A Great Review of “In Defense of My People”

In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals. Edited by Michael A. Olivas. (Houston: Arte Público Press, 2013. Pp. 384. Illustrations, notes.)

 

In Defense of My People gathers essays originally prepared for a 2012 confer- ence at the University of Houston on Alonso Sandoval Perales (1898–1960), co- founder of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), lawyer, and a Mexican American civil rights leader in Texas. Edited by law scholar Michael

A. Olivas and part of Arte Público Press’s Hispanic Civil Rights Series, the book includes scholarly work on Perales’s activism by U.S. and Mexican contributors spanning the humanities, social sciences, and law.

Born in 1898 in Alice, Texas, orphaned, and drafted into the military at the end of World War I, Perales held civil service positions with the Departments of Commerce and State, graduated from George Washington University Law School in 1925, and shortly thereafter returned to Texas to become the state’s third Mexi- can American lawyer. Perales’s professional work on behalf of Mexican Americans entailed legal practice on social justice cases involving equality in employment and public housing, school desegregation, and political representation. Addition- ally, Perales’s non-litigation activities reveal the breadth of his public intellectual- ism: writing and editing; vying for elected office; legislative lobbying; international diplomacy; community work and organization-building; and wide and regular cor- respondence with community, political, and religious leaders. As is evident in each of the book’s chapters, the pioneering nature of Perales’s activism forced him to negotiate the difficult ideological and political questions that defined what histo- rian and contributor Mario T. García calls in Mexican Americans: Leadership, Ideol- ogy, and Identity, 1930–1960, “The Mexican-American Generation” (1989).

Following the introduction by Olivas, the book’s other twelve chapters are orga- nized into five thematic sections that “roughly track the chronology of Perales’ life” (xi). In the first section “Organizing, Creating LULAC and Texas Politics,” Cynthia E. Orozco writes in detail on Perales’s diplomatic efforts in co-founding LULAC out of factious mutual aid organizations and advocacy groups, while Benjamin Márquez tracks Perales’s worldview in correspondence encompassing his thoughts on Mexican American identity, conservatism, unionism, and com- munism. The book’s largest section, “The Mexican-American Generation Revis- ited,” begins with Joseph Orbock Medina’s discussion of Perales’s use of personal relationships to negotiate the postwar ideological battles waged among Mexican American civil rights leaders, and continues with Lupe S. Salinas’s consideration of Perales’s advantageous uses of the legal constructions of race “in his battles for justice for la raza” (83). This section concludes with Aarón E. Sánchez’s discussion of Perales’s writing that validated Mexican American U.S. citizenship, along with an essay by George A. Martínez on Perales’s editorial efforts to collect testimonios of Mexican- merican discrimination eventually published in his book Are We Good Neighbors?

In the section “Religion and Race” Mario T. García discusses how Perales used a Catholic social doctrine to influence Anglo policy-makers, while Virginia Marie Raymond focuses on the “dual political aspects of Perales’ Catholicism” (171) in which he called for Mexican-American integration while adhering to his conserva- tive and anti-communist beliefs. In “Letters, Piety and Politics” Norma Adelfa Mou- ton pays close attention to theme of cultural suppression evident in the postwar testimonios of Mexican American veteranos collected in Perales’s Are We Good Neigh- bors?, while Donna M. Kabalen de Bichara interprets Perales’s correspondence in general as a type of life writing containing evidence of his cultural understanding. Including Olivas’s conclusion, In Defense of My People’s final section, “Diplomacy, Law, and Biography,” includes an essay by F. Arturo Rosales on the challenges of writing Perales’s biography along with an essay by Emilio Zamora on the linger- ing preoccupation with Mexican American civil rights and racial thinking in the final stages of Perales’s career as an international lawyer and Nicaraguan Consul General in San Antonio.

College of the Canyons                                                                                 Juan R. Buriel[button color=”#COLOR_CODE” background=”#COLOR_CODE” size=”medium”

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