supreme Court justice in 2009.
March for immigration reform
In 2000, LULAC organized a major national march in Washington D.C. demanding immigration reform and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The rally was seen as a forerunner to the mass 2006 immigrant marches. LULAC has continued pressing for comprehensive federal immigration reform legislation in recent decades.
For over 90 years since its founding in 1929, LULAC has been at the heart of the struggle for Latino civil rights in America. It began by addressing stark injustices faced by Mexican Americans in the early 20th century Southwest and steadily expanded its advocacy over subsequent decades. LULAC has led legal, political, and social battles to advance educational equality, economic opportunity, political representation, and overall inclusion for Latinos. From its crucial role in 1960s civil rights reforms to today’s immigrant rights movement, LULAC continues working to realize its founding vision of Latino advancement.