Like a phoenix, rising from the ashes! A revived, Mid-Valley, Texas, chapter of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) has arisen. The third organizational meeting of original Chapter 291, LULAC, was held Monday night, October 18, 2021, at Applebee’s, Weslaco, Texas.
Decorated to the max for Halloween (and/or Dia de los Muertos?), the restaurant provided a festive atmosphere, conducive to camaraderie among young and old, family and friends, former and newer members, Latinos and Anglos, of this Valley LULAC. The reunions were nostalgic. Some hadn’t seen one another for 20 years. Indeed, the purpose of the re-organization was, according to instigator and chapter President, Mr. Frank Ortiz, Jr., “to help people of the Valley by revitalizing LULAC in South Texas. Goals: “to focus on education (via scholarships and honoring top educators, dedicated to LULAC goals) and to honor and help veterans.”
This chapter has over the minimum required (10) by charter. A quorum was present; the meeting was called to order, officials introduced, items of business (venue) discussed. That part was conventional. What has changed is the broader society; e.g., it was recognized that the discrimination and outright racism that first brought LULAC into existence in 1929, was not now as blatant.
LULAC formed in 1929, as a merger of several other Hispanic civil rights organizations (Sons of America, Knights of America, etc.) The unity was essential and still is. Goals (of health, civil rights, economic development) are still difficult to achieve; certainly, they would be impossible without unity. A major development, however, is that, Latinos (especially the LULAC I observed) are very “comfortable in their skin,” very proud of their two languages and their culture.
LULAC is now the second oldest civil rights organization in the nation, after the NAACP. It is the largest Latino-focused organization, education, economics, health, and civil rights being the main concerns. The LULAC National Educational Service (LNESC) focuses especially on disadvantaged youth. Outstanding among major historical achievements was integration of Orange County, California, schools in 1945, well before Brown v. Board of Education; the county had termed Mexican American children “mentally inferior.”
In 1954, LULAC won the case Hernández v. Texas, placing, for the first time, Mexican Americans on juries in this state. In a show of recognition of its efforts (along with Vice-President, Lyndon B. Johnson and Governor John Connally, Jr.), President John F. Kennedy, on November 21st, 1963, a day before his assassination in Dallas, spoke to assembled LULAC members, at the Rice Hotel, Houston. Not shy at all, progress in Texas is still of concern for LULAC; the State Organization has called the pending Texas redistricting map, drawn up by Republicans, “blatant voter repression of Latinos.”
Mexican Americans, along with LULAC members, vote in greater numbers now than ever before. They also observe the benefits of improved health through government (Affordable Care). They see greater access to power at the highest of levels (perhaps not yet in Texas). They savor the tantalizing possibilities of an increase of jobs and of an expansion of the economy (through “Build Back Better”).
That bill may pass even with reduced funding; Mexican American are used to that—quite pragmatic, even if not thoroughly satisfied. If this local is any guide, they are also bright and educated; they stay in touch with the news and the advancements in science and technology. LULAC members, like so many Latinos, hold science up to follow and lead the way in following safe measures for health; “Latino Catholics have one of the Highest COVID Vaccination Rates in the US” (USA Today, 19 Oct 21).
Those at this LULAC meeting, through their penetrating questions, showed they have left the past behind (forgiving, but not forgetting betrayal decades ago by an officer, who absconded with funds). Neither do they forget their culture nor their place in it. They will perform traditional duties—“turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas”–but will also register to vote, ready for 2022 and 2024. One member, Dr. José A. Sánchez, reminded all of the difficulties of the past, and new obstacles (e.g., “taking things for granted”). Another member, Mr. Clemente del Campo, urged “more networking, with schools and churches.” All remembered the past and honored their fathers and mothers who, in many cases, literally carried them into the previous meetings. “Since our chapter’s founding in 1954, LULAC, in the Valley, has done a world of good” (Francisco Ortiz, Jr., President). Those memories stay with them and were in evidence throughout this meeting.
Now, this mix of old and new members specifically urge recruitment of more youth and non-Latinos. They ask only: “1) attend at least one time a month; 2) pay dues, a reasonable $21; 3) promote LULAC and its causes” (Mr. Carlo González). That could be accomplished by presiding at “Bingo” night, or other fund-raising—some things don’t go out of fashion. Then, of course, stand firm on equal rights for all—that is, living and promoting LULAC’s age-old slogan: “All for One, One for All!” So, would you like to join LULAC? Bienvenido. Your father would be proud.
The above guest column was penned by Rio Grande Valley-based writer and educator Gary Mounce. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Mounce can be reached by email via [email protected]
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