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Cynthia E.


No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement
Review by J. Holder Bennett

University of North Texas Fall 2010

Cynthia E. Orozco, No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009). Orozco’s work is, frankly, the best title I have seen on Mexican American history in the early and middle twentieth century in a long while. Unburdened by excessive theory requiring constant justification and explication and containing a distinct, central narrative, this title clearly and calmly projects the growth of a self-conscious Mexican American social and political movement, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC hereinafter). If there is one consideration which requires some note, it is Orozco’s use of the term “La Raza” (3, passim). Though here she uses it entirely to indicate “the Mexican race,” if one missed that in the introductory chapter one might well feel, and with some justification, that she was referring to the political movement (10 – 12). A further difficulty with the term is that Hispanics were not considered a separate race in law until the 1930 Decennial US Census and her work covers much of the activity in the 1920s. Lastly, the very idea of race is itself problematic. It is a social construct having no basis in biology or even in physical appearance in many cases, a point which made the experiences of various leaders differ. Orozco points out that, while all the leaders were technically of the same “race,” they differed greatly in appearance and were treated differently by society because of it (94). Though appropriate to use racial terms when quoting period material, as people on all sides did use them and believed in their real relation to humanity, Orozco occasionally lacks distinction between her own racial term use and that of her subjects. With this one reservation, this book is eminently readable and enjoyable. The central object of this book is to chart the growth and development of the movement which would culminate in the formation of LULAC in 1929. Before that there were several distinct stages of agitation. What began as a scattered Mexican movement sponsored in part by

the consulate office evolved into a Mexican American movement interacting all across South Texas, as best exemplified by the foundation of the Order Sons of America (OSA hereinafter) in 1921. The social growth and change of the movement would lead to gradually increasing levels of Americanization, a point of much contention and criticism from later Chicano historians who essentially allege that LULAC forgot about the “Mexican” part of “Mexican American.” This criticism is partly justified by the principles and goals established first for the League of Latin American Citizens (LLAC hereinafter) in 1927 and the later constitution of LULAC which was based on it in part (Appendices 2 and 3, respectively). With this much, Orozco unambiguously disagrees and presents ample evidence to the contrary from documents and interviews. The OSA was also economically longitudinal in that it coordinated efforts between the nascent Mexican American middle class and the traditional working class groups, specifically agricultural laborers. The inclusion of petite bourgeois elements would also be a point of later criticism, as scholars of the late twentieth century would refer to LULACers and members of related organizations as “vendidos [sellouts]” and “accommodationists” (92). Orozco similarly disagrees with this point, preferring to see the 1920s activists as pragmatic. In Chapter Four, she presents a group biography of the eleven men considered co-founders of LULAC. Seven were working class and had lives surrounded by hard, physical labor, and all eleven had “regular contact with workers and immigrants” (118). Indeed, one, Clemente Idar, was an AFL organizer and his influence can be seen in the heavy labor orientation of the LULAC constitution (102). Though the documentary refutation of the normative position is somewhat less robust than in the previous case, and is largely dependent on oral histories, it is still a convincing presentation. Dating the beginning of the Mexican American movement in the 1920s is controversial as well because mainstream scholars place the rise of anti-segregation movements in the

Mexican American community as a post-World War Two phenomenon. Orozco instead sees the real genesis in OSA and the other groups which coordinated in the formation first of LLAC and then of LULAC (65). One such group was the Primer Congreso Mexicanista (PCM hereinafter). This group was open to both US and Mexican citizens, conducted much of their business in Spanish, and allowed women to join. A leader from the PCM, Gregorio E. González, went so far as to say, “En cada parte del mundo en que exista un Mexicano, existe la Patria [Wherever in the world a Mexican exists, the fatherland exists]” (71). Though allowed to be members, sometimes as full participants and sometimes as auxiliaries, women generally preferred to make their own independent groups in a pattern which followed traditional Mexican gender dynamics. To that end, Jovita Idar, mother of Clemente and Eduardo Idar who would later be co-founders of LULAC, helped found the Liga Femenil Mexicanista. This group had its own independent platform and areas of concern, mostly the traditional feminine areas of education and childrearing (71). None of these groups, masculine- or feminine-oriented, lasted much past 1920, all of them going through a mixed process of splintering and dissolution caused as much by difficulties in communication and transportation as much as by personality conflicts between founders and between regional organization hubs (89). Even so, they provided the groundwork for the OSA to expand throughout the 1920s. Early leadership of the OSA and the splinter groups was comprised in large part of returned World War One veterans. This status gave them an additional vantage point from which to consider both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, which in turn led them to a more focused sense of Americanness and political participation (91). The Harlingen Convention of 1927, which aimed at restoring unity between all the disparate groups which had been at times duplicating efforts and at other times working at cross-purposes, began with two major

questions. First, should there be one organization for all persons of Mexican origin, or should there be two groups divided along lines of citizenship status? Considering the previously stated positions of the leadership, the latter was almost guaranteed to win out. Such a point of dispute led to dissent even before the conference began. At the conference itself, though many spoke in favor of a Mexican American-only organization, no one was scheduled to speak on behalf of establishing a Mexican-only group (125). 75% of attendees walked out in disgust at the motion, and many did not wait to see the result of the vote. They did so in part because they could not understand why Mexican Americans were putting citizenship ahead of national identification (131). Orozco instead maintains that the Mexican critics were confusing race and nationality. The Mexican American leaders espoused racial nationalism as expressed through United States citizenship; in effect, they were still asserting membership in the Mexican “race” while simultaneously laying claim to American citizenship (133). The second question, raised by Orozco and other historians more than conference participants but no less important for that, was a bit more philosophical and never formally stated. Namely, was “La Raza” a “nation within the United States?” (121). The second question, closely related to the confusion regarding and the walkout from the first, has not yet been resolved today. Oddly, Orozco deals explicitly with the question of hybridity only briefly (144 – 146). Though one might well expect further discourse on the liminal nature of the self-identified Mexican American community, the work instead sprinkles commentary throughout. This brief section is included mostly to demonstrate the hybrid status as a way station along the path of a community evolving away from its Mexican roots toward eventual American assimilation. Though some criticism of this movement was evident prior to World War One, in the 1930s normalization and Americanization became the desired goals of LULAC and Mexican

Americans more generally. Chicano historians would later decry this stance, but in so doing they demonstrate their own devaluation of Americanness. Different values dominate in different times and places, and Chicano historians seem unable or unwilling to recognize the legitimacy of those who came before them and believed in a different methodology. Orozco, rather than attempting to mediate between the two positions, prefers to let each group stand in its own context and thus both are shown to be valid for their respective times and places. The only invalid position, for Orozco, is asserting everyone must agree with you in order to have a legitimate place in the discourse. Compared to the Harlingen Convention, the one held in Corpus Christi in February 1929 to found LULAC was relatively sedate (160). Full merger of all existing Mexican American organizations was advocated, and eventually all received invitations to join. Policy was quickly adopted along Harlingen lines to limit membership to American citizens. By April, the OSA had been dissolved and thirteen other local groups had joined LULAC. Their platform was praised by one contemporary, Paul S. Taylor, as a “combination of realism and idealism” (177). This struck Mexican Americans as odd because “in 1929, the league was unable to fathom white allies – they were too few” (178). In all Orozco presents an admirable, believable, and readable account of the origin of the Mexican American movement. If there are lacks or deficiencies, they are due to documentary lapses and not of her making. Her manner alternates between defensive and casual depending on whether or not she is defending a contentious proposition or simply telling the story of LULAC and its members. She is self-conscious of the controversial nature of her statements, and takes pains to avoid appearing to be a reactionary. But, much like other recent scholars, she provides a much-needed response to certain ideological extremes.