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Democratic Renewal and the Mutual Aid Legacy of US Mexicans

Julie Leininger Pycior

Publication Year: 2014

The legacy of the historic mutual aid organizing by US Mexicans, with its emphasis on self-help and community solidarity, continues to inform Mexican American activism and subtly influence a number of major US social movements. In Democratic Renewal and the Mutual Aid Legacy of US Mexicans, Julie Leininger Pycior traces the early origins of organizing in the decades following the US-Mexican War, when Mexicans in the Southwest established mutualista associations for their protection. Further, she traces the ways in which these efforts have been invoked by contemporary Latino civil rights leaders.

Pycior notes that the Mexican immigrant associations instrumental in the landmark 2006 immigration reform marches echo mutualista societies at their peak in the 1920s. Then Mexican immigrants from San Diego to New York engaged in economic, medical, cultural, educational, and legal aid. This path-breaking study culminates with an examination of Southwest community organizing networks as crucial counterweights to the outsize role of large financial contributions in the democratic political process. It also finds ways in which this community organizing echoes the activity of mutualista groups in the very same neighborhoods a century ago.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This long, on-again/off-again project stands on so many shoulders! Almost forty years ago, when first investigating the patterns and significance of mutual aid among US Mexicans, I was aided enormously by mutualista members who shared their organizational records, including Jesús Gamboa of Mutual Monte de las Cruces ...

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pp. xiii-xx

For all its importance, at first glance nothing seems more peripheral or passé than mutualista-style organizing. Few national observers recognize the mutualista influence on policy issues today, and no wonder: groups that labeled themselves “mutualista” were already in decline by the 1930s and even in their heyday typically operated far from the national stage, ...

Part I. Mutual Aid and Mexican Immigrant Organizing

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Chapter 1. Banding Together for Survival

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pp. 3-12

The phone rang at the California immigration organization, and the message was urgent: a man was on the verge of death. Rushing to the site, the staffers discovered to their horror a person reduced to “skin and bones, almost like a cadaver, or like the people found after World War II at the gas chambers. ...

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Chapter 2. Dealing with the Mexican Government

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pp. 13-21

Few people in the United States recognize that Mexican immigrant hometown associations (HTAs) sponsor innumerable construction projects back in Mexico—let alone that US Mexicans have been engaged in trans-border mutual aid for generations. ...

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Chapter 3. Responding to US Immigration Policies

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pp. 22-38

When the immigration-reform marches burst onto the national scene in 2006, some fifteen hundred Mexican immigrant “hometown associations” (HTAs, Clubes de Oriundos) were important to that effort. HTAs have come a long way since the founding of the first such groups in response to the implementation of the Western Hemisphere quota in 1968. ...

Part II. Mutualismo and Civil Rights Organizing

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Chapter 4. Mutual Aid and the Legacy of Conquest

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pp. 41-53

At the very time that the 2008 presidential campaign was escalating, Barack Obama and John McCain both addressed the two leading civil rights organizations founded by Mexican Americans, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and National Council of La Raza (NCLR). ...

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Chapter 5. Mutual Protection against Discrimination

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pp. 54-68

The new, modern century did not herald an age of racial enlightenment. The 1900s and 1910s witnessed a record number of Mexican lynchings, followed in the 1920s by a hardening of segregation policies. No wonder mutualista efforts to band together in the face of discrimination increased— ...

Part III. Mutualista-Style Labor Organizing

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Chapter 6. Community-based Labor Organizing

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pp. 71-82

What lessons can the labor movement possibly offer for the renewal of American democracy? By any measure, unions are a diminishing presence on the national scene—even as the number of vulnerable undocumented workers has risen sharply in the past four decades. ...

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Chapter 7. Trans-Border Organizing

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pp. 83-100

Labor organizers increasingly recognize that if their movement hopes to survive in an era of global corporations, unions need to operate transnationally. For instance, in 2005, the United Steelworkers, in one of their strikes, sought the support of a Mexican union and then supported that Mexican labor group in its own job action five years later. ...

Part IV. Barrio Community Organizing

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Chapter 8. One LA Snapshot

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pp. 103-117

“Did you go to the march?” asked veteran organizer Soledad “Chole” Alatorre. “I did; it was beautiful—great,” she said a few hours after the mammoth Los Angeles immigration event of May 1, 2010. Despite her years, this pioneering figure was energized by having participated. ...

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Chapter 9. The Power to Protect What We Value

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pp. 118-134

In the barrios that provide so much of the support for the Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the emphasis on organizing among community members has a long history. While unloading freight at the rail yard, over a beer at the pool hall, picking endless rows of cotton, while hanging clothes out to dry, people touted the benefits of mutual support. ...

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Chapter 10. The Bones of Community Organizing

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pp. 135-144

While often overlooked, women’s initiatives have been crucial to barrio mutual aid, both historically and in contemporary times. Take the clinic “La Beneficencia,” which offered trailblazing medical services to the San Antonio Mexican community in the 1920s: it was sponsored by the women’s group Cruz Azul Mexicana. ...

Part V. Big Media, Big Money, and Mutualista Organizing

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Chapter 11. The Media Angle

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pp. 147-161

Coverage of mutual aid organizing by US Mexicans has been largely limited to the Spanish-language media. Even the hometown associations (HTAs) (asociaciones oriundos), despite their role in the huge immigrant marches, remain largely unreported by the mainstream media. ...

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Chapter 12. "That Reciprocity that Makes Us Human"

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pp. 162-170

Mutual aid organizing by US Mexicans can seem so peripheral as to be invisible: day laborers wiring money to their hometowns, or a faded mutualista sign on a dilapidated building. Yet, as we have seen, barrio mutual aid activity has a long if overlooked history that continues to reverberate in cutting-edge ways. ...


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pp. 171-204


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pp. 205-236


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pp. 237-250

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781623491659
E-ISBN-10: 1623491657
Print-ISBN-13: 9781623491284

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 880579869
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Democratic Renewal and the Mutual Aid Legacy of US Mexicans

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican Americans -- Social networks -- Southwest, New -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mexican Americans -- Southwest, New -- Societies, etc. -- History -- 20th century.
  • Fraternal organizations -- Southwest, New -- History -- 20th century.
  • Mexican Americans -- Southwest, New -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Mexican Americans -- Southwest, New -- Ethnic identity.
  • Southwest, New -- Emigration and immigration.
  • Mexico -- Emigration and immigration.
  • Solidarity.
  • Mutualism.
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