Skip to comments.Latino rights group celebrates 75 years - LULAC
Posted on 02/17/2004 9:45:27 AM PST by NormsRevengeEdited on 04/14/2004 10:06:42 PM PDT by Jim Robinson. [history]
The League of United Latin American Citizens turns 75 today. And as the national civil-rights group reflects on this milestone, leaders say they are working to maintain the prominence of the nation's largest Latino organization.
LULAC, founded in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1929, counts among its accomplishments helping to end school desegregation, founding the American G.I. Forum for Mexican American Veterans and launching the preschool program that later became Project Headstart.
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The Orange County Register
The refrigerator was loaded on a trailer and hauled to downtown Santa Ana, bustling with shoppers from all of Orange County.
Near Fourth and Birch streets, the fridge was showcased and raffle tickets sold. The year was 1947.
Alex Maldonado, a young activist who had just joined the League of United Latin American Citizens, told people the money would go to help fight segregation in O.C. schools.
Nearly 60 years later, Maldonado can't help but think that his and LULAC's efforts had something to do with his three children graduating from desegregated schools.
LULAC marks its 75th anniversary today. The largest Latino organization in America is still chipping away at civil-rights issues but now has to compete for membership and name recognition in a far more crowded field.
Some say that a few of the issues LULAC campaigned against - housing and school desegregation and equal employment opportunities - have faded and that the group needs to focus more on raising money for students and the poor.
Others argue that discrimination against Latinos still exists, just in more subtle ways. Civil rights should remain at the heart of the organization's efforts, they say.
|LULAC: League of United Latin American Citizens, the largest Latino organization in America.
Members: About 100,000 in 44 states; 4,000-5,000 in California; 200-250 in Orange County.
Mission: Social, political, economic and educational rights for Hispanics in the United States.
Orange County: Eleven chapters, including the state's oldest, Santa Ana, which provided two recent state presidents (Zeke Hernandez and Gil Flores). Adding two more chapters.
Still others believe that LULAC must join forces with other ethnic groups, advancing the cause of human rights for all.
Most agree that LULAC remains a vibrant group speaking on issues such as President George W. Bush's proposed guest-worker program and California's repeal of SB 60 - the law that would have allowed illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.
"They provide a voice on behalf of the community to articulate a point of view of what they perceive to be the needs in the community," said Isaac Cardenas, professor and chairman of Chicana and Chicano Studies at California State University, Fullerton. "That's a voice that's much needed still."
LOCAL CHAPTERS GROWING
Founded in 1929 to fight discrimination in Corpus Christi, Texas, the organization is launching locally two new councils this month. Once chartered, a total of 13 councils in Orange County will boast more than 300 members.
The Santa Ana Council No. 147, of which Maldonado, 80, was a charter member, is the oldest council in California and was formed in 1946.
The organization also appeals to younger people like Sandra Cuzquen. The 22-year-old says if it wasn't for LULAC, she may not have become the first person in her family to graduate from college.
"Small steps are just as meaningful and important as the bigger strides," said Zeke Hernandez, Santa Ana council president. "Discrimination may have been more flagrant in the past; discrimination today comes in loopholes and squeezed into legislation."
Maldonado faced overt discrimination.
"All doors were closed to us and we couldn't get into just about anything," said Maldonado of Anaheim.
He began attending meetings of LULAC's local forerunner, the Mexican-American Voters League of Orange County. Seeking recreational activities, Maldonado spent several months trying to organize a Latino basketball team in Orange's El Modena area. Getting into the YMCA's Orange league was tougher.
He was told the league had an even number of teams and adding a new one would cause scheduling problems. So he developed a new schedule.
Maldonado stayed with LULAC until the 1960s, when he got tuberculosis. The 36-year employee of Anheuser-Busch did not rejoin until 2000. By that time, his children - all college graduates - were grown, and he had survived cancer.
"Having been in segregated schools all those years, you never get that off your skin," he said. "It gives you that identity that you are different, and you live with that, and it's something you sort of shake off of you as you grow up."
Was he able to?
"Not altogether," he said, hesitating. "No."
The darkest moment in Cuzquen's life was not fraught with discrimination.
She was more than halfway through college when her mother died of kidney failure. Hundreds of dollars in LULAC scholarship money had helped her reach her junior year at the University of San Diego. She quit school for a semester after her mom's death.
It was the unexpected financial help and kind support of LULAC's Westminster council that put her back on track to graduate with a psychology degree. In her moment of despair, she received cash to get by and a card with words of encouragement.
"It was just amazing what they did," said Cuzquen, who arrived in Orange County with her mother from Lima, Peru, when she was 9. "It was really encouraging."
Now a mentoring program coordinator at the Anaheim Family YMCA, she officially joined LULAC last month.
"As long as there are people willing to help in the community, there's always someone who needs help. That's what LULAC is for, and I am a perfect example of it."