Mexican Americans in Houston:Facing Adversity and Becoming American during the Great Depression, 1929 -1939
Historians have documented and interpreted the civil rights struggle in America for themany different groups who, by the necessity of their condition, sought betterment of their lives.The story of one such group, Mexican Americans, is a testament to the complications causedwhen the worth of any one person or community is defined by subjective factors like skin color,nationality, and class. Many people of Mexican descent, both citizens and non-citizens, weresubject to the same discriminatory practices that plagued black Americans in the late nineteenthand early twentieth centuries. Across the nation, leaders of the growing colonias realized theneed to shield themselves from the ills of American society.
It is for this reason people of Mexican descent, during the Great Depression, began to assert their identity as Americans toprove their claim to citizenship and thereby resist the social, political, and economic oppressionthat permeated their existence. The climate in Houston during this time, the years 1929 to 1939,provides a useful context to explore the methods Mexican Americans used to alleviate the painsof discrimination. To understand how the group settled on their course of action, one must firstexamine the historical background of the diverse region.The first account of a person with a Spanish surname in the Houston area is that of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the explorer that shipwrecked near Galveston in November1528.
Spanish presence in the Gulf did not have a long-lasting impact on the region outsideof defending the conquest from Mexican rebellion in the early nineteenth century. The presenceof Mexican people in the Houston-Galveston area, however, emerges in what historianArnoldo DeLeon calls the "Mexican period of Texas history, 1821- 1836." During this timethe Mexican government granted Stephen F. Austin the rights to the first Anglo settlementsin the area, spanning the length of the Buffalo Bayou. The influx of approximately 300 Anglofamilies solidified an American presence and caused significant strife between agents of the