League of United Latin American Citizens

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League of United Latin American Citizens

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is the oldest organization of Hispanic Americans in the United States. With a membership of approximately 115,000, the organization uses education and advocacy to improve living conditions and seek advances for all Hispanic nationality groups. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., LULAC has thousands of members organized in more than 700 LULAC Councils in 48 states and in Puerto Rico.

The original mission and purpose of LULAC was similar to that of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was founded in 1909 to aid African Americans in their struggle against racial discrimination. Hispanic Americans, at the time mostly immigrants from Mexico, faced similar prejudice and discrimination based on the color of their skin and the fact that they spoke Spanish.

The period following the Civil War brought about a backlash that affected both freed slaves and persons who had immigrated from Mexico to the United States seeking work and a better life. According to one source, between 1865 and 1920 more Mexicans were lynched in the Southwestern part of the United States than African Americans in the Southern states. Juries refused to convict Caucasians (known to Hispanic Americans as "Anglos") who committed crimes against Mexicans including murder.

Signs reading "No Mexicans Allowed" were common in many states. Economic and social discrimination were pervasive. Mexican Americans were not permitted to use public accommodations used by Anglos such as drinking fountains, or to be served in Anglo restaurants, hotels, or theaters. The schools that were open to Mexicans were inferior. Many Mexican children who worked alongside their parents picking crops received little or no education. Housing was severely substandard and public services such as streetlights, and water and sewer systems were of poor quality or nonexistent.

In the late 1920s several organizations dedicated to fighting discrimination against Mexicans and other Hispanic people began the work of creating a united organization. In February 1929 the League of United Latin American Citizens was created. Over the next 20 years LULAC organizers faced harassment and intimidation. They were labeled Communists, some were beaten, and others were arrested and jailed.

Despite these tactics, the organization continued to gain strength by disseminating information about citizenship and voting rights, launching Class Action lawsuits to fight for Integration in housing, for education, and for access to improved work conditions. In 1954 LULAC won a landmark case, Hernandez v. State of Texas, 347 U.S. 475, 74 S.Ct. 667, 98 L.Ed. 866 (1954), when the Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition of Mexican Americans from juries was unconstitutional.

In the early 2000s LULAC continued to grow. The organization represented Latino men and women who were legal residents of the United States or its territories. (The term Latino is used to encompass Chicanos, Mexicans, Latin Americans, and others of Hispanic origin.)Through its National Educational Service Centers started in 1973, LULAC created a network of 16 counseling centers that have provided millions of dollars in scholarships as well as information, tutoring and mentoring program for thousands of Latino students around the country. In the twenty-first century, LULAC continued its fight to eliminate discrimination and to research and inform the public regarding such issues as immigration, language (particularly its opposition to English-only initiatives), and literacy, and disparities in health care, political representation, and education. LULAC also continues to stress the need for Hispanic Americans to become citizens and to register to vote.

The organization has fostered several major national Hispanic organizations. The American GI Forum (AGIF) was formed to secure the rights of Hispanic military veterans. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), which was established by LULAC in 1968, functions as the nation's most significant nonprofit legal advocate for Latinos. SER-Jobs for Progress has worked to improve economic conditions for Latinos through programs that provide job training and also retraining for displaced workers as well as affordable housing.

The growing Latino population in the United States has meant increased significance for LULAC and related organizations. In 2003 there were 6.6 million registered Latino voters in the United States with significant concentrations of Latino voters in California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and New York. By 2002 the Latino vote was avidly courted by local, state, and national politicians. While the Latino population is by no means monolithic, there are certain themes that resonate with all Latino groups. LULAC is well positioned to continue the fight to decrease discrimination and racism and to give Latinos increased access to better homes and to education, jobs, and health services.

Further readings

League of United Latin American Citizens. Available online at <www.lulac.org> (accessed July 28, 2003).

Olmos, Edward James, ed. 1999. Americanos: Latino Life in the United States. Boston: Little Brown.

Portes, Alejandro. 2001. Legacies: The Story of the Immigrant Second Generation. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Suro, Roberto. 1998. Strangers Among Us: How Latino Immigration is Transforming America. New York: Knopf.

Cross-references

Civil Rights Acts; Discrimination; Equal Protection.

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