Revolutionaries and Mutualistas (De Leon, “Corridors North, 1900-1930”)

From “Corridors North, 1900-1930.”


[…] The most prominent case of revolutionary activity in Texas against Diáz involved the aforementioned Ricardo Flores Magón and his PLM, which intrigued to remove the Mexican dictator in the hope of implementing significant changes that would, among other things, bring relief to the lower classes through land reform and prolabor polices.[37] PLM newspapers in the years before the Mexican Revolution were located in San Antonio, Del Rio, and El Paso,[38] and through Regeneración, the PLM’s primary journalistic organ, Magón appealed to Tejano workers who identified with their comrades in the homeland or were dissatisfied with job conditions in the state. Though it is difficult to measure the ideological impact of the PLM, the party had followers as deep as Central Texas. The PLM local “Tierra y Libertad” of Austin, for instance, organized an impressive rally in Uhland, Texas, on Labor Day of 1912, which roughly one thousand people from other PLM chapters in Central Texas attended. After inspirational speeches that urged societal changes in Mexico and the United States, delegates dispersed to campaign in their own communities for the goals of the PLM.[39] In actuality, most immigrants in the early twentieth century stayed out of movements that appeared to be radical for fear of jeopardizing their work or risking extradition, though some did participate in the labor struggles of the era.[40]

The PLM also exhorted women to join its ranks and fight on behalf of workers and women’s emancipation. Indeed, women members of the PLM participated as speakers and fundraisers in forums and rallies held in El Paso, Brownsville, and Zapata and Frio Counties on the eve of the Mexican Revolution. Among the PLM’s several women activists was Sara Estela Ramírez, mentioned in the previous chapter.[41]



Mutual aid societies first appeared among Texas Mexicans in the 1870s, but they proliferated with the coming of the Immigrant Generation and by the 1920s could be found in most regions of the state including the Big Bend and North Texas. Such organizations grew out, in part, in reaction to the afflictions many Tejanos experienced at the hands of [76] white society: public humiliation, violence, and poverty, to list only the most salient. Despite their root cause, mutualist societies tended to be nonconfrontational, concentrating instead on improving conditions for their members and other working-class people, assisting members in financial distress, especially after the death of a loved one, and job placement. They also attempted to uplift their compatriots through intellectual and spiritual stimulation, social camaraderie, and through the creation and maintenance of a congenial and familiar environment in an adopted world.[43]

Several characteristics marked these societies as a product of the immigrants temperament, though membership usually included U.S. Mexicans. First, they promoted a Mexicanist identity and cultivated what historian Emilio Zamora, a student of Texas-Mexican labor in the early twentieth century, calls an “ethic of mutuality,” committed as they were to such ideals as fellowship, humanitarianism, and reciprocity.[44] Generally, the societies carried the name of a national hero from Mexico such as Benito Juárez. Members preferred to use Spanish when conducting business. Organizers emphasized Mexican ideals and values and held reservations about assimilation and integration into a racist society, though they were not opposed to joining the American mainstream on an equal basis.[45]

Because of similar concerns, obreros (laborers) founded labor mutualistas (mutual aid societies). Shunned by the American Federation of Labor–which had, as mentioned, made some gestures towards incorporating Mexicans, though it began to look upon them as strike-breakers–and Mexican consuls who feared alienating the United States government, immigrant laborers looked to the customs of Mexico, where craftsmen were organized into mutualistas. In San Antonio, for instance, bakers founded the Sociedad Morelos Mutua de Panaderos which struck for decent wages and working conditions in 1917.[46]

Women participated in mutualistas as officers and committee heads and even founders. For example, María L. Hernández and her husband Pedro of San Antonio, Texas, organized the Orden Caballeros de América in 1929 to help solve educational problems for Tejanos and to promote civic and political activism beneficial to Mexicans, whether native or foreign born.[47] Still, scholars today disagree on the roles women played in these mutualistas. Like men, some joined for self-protection and probably did not advocate a feminist agenda. However, some of the middle-class [77] participants did assail the double standard and urged women in general to take stands against the consumption of alcohol, war, and the subordination of women.[48]

Arnoldo de Leon, Mexican Americans in Texas, 74-76

  1. [37]Zamora, “Mexican Labor Activity,” pp. 76-77; Zamora, World of the Mexican Worker in Texas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1993), p. 140; Juan Gómez-Quiñones, Sembradores: Ricardo Flores Magón and the Partido Liberal Mexicano (Los Angeles: Chicano Studies Research Center, 1976), p. 29.
  2. [38]Gómez-Quiñones, Sembradores, pp. 29, 35-36.
  3. [39]Zamora, World of the Mexican Worker in Texas, p. 147.
  4. [40]García, Mexican Americans, p. 175.
  5. [41]Marta Cotera, Diosa y Hembra (Austin: Information Systems Development, 1976), pp. 65-66; Gómez-Quiñones, Sembradores, p. 36; Rodolfo F. Acuña, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (3rd ed.; New York: Harper and Row, 1988), p. 151.
  6. [43]Lowrey, “Night School in Little Mexico,” pp. 39-40; John Ernest Gregg, “The History of Presidio County” (M.A. Thesis, University of Texas, 1933), pp. 201-202; De León, Ethnicity in the Sunbelt, p. 33; Zamora, World of the Mexican Worker in Texas, p. 93; Calderón, “Mexican Politics in the American Era,” Chapter 10.
  7. [44]Zamora, World of the Mexican Worker in Texas, pp. 99-100.
  8. [45]García, Mexican Americans, p. 28
  9. [46]Pycior, “La Raza Organizes,” pp. 126-127, 128, 130, 132, 134, 136; Acuña, Occupied America, p. 170.
  10. [47]Cotera, Diosa y Hembra, p. 73; Pycior, “La Raza Organizes,” pp. 76-81.
  11. [48]Pycior, “La Raza Organizes,” p. 76.