Struggle and Strife: Social
Conditions of Mexican Americans,
Massive changes in demography, lifestyle, and migratory patterns among nineteenthcentury Mexican Americans were produced by the economic development of the
Southwest spurred by the rise of silver, copper, and coal mining; cotton and vegetable agriculture; railway construction; and the boom-like expansion of the reglon’s cities. For instance, the growth of large-scale agriculture in the lower RIO
Grande Valley of Texas in the early twentieth century altered social relations between Anglos and Mexican Americans. Racism began to exclude Mexican Americans from participation in the social and political life of their communities, and
once again conflict between Anglos and Mexican Americans ensued. This conflict
often led to widespread violence against Mexican Americans at the hands of the notoriously brutal Texas Rangers. The large number of lynchings and killings of MexIcan Americans by Anglos comprised the collective experience of inequality shared
by Mexican Americans. In what ways did this become the basis for struggle and reststance by Texas?
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the upheavals caused by
labor unrest, the influence of anarchists and socialists, and disputes over law and
land would result in a flurry of political activism by Mexican Americans. How.was
the local Mexican Americans’ struggle for equality affected by ImmIgrants comins
from. Mexico in search of work? The increase in Mexic~n immigration 4terthe.
MeXIcan Revolution of 1910 was the result of the declming economic situation m
Mexico coinciding with the improving fortunes of the American southwest. Soon
many American firms became dependent on cheap Mexican labor. The U.S. government worked closely with these groups to help shape the patte~n of MeXIcan tmmtgratIon. What role did Mexican immigrant women play In this larger process of
Immigration to the United States?
204 Major Problemsin MexicanAmerican History
Scholars credit the Mexican immigrants who arrived in the years following the Mexican Revolution for much of the economic development of the Southwest. Document 1
is an excerpt from the extensive study of Mexican labor written by Victor S.Clark, an
economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor, in 1908, shortly before the major influx of
immigrants began. To protect the Spanish-speaking community of the lower Rio
Grande Valley from discrimination, EI Congreso Mexicanista was founded 10 ~aredo,
Texas, in 1911. The 400 Texas Mexicans who were members included journahsts,
schoolteachers, representatives from fraternal organizations, and religious leaders.
Document 2 is from the Reverend Pedro Grado’s address at the meeting of the group
held in EI Paso. Texas, in 1911. In Document 3, also dating from 1911, Flores de Andrade, a Mexican immigrant. remembers her involvement with revolutionary activities
in EI Paso.
When the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, along with restrictions on Japanese immigration to California. eliminated two important sources of cheap agricultural labor
in the state, the American farmers turned to Mexico. Document 4 is a selection from
Samuel Bryan’s 1912 article on the increase in Mexican immigration. especially in
southern California. The popular corrido “Los Sediciosos (The Seditionists),” commemorating the outbreak of Texas Mexican resistance in South Texas after the call to
arms in the Plan of San Diego in 1915, is reproduced in Document 5. The Plan of San
Diego was a formal declaration of armed struggle by Texas Mexican insurgents to
reconquer lands lost during the U.S.-Mexico War (1846–1848).
1. Victor S. Clark Comments on Changes in Mexican
Immigration to the United States, 1908
So long as the Mexican immigration is transient it is not likely to have much influence upon the United States, except as it regulates the labor market in a limited
number of occupations and probably within a restricted area; for transient labor is
not likely to be largely employed beyond a certain radius from EI Paso and the Rio
Grande. or to enter lines of employment in which it competes with citizen labor.
But the Mexicans are making their homes in the United States in increasing numbers and, being assimilated by the Spanish-speaking population of the Southwest,
are forming the civic substratum of our border states. The proportion of the immigrants who ultimately take up a permanent residence north of the border is entirely
a matter of estimate. As this immigration has assumed importance since the census
of 1900, figures derived from the census reports do not indicate present conditions
Up to 1900 very few Mexicans had emigrated beyond the border states and
territories. For instance, Colorado, which now employs several hundred Old Mexicans transiently, had but 274 residents of that nationality in the last census year.
Louisiana had 488. Colorado, however, had 10,222 residents, mostly in the mining
counlles around Trinidad. who had been born in New Mexico.
~s found in Victor S. Clark, Mexican Labor in the United States. Bulletin #78, Bureau of Labor. Washrngton, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1908.
Struggle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans. 1910-1917 205
Between 1880 and 1890, the Mexican-born population increased more slowly
than the total population; but during the following decade it increased at a more
rapid rate than the total population, both in the United States as a whole and in all
the border districts except Arizona. In 1880, Mexicans comprised 1.01 percent of
the total foreign-born population of the United States; in 1890, .9 percent; and in
1900, I percent, showing the same general tendency of variation as to the total
population. Of the more than five thousand immigrants who passed through EI
Paso in September 1907, not one expressed the intention of becoming an American
citizen. The only one of several score questioned at the immigration station who
had this intention was a skilled mechanic, of quite a different class from the main
body of immigrants. Nevertheless, Mexicans are settling permanently, especially
in Texas and California. Two persons in a position to be unusually well informed
upon the subject, one of them a general official of a railway carrying immigrants to
the frontier, estimated that 50 percent of those who visited the United States finally
made their home there. On the Mexican Central Railway, which moves more immigrants than any other single road in Mexico, the official estimate of third-class
passengers (laborers) crossing the frontier northward during the twelve months
ending with August 1907 was fifty thousand and the return traffic during the same
period was estimated to be thirty-seven thousand. However, the proportion of
those passing through EI Paso who return is larger than of those crossing the lower
Rio Grande, because so much of the former labor is employed on railways and in
mines in the desert, where there is little temptation to make a permanent home. Immigrants through EI Paso are seldom accompanied by their families, while many
women and children cross at Laredo, especially to pick cotton. A prominent Mexican merchant in San Antonio, Texas, said, “Mexicans who have come to the United
States seldom go back to stay, because conditions are better here, and because they
are not kept down so much in this country.” The superintendent of public instruction in Arizona stated that in the southern counties of that territory nearly one half
the children enrolled in public schools have foreign-born parents, mostly Mexicans, but that very few of these children were born in Mexico. In California, Mexican laborers were said to be accompanied by their families, and to be settled in little colonies near a number of the larger towns; but in Colorado there was no
evidence that the immigrant Mexicans have come to remain. An evidence of increasing settlement in Texas is the large number of excursionists that return to
Mexico each year to attend the religious festivals in Aguascalientes and in Mexico
City. These people, though Mexican-born, buy return tickets to Texas.
The transition in Texas from an immigration of temporary laborers to one of
settlers was thus described by a railroad official who had observed it from the outset: “Ten years ago our Mexican immigrants were chiefly men. It was rare to see a
woman among those who came through here from any distance down the line,
About one thousand men who had been in the United States and returned to Mexico began to bring back their families with them. Usually they wer~ also accompanied by a number of single men or married men without their families, who had
never before been in this country: Most of the men who had ~amili~~ wit? them
did not go back the following season, but the men without t.helTfamlhe~ did, and
some of tbem in tum came back the next year with their families to remain permanently. So the process goes on, with, I believe, a larger proportion of women and
206 Major Problems in Mexican American History
children among the immigrants each year, and a larger proportion remaining in
The Bishop of the Texas diocese (Roman Catholic) stated that many thousands
of immigrants from Old Mexico were settling in his parishes, and that the increase
of Mexican population was general throughout the southern part of the state.
Probably a conservative estimate of the proportion of immigrants remaining
permanently in the United States would be from one fourth to one third. The number is probably in the neighborhood of twenty thousand per annum. With the lack
of more definite data than is possessed at present, the number can only be estimated-and the estimate has possibly a wide margin of error-because this annual
increment to the permanent Mexican population of the country settles over such a
wide area that its presence is hardly perceptible except in large city colonies.
Americans of Mexican descent take an active part in local politics and have
their bosses and machines like English-speaking Americans. In New Mexico they
were said to make very fair citizens, though more apt to be loyal to personal leaders than to political parties. The immigrants, even if they make their home in this
country, seldom become naturalized. The records at San Antonio show that before
the federal naturalization law went into operation the number of persons with German names who became citizens was eight or nine times the number of those bearing Spanish names, though the Mexican population of Bexar County is over one
third the total foreign-born residents. In the entire state in 1900, the Mexican population was 39.6 percent of the total foreign-born population, and doubtless has
been increasing relatively since that year. Those Mexicans who become naturalized have usually resided in the United States for many years, sometimes for the
greater part of their lives. It is not unusual for several persons of the same family
name to acquire citizenship at the same time, probably to facilitate the settling of
an estate or for some other legal purpose.
Spanish-speaking citizens consider themselves socially superior to the immigrants, and rather pride themselves on being Americans. There is for this reason
less social intermingling than the identity of language, religion, and customs might
lead one to expect. The “Americanization” of the Spanish-speaking population of
the Southwest is proceeding much more rapidly at present than heretofore, partly
because these people are themselves migrating temporarily or permanently to
English-speaking sections of the country, and partly because of the large immigration from other parts of the union. The history of Las Vegas, New Mexico, indicates how this change affects civic ideals. The original Mexican town in the river
valley antedates the advent of the American. When the railway was built, an American town grew up in its vicinity, possibly a mile from the center of the older village. Later the two places were incorporated as a single city. But this arrangement
was unpopular with the Mexicans, used to more primitive political arrangements
and averse to taxation, and through their influence the town was disincorporated.
The American town then went ahead, incorporated separately, constructed public
works, and built up an excellent system of public schools, including a high school,
housed in fine buildings. After several years the Mexican town finally incorporated
separately and now is follOWing the example of its neighbor in the mailer of
improvements and school facilities. So the New Mexican and largely SpanishSpeaking community is now taxing itself more heaVily than many a town in the
Struggle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, 1910-1917 207
East for public education, and has issued bonds and erected creditable schoolhouses. This case is fairly representative of what is taking place wherever the railway and American example are bringing the influence of other sections of the
country to bear upon the native population. An educational officer, who himself
spoke Spanish fluently, whose duties made him familiar with conditions in the
southern part of Colorado, said that a marked language change had occurred within
len years, so that while formerly it was comparatively rare to meet a person of
Mexican race who spoke English, it was now rare to meet a young “Mexican” who
was not familiar with that language.
These changes to American habits of life in the home and to American civic
ideals in the community, coupled with the gradual acquisition of English in the
public schools, are all recent. The public-school system of New Mexico is but fifteen years old, and railways have been in the territory less than a generation. They
have as yet influenced appreciably only that part of the so-called Mexican population that has been born in the United States. At present, the immigrant Mexican
does not seem likely to be assimilated by our own people; that is, actual fusion of
blood appears to be remote. But barring this, which may not be permanent, he may
learn to understand our institutions and adopt our habits of thought and action in
2. The Reverend Pedro Grado Addresses
EI Congreso Mexicanista, 1911
My tum has arrived in the progression of the program of the Congreso~exiconista to step in the place from which have come forth words full of erudition;
Ideas that, although heterogeneous, demonstrated with few exceptions belov~d
unity in the objective that occupies our attention …. In this conversauon, and It IS
nothing more, I will touch on some of the points or topics which are most interesting to review, and which may be most useful to us in placing the first bricks of the
great social edifice that this Congreso Mexicanista proposes.
. There are two black points that, with a prophetic threat, sprout forth and grow
In the pure heaven of our liberty and which day by day, worry all good Mexicans, all
true patriots, and all persons who shelter altruism and philanthropy m their souls.
The first of these points concerns the oppression and the abuses that the sons
of Uncle Sam commit daily to our countrymen, especially in the State of Te~as.
. The second is the imprudent conduct of men and women, our fellow ciuzens,
In the State of Texas.
The first point has the following classification: I. Bad application of the law
Whenit deals with Mexicans. II. Unpunished molesting of Mexicans by particular
Americans. III. The exclusion of Mexican children from the Amencan schools.
~ . . Th . N. ti e Land’ Historical R ongresso Mexicanista, 1911. In David J. Weber, ed .â€¢Foreigners In . e” a IV 973 .
OOlsof the Mexican Americans (Albuquerque: University of New Mexlco Press, 1 ).
208 Major Problems in Mexican American History
Order demands that the bad application of the law in treating Mexicans be discussed. The disease has its remedy, and it is here that the utility of the Congreso
Mexicanista is illustrated, inasmuch as experience teaches us that isolation causes
weakness and that weakness produces failure. Reason tells us to make ourselves
The Congreso Mexicanista can and should enhance the Mexican press of
Texas. The newspaper is the scourge of the unjust and the denouncer of the abusers
of office. It is a powerful medium to carry complaints to the desks of officials and
demonstrate by turns that we are not indolent, that we are concerned about the
poverty of our countrymen, and that we are able to do all that is within the law for
The Congreso Mexicanista can and should embrace wealthy, influential men
because of their morality, their knowledge, and their contracts. These are the ones
who, in case of difficulty, will have access to elevated representatives of the law.
The Congreso will broaden itself admirably, and admirable will be the results,
if it tries to attract to it all the secret societies of the Masonic type, or whose members might be our countrymen, or the lodges that might be of this kind. Itshould do
the same with the mutual societies and those that simply have altruism as their
ideal. How surprising will be the effect of a petition, or a request, or of a communication backed by thousands of individuals! What greater satisfaction for a needy
person than the loving hand of thousands of his fellow citizens, ready to put to
flight the terrible anxiety which poverty causes. Considering that this Congreso
will come to be that which I suppose, with the elements now established, the oppressions of the authorities will stop….
The unpunished vexations of particular Americans may continue. This problem is more difficult to solve. The Mexican braceros [“laborers”] … who work in
a mill, on a hacienda, or in a plantation would do well to establish Ligas Mexicanistas [“Mexican Workers’ Leagues”], and see that their neighbors form them. Thus,
once united, with the help of the press, and with the valuable group of philanthropists of wealth or influence in some department, they will be able to strike
back at the hatred of some bad sons of Uncle Sam who believe themselves better
than the Mexicans because of the magic that surrounds the word white.
It remains for us to say something of the exclusion of Mexican children from
the Anglo-Saxon schools in the majority of the counties of the State of Texas. We
can say this is a difficult but not unsolvable problem.
What happens in Laredo, Texas, in San Diego of the same state, and in other
river communities where the Mexican children have free access to the American
schools and high schools? The purpose of this question is to go to the reasons, because if these reasons are transmissible, the problem is not far from resolving
itself…. In the aforementioned towns, the Mexican element dominates and is intimately bound to the Anglo-Saxon by ties of commerce and other kinds. In these
same towns there are respectable Mexicans with prominent positions in the court
houses, so that we find in this one of the causes, or the reason, for the Mexican
children’s access to American schools. Would we be able to make these means
transmissible, and make the influence of those men extend to many miles round
about? Yes, it is possible when all in mass distinguish themselves as mexicanistas
and take interest in their countrymen. Whatever may be the reasons they exclude
Stru9gle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, 1910-1917 209
Mexicans from the schools, I do not find another solution than the influence and
heterogeneous powers of mexican ismo.
3. Flores de Andrade Recalls Her Revolutionary
Activity as an Immigrant in EI Paso, Texas, 1911
I was born in Chihuahua, [Mexico,] and spent my infancy and youth on an estate in
Coahuila which belonged to my grandparents …. As I was healthy and happy I
would run over the estate …. I rode on a horse bareback and wasn’t afraid of anything. I was thirteen years of age when my grandparents died, leaving me a good
The first thing that I did, in spite of the fact that my sister and my aunt advised
me against it, was to give absolute liberty on my lands to all the peons. I declared
free of debts all of those who worked on the lands which my grandparents had
willed me and what there was on that fifth part, such as grain, agricultural implements and animals, I divided in equal parts among the peons. I also told them that
they could go on living on those lands in absolute liberty without paying me anything ….
Because I divided my property … , my aunt and even my sister began to annoy me ….
They annoyed me so much that I decided to marry, marrying a man of German
Origin. I lived very happily with my husband until he died, leaving me a widow
with six children. Twelve years had gone by in the mean time. I then decided to go
to Chihuahua, … to the capital of the state, and there … I began to fight for liberal ideals, organizing a women’s club which was called the “Daughters of
Cuauhtemoc,” a semi-secret organization which worked with the Liberal Party …
10fighting the dictatorship of Don Porfirio Diaz.Â· …
My political activities caused greater anger among the members of my
family …. Under these conditions I grew poorer and poorer until I reached extreme poverty. I passed four bitter years in Chihuahua suffering economic want on
the one hand and fighting in defense of the ideals on the other. My relatives would
tell me not to give myself in fighting for the people, because I wouldn’t get anything from it. … I didn’t care anything about that. … I would have gone on fight109 for the cause which I considered to be just.
My economic situation in Chihuahua became serious, so that I had to accept
donations of money which were given to me as charity by wealthy people … who
knew me and my relatives ….
Finally after four years’ stay in Chihuahua, I decided to come to El Paso,
Texas. I came in the first place to see if I could better my economic condition and
secondly to continue fighting in that region in favor of the Liberal ideals … to plot
M- . . U’ it f Chicago Press 1931),
anuel Ganuo, The Mexican Immigrant’ His Life Story (C~lcago; DIvers! yoÂ·
Pp. 29-35, Reprinled by pennission of the University of Chicago.
‘P . d’ 1″1191t when he was f ortino Diaz led a successful coup in Mexico in 1876 and ruled as a tctator un I â€¢
arced to resign in a revolt led by Francisco Madero, Ed,
210 Major Problems in Mexican American History
against the dictatorship of Don Porfirio. I carne to EI Paso … together with my
children and comrade Pedro Mendoza….
With comrade Mendoza we soon began the campaign of Liberal propaganda.
We lived in the same house … and as we went about together all day working in
the Liberal campaign the American authorities forced us to marry. I am now trying
to divorce myself from my husband for he hasn’t treated me right. …
Â· .. A group of comrades founded in El Paso a Liberal women’s club. They
made me president of that group, and soon afterwards I began to carry on the propaganda work in El Paso and in Ciudad Juarez …. I took charge of collecting
money, clothes, medicines and even ammunition and arms to begin to prepare for
the revolutionary movement, for the uprisings were already starting in some
The American police and the Department of Justice began to suspect our activities and soon began to watch out for me, but they were never able to find either in
my house or in the offices of the club documents or arms or anything ….
In 1910, when all those who were relatives of those who had taken up arms
were arrested by order of the Mexican federal authorities, I had to come to Ciudad
Juarez …. I was then put into prison, but soon was let out and I went back to El
Paso to continue the fight. …
Â· .. Sr. Madero … carne to El Paso, pursued by the Mexican and American authorities. He carne to my house with some others. I couldn’t hide them in my
house, but got a little house … and put them there.’ …
Â· .. One day Don Francisco Madero entrusted my husband to go to a Mexican
farm on the shore of the Bravo river so as to bring two men who were coming to
reach an agreement concerning the movement. My husband … didn’t go. Then I
offered my services to Sr. Madero and I went for the two men who were on this
side of the border, … in Texan territory…. Two Texan rangers who had followed
me asked me where I was going, and I told them to a festival and they asked me to
invite them. I took them to the festival and there managed to get them drunk; then I
took away the two men and brought them to Don Francisco. Then I went back to
the farm and brought the Rangers to El Paso where I took them drunk to the City
Hall and left them there.
Later when everything was ready for the revolutionary movement against the
dictatorship, Don Francisco and all those who accompanied him decided to pass
over 10 Mexican territory. I prepared an afternoon party so as to disguise the movement. They all dressed in masked costumes as iffor a festival and then we went towards the border. The river was very high and it was necessary to cross over without hesitating for the American authorities were already following us…. Finally,
mounting a horse barebacked, I took charge of taking those who were accompanying Don Francisco over two by two. They crossed over to a farm and there they remounted for the mountains.
*Madero was in exile in Texas, following his arrest by Diaz. Madero began a new revolution on November 20, 1910, and forced Diaz into exile and was elected president of Mexico. Ed.
Strugsle and StrIfe: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, 1910-1917 211
A woman companion and I came back to the American side, for I received instructions to go on with the campaign. This happened the 18 of May, 1911. We
slept there in the house of the owner of the ranch and on the next day when we
were getting ready to leave, the Colonel came with a picket of soldiers. I told the
owner of the ranch to tell him that he didn’t know me…. When the authorities
camp up … , the owner of the ranch said that he didn’t know me and I said that I
didn’t know him. They then asked me for my name and I gave it to them. They
asked me what I was doing there and I said that I had been hunting and showed
them two rabbits that I had shot. They then took away my … rifle and my pistol
and told me that they had orders to shoot me because I had been conspiring against
Don Porfirio. I told them that was true and that they should shoot me right away
because otherwise I was going to lose courage. The Colonel, however, sent for instructions from his general. … He sent orders that I should be shot at once.
This occurred almost on the shores of the Rio Grande and my family already
had received a notice of what was happening to me and went to make pleas to the
American authorities …. They were already making up the squad to shoot me
when the American Consul arrived and asked me if I could show that I was an
American citizen so that they couldn’t shoot, but I didn’t want to do that. I told
themthat I was a Mexican ….
The Colonel told me to make my will for they were going to execute me. I told
himthat I didn’t have anything more than my six children whom I willto the Mexicanpeople ….
The Colonel was trying to stave off my execution so that he could save me, he
said.An officer then came and said that the General was approaching. The Colonel
said that it would be well to wait until the chief came so that he could decide concerning my life, but a corporal told him that they should shoot me at once for if the
general Came and they had not executed me then they would be blamed…. The
CorporalWho was interested in having me shot was going to fife when I took the
Colonel’s rifle away from him and menaced him; he then ordered the soldiers to
throw their rifles at the feet of the Mexican woman … , for the troops of the General were already coming. I gathered up the rifles and crossed the river in ~y little
buggy.There the American authorities arrested me and took me to Fort Bliss….
On the next day the authorities at Fort Bliss received a telegram from President
T~ftin which he ordered me to be put at liberty, and they sent me home, a negro
military band accompanying me through the streets. . .. . .
At the triumph of the cause of Sr. Madero we had some great festivities 10 CIUdad Juarez….
Afterwards Sr. Madero sent for me and asked me what I wanted. I told him
that I Wanted the education of my six children and that all the promises which had
beenmade to the Mexican people should be carried out. . . . .
D . . I and little by little I
unng the Huerta revolution I kept out of the strugg e, …
have been separating myself from political affairs.* …
~ a revolt in 1923, General Adolfo de te Huerta overthrew Mexican pcc:.sidentAlvaro Obreg6n. Ed.
212 Major Problems in Mexican American History
4. Samuel Bryan Analyzes Increases
in Mexican Immigration, 19I2
Previous to 1900 the influx of Mexicans was comparatively unimportant. It was
confined almost exclusively to those portions of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and
California which are near the boundary line between Mexico and the United
States. Since these states were formerly Mexican territory and have always possessed a considerable Mexican population, a limited migration back and forth
across the border was a perfectly natural result of the existing blood relationship.
During the period from 1880 to 1900 the Mexican-born population of these border
states increased from 66,312 to 99,969-a gain of 33,657 in twenty years. This increase was not sufficienr to keep pace with the growth of the total population of the
states. Since 1900, however, there has been a rapid increase in the volume of Mexican immigration, and also some change in its geographical distribution ….
. . . In 1908, it was estimated that from 60,000 to 100,000 Mexicans entered
the United States each year. This estimate, however, should be modified by the
well-known fact that each year a considerable number of Mexicans return to Mexico. Approximately 50 percent of those Mexicans who find employment as section
hands upon the railroads claim the free transportation back to EI Paso which is furnished by the railroad companies to those who have been in their employ six
months or a year. Making allowance for this fact, it would be conservative to place
the yearly accretion of population by Mexican immigration at from 35,000 to
70,000. It is probable, therefore, that the Mexican-born population of the United
States has trebled since the census of 1900 was taken.
This rapid increase within the last decade has resulted from the expansion of
industry both in Mexico and in the United States. In this country the industrial development of the Southwest has opened up wider fields of employment for unskilled laborers in transportation, agriculture, mining, and smelting. A similar expansion in northern Mexico has drawn many Mexican laborers from the farms of
other sections of the country farther removed from the border, and it is an easy
mailer to go from the mines and section gangs of northern Mexico to the more remunerative employrnem ro be had in similar industries of the southwestern United
States. Thus the movement from the more remote districts of Mexico to the newly
developed industries of the North has become largely a stage in a more general
movement to the United States. Entrance into this country is not difficult, for employment agencies in normal times have stood ready to advance board, lodging,
and transportation to a place where work was to be had, and the immigration officials have usually deemed no Mexican likely to become a public charge so long as
this was the case. This was especially true before 1908….
Most of the Mexican immigrants have at one time been employed as railroad
laborers. At present they are used chiefly as section hands and as members of construction gangs, but a number are also to be found working as common laborers
about the shops and powerhouses. Although a considerable number are employed
As found in Samuel Bryan. “Mexican Immigrants in the United States,” The Survey 20. no. 23 (September 1912): 726 and 730.
Struggle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, 1910-1917 213
as helpers, few have risen above unskilled labor in any branch of the railroad service. As section hands on the two more important systems they were paid a uniform wage of $1.00 per day from their first employment in 1902 until 1909,except
for a period of about one year previous to the financial stringency of 1907, when
they were paid $1.25 per day. In 1909 the wages of all Mexican section hands employed upon the Santa Fe lines were again raised to $1.25 per day.The significant
feature is, however, that as a general rule they have earned less than the members
of any other race similarly employed. For example, 2,455 Mexican section hands
from whom data were secured by the Immigration Commission in 1908 and 1909,
2,111, or 85.9 percent, were earning less than $1.25 per day, while the majority of
the Greeks, Italians, and Japanese earned more than $1.25 and a considerable number more than $1.50 per day.
In the arid regions of the border states where they have always been employed
and Wherethe majority of them still live, the Mexicans come into little direct competition with other races, and no problems of importance result from their presence. But within the last decade their area of employment has expanded greatly.
They are now used as section hands as far east as Chicago and as far north as
Wyoming. Moreover, they are now employed to a considerable extent in the coal
mines of Colorado and New Mexico, in the ore mines of Colorado and Arizona, in
the smelters of Arizona, in the cement factories of Colorado and California, in the
beet sugar industry of the last mentioned states, and in fruit growing and canning
in California. In these localities they have at many points come into direct competition with other races, and their low standards have acted as a check upon the
progress of the more assertive of these.
Where they are employed in other industries, the same wage discrimination
against them as was noted in the case of railroad employees is generally apparent
Wherethe work is done on an hour basis, but no discrimination exists in the matter
?f rates for piecework. As pieceworkers in the fruit canneries and in the sugar beet
mdustry the proverbial sluggishness of the Mexicans prevents them from earmng
as much as the members of other races. In the citrus fruit industry their treatment
:aries with the locality. In some instances they are paid the same as the “whites”-
10 others the same as the Japanese, according to the class with which they share the
field of employment. The data gathered by the Immigration CommISSIOnshow that
although the earnings of Mexicans employed in the other industries are so.mewhat
hIgher than those of the Mexican section hands, they are with few exceptIOnsnotieeably lower than the earnings of Japanese, Italians, and members of the various
SlaVICraces who are similarly employed. This is true in the case of smelting. ore
mining, coal mining, and sugar refining. Specific instances of the use of MeXIcans
to curb the demands of other races are found in the sugar beet industry of central
California, where they were introduced for the purpose of sh~wing the.Japanese laborers that they were not indispensable, and in the same mdustry m Colorado,
Wherethey were used in a similar way against the German-Russians. Moreover,
Mexicans have been employed as strikebreakers in the coal mines.of Colorado and
New Mexico, and in one instance in the shops of one important railroad syst~m..
S . be of MeXIcansm this ocially and politically the presence of large num rs .
c I . ti on ComlOls- ountry gives rise to serious problems. The reports of the mml~r~ I . their
Slonsshow that they lack ambition, are to a very large extent illiterate 10
214 Major Problems in Mexican American History
native language, are slow to learn English, and most cases show no political interest. In some instances, however, they have been organized to serve the purposes of
political bosses, as for exarnple in Phoenix, Arizona. Although more of them are
married and have their families with them than is the case among the south European immigrants, they are unsettled as a class, move readily from place to place,
and do not acquire or lease land to any extent. But their most unfavorable characteristic is their inclination to form colonies and live in a clannish manner. Wherever a considerable group of Mexicans are employed, they live together, if possible, and associate very little with members of other races. In the mining towns and
other small industrial communities they live ordinarily in rude adobe huts outside
of the town limits. As section hands they of course live as the members of the other
races have done, in freight cars fitted with windows and bunks, or in rough shacks
along the line of the railroad. In the cities their colonization has become a menace .
In Los Angeles the housing problem centers largely in the cleaning up or demolition of the Mexican “house courts,” which have become the breeding ground
of disease and crime, and which have now attracted a considerable population of
immigrants of other races. It is estimated that approximately 2,000 Mexicans are
living in these “house courts.” Some 15,000 persons of this race are residents of
Los Angeles and vicinity. Conditions of life among the immigrants of the city,
which are molded to a certain extent by Mexican standards, have been materially
improved by the work of the Los Angeles Housing Commission …. However, the
Mexican quarter continues to offer a serious social problem to the community ….
In conclusion it should be recognized that although the Mexicans have proved
to be efficient laborers in certain industries, and have afforded a cheap and elastic
labor supply for the southwestern United States, the evils to the community at
large which their presence in large numbers almost invariably brings may more
than overbalance their desirable qualities. Their low standards of living and of
morals, their illiteracy, their utter lack of proper political interest, the retarding effect of their employment upon the wage scale of the more progressive races, and finally their tendency to colonize in urban centers, with evil results, combine to
stamp them as a rather undesirable class of residents.
5. “Los Sediciosos” (The Seditionists) Commemorates
Mexican American Resistance in South Texas, 1915
In nineteen hundred fifteen, oh but the days were hot!
Iam going to sing these stanzas, stanzas about the seditionists.
With this it will be three times that remarkable things have happened;
the first time was in Mercedes, then in Brownsville and San Benito.
In that well-known place called Norias, it really got hot for them;
a great many bullets rained down on those cursed rinches [Texas Rangers].
From A Texas.Mexic~nC~cione,?: Fotksongs of the Lower BOrder. Copyright e 1976 by the Board
of Trustees of the Umverstty of Illinois, Used with the pennission of the University of Illinois Press.
Struggle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, 1910-1917 215
Now the fuse is lit by the true-born Mexicans,
and it will be the Texas-Mexicans who will have to pay the price.
Now the fuse is lit, in blue and red,
and it will be those on this side who will have to pay the price.
Now the fuse is lit, very nice and red,
and it will be those of us who are blameless who will have to pay the price.
Aniceto Pizana said, singing as he rode along,
“Where can I find the rinches? I’m here to pay them a visit.
“Those rinches from King Ranch say that they are very brave;
the make the women cry, and they make the people ron.”
Then said Teodoro Fuentes, as he was tying his shoe,
“We are going to give a hard time to those rinches from King Ranch.”
Then said Vicente e) Giro. sitting on his great big horse.
“Let me at that big Gringo. so we can amble ann-in-arm.”
The American replies, holding his hat in his hands,
“I will be glad to go with you; you are very good Maxacans.”
Then said Miguel Salinas, on his almond-colored mare,
“Ah, how disagreeable are these Gringos! Why don’t they wait for us?”
In that well-known place called Norias, you could hear the sound of firing,
but from Senor Luis de la Rosa, all you could hear was his weeping.
Senor Luis de la Rosa considered himself a brave man,
but at the bour of the shooting, he cried like a baby.
Then said ‘Ieodoro Fuentes, smiling his little smile,
“Pour on the bullets, boys; what a beautiful fracas!
“Fire. fire away, my boys; fire, fire all at once,
for Senor Luis de la Rosa has besmirched his coJors.”
Teodoro Fuentes shouted, “We have to go through Mercedes,
so we can show the rinches that we are too much for them.”
Luis de la Rosa tells them, “Boys, what are you going to do? . ”
We cannot go through Mercedes, and if you doubt it, you soon will see.
Teodoro Fuentes replies. in a very natural voice,
“It’s best that you not go with us, because all you will do is cry.”
SOthey did go through Mercedes, and also through San Benito;
they Went to derail the train at the station of Olmito.
The seditionists are leaving, they have gone into retreat;
they have left us a red swath to remember them hy.
The seditionists are leaving, they said that they would return; .
but they didn’t tell us when because they had no way of knowing.
I will not give you my farewell, because I did not bring it with me;
LUisde la Rosa took it with him to San Luis Potosf,
216 Major Problemsin Mexican American History
By the early twentieth century the Mexican American people of the Southwest had
been reduced 10 the status of landless and dependent wage laborers. resulting in a dramatic change in Mexican-Anglo relations. Treated as an inferior race, Mexicans were
segregated and faced widespread discrimination. Misunderstandings between Anglos
and Mexicans erupted in conflict. Meanwhile. the first period of large-scale Mexican
immigration had begun. Recruited by labor agents to work for the railroads. the mines.
and the farmers. the immigrants found that passage to the United Stales was relatively
easy because of the demand for labor and favorable immigration laws. Many of the
immigrant males were accompanied by their wives, daughters, and female extended
family members. One of their major destinations was EI Paso. Texas. In the first essay,
Mario T. Garcia. professor of history at the University of California. Santa Barbara,
describes the experiences of Mexican immigrant women as housewives, workers, and
participants in the labor movement in EI Paso. explaining the role of chain migration
and the growing importance of women as breadwinners in a variety of occupations.
The participation of these women in labor unions was noteworthy. For example. although the Mexican female laundry workers’ strike of 1919 failed because of the surplus of Mexican labor in the area, these Women gained union consciousness and ethnic
solidarity from the experience.
The many mutual aid and fraternal organizations Mexicans established throughout the Southwest formed a focal point of their communities as well as centers for
unionization. This is the topic of the essay by Emilio Zamora. associate professor of
history at the University of Houston. who examines the voluntary societies Mexicans
founded in South Texas in the early twentieth century. Zamora states that these groups.
which promoted social and cultural activities. were the locus of a strong Mexican nationalism. By serving as advocates for workers’ rights as well as for civil and legal
rights. the societies united Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans in the struggle for higher wages. better working conditions. and racial equality.
Mexican Immigrant Women in EI Paso, Texas
MARIO T. GARcIA
Women of Mexican descent appear early in the story of the Southwest. On the
whole. most were wives and mothers. and their story has yet to be told. Wives accompanied their husbands on the long and perilous trek to the United States during
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The family. of course. represented
the most important institution transferred across the border by Mexican immigrants. The Dillingham Commission report of 1911 on the state of foreign immigration to the United States. authorized by the United States Senate. noted that a
high percentage of Mexican laborers in western industries had brought their wives
from nearby Mexico. According to the commission. some 58.2 percent of Mexican
railroad workers in the survey reponed that their wives were with them in the
United States. This figure was much higher than that for other immigrant railroad
Mario T. Garcia, “The Chicana in American History: The Mexican Women of EI Paso. 188o-1920-A
Case ~tud~,” Pacific.H~storicQ/.Review 49, no. 2 (May 1980): 315-337. Copyrighr e 1980 by Amencan Historical ASSOCiation,Pacific Coast Branch. Reprinted by pennission.
Struggle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, 1910-1917 217
workers in the West who had arrived from more distant lands, such as southern Europe and Asia…. One railroad line, the Santa Fe, by 1910 was encouraging the
migration of Mexican families in order to stabilize working conditions. As a Santa
Fe engineer put it, hiring married men resulted in better and more productive
workers. Investigators for the Dillingham Commission also discovered a similar
condition in urban-related work. Sixty percent of Mexicans employed as construction workers by street railways, for example, admitted they had their wives with
. . . The majority of Mexican immigrant families, as revealed in a sample
taken from a 1900 EI Paso census, were either nuclear or extended…. Over half
of the immigrant household units were nuclear families living by themselves or in
an augmented relationship with nonrelated household residents, such as boarders.
In addition, 13 percent were extended families. More Mexican immigrant families
lived in nuclear households than did non-Spanish surname families…. Since the
1910 and 1920 manuscript cenuses are not yet available to scholars, no comparisons can be made, but it is possible that over this twenty-year period [between
1900and 1920] a pattern of chain migration set in and extended-family households
grew among Mexican immigrants as other relatives arrived, especially those from
the northern Mexican states.
Although some Mexican women in El Paso and throughout the urban SouthWestcontributed to household incomes by taking in wash or lodgers, no disintegration took place in the traditional pattern of men being the chief wage-earners and
women doing household work. The sample taken from the EIPaso census of 1900
shows that no mothers and few daughters, most of the latter being too young, in an
immigrant family headed by the father worked outside the home. As wife and
mother the Mexican housewife was primarily responsible for caring for the MeXIcan male worker and her family. Under a division of labor which relegated nearly
all of them to housework, Mexican women, like most women, had to rnamtam the
male work force as well as reproduce it. Within the family, Mexican males n~t only
found relief from their job alienation, but nourishment for another day shard
work. Consequently, the family, and the women’s role in it, performed a significant
Too poor to afford their own domestics, Mexican women in the border city
performed their housework under depressed living conditions. “Chihu~U1ta,” the
largest Mexican settlement in EI Paso and adjacent to the Rio Grande River ~rder,
Containedthe city’s worst and most congested housing. While no legal res~cuons
Prohibited Mexicans from living in the better homes found in Amencan neighborhoods, lack of occupational mobility, in addition to race and cultural prejudice,
kept Mexicans segregated in barrios (slums). Mexicans adjusted to these conditio h .’ I the mistaken belief ns, owever, because of acquaintance with poverty, p us
they would soon return to Mexico with ample savings. . . . .
U d .’ did h h d manual labor which n er these conditions, Mexican housewives I tear . , . . ed
allOwedimmigrant families to live on husband’s and sometimes chlldrens limit
earnings. Mexican women had to haul water for washing and cooking from the
river or public water pipes To feed their families, they had to spend time marketing, often in Cuidad JUlire~across the border, as well as long, hot hours.cooking
01 al d b h i ‘de and outside their
e s and coping with the burden of desert san ot lOS.
218 Major Problemsin MexicanAmerican History
homes. Besides the problem of raising children, unsanitary living conditions
forced Mexican mothers to deal with disease and illness in their families. Diphtheria, tuberculosis, typhus, and influenza were never too far away…. As a result,
Mexican mothers had to devote much energy caring for sick children, many of
whom died. The Â£1 Paso TImes commented later in 1909 that out of thirty-six
deaths during the previous week, twenty involved children less than three years of
age. Almost all were Mexicans. “Death seems to be a frequent and common visitor
in the homes of the Mexican element,” the newspaper remarked. Lack of sewers,
water, paved sidewalks, and streets plus overcrowded homes made housework one
of the most arduous jobs in the Mexican settlement.
The Mexican housewife, although oppressed under a sexual division of labor,
helped sustain the family’s male workers and indirectly EI Paso’s economy which
grew and prospered from the labor of Mexicans. Without the woman’s housework,
Mexican men could not have adjusted so easily to an American urban environment. …
While housework formed the most important work activity for Mexican
women, some in EI Paso also found jobs outside the home. EI Paso, for example,
had one of the earliest concentrations of Mexican female wage workers in the
United States. Mexican women, as other women, worked either to augment the
eamings of male family members or due to the loss of the male breadwinner …. A
sample of 393 EI Paso households taken from the 1900 manuscript census reveals
that almost a fifth … of Mexican households contained a working woman ….
Mexican women who worked, according to the census, were either unmarried
daughters, mothers with no husbands, or single women. Of the 31 Spanish surnamed households in the sample with a working female, 17 had daughters or other
young relatives with jobs While the remaining 14 contained working mothers with
no husbands or single women. On the other hand, married Mexican women, both
foreign and native born, within a nuclear or extended family, did not work. The
sample revealed no instance of a woman with an employed husband having a job.
Age and fertility help explain this condition. In the 1900 sample, 41.08 percent of
married Mexican immigrant women were between fifteen and thirty years of age, a
period when women generally give birth. Moreover, 38.44 percent of married
Mexican immigrant women were between thirty and forty, a period when most
women had children at home ….
If age and fertility worked against Mexican women finding jobs outside the
home, so too did Mexican cultural traditions. Mexican men resented women, especially wives, working or wanting to work for wages. Most males believed their
work a man’s duty and that woman’s consisted of raising children and keeping
house. As one working class newspaper in Mexico during the age of Portirio Diaz
emphasized: “To be a wife is to be a woman preferably selected amongst many
other women, for her honesty, for her religiousness, for her amiability, … for her
industriousness, [and] for her docility…. ” Despite such attitudes, the Mexican
family in the United States did not remain static. Over the years more Mexican
women, especially daughters, became wage-workers to augment the family income. Also, as the economy expanded, … EI Paso and southwestern industries
and services began to recruit more Mexican women workers ….
Struggle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, 1910-1917 219
The increase in Mexican female wage-workers in EI Paso by 1920 can be seen
in census figures for that year. The census reported that 3,474 foreign-born females, almost all Mexicans, ten years of age and older were engaged in a gainful
occupation. Foreign-born female wage-workers represented half of all females ten
years and over who held jobs in EI Paso. Most female workers in EI Paso … did
“women’s work.” The two largest occupations were servants … and laundresses
… -jobs familiar to women in Mexico-where the majority of Mexican working
women could be found. Due to deficiencies in skills and schooling, as well as prejudice against them, few Mexican women, unlike their American counterparts,
were in such skilled professional occupations as teaching, nursing, or office
Mexican women, besides working as servants, found other employment opportunities. Many worked as washerwomen, either in American homes or in their
own as well as in the various laundries of EI Paso. In laundries, they learned such
other skills as the use of sewing machines and received from $4 to $6 a week. In
1917 the EI Paso Laundry, the largest in the city, employed 134 Spanish-surnamed
workers out of a total of 166 employees, and Mexican women, mostly doing collar
and flatwork, composed what appears to have been over half of the Mexican
employees. That same year the Elite Laundry had 76 Spanish-surnamed female
workers out of a total of 128 employees. Another of the larger laundries, the Acme,
employed 75 Spanish-surnamed females out of 121 employees in 1917. The same
pattern prevailed in the smaller laundries. For example, the Post Laundry had 33
Spanish-surnamed women in their work force of 49. While many of these laundresses lived in EI Paso some came from Ciudad Juarez …. The use of nonresident Mexican women Iimited already low wages.
In addition to service jobs, some Mexican women labored as production workers, especially in EI Paso’s early garment factories. In 1902 Bergman’s factory,
Which turned out shirts and overalls, reported that it had three American women
and a large number of Mexican females …. Several years later, in 1919, the El
Paso Overall Company advertised in a Spanish-language newspaper that it needed
MeXican women for sewing and for general work. Mexican wom~n likewise
worked in the Kohlberg cigar factory. Although the exact nature of their work can;
not be determined 22 Mexican women out of 113 employees labored 10 the plan
in 1917. Some women also found jobs as clerks and sales personnel in ~e downtown stores …. Still other Mexicans worked as cooks or dishwashers 10 restaurants. In more unfortunate cases Mexican women sold food on the streets of
Finally, ‘as in other societies, some women inhabited the saloons and g~bling
halls of the red-light district. … When the city government enforced an ordlOanc:
In 1903 to move the district further from the center of El Paso, the TImes reporte
that many of the prostitutes “propose to go across the river, among the number beIng the Mexicans, which include the dance hall girls ….
S .fi .’ EI Paso occurred as the peer IC attention to the wages of Mexican women 10 .
reSUlt of hearings held in the border city … by the Texas Industnal Welfare
COmmission. During three days of testimony by employers as well as female em
ploye . k in the laundries an
es, the commission discovered that MeXIcan wor ers
220 Major Problemsin MexicanAmerican History
factories of the city received less pay than American women in other industries.
The Mexicans also obtained less than the salaries of laundry and factory workers 10
other Texas cities who performed similar work but did not face Mexican competition. According to the commission, these differences made it more difficult to set a
minimum wage throughout the state. The reason for the problem, the commission
stated, could be found in the Mexican’s lower standard of living, “and that is a condition which, it seems, cannot be remedied.” The members of the commission concluded, although without evidence, that “the Mexican workers find it possible to
‘live comfortably’ on a wage that Anglo workers would regard as ‘starvation
Despite the commission’s conclusions, Mexican women who appeared before
it refuted those who claimed that Mexicans did not need higher wages because
they had a lower standard of living. One group of laundry workers who had gone
on strike for higher wages testified that the laundries had paid them $4 to $5 a
week…. Maria Valles testified that she worked at the Elite Laundry and received
$4.50 a week. She lived with her family and supported a nine-year-old daughter. “I
have to support her and myself,” she stated, “but I have to make great sacrifices,
some days going without food, for lack of means.” She believed she could live
well on $15 a week. Mexican women employed in the El Paso Overall Company
also testified before the commission about their need for higher wages. The Â£1
Paso Herald described one of these workers, Daniela Morena, as “a woman along
in years,” who stated that she made $7 to $8 a week and supported her mother and
two children. She believed that she required at least $15 a week, “but if alone
might get along with $8 or $9 a week, as she ‘dressed very humbly.’ ” Other garment workers gave similar testimonies. The Mexican women’s arguments, unfortunately, had lillie impact. Low wages for Mexicans, both men and women,
continued to characterize the EIPaso economy.
In addition to their roles as housewives and wage workers, a third major activity of Mexican women in the United States was their participation in labor unions
and labor strife. Though relatively few women were active in unions or labor
protests, Mexican women nonetheless were involved in some of the largest and
most important labor strikes in the Southwest. … In October 1919 some of the
Mexican women, together with state and local American Federation of Labor
organizers, established the Laundry Workers’ Union. The Union then began to organize workers, almost all Mexican women, in the Acme Laundry of El Paso.
When this plant refused to accept the union and fired two of the organizers, Isabel
and Manuela Hernandez, the rest of the almost two hundred workers went on strike
demanding that the employers rehire their co-workers …. F. B. Fletcher, the president and manager of Acme, denied any knowledge of a union and claimed he had
dismissed the two workers for other reasons ….
When three other laundries attempted to do the work of Acme. the Mexican
women at those plants joined the strike. Owners of two more laundries at first
agreed to recognize the union, but then changed their minds. The women at these
places also struck. In a few days somewhere between 300 and 575 workers, including some men, had gone on strike against all of EI Paso’s laundries. At a meeting of
the Central Labor Union where representatives of the A. F. of L. addressed the
laundry workers, the Mexican women unanimously agreed to stand by the union.
Struggle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, 1910-1917 221
“Truly this was a sight that would do the heart of anyone good to see these girls
and women,” the Labor Advocate, the A. F. of L. organ in EI Paso, reported.
“[S]ome of them hardly in their teens and some of them bent with age, standing up
and solemnly promising that no matter what may come or what may happen, they
would stand together for the mutual good of their fellow workers.”
Besides the workers’ own solidarity, the A. F. of L.’s support proved important
in maintaining the strike. The Central Labor Union not only endorsed the action,
but various locals raised funds for the women strikers…. The A. F. of L.’s willingness to organize and assist the Mexicans, however, did not represent a departure
from Samuel Gompers’ policy of excluding alien workers….
The laundry workers obtained further assistance from various Mexican social
organizations in El Paso, composed of both Mexican Americans and Mexican
nationals. La Patria, the city’s major Spanish-language newspaper, expressed its
support of the Mexican women and called upon other Mexican groups to do likewise…. A delegation of twelve women and four men from the laundry union also
received the endorsement of the influential mutual society,the Circulo de Amigos,
which had been organized by Mexican American city employees. In a letter to all
Mexican societies, Circulo officials expressed their support of the strikers “who
are giving an example of character, strength and racial solidarity.” Believing itimportant not to abandon the women in their hour of need, the Cireulo called on all
other Mexican organizations and the Mexican community to attend an informational meeting on how best to “help our sisters.” …
While hurt by unfavorable newspaper publicity, the laundry workers’ main
problem concerned the owners’ ability to hire strikebreakers as well as retain some
of their employees. F. Ravel, proprietor of the Excelsior Laundry, refused to sign a
union contract because his operation had not been seriously hampered by the
strike. “Some of my Mexicans quit,” he told a reporter, “and I put Americans in
their places. In a few weeks every workman in my shop will be American.” Ravel
contended that American labor proved to be more productive and efficient than
Mexican. Besides hiring unemployed Americans, the laundries also found II easy
to hire numerous Mexican workers both in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. The Advocate pointed out that even though 486 women and men had gone on strike, hundreds of other Mexicans were asking for work in the laundries…. Frustrated, the
strikers verbally attacked their replacements by calling them “scabs” and labor
leaders demanded that the city government stop the laundries from.”mpIOYI:~
other workers. The city attorney, however, ruled that no muDtClpalordlDan.cepr
hibited employers from hiring whom they pleased. Unfortunately fo~organized labor and the Mexican women, the A.F. of L.’s own refusal to orga~lZe or support
Mexican alien workers only added to the availability of MeXIcansmkebreakers.
To compound their problems, the laundry workers failed to maintain thelaun;
dry. drivers’ support, despite an initial endorsement by the Laundry Dnvers_
Union…. Unlike the laundry workers, all of the truck dnvers were Anglo-Amen
cans. The Mexican women received an additional setback when an ad appeare:~~
the Herald signed by thirty-four workers, including twent~-seven MeXIC~~\ nohad remained on the job at the EIPaso Laundry. Addressed ‘To the Pubhc, th.
tice stated that the undesigned “old employees” of the laundry “have at all nmes
bee. d welfare has never been
n treated ID a most considerate manner, an our
222 Major Problemsin MexicanAmerican History
neglected; … we are not in sympathy with the laundry workers’ unfair strike and
positively will not support it.”
El Paso’s laundry strike continued until the end of 1919, but it had been lost almost from the start. The existence of a large pool of surplus Mexican labor both in
EI Paso and across the border proved to be the decisive factor. Although no doubt
irritated by the strike, and by the fear of class disturbances in the city, laundry owners simply hired other workers, both Mexican and American. Hampered by El
Paso’s large number of Mexican aliens, plus its refusal to organize or support
them, the A.F. of L. assisted as best as possible the laundry workers, but could not
overcome organized labor’s liabilities along the border. As for the Mexican women
who went on strike, it appears most never regained their jobs. Their struggle, however, represents one of the earliest displays of union consciousness and ethnic solidarity among Mexican female workers in the United States. The fact that many of
the women apparently were Mexican Americans rather than Mexican nationals
must also be seen as a major factor in the laundry workers’ ability to organize.
More permanent, knOWledgeable,and secure in their rights as American citizens,
unionization of Mexican American workers symbolized a process of acculturation
to an industrial and urban culture ….
This case study of Mexican women in EI Paso between 1880 and 1920 has attempted to demonstrate some of the major research themes on women that might
be pursued in Chicano history. The general topics of Mexican women as housewives, as wage workers, and as participants in unionization and labor strife constitute the most important activities that have affected Mexican women in the United
States. An investigation of them by historians of the Chicano experience will contribute not only to an understanding of the history of Mexican American women,
but to the history of all Mexicans north of the border. The history of Chicanos, especially Chicano workers, is only half complete without an appreciation of the
contributions Mexican women have made.
Mexican Voluntary Organizations of South Texas
The Mexican community [of South Texas in the early twentieth century 1was by no
means homogeneous in cultural identity or political outlook. Mutual aid, pacifist,
Masonic, and union organizations … at times reflected broadly defined civic
outlooks, highly specialized interests, or narrow instrumental views…. The impressive amount of collectivist political activity that evolved around mutual aid societies … points to a unifying cultural frame of reference that gave impetus and
meaning to Mexican organizational life.
. . . Calls for unity openly adhered to a Mexicanist, or all-inclusive, nationalist
sense of community and a popular ethic of mutuality …. Mutualism incorporated
such values as fraternalism, reciprocity, and altruism into a moral prescription for
~eprinted from The World of the Mexican Worker in South Texas by Emilio Zamora 1993 by pennis- sion of Texas A & M University Press. ‘ ,
Struggle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, 1910-1917 223
human behavior, a cultural basis for moralistic and nationalistic political action
that was intended to set things right. …
Voluntary organizations expressed the clearest visions of mutualism and a
Mexicanist orientation in their conscious working-class endeavors. The fundamental concern among the members was to help each other survive the very difficult conditions under which they lived and worked. Mutualista organizations,
however,did not always confine their attention to the immediate and pressing material interests of their largely working-class membership, nor did they simply
embrace a narrow self-help outlook. Mutual aid societies also reinforced a collectivistspirit with resolute statements of purpose in support of nationalist principles
and moral values, an active civic role, and strict rules that disciplined their membersinto conscious Mexicanist proponents of the ethic of mutuality. Intellectuals,
in turn articulated these principles and values into different calls for unity and collective action, including unionism. Consequently, even different and at times opposing groups adhered to the same legitimating set of fundamentally unifying
principles and values ….
… Luis Recinos, a researcher assisting Manuel Gamio in the preparation of his
highly acclaimed study of Mexican immigration, noted … divisions between the
imntigrant and U.S.-born Mexicans during the late 1920s. He was careful to point
out … that voluntary organizations included everyone regardless of nativity. In
other words, a Mexicanist identity and organizational style predominated at the
sametime that divisions and an incipient ethnic outlook began to emerge.
Underlying the class and generational divisions was a popular tendency in Anglo society to view Mexicans as a homogeneous group. Mexicans were, as Texas
Congressman James Slayden stated, ” ‘Mexicans’ just as all blacks are Negr~s
though they may have five generations of American ancestors.” … Johnny Solfs,
oneof the founders of the Hijos de America and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LUCAC), confirmed this racially-defined division and the negative
meaning associated with the term Mexican: “The biggest drawback which the
Texas-Mexicans face is that no matter how we behave or what we do or how long
we have been here we are still ‘Mexicans’.” Solis inferred that racism was especially onerous because it denied U.S.-born Mexicans the opportunities ordinarily
extended to other upwardly mobile citizens. . .
Tbe issues of immigration and denial of occupational mobility accentuated
tenSIOnsamong Mexicans. Immigration intensified job competitIOnand depressed
wages While occupational discrimination denied the U.S.-born and older imrmgrants the chance to escape their condition. Class and generational differences
wereoften expressed in cultural terms, with Mexican nationals accusing the U.S.-
born of being agringados and ashamed of their Mexican identity, and the U.S.-
born cbarging that the new arrivals depressed wages and encouraged further
exploitation with their alleged backward customs of extreme deference and reserve.Tbe erosion of a unified Mexicanist identity became more noticeable among
UPWardlymobile U.S.-born Mexicans wbo felt the pressure of competIlIon fro:
belowand social discrimination from above. Many of them sougbt to dlsassoclat
224 Major Problems in Mexican American History
themselves from the immigrant population, giving emphasis to their nativity and
citizenship as a way to challenge discrimination, improve opportunities for mobility, and gain a measure of acceptance in the larger world. Such an ethnic strategy of
incorporation also challenged discrimination, although its proponents increasingly
saw their association with the Mexican nationals as a source of their problems and
not as a point of unity or common cause. . . . . .
Homeland rather than ethnic politics reflected a more serious Source of dIVIsions during the early 1900s. Homeland politics included numerous exiled groups,
pacifist organizations, and other community institutions whose interest in Mexico
and its politics guided many of their community activities. A number of factors
contributed to the ascendancy of homeland politics. Population growth in northern
Mexico along with increasing immigration strengthened historical and cultural ties
with the homeland throughout the last half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth…. Another important factor was the proximity of Mexico.
Also, the revolution [of 191OJ encouraged numerous economic refugees and political exiles to join the immigrant stream. Political exiles, refugees, and consular offices played an especially important role in politicizing homeland ties. The result
was the transfer of divisions from the Mexican revolution to the political world of
the Mexican community of Texas….
Homeland politics … produced mixed results. It introduced and reinforced
divisions. It also cultivated a nationalist Mexican identity and conununitarian
ideals on both sides of the border. These influences were direct when mutual aid
societies secretly or openly endorsed a particular exiled group in the area. On other
occasions, mutualista organizations rejected an outright affiliation because of differences of opinion among the membership …. On the other hand, the revolution
indirectly influenced political life in the Mexican community by increasing the
numbers of immigrants who joined mutual aid societies or established new ones.
Immigrants joined other more permanent residents who assisted them in adjusting to their new surroundings.
. . . The most important force that contributed to mutualism originated in the
experiences that Mexicans shared in Texas. These included a condition of poverty
that required the sharing of resources and efforts for survival and advancement,
and the problem of discrimination and inequality that called for collective actions
of defense and protest. … The spirit of mutualism engendered mutual aid societies
in Texas in the first decades of the twentieth century.
An imported artisan tradition aSSOCiatedwith guilds and mutual aid societies in
Mexico during the late 1800s had combined with a similar, yet smaller-scale artisan past along the border, giving rise to some of the first such organizations in
Texas. IndUstrialization in Mexico had caused the decline of handicraft trades,
forcing artisans to seek self-organization in order to defend their social status and
to protect their economic interests. Mutual aid SOCietiessoon proliferated. The formality and ritualism of these alliances as well as the upstanding and self-respecting
behavior of its members also must have Contributed to organizational life in Texas.
Local needs and grievances, however, were the most important and immediate de-
Struggle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, 1910-1917 225
tenninants in the establishment of mutualista organizations. While the subordinated position and status of Mexicans in the socio-economy created the need to
give institutional expression to overarching historical and contemporary grievances. the most pressing need was for mutual support.
Mutual aid societies met the material needs of their members with emergency
loans and other forms of financial assistance. job-seeking services. and death and
illness insurance. They also offered their members leadership experiences in civic
affairs. sponsored other institutions like newspapers and private schools. provided
their communities with popular community events for entertainment and socializing. and offered public forums that addressed the important issues of the day.
Mutualista organizations thus gave their members and communities a sense of belonging and refuge from an often alien and inhospitable environment. The community.in turn. accorded the members and especially the officers the highly respected
status of responsible. civic-minded individuals. A lesser-known characteristic of
mutualistas is that they served as a major point of organizational unity that
spawned local and regional political struggles….
Mexicanist organizing appeals and critiques thus drew a popular response. primarily because workers sought material support and cooperation to meet the economic uncertainties of the day. Widespread concern and discontent over the issues
of inequality and discrimination also served as a common frame of reference in the
fonnation and development of mutual aid societies. This thinking was not limited
to U.S.-born Mexicans and older immigrants. Discontent was an important motivation among the immigrants. According to a report commissioned by the Mexican
Consul from San Antonio. there were
hundreds. we might say thousands of complaints of Mexican citizens against both ~rivate individuals and corporations as well as against public officials. These compJal,nts
have covered a wide range, from a single alleged infraction of a ve~aJ co~tract ~latJ.ng
to wages, up to claims for personal injuries. and for alleged gross miscarriage ofjustice
when Mexicans were accused of a crime or were the accusers of others who were
charged with committing a crime on their persons or property.
Journalists played an important role in encouraging a Mexicanist identity and
collective political action to combat discrimination and inequality. The edltor~ ?f
La Prensa [San Antonio. Texas], for example. always urged their readers to join
mutualaid societies and contribute to the resolution of problems in their communities. In 1915 when a reader from Marquez [Texas) complained that.pubhc school
officials denied his son admission. La Prensa recommended that he join Withother
.. . . ., La Prensa predicted that ‘VleXlcanparents and organize mutual aid SOCietIes.
“P . .’ f k rs from the rural areas rom this redeeming movement will come umons 0 wor e . .
and f . . . f M’ here the children will be rom the cines, also Mexican schools 0 exicans, w
able to learn to speak and write their mother tongue.” . . f d
. . ” d ted a moralistic sense 0 eter- e a IUsIOnto a “redeeming movement eno .
m’ d . befitti the circumstances that me and committed purpose to public service I mg .’
.. . al id and MaSOnICorganr- “lexlCans faced. The leadership of the numerous mutu at .
. ibilit and commitment to zatIons also demonstrated a righteous sense of responsl I I Y I
an all. . nt and protest. The popu ar
-encompassmg cause for change. Improveme â€¢ d ‘bed the
tared . mf for inslI1Rce. escn o Mason and educator SIm6n G. Do nguez,
226 Major Problems in Mexican American History
organization Logia, Benito Juarez, in a letter to a journalist friend as an organization working for “the general improvement of our people in this state of the American Union.” Dominguez may have been speaking for the entire Masonic network
in the state ….
Organizations that under other circumstances would have confined their attention to offering insurance coverage to their members were also compelled to
embrace a higher purpose in service to the entire population. In Kingsville, an officer for the all-women Woodmen of the World, No. 1003, Ignacio A. de la Pefia,
for instance, made it a point to describe her organization in terms of a lofty principle: “In our circle we not only work for group insurance, but for the uplifting of
our people …. ”
The pressing problems facing the community no doubt compelled Mexicans to
seek change and improvements collectively. The need for mutual support, and discontent over the effects of discrimination and inequality alone, however, do not explain the spirit with which they gave themselves to a high-sounding cause of
redemption. Additional motivations originated in the indignation that Mexicans
felt against a racism that denied them their humanity and sense of self-worth ….
Among the many organizing calls made through La Cronica [Laredo, Texas],
the one made by Clemente Idar in preparation for El Congreso Mexicanista [see
Document 2] underscored the salient issues in the community and revealed the prevailing Mexicanist sense of unity and purpose that guided regional organizing efforts. Prior to the  conference, Idar gave his attention to such issues as
lynchings, unity, and discrimination in the schools and in the work place. Among
his most consistently expressed concerns was the exploitation of Mexican workers,
an issue that chafed nationalist sensibilities because the land that they worked at
one time belonged to their ancestors: ”Texas-Mexicans have produced with the
sweat of their brow the bountiful agricultural wealth known throughout the country, and in recompense for this they have been put to work as peones on the land of their forefathers.”
Idar affirmed a Mexicanist identity. Mexican nationals also suffered exploitation despite the guarantees of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, while U.S.-born
Mexicans were denied the protection and guarantees of the Constitution. He concluded that “we are in the same situation,” as he urged his readers to assist the
more recent arrivals adjust to their new life in Texas. After the conference he continued to encourage immigrant and U.S.-born alike to join as brothers in the redemptive cause against diSCrimination….
Clemente Idar based his case for political unity primarily on the ensuing racial
conflict and popular feelings of resentment: ”The barbarous acts of cruelty and
savagery committed against Mexicans, burning them alive, lynching them without
just cause, exclUding them from the public schools, robbing them infamously of
their work, insulting them in a thousand ways, gives rise to feelings of compassion
for the Mexican people and hatred and aversion for the American people.” …
The delegates who attended the conference also imbued their Mexicanist appeals for unity with a sense of moral righteousness and responsibility. The speakers argued passionately in an oratorical style, recounting the continuing loss of
land, the violated rights of Mexican workers, school diSCrimination and exclusion,
the violence against Mexican youth in legal custody, and the need for class and na-
Struggle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans. 1910-1917 227
tional unification. These were the same issues that Clemente ldar had enumerated
when he made his call for the conference, indicating a general consensus among
the delegates and the memberships that they represented.
F. E. Rend6n, Grand Chancellor of the Mexican Masonic network [in Texas],
paid special tribute to the patriotism, altruism, and “sense of humanity and nobility,” that guided the work of EI Congreso Mexicanista. They were fulfilling a high
and noble purpose in seeking the moral emancipation and material improvement of
Mexican people. Masonic organizations, Rend6n noted, shared the delegates’ concerns especially for the immigrant who was drawn by false promises and subjected
to extreme forms of exploitation ….
Youth and women also participated in the conference as official speakers ….
Senora Soledad Flores de Pefia offered a women’s perspective to the goals of
unity and improvement. She first commended the delegates for their work as the
“honest gladiators of Texas-Mexican rights,” who had won the hearts of the people
and had encouraged many to join their ranks …. “I, like you,” Flores de Pefia told
the delegates, “think that the best means to achieve it [unity and progress] is to educate women, to instruct her, encourage her at the same time that you respect her.”
The delegates apparently agreed with the idea of supporting the educational and
economic advancement of women. They provided for the establishment of a separate organization for women, La Liga Femeni!. …
The high-sounding principles and statements of political resolve heard at EI
Congreso Mexicanista and in numerous public programs that voluntary organizations sponsored throughout the state suggest an enthusiastic and committed leadership. The impressive number of voluntary organizations that appeared throughout
the state … indicates that Mexicans responded favorably to organizing appeals….
Inside Las Sociedades
Mutual aid societies gave concrete and conscious manifestation to a Mexic~nist
Id~ntity and the unifying ethic of mutuality through highly responsible and CIVICmmded activities. Their code of morality and mutual support owed much to the
membership’s genuine devotion to such cultural values as fraternalism, reciprocity,
and altruism. Guiding statements of purpose regarding proper moral beha;lOr and
mutualism reflected this devotion. Mutualista members also adhered to stnct rules
that disciplined them into “examples of true moral values” and that cemented a
MeXIcanist identity. . . . .
Members of mutual aid organizations clearly saw themselves as Important
memb . . . . h . d .. n to contribute to the ers of their communi nes. They VIewed t elf ecisro .
moral uplift and material advancement of fellow Mexicans as the most responsible
and honorable responsibility that anyone could assume. These tWIDgoals began
with their membership. They believed that by pooling their resources and estabhShin d . they not only helped each
g a eath and illness insurance fund, for instance, I .
other but instilled the unifying values of mutualism, which they saw as mora. Im~
peratives in their communities They also spoke about extending thetr spmt 0
10 t al’ ‘., S’ d d Mutuahsta Protecu u Ism beyond the confines of the orgamzallon. La ocie a . t ” ro ress
tora, Benito Juarez, of San Benito, for instance, declared that It sough P g
228 Major Problemsin MexicanAmerican History
and unity among the entire Mexican working class in this country, as well as of the
U.S.-born.” The Alice [Texas] mutual aid society named Hidalgo y Juarez explained that “philanthropy and humanitarian sentiments” would guide their efforts
to build unity among “all social classes.” .
Members adopted a number of specific objectives to promote mutualism
within and outside the organization. All of them established an insurance fund
which made disability payments to ill members for up to thirty days and paid funeral costs in case of death. They also contributed to an ad hoc widow’s fund that
provided a lump sum to the family of the deceased member. Other sources of mutual and community assistance included informal job-seeking services for their
members, charity funds to help needy families in the community, and savings
funds which extended emergency loans to members. In some cases, the organizations established libraries, newspapers, and private schools for children and
adults in the community. In all cases, they sponsored celebrations during Mexico’s national holidays and the organizations’ anniversaries. All of these activities
were central to their commitment to the concepts of moral uplift and material advancement.
The material benefits that insurance coverage, emergency loans, and job
placement assistance brought to the members were obvious. Most of them were
poor and often without a stable source of employment. Schools, libraries, and
newspapers were also important contributions to the educational advancement of
the membership and the community. These activities, however, also contributed to
the moral regeneration of the members and the community that they served. The
insurance and savings funds reinforced a measure of trust among members who
contributed their meager resources with the expectation that their money would be
handled honestly and that they would receive their due benefits. The regular and
timely payment of the required monthly fees and contributions also fostered frugality and a sense of family responsibility.
The charity funds, schools, newspapers, and public celebrations broadened the
organizations’ sphere of influence as examples of disinterested and morally rejuvenating public service. In Laredo La Sociedad Uni6n de Jornaleros saw in the patriotic celebrations an opportunity to demonstrate their adherence to a Mexieanist
identity. The organization agreed that it needed to sponsor the celebration of “national holidays with the necessary solemnity to insure that our members and our
children do not lose the precepts of our nationality.” The Sociedad Hijos de Juarez
added that its members should seek 10 promote through the press or their own organ “ideas in support of the moral and material development of the social masses.”
In San Benito mutualistas made one of the most impressive gestures of community
support when they decided to admit into their school children from families who
could not afford to pay the required fees.
The strict internal rules that mutual aid societies adopted to define the responsibilities and proper “moral comportment” of their members contributed the most
to the practice of the ethic of mutuality. First of all, persons who applied for admission had to be of sound moral character. The organization confirmed this by requiring recommendations from at least one member who acted as a sponsor; a committee
formally investigated their local reputation as responsible family persons and lawabiding citizens. The membership was required to vote unanimously in favor of
Struggle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, /9/0-/9/7 229
positive recommendations by the sponsor and the committee. Otherwise, the applicants were rejected.
Rules also prohibited behavior that, according to La Sociedad Hidalgo y
Juarez, of Alice, was “unbecoming to honest men.” Vagrancy, giving oneself to
vices, irresponsible family behavior, slander, and defamation of the organization or
their brethren were causes for depriving members of their rights, and in some cases
for suspending them from the organization. Members were discouraged from informally accusing others of these failings. Instead, organizations instituted a formal grievance process that allowed the membership to render a judgment on the
basis of a recommendation by a jury of between five and ten members who heard
Mutual aid societies also observed strict rules during discussions and debates,
in order to avoid unnecessary conflicts and to foster a sense of propriety and mutual
respect. They placed time limits on the arguments or presentations that each member made before the body. They also strictly prohibited offensive language. The
membership could suspend anyone who left a meeting in the middle of a dispute or
who threatened to quit the organization because of a heated discussion. Moreover,
they avoided conflicts by appointing a committee to review issues of a sensitive nature before the membership was given an opportunity to discuss the matter.
These efforts to control the nature of the internal discussions reflected a concern for maintaining fraternal relations among the members and for projecting an
image of sobriety and mutual consideration. It did not necessarily mean, however,
that they shunned controversial issues. For instance, although most of them declared a ban on discussions of a religious or political nature, they all endorsed the
idea of political unity and, … the members participated in important political
events in their communities. Their decided reluctance to treat controversial issues
underscored the importance of unity on the basis of mutual respect over any particular belief or idea that anyone wished to advocate. . .
. Mutualistas also promoted fraternalism by maintaining friendly relallons. ~Ith
SIster organizations. Members in good standing of sister organizations whov.lSlted
or moved into the area were always welcomed and sometimes seated in a posmon of
honor with the executive committee. Mutualistas encouraged members who moved
to other areas to join sister organizations. They usually gave departing members letters of recommendation and other documents to facilitate their admission. Mutual
aid societies also agreed to assume the responsibility of assisting groups in .their areas to establish other organizations and to cooperate with them m CIVICaffairs ….
The internal discipline of the mutualistas and their attendant reputation as responsible and civic-minded Mexicanist institutions gave importance. and Ideal
m . . id tit and CIVICpnde eaDlng to the ethic of mutuality as a source of unity, I en y, . . .
Thi hi .. I id societies until inteliec- set ic, however generally remained tied to mutua ar . .
tuals defined and translated key cultural values into specific political objectives or
Defining and Translating the Ethic or Mutuality
On f . hÂ· h intelleetuals conducted
e 0 the best sources for examining the manner m w rc I . bf
these translations were the formal presentations that they made during pu IC
230 Major Problemsin MexicanAmerican History
meetings sponsored by mutual aid societies. In some important instances, they utilized moralistic and nationalistic precepts in support of workers’ unity. Intellectuals demonstrated that collectivist values could be used to justify specific strategies
such as unionism alongside efforts of a purely mutualist character …. They often
spoke about the need for moral rejuvenation and civic participation. Many of them,
however, sought to promote the values of mutualism, fraternalism, and reciprocity
within larger political struggles that sought to effectuate change in both Mexico
and the United States. One of the most sought-after speakers in Laredo, one who
contributed to this discourse on culture and politics, was Sara Estela Ramirez.
Ramirez, a teacher, poet, journalist, and early supporter of the PLM [Partido
Liberal Mexicano, or Mexican Liberal Party], came to Laredo around 1895 from
Saltillo, Coahuila, where she attended a teachers’ school named Ateneo Fuentes.
Like many other Mexicana teachers that arrived in South Texas during the turn of
the century, she may have been recruited by one of the many mutual aid societies
and groups of parents that established private schools, or escuetitas, in response
to the experience of exclusion and segregation in the public schools. As a teacher,
she joined numerous other young, usually single, women who, by virtue of their
roles as educators, assumed highly respected roles as intellectuals and community leaders….
. . . Ramirez added an impressive ethical outlook that condemned exploitation
and oppression and thatjustified cooperative ideals as the foundation for struggles
in Mexico as well as in the United States. She gave a full exposition of her views in
a talk during the twenty-fourth anniversary celebration of La Sociedad de Obreros, Igualdad y Progreso.
Ramirez proposed the ideals of altruism and mutualism practiced by La Sociedad as moral guideposts for solidarity among workers seeking to build effective
working-class unity throughout the world …. She used both altruism and mutualism synonymously to mean a sense of fraternal respect, and spiritual and material
assistance, values that were within the reach of everyone …. This, according to
Ramirez, was made evident by the exemplary behavior of the members to La Sociedad.
In the second part of her talk, she recounted the converse state of affairs
among workers in general. They were alienated, divided, disorganized, and subject
to failure as workers in struggle. They lacked both a spiritual sense of fraternity,
reciprocity, and the knOWledgethat “their arms maintain the wealth and growth of
industry.” Ramirez concluded by eXhorting Mexican workers in the audience to unite .
Ramirez reasoned that … only in total harmony among themselves could
workers be complete human beings. As moral statements, their logic legitimated
communitarian values as cornerstones in a workers’ struggle and justified its conunuance until an inevitable reconstructed end Wasachieved.
The writings of Jose Maria Mora, a SOCialistorator and labor leader from
Laredo, also demonstrate support for the ethic of mutuality as the basis for local
and international workers’ struggles. History records little about Mora. He was actively involved in mutualista and unionist activities and may have been a member
of Fed~ral Labor Union, No. 11953, an AFL affiliate. He also published extenSIvely 10 local newspapers on the need for political unity by Mexicans as work-
StruBgle and Strife: Social Conditions of Mexican Americans, 1910-19 J 7 231
ers…. In 1918, he once again achieved local prominence when he was elected
president of a typographical union affiliated with the AFL.
Like Ramirez, Mora propagated political ideas with an explicit moral thrust
that he associated with the work of mutual aid societies…. Mora also urged the
moralrevitalization of workers’ consciousness within mutual aid societies and labor unions. Moreover, he argued that it was especially important for Mexican
workersto establish a natural order of equality and fraternity….
Mora believed that … it was necessary for workers to understand that they
had common material interests. They also had a moral obligation to practice equality and fraternity. Once in harmony among themselves, within the organizations
thatpracticed the basic laws of humanity, workers were further obligated to extend
principles of cooperation and support beyond their organizational confines. This
meantthat workers should treat other poor people with equal respect. Mora reasoned: “If we are happy when we unite as brothers, inspired by a principle of mutual protection, with common rights, without causing each other harm, without
offending or even mildly hurting our fellow workers, we will be happier when
everyone refrains from abusing the weak and defenseless.” Unity was sequential
and directional. It began with workers in struggle. It involved mobilization and
soughtmoral salvation. In Texas, Mexican workers were to fulfill the historical imperative of effective working class unity.
Mora’s call for working class unity and struggle at EI Congreso Mexicanista
suggestedpopular support for the ethic of mutuality as an essential organizing elementamong Mexican workers. He reminded the delegates that “the issue that we are
concernedwith at this moment directs us to work for the unification of the Mexican
workerand that united as one complete family we will be guided by the principle of
fraternity.”Fraternity, according to Mora, was an inherent predispositionamong humans,who often denied it by contributing to the oppression of others.This was the
reasonWhyin the mutual aid and fraternal societies, “it is said ‘one for all and all for
one,’and the avaricious ones say everything for us and damn the people.”
Feelings of indignation and concern over the effects of discrimination, inequality,
and violence gave special importance to the working class ethic of “,Iutuahtyas a
sourceof Mexicanist unity and identity. In the face of divisions and difficult living
and working conditions Mexicans looked inward and reinforced an outlook that
not only gave them a sense of importance, but also a meaningful recourse t~ address their myriad problems Mutual aid societies reflected the popular ethic of
mUtualityand reinforced it when they assumed political responsibility fo.rpromotIngits values of fraternalism, reciprocity, and altruism through self-discipline. 10-
temalservices of mutual support and civic involvement. .
Th IÂ· ‘. 11′ . t d egalitarian ideals WItha e eadershlp gave added mearung to co ecnvis an
langu ” . The members offered con- age of Mexicanist struggle and righteous cause. . exicrete examples of the proper moral behavior expected of truly responsible M. I
cans in their communities. Intellectuals, in turn, provided refined phtlOS?PhlC~
fonuulations that translated moral precepts into specific political strategies an
232 Major Problems in Mexican American History
Although other political groups like the PLM also made organizing appeals on
the basis of a collective Mexican identity and unifying cultural values, Ramirez
and Mora demonstrated that calls for Mexican workers’ struggles also drew inspiration and meaning from the values of mutualism. These values may have originated in a working class culture, but they acquired a Mexicanist political meaning
in a world that often was defined in racial and nationalist terms. The result was the
elaboration of a moralistic and nationalistic political culture that served as a basis
for promoting several kinds of labor organizations.
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