The Failure of National Latino/Mexican American Organizations

tucson studentsWith all of the hype around Latinos these days, how could Arizona have happened? I thought we had power. One-third of Arizona is Latino and its neighbor California is the land of milk and honey – the favorite destination of politicos of all colors. Over fifty percent of Los Angeles is Latino; its mayor is Mexican American as is the mayor of San Antonio, Texas.

Arizona’s war on Mexican Americans does not make sense, especially in the light of the growth of the Latino population that now numbers 50 million. This nightmare seems out of place. Alabama maybe, but Arizona?

It is time that we try to find answers and admit our weaknesses. The most obvious flaw is that Arizona has exposed a weakness in Latino and Mexican American organizational infrastructure.

A partial answer as to why Latinos are so ineffective is that the Latino population is having growing pains. It has grown dramatically in the past fifty years, going from a regional to a national phenomenon. This transformation has out stripped the capacity of traditional organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American GI Forum to deal with this change.

Presently, there are only two organizations that could be called national and they came about in 1968 with the founding of the Southwest Council of La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Their express purpose was to build a national presence for Mexican Americans. The SWCLR was the brainchild of Drs. Julian Samora and Ernesto Galarza who along with Herman Gallegos sold the project to the Ford Foundation.

Almost simultaneously MALDEF was formed in San Antonio, with a $2.2 million five-year grant from the Ford Foundation to implement legal services program. From the beginning Ford monies shaped the SWCLR andMALDEF.

In 1973, the SWCLR changed its name to the National Council of La Raza, and moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C. In the early days Ford micromanaged both organizations, controlling them by doling out funds.

For instance, at key junctures Ford threatened to withhold money if the organizations did not follow its advice. These organizations were fragile at first passing through precarious times.

In 1975 NCLR expanded its mission to include non-Mexican American Latino issues. Ironically, its dependence on Ford and other foundations lessened to the point that by 1980, the NCLR was for a time almost exclusively funded by the federal government, which created another set of problems, most noticeable of which was the influence of the powerful Miami cabal. Its trajectory changed as did its constituency.

Ford also shaped MALDEF. Ford fashioned its paradigm after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909 and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., established in 1937.

As Ford became more vested in the Civil Rights establishment, its own scope broadened to include the Mexican American. It funded the important University of California Los Angeles study of the 1960 Census. But even then it selected a non-Mexican American, non-expert in the field to head the project.

Ford knew little about Mexicans. Its playing card was its experiences with the NACCP. Few of its program officers had field experience or knew much about Mexican Americans.

As the Mexican American and Latino populations grew so did their dream of a national organization.

In 1968, the Mexican American middle-class was small and lacked a history of philanthropic giving. In other words, it did not have a network of donors to support a national agenda. Mexican American community organizations also lacked a communication network. Politically speaking Spanish-language media had no other purpose but to entertain, depending mostly on an immigrant Spanish-speaking base.

Even today I cannot name a single Spanish-speaking TV or radio station or, for that matter, English language station devoted to the political education of “Latinos,” which in the Southwest meant “Mexican.”

It is only until recently that some academic presses have begun publishing Mexican American and Latino related research. A notable exception is the Pew Hispanic Center.

An infrastructure that dots the “i’s” and crosses the “t’s” was and is totally lacking.

As mentioned, the weakness of the Ford strategy of building Mexican American national organizations (i.e., nation building) was that it was based on its Black experience. Ford bureaucrats failed to take into account that the Black community had a politicized base forged by history and the fire of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Mexican American community lacked this infrastructure and indeed lacked a well-defined middle class

Because of this lack of understanding, Ford’s social engineering experiment failed. Blacks and Mexican Americans were minorities but they had different histories and different needs.

Again, the corporate takeover of Arizona exposed these structural weaknesses. It was obvious that Mexican Americans and Latinos were vulnerable and incapable of taking on these corporate vampires.

In fairness MALDEF has been singular among the national organizations and has brought numerous suits to protect the civil rights of immigrants and further the equal protection of the Latino community.

The failure of MALDEF was to realize that Arizona is a different animal and litigation cannot be run out of LA or San Antonio. Further, litigation alone does not cut it because the courts have for over forty years failed to enforce the U.S. Constitution.

In a conversation with then MALDEF attorney Mike Baller in the 1970s I pointed out the weakness of Ford’s strategy and the need to build local support networks.

MALDEF had started out with close community ties but Ford in the late 1960s yielded to the pressure of San Antonio Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez that it severe ties with the local Mexican American Youth Organization and their progressive allies who were at the time being viciously red-baited. After this point, Ford almost exclusively worked through Mexican American elites.

In the process the community’s influence waned. Ford’s interference was similar to when it forced African American organizations and Black studies programs to severe ties with Black militants.

Once more, Arizona totally exposed the fallacy that Latino national organizations and elites are capable of protecting Mexican American interests. Simply, they cannot sustain the ugly trench warfare conducted by national corporate elites and their paid shock troops. In Arizona, these corporate vampires control the media, the Tea Party, the Republican Party, the schools, other Medias of communication and also the guns.

Using the worse kind of racist propaganda, they have demonized the Mexican and Mexican American as the enemy. The corporate vampires have taken over the prisons and privatized public institutions converting them into cash registers whose objective is not to teach, not to rehabilitate, but to cash in.

Arizona also debunks the myth of a democratic society, showing the total failure of the Left, which includes elected officials, left of center magazines such as The Nation, the Democratic Party, along with national organizations of all colors.

I do not blame these organizations alone; I also blame Mexican American Studies and Mexican American scholars who have failed to make a case for their discipline.

In this I blame game I hold people such as myself accountable. When is the last time that we have cut a check to MALDEF or Save Ethnic Studies? I blame myself for not being able to explain Mexican American studies to liberals. I have heard colleagues, veterans of the anti-war and anti-nuke movements, tell me that they can support the fight against SB 1070 because it is against racism but not HB 2281 because Mexican American Studies is nationalistic. What a crock!

I blame myself for continuing to support their causes without fighting back! But truth be told, I support progressive causes because it is the right thing to do.

With the left, however, it is an “Anything But Mexican” mindset.

The left correctly supported the Civil Rights Movement and opposed the wars in Vietnam and the Middle East but when it comes to Mexicans, it nitpicks at motivations. Even in the cases of Guatemala and El Salvador the American Left hedged.

I am getting myself worked up but let’s take the case of the teachers’ organizations. Tucson is a clear example of a gross violation of free speech, the disparate treatment of a specific group, the denial of teacher and student rights and the censorship of books. Even so, to date not one national teacher organization has supported Tucson – not the National Association of Education, not the American Federation of Teachers, not the American Association of University Professors.

The other day I received a phone call from an NEA member urging me to send a donation to President Barack Obama. It was vital to reelect him, she said. I responded that I was not voting because Obama had done nothing to bring about a resolution in Tucson. She felt betrayed.

With the Left it is always their issues, their interests, this attitude is historic.

Who do we blame? Ourselves. If we do not have strong national organizations it is because of our inattention.

In closing, the struggle has not been kept alive by people such as myself, or even the lawyers or the politicos in Tucson. The teachers have sacrificed their jobs, but if we win it is because students are fighting back!

rodolfo acuna

They have refused to take direction from the adults, taken over the school board and just this last month held a Freedom Summer where students from all over the country converged on Tucson. They did not wait for Ford to tell them how to do it.

¡Qué víva la justicía! ¡Es ahora o nunca se salva la patria!

Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted: Monday, 6 August 2012


  1. Tyrannus Evisceratus says

    Mexicans don’t vote democrat must be a conspiracy in place. Is it so hard to believe that the mexicans in Arizona that are actually citizens are actually Republican.
    The only ones that support liberal policies are the illegal aliens and they can’t vote.
    Arizona isn’t a failure it is the future of the hispanic community in the United States.

  2. Joe29 says


    I do not advocate assimilating or perish and I am not a Tea Bagger!

    The fact is that MILLIONS of Mexican-Americans care not to vote. Also, millions of Mexican immigrants are eligible to become U.S. Citizens and subsequently vote but they refuse to become citizens. What this does is water down the political power and influence that Latinos should have in this country. My point is that if a Mexican is going to emigrate to the U.S., raise a family in the U.S. and live out their lives in the U.S., it makes no sense to not become a U.S. citizen and vote! No vote = no power = getting dumped on as a community.

    Republicans in places like Arizona do not take Latinos seriously because they have not yet had to face a penalty from Latino voters. That is why Republicans like Steve King from Iowa can compare immigrants to “dogs” or why a Republican legislator from Kansas can say that they should shoot immigrants like “shooting hogs from a helicopter.” Many Republicans have little fear of electoral payback from Latinos and for good reason; they don’t vote!

    In responding to your personal attack, I am a Mexican-American who grew up in a neighborhood that was and still is 98% Mexican and my parents are Mexican immigrants. My current residence is predominately Latino. I am damn proud to call myself a Mexican-American and I am damn proud of my Mexican culture and heritage. In no way should any Latino have to abandon their Latino culture to get ahead in this country. But after experiencing a lifetime being called a “beaner” or “wetback,” experiencing personally discrimination because I am a Mexican, and watching Latino communities being dumped on, including my own, with low levels of government services, prisons, freeways, toxic waste dumps, etc. I am sick and tired as a proud Latino of watching my community get dumped on because many of my people simply refuse to get off their collective asses and vote. In short, you are really acting like a divisive pinche pendejo making personal attacks on me when all I am saying is that Latinos need to grab political power by voting, especially voting for their own and allies who support the Latino community. Mexico is not going to help Latinos in this Country and if Latinos are going to have a say in this Country, they have to become citizens and vote and NOT GIVE UP THEIR CULTURE OR IDENTITY PENDEJO!

    • -Nate says

      So Joe ;
      I see you don’t yet understand English as I agreed with you and your rant there agrees with me 1,000 % ~ assimilating means becoming a Citizen of the Country you choose to live in and then voting to make it better .
      You’re being divisive & making personal attacks , not I .
      Yes , I understand each and every one of your ignorant swear words as I speak Spanish too , too bad you’d rather be poor , ingorant and powerless than follow your own advice and assimilate , it doesn’t mean loosing your Culture or Identity .
      Not that you’d care or understand but my family was Immigrant too , we assimilated and voted….
      _NOT_ for the gop .

  3. -Nate says

    What Joe said : assimilate or perish .
    I agree with Rudolfo’s comments in the main and applaud his taking the resposability .
    I lived in The Barrio for decades and enjoyed the close knit family ties and traditional values the tea baggers pretend they know or care about .

    • Joe29 says

      According to your last message, apparently you agree with what I was trying to say. However, in terms of clarity, it seems that both you and I need to be clear.

      The word “assimilate” is a loaded term and one needs to be crystal clear how one uses it. From my life experiences, “assimilate” was the message given by the dominant Anglo society to Latinos to give up Spanish, give up Latino culture, and be indoctrinated into believing that by being more “White,” opportunities will come. Two cases in point. American Indians being taken away from their reservations and put into “Indian Schools” and having their language and culture beaten out of them and Latino children being forbidden to speak Spanish. I experienced teachers as a young boy telling me to study hard and not act like my Mexican ancestors selling tortillas on the corner, literally.

      In becoming a citizen and voting, one accepts the country as their own and the shared core values that the country holds. So a Mexican becoming a U.S. Citizen and voting does have to buy into certain U.S. core values. However, I would not have used the word “assimilate” to describe this process since a citizen can also keep their cultural identity, language and values as well as identifying themselves as a U.S. citizen and participating in the democratic process.

      I sincerely regret my personal attack on you. My apologies. I interpreted your post to imply that I was somehow advocating total cultural, language and identity assimilation and that you were suggesting that I was a Tea Bagger (lowest form of racist life form). However, after reading your original post again, I am convinced 100% that you were not very clear with what you were trying to say, which led me to misinterpret your message.

      I agree with Professor Acuna’s position but I think that Latino’s low voter participation rates are more of a problem at this point but apparently we agree on this. I will say nothing further on this point.

      • -Nate says

        Cool ;
        I hope you can get more folks of all Cultures to see the importance of _VOTING_ as that is how the bad folks got into power now .
        FWIW , I love Az. and hate to see it turned into a hate filled place .

  4. Joe29 says

    Bottom line, Latinos do not vote in the percentages that they should. Less political clout equals less power. That is why Arizona Republicans are playing with Latinos like a cat plays with string. Also, MANY Mexicans who are eligible to become citizens do not become citizens because of lingering loyalty to Mexico. If these people’s hearts belong to Mexico but their lives belong to the U.S., they do the Latino community no good from a political power standpoint.

    Yes Latinos do need stronger and better organizations but more Latinos need to get off their collective asses and vote and for the immigrants who are eligible, become citizens and vote! Full disclosure, I am a Mexican-American.

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