The largest and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was established in 1929 and currently claims a membership of some 135,000 people throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Its mission is “to advance the economic condition, educational attainment, political influence, housing, health and civil rights of the Hispanic population of the United States.”
During the years just prior to LULAC's founding, three relatively influential organizations emerged in Texas to advocate on behalf of Mexican Americans. They were the Order of the Sons of America, the Knights of America in San Antonio, and the League of Latin American Citizens. In 1929 these groups merged to form a brand new entity, LULAC. Activist Ben Garza was elected president of the fledgling group, whch held its first convention on May 19, 1929 in Corpus Christi, Texas.
From its earliest days, LULAC presented itself as a patriotic, pro-American, pro-citizenship, middle-class organization of Hispanic professionals and businessman interested in advancing civil rights within the context of American society. Membership was limited to American citizens, and the organization's official code instructed: “Respect your citizenship; honor your country; maintain its traditions in the minds of your children; incorporate yourself in the culture and civilization.”
This remained LULAC's mindset for approximately three decades, as the League encouraged Hispanic assimilation into the “Anglo” culture, endorsed the notion of English as America’s primary language, discouraged the establishment of Spanish-language enclaves, rejected the idea that the American Southwest should be returned to Mexico, and favored the deportation of illegal Mexican aliens during President Eisenhower's “Operation: Wetback” in 1954.
When LULAC today recounts the story of its roots, however, it casts a somewhat different tint on the story, depicting its early decision to strike a patriotic pose as a calculated concession to what it perceived as a seething strain of American racism that otherwise would have engulfed the fledgling group and driven it out of existence. Simply put, LULAC maintains that: (a) In the minds of its founders, “the times demanded that Hispanics in the United States make a total commitment to their new homeland, however unwillingly they may have been incorporated by conquest, economic need or political exile”; and (b) To “avoid suspicions of un-American activities,” LULAC “adopted the American Flag as its official flag, America the Beautiful as its official song, and The George Washington Prayer as its official prayer.” All this, LULAC explains, was in spite of the fact that America had not only “annexed a third of Mexico’s territory following the Mexican War,” but had subequently targeted the Mexicans in those regions with “prejudice,” “discrimination,” “segregation,” “inequality,” injustice,” and “the curtailment of many civil rights.”
LULAC's present-day leaders report that other Mexican American organizations of that earlier era (when their group was born) “wanted to revolt and regain the territories that Mexico [had] ceded to the United States of America after the Mexico-Texas War”; “wanted to engage in widespread civil disobedience against local authorities”; and, unable to “understand why anyone of Mexican ancestry “would embrace an Anglo society that had been so cruel” to them, viewed LULAC members as “vendidos” (“sell-outs”).
LULAC’s initial assimilationist approach, whether rooted in political expediency or not, was wholly transformed by the radical movements of the 1960s and by the organization's need to compete with leftist groups like the National Council of La Raza for funding from major charitable foundations.
Beginning in the 1970s, the League sought to expand affirmative action programs for nonwhite minorities, and “economic justice” initiatives for Hispanic illegal aliens living in the United States.
Viewing the United States as a nation plagued by “an alarming increase in xenophobia and anti-Hispanic sentiment,” LULAC councils in recent decades have “fought back” by holding seminars and public symposiums on what they term “language and immigration issues.” Specifically, the League opposes the “English Only” movement—an initiative designed to designate English as the official language of the United States—calling it an effort “to limit the public (and in some cases, private) use of minority languages.” In LULAC’s calculus, “English Only” is “incredibly divisive because it sends the message that the culture of language minorities is inferior and illegal.” Such a policy, warns LULAC, could “fuel the fires of racism” and consequently spark “hate crimes and right wing terrorist attacks.”
LULAC helped organize an October 27, 1997 “Save The Dream” civil-rights march across San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, a move whose purpose was “to protest attempts to discriminate against immigrants and dismantle affirmative action.” Said LULAC's then-president, Belen Robles:
“We march to protect the civil rights gains that we have fought so hard to achieve. Particularly in California, where Proposition 209 [which banned racial preferences in college admissions and public-sector employment throughout the state] has caused such a dramatic drop in minority enrollment rates at institutions of higher education, and [where] Proposition 187 [which was designed to cut illegal aliens off from taxpayer-funded welfare benefits] has singled immigrants out for punishment, we need to stand up for our rights and let the forces of discrimination know that we will not let America go back into a system of institutionalized racism.”
By LULAC's reckoning, America’s national security measures since 9/11 “have been focused on terrorizing good people simply because they are foreigners.” Thus the League was a signatory to a March 17, 2003 letter exhorting members of the U.S. Congress “to oppose … 'Patriot [Act] II'” on grounds that it contained “a multitude of new and sweeping law-enforcement and intelligence-gathering powers … that would severely dilute, if not undermine, many basic constitutional rights.” In addition, LULAC gave its organizational endorsement to the California-based Coalition for Civil Liberties, which tried to influence city councils to pass resolutions of non-compliance with the provisions of the Patriot Act.
In 2005 LULAC created an online petition calling for comprehensive immigration reform that would convert, with some measure of expediency, all illegal immigrants who were then residing in the United States, into legalized residents or full citizens. Referencing only the needs and rights of “immigrants” generically, the petition blurred the distinction between those who were in the U.S. legally, and those who were there illegally. For example, it called for legislation that “treats immigrants with respect” and “provides a reasonable, realistic and legal path to earned permanent residence and citizenship for those already within the United States”; it asserted that “the vast majority of immigrants … work hard and they pay taxes”; and it rejected immigration-control proposals “that criminalize immigrants and their families, and the people and organizations that come in contact with them.”
In December 2005 LULAC created the website “WeAreRacists.com,” which portrayed the Minuteman Project—an organization of U.S. citizens who alert the U.S. Border Patrol to the presence of unauthorized border-crossers in the American Southwest—as “an anti-immigrant group” composed of “racists, cowards, un-Americans (sic), vigilantes, [and] domestic terrorists” who are “often affiliated with white supremacy groups.”
LULAC has also opposed policies that would authorize the U.S. military to stem the flow of illegal immigration, on grounds that “military personnel are not trained for border patrolling and might easily violate the civil rights of those they intervene with.” José Velez, who headed the League from 1990 to 1994, has said that the U.S. Border Patrol is “the enemy of my people and always will be.”
In mid-November 2006, LULAC stated that the notable success of Democratic Party candidates on Election Day two weeks earlier “confirmed growing Hispanic political power in the United States with increased representation in Congress.” The League happily affirmed that “Latinos ... made up less than 10 percent of the national electorate, and nearly three-quarters of them reported voting for Democrats.”
In December 2006, LULAC—in conjunction with MALDEF, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, and the Hispanic National Bar Association—called on U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to place a moratorium on worksite raids designed to apprehend illegal aliens. According to then-LULAC president Rosa Rosales, those raids were “having a negative impact on the immigrants, local communities and the economy,” and were “causing psychological damage to the families who are being arrested and separated from loved ones.”
Responding to what they view as “an alarming increase in xenophobia and anti-Hispanic sentiment,” LULAC councils across the United States sponsor voter-registration drives, citizenship-awareness sessions, youth-leadership training programs, seminars and public symposiums on language and immigration issues, and health fairs and tutorial programs.
LULAC’s employment arm—known as SER [Service, Employment, & Redevelopment] Jobs for Progress—provides job-skills and literacy training to Hispanics at more than four-dozen employment training centers throughout the United States.
LULAC's Top Priorities Today:
LULAC's activism today focuses on the following major issues:
Citizenship: Engaged in a perpetual national drive to help legal residents of the United States apply for citizenship “so that they may fully participate in our democratic society” by “exercis[ing] their right to vote,” LULAC exhorts the federal government “to allocate additional resources toward the processing of citizenship applications” without delay.
Notably, the League also works to defend the voting rights of non-citizens. In August 2012, for instance, LULAC and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in Iowa to stop state election officials from removing the names of non-citizens from lists of registered voters.
Education: LULAC “believes that universal and quality public education is the foundation for lifelong success, and strongly opposes any measure that denies education as a fundamental right, including that of [illegal] immigrant children.” With regard to devising ways of improving the educational experience of Hispanics, LULAC places its faith chiefly in taxpayer-funded government intervention. For example, to “decreas[e] the Hispanic dropout rate and clos[e] … the achievement gap,” the League urges Congress to “increase funding to implement targeted programs to encourage Hispanic students to remain in school.” Among these programs are Head Start, Gear Up, TRIO, HEP-CAMP, Title I, Title III, and LULAC's 15 regional National Education Service Centers. These Centers, which comprise LULAC's educational arm, provide counseling services to more than 18,000 Hispanic students per year.
LULAC also supports “an effective and appropriate bilingual education program for all English language learners”; “adequate funding” to “improv[e] and rehabilitat[e]” public school facilities; “an increase in funding for Hispanic Serving Institutions of higher education”; and “an increase in the number of Latino educators at all levels of education,” including administrators and school board members.
The League also pledges to “fight against harsh discipline practices and zero tolerance policies that remove students from the classroom and keep them from learning”—on grounds that such policies tend to disproportionately affect Hispanic and black students.
Health: LULAC supports the Affordable Care for America Act (“Obamacare”) that was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. Further, the League has created a Latinos Living Healthy Initiative whereby “grassroots networks of Latino community advocates … raise their local health and nutrition issues to state and federal platforms with the following priorities: (1) improving access to quality and affordable health care; (2) improving access to nutritious and affordable foods as well as to safe spaces for physical activity; (3) raising awareness of chronic diseases, risks and preventative measures and screenings.”
Housing: LULAC supports “an increase in the nation’s stock of affordable housing”; “an increase in resources to build, rehabilitate and preserve housing for low and extremely low income households in both the rental and purchase markets”; “investments in green affordable housing”; “higher funding to increase the capacity of Hispanic organizations to conduct fair housing education and enforcement activities”; and the elimination of “predatory lending practices” that banks supposedly use against nonwhites at disproportionately high rates.
Immigration: LULAC supports a Comprehensive Immigration Reform package that will “allow undocumented workers already in the U.S. to contribute to the U.S. economy and society by providing them with a pathway to citizenship.” The League also favors a plan that would “reunite American families by allowing a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to sponsor their same-sex partner for immigration to the U.S.”
When Arizona's Republican governor, Jan Brewer, in April 2010 signed into law a bill (SB 1070) deputizing state police to check with federal authorities on the immigration status of criminal suspects, LULAC president Rosa Rosales said: “We are horrified. This law opens the doors to racial profiling. It requires police officers, if they form a 'reasonable suspicion' that someone is an illegal immigrant, to determine the person’s immigration status.”
Diversity: To promote “diversity” in the workplace, LULAC unwaveringly supports “affirmative action as a set of positive steps that employers use to promote equal employment opportunities,” and pledges to fight “decisions that have upset affirmative action programs across the country.”
Moreover, LULAC “strongly advocates for the increase of Hispanic-oriented programming in all facets of the media and demands that more high-level decision-making positions be made available to Hispanics at major media companies and networks.” “Programs should provide a positive and accurate portrayal of the cultural breadth of Latinos and their contributions to the United States,” the League says, and the FCC should “require broadcasters to provide better Latino programming and representation in prime-time slots throughout the day as part of their public service obligations.”
Civil Rights: LULAC professes to “fight discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or national origin” in such areas as education, employment, voting rights, housing, immigration, money-lending practices, and the administration of criminal justice.
Economic Empowerment: LULAC periodically co-sponsors financial literacy programs focusing on the need to provide “underserved communities” with “the right tools to successfully use credit while protecting minority access to credit.” Moreover, the League's website provides links to resources like AutoSmarts, which is designed to “educate Hispanic consumers about the car-buying process,” and CreditSmart, a curriculum to help consumers “understand, build, and mantain better credit.”
Corporate Alliance: The LULAC Corporate Alliance is an advisory board composed of more than thirty of the nation's leading companies that seek to “foster stronger partnerships between corporations and the Hispanic community and to provide advice and assistance to the LULAC organization.”
Leadership: The LULAC Youth Leadership Program “provides at-risk Hispanic youth with a positive alternative to gangs, violence, and dropping out of school,” encouraging them to “stay in school and develop their leadership skills.”