Latin American Civili Rights Leaders and Historic Moments –

Besides the coverage we get during Latinx Heritage Month, these moments in our history are more often than not not covered in U.S. History classes in schools even though Latin-Americans have been a part of the United States for about 500 years.  Some major events includes the migrant farm workers, uniting Latinx voters, and the formation of The League of United Latin American Citizens.

We know of the work of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta but do you know who Willie Vasquez is? Do you know what happened with Mendez v. Westminster? Read on to learn more about these key figures and moments in Latinx history.

1903: First Farm Worker Union Organized

Latinx civil rights had a major moment during the 1960s with the Chicano Movement, but goes way back farther than that in U.S. history. For example, in 1903, the first farm worker union, the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association (JMLA) was organized by over 1,200 Mexican and Japanese farm workers. It was the first union to win a strike against the agricultural industry in California.

1911: El Primer Congreso Mexicanista Meets in Laredo

On September 14, 1911, El Primer Congreso Mexicanista took place in Laredo, Texas. Its goal was to discuss issues that the Mexican and Chicano communities were enduring in the United States, including labor, social, economic, and educational ones.

1929: League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Formed

The League of United Latin American Citizens, also known as LULAC, formed in 1929, making it “the largest (about 132,000 members) and oldest Hispanic organization in the United States.” Their focus includes educational attainment, political influence, civil rights, health, and housing for the Latinx community.

1931: First Cultural Labor Strike in Tampa (Ybor City)

Back in 1931, in the neighborhood of Ybor City, Florida, Cuban workers at a cigar shop decided to take their working conditions into their own hands. When the lectores, who would read aloud newspapers and books to the workers while they made cigars, were banned (due to the materials being seen as “radical”), the workers walked out. This act is considered “the country’s first labor strike incited by a cultural conflict.”

1944: Senator Dennis Chávez Introduces Fair Employment Practices Bill

Chicano Dionisio (Dennis) Chávez was the first Latin-American Democrat elected to the United States Senate, in New Mexico. He also introduced a bill to create the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), in order “to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, creed, national origin, or ancestry.”

1945: Mendez v. Westminster

In 1947, Latinx families decided to stand up against discrimination in the educational system. Several Orange Country schools had forced Mexican children to go to a school separate from white students. The ruling on the federal court case that resulted from this injustice held that as unconstitutional violating the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection” clause.

1948: Dr. Hector Garcia Founds the American GI Forum

1954: Hernandez v. Texas

Hernandez v. Texas  focuses on Peter Hernandez, a Chicano farm worker convicted by an all-Anglo jury for the murder of Joe Espinoza. This is the first case in which Chicano lawyers appeared before the Supreme Court, as well as “the first and only Mexican-American civil rights case heard and decided by the United States Supreme Court during the post-World War II period.” It was decided that the murder conviction should be overturned since no Mexicans were on the juries that indicted and convicted Hernandez, and that the 14th amendment (due process) should be extended to those of Mexican ethnicity.

1968: Chicano Student Walk Out in East L.A.

When we think of Latinx civil rights, we are automatically transported to the 1960s, when Chicanos fearlessly stood up for all of us when demanding equality and fairness. One particular part of this larger Chicano Movement was the 1968 Chicano student walkout in East L.A.

1968: Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund Opens

On August 1, 1968, MALDEF opened its doors. Ever since, “the Latino voice for civil rights in America,” based in San Antonio, Texas, has dedicated itself to providing legal support for the Latinx community. You can check out some of their historic victories here.

1970: Jose Angel Gutierrez Forms La Raza Unida Party

Jose Angel Gutierrez formed La Raza Unida Party in 1970, which centered on Chicano nationalism where he served as president. He previously formed the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) in 1967. Gutierrez then went on to found the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) at the University of Texas at Arlington in 1994.

1974: Southwest Voter Registration Education Project Begins

In 1974, Willie Vasquez founded the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project. Its motto/slogan is “su voto es tu voz” (“your vote is your voice”), and it has amplified the voice of Latinx/Hispanic voters by registering 2.6 million Latinx voters and training 150,000 leaders since its inception. Vasquez was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 1995.

1975: Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta’s Work Leads to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act

Both Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta fought (and Huerta continues to fight) for farm workers’ rights, environmental rights, and overall social justice. Together, they formed the National Farm Workers Association, now known as the United Farmers of America (UWA). All their tireless work helped to create the important California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. This act, a first in the U.S., gave California farm workers the right to collective bargaining.