- No Mexicans, Women, or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement
Earlier critics of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) got the story wrong, according to Cynthia Orozco. Chicano writers saw the group as a male-dominated, middle class organization that focused on its members' self-interests to the exclusion of immigrants and the poor. Orozco studies activists from San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Alice, and the Lower Rio Grande Valley during the years from 1910 through the early 1930s in order to detail the formation of LULAC and to revise this interpretation. According to the author critics have made nine crucial errors in assessing LULAC: they applied incorrectly the meaning of "class," overemphasized desires for "whiteness," misinterpreted the Order of Sons of America's attitude toward Mexican immigrants, employed limited notions of citizenship, suffered from theoretical shortcomings, overlooked gender, applied faulty periodization, used inappropriate methodology, and defined the OSA and LULAC as accommodationist. Generally speaking, this ambitious work addresses these points convincingly. Even the book's title stands presumptions [End Page 217] on their heads. One found signs reading "No Mexicans or dogs allowed" in public facilities across South Texas during this time period. But in Orozco's construction, the title refers to the attitudes of early LULAC founders who excluded both Mexican citizens and women.
Drawing from a wide array of sources from the Bancroft Library at University of California, Berkeley, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and the Benson Latin American Collection at University of Texas at Austin, as well as individual collections of papers and fourteen personal interviews, Orozco offers four key arguments that add to our understanding of the origins and ideology of this group. First, she posits that "Mexico Texanos" (as these persons labeled themselves) were a hybrid people who clung to their Mexican culture while trying to fit into an Anglo American society that shunned them. Second, she persuasively indicates how post-World War I organizations united to form LULAC. Third, she makes a strong case for LULAC's actions as marking the onset of a civil rights movement. Fourth, she contends that in order to understand the origins of the organization we must fathom the contributions of women in an era in which they were seen primarily as mothers and housewives.
As one might expect in such a complicated, large-scale work some portions appear inconsistent. She notes that LULAC founders did not shun the working class, but then describes how the portions of the "Order of Sons of America Declaration of Principles" (1922) that focused on working class concerns were stricken out of the LULAC constitution. She argues that there was no conspiracy against Mexican citizens among founding members, but tells of how Mexican American participants at the 1927 Harlingen conference entered the meeting set on excluding Mexican citizens because they had different concerns and interests from Mexican Americans. Beyond these inconsistencies, scholars familiar with the primary source collections on LULAC will recall some of the vehement language with which many founding members opposed inclusion of Mexican immigrants.
Dr. Orozco has been working on this project since she took a Chicano history class at the University of Texas in 1978. And despite a few inconsistencies, the book was well worth the wait. Orozco successfully fills gaps in the historical record helping us understand more fully the ways in which LULAC was a product of its time. The book begins with gender as a foundational concept and effectively weaves it through the narrative. While some will quibble with her take on attitudes toward Mexican citizens by LULAC founders, the rest of her arguments are solid.