“Fiestas patrias celebrations … [and] various kinds of entertainment nurtured ‘mexico de afuera'” (De Leon)

From “Corridors North, 1900-1930.”

Habitually, the immigrants also used Mexico as a compass for proper behavior. Journalists advised parents, for example, to teach children the ways of propriety, to make sure that they abide by United States law, and to instill in them racial pride. Cultural and recreative clubs emphasized the need for the preservation of Mexico’s good name, as well as its customs and traditions. Fiestas patrias celebrations, which went back to [74] the 1820s in Texas, became yearly rituals for the display of allegiance.[32] Various kinds of entertainment nurtured “méxico de afuera” (Mexico in the United States). Theatrical presentations were provided by companies relocated to Texas because of the Mexican Revolution, and the music popular in northern Mexico (such as the accordion-led ensemble called the conjunto) was diffused by the newcomers throughout the state.[33] The Immigrant Generation proclaimed the concept of “Mexican” proudly and patriotically upheld the honor of the homeland.

Conversely, many of the recent immigrants held denigrating views towards the United States and even Mexican Americans, who, despite their efforts to Americanize, were still treated as second-class citizens by white society. Recent immigrants singled out the women, criticizing them for mimicking American customs and fashions. The newcomers referred derisively to Tejanos who adopted American habits as pochos.[34]

Arnoldo de Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas, 73-74.

  1. [32]De León, Ethnicity in the Sunbelt, pp. 33-34, 37, 38; Lowrey, “Night School in Little Mexico,” p. 39.
  2. [33]Nick Kanellos, “Two Centuries of Hispanic Theatre in the Southwest,” Revista Chicano-Riqueña, XI (Spring 1983), 23-25, 35; Nick Kanellos, A History of Hispanic Theatre in the United States (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990), pp. 180-181, 198, 199-200; Manuel Peña, The Texas Mexican Conjunto: History of a Working Class Music (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), pp. 29, 35-36, 38.
  3. [34]Manuel Gamio, Mexican Immigration to the United States (New York: Arno Press, 1969), p. 129.

“In the 1920s courts refused to hear cases involving Mexican Americans attempting to sue whites.” (De Leon)

While the earlier generation of Tejanos had established societies and associations to protect members of the community from injustices, in the 1920s, a new generation of activists founded organizations designed to afford Tejanos a greater integration into national life. Such was the intent of the Orden Hijos de America (Order of Sons of America), founded in San Antonio in October 1921. Compared to precursor groups, the OSA consisted of members born in the United States, extolled loyalty to America, and sought citizen rights through institutional channels. Soon, Sons of America chapters appeared in South Texas from Corpus Christi to Brownsville to Pearsall, fighting for educational [93]  equality, the desegregation of public places, the right to serve on juries, and the right to bring suit against a white person (in the 1920s courts refused to hear cases involving Mexican Americans attempting to sue whites).[44]

Arnoldo de Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas, 93-94.


  1. [44]Christian, “Joining the American Mainstream,” p. 589, 590, Hernández, Mutual Aid for Survival, p. 73.

“Further, they sought to assert their contention that they were Caucasian, as LULACers did in 1936 when the U.S. Bureau of the Census ruled that Mexicans be identified as ‘non-white’.” Administrative classification, school segregation, and LULAC. (De Leon)

LULAC’s commitment was to improving the human condition for all within the Mexican community regardless of class, even nativity. Though the organization restricted membership to the native born, it did accept those who were naturalized (the organization argued that the foreign born had their defenders in the Mexican consul, but LULAC leaders worked closely with the consuls in cases involving Mexican nationals). Ideologically, LULAC sought to act upon old problems. LULACers still combated the entrenched racist sentiments holding that Mexicans were “unclean” and the Anglo contention that Mexican Americans were not white folks.[20] In response, the organization launched efforts to secure civil liberties and access to opportunity by trying to overturn segregation; in their view the practice stood out as the most personal reminder that Anglo Americans considered Mexican Americans second-class citizens.[21] Further, they fought to assert their contention that they were Caucasian, as LULACers did in 1936 when the U.S. Bureau of the Census ruled that Mexicans be identified as “non-whites.” Protest from LULAC councils across the state forced the Census Bureau to retract the categorization. Similar pressure exerted upon the Social Security Administration that same year forced the Social Security Board to accept the application of Mexican Americans as white.[22]

Similarly, the league worked doggedly to pry open more opportunities in education. It initially challenged school segregation in the case of Independent School District, et al. v. Salvatierra (1931) arguing for an end to the deliberate segregation of Mexican children in Del Rio. A Texas Court of Civil Appeals ruled that arbitrary segregation was unjust but sided with school officials who contended that the students’ retention of the Spanish language made segregation necessary.[23] Without funds to follow up on Salvatierra, LULAC pursued other tactics, such as going before school districts and conferring with administrators to argue for better teaching for Mexican-American children. To disseminate their faith in education, LULACers organized evening schools in barrios and conducted meetings that focused on the topic of U.S. citizenship. They also undertook fundraisers to subsidize the education of good student prospects who might become skilled workers, lawyers, doctors, and teachers.[24]

De Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas, 102.

  1. [20]De León, Ethnicity in the Sunbelt, pp. 81, 86, 87-89; Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, p. 232.
  2. [21]García, Rise of the Mexican American Middle Class, pp. 301-302; Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “Let All of Them Take Heed”: Mexican Americans and the Campaign for Educational Equality in Texas, 1910-1981 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987), p. 76.
  3. [22]Mario T. García, “Mexican Americans and the Politics of Citizenship,” New Mexico Historical Review, LIX (April, 1984), 188, 198-199, 200-201.
  4. [23]Everett Ross Clinchy, “Equality of Opportunity for Latin Americans in Texas” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1954), pp. 188-189.
  5. [24]García, Rise of the Mexican American Middle Class, p. 272; San Miguel, “Let All of Them Take Heed,” p. 81; Márquez, LULAC, pp. 28-29.

“lawyers for Mexican Americans moved away from the old claim that Mexican Americans were white people” — Cisneros and Civil Rights Law (de Leon)

But newer middle-class organizations also surfaced out of el movimiento, among them the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), founded in 1968. Funded by government grants and private corporations, MALDEF–reflecting a posture between the old guard from the Mexican American Generation and the newer militancy–worked through the courts to protect Mexican-American rights. It assailed, for instance, practices that marred equal educational opportunities, such as discriminatory school funding or continued segregation. In so doing, it took several cases into the courts, among the most famous being Cisneros v. Corpus Christi Independent School District (1970).[13]

As school officials utilized the accepted Mexican-American classification of “white” as a subterfuge in school desegregation and continued the pattern of excluding Mexican Americans from Anglo schools, lawyers for Mexican Americans moved away from the old claim that Mexican Americans were white people. Attorneys adopted the position that Mexican Americans must be recognized as an “identifiable ethnic group.” This new categorization would circumvent the ploy used by Anglo-controlled school boards of using Tejanos (classified as white) to “integrate” certain schools. The Mexican-American community was gratified when in June 1970, a federal district judge ruled that Mexican Americans could be considered an identifiable ethnic minority and that the equal protection of the law guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment applied to them. Though the case was appealed, in 1973 the United States Supreme Court acknowledged the separate legal status of Mexican Americans. For MALDEF, the decision provided an important legal mechanism for its desegregation cases.[14]

Arnoldo de Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas, 129.

(footnotes to follow)

  1. [13]San Miguel, “Let All of Them Take Heed,” pp. 177-181; García, Chicanismo, p. 11.
  2. [14]San Miguel, “Let All of Them Take Heed,” pp. 177-181. Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr., “Mexican American Organizations and the Changing Politics of School Desegregation in Texas, 1945-1980,” Social Science Quarterly, 63 (December, 1982), 710.

Agricultural transformation: the cotton labor economy and the White Man’s Primary Association (de Leon)

For common folks, the cotton-based agricultural order produced newer labor situations. By the 1920s, the majority of Tejano farm workers made their living in one of two ways: as various types of sharecroppers, or, most commonly, as migrant seasonal workers on commercial farms.[5] Tejanos picked cotton in South and Central Texas (in 1910, for wages of 50 cents per hundred pounds; this increased to $1.00 after World War I)[6] but began heading “pal wes” (para el west, or to West Texas) where new farms lured them in unprecedented numbers. Tejanos traveling in family units were staying after the cotton-picking season and taking up residence in towns such as Sweetwater, Lamesa, Rotan, Tahoka, Littlefield, Muleshoe, Lubbock, and Plainview. In this early period, however, most remained migrants and returned to South or Central Texas.

The agricultural transformation of the age also affected Tejanos politically, especially in the rural communities of South Texas where the new Anglo farmers, through reform groups and alliances, sought to dislodge the old Tejano Democratic bosses. The recent arrivals worked specifically to deprive Mexicans of the vote, through the establishment of poll taxes (which many Tejanos could not afford) or the new practice adopted by the White Man’s Primary Association that required those wishing to vote in primary elections to go before a committee and declare, “I am a white person and a Democrat.” By the late 1910s, much of the Mexican-American population in the farm ocunties of South Texas had been disfranchised by whites-only primaries, threats of firings from their jobs or of bodily harm, and various methods that might include not informing Tejanos about scheduled elections. Exception again must be made of the ranch counties in the region, where Mexican officeholders remained active in politics.[7]

Arnoldo de Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas, 82.


  1. [5]David Montejano, Race, Labor, Repression, and Capitalist Agriculture: Notes From South Texas, 1920-1930 (Berkeley: Institute for the Study of Social Change, 1977), pp. 11, 12; Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, p. 173.
  2. [6]Nelson Cisneros, “La Clase Trabajadora,” pp. 241, 244.
  3. [7]Montejano, Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, pp. 129-130, 143, 148, 253; Evan Anders, Boss Rule in South Texas: The Progressive Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1982), pp. 90-91.

Ricos y Pobres in the 1920s, the Mexicanization of the Tejano elite (de León)

For the most part, those who came to Texas from Mexico descended from the class of poor folks. These economic refugees were the ones to cause the aforementioned dilemma of the 1920s: they worked cheaply and performed labor shunned by whites yet were seen as a social danger to the country because of their alleged illiteracy, propensity to commit crime and cause disease, and reluctance to acculturate.

An upper class of ricos (wealthy people) and a middle class of professionals also fled northward, hoping to stay in Texas temporarily until politics stabilized in Mexico. These included exiles whose ties to the Porfirian order made their stay precarious in Mexico; others were landowners trekking to Texas to escape the wrath of vindictive peasant armies. [72] In the 1920s, the political emigrés were followed by refugees escaping the turmoil in Mexico created by the anti-Catholic administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Though not as significant in number compared to the bulk of immigrants who descended from the lower class, the ricos could be influential due to their backgrounds as people of education and means. These families were to be found in the lower Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Laredo, El Paso, and Houston.

In Texas this corps of elites played significant roles in ethnic enclaves. They promoted a Mexican past through the distribution of Mexican books, magazines, musical records, and Spanish-language newspapers from Mexico City. They sponsored speaking engagements and theatrical performances and editorialized or extolled the virtues of la patria (Mexico, their native country). Meantime, they formed their own clubs and held exclusive cultural activities. They maintained a commitment to preserving Mexican nationalist sentiments within the community of immigrants.[24]

Arnoldo de León, Mexican Americans in Texas: A Brief History, Second Edition. Wheeling, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, 1999. 71-72.

  1. [24]García, Rise of hte Mexican American Middle Class, pp. 240-241, 234, 103, 104; Richard A. García, “The Mexican American Mind: A Product of the 1930s,” in Mario T García, History, Culture and Society (Ypsilanti: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue, 1983), pp. 76, 78.