In the early years of the 20th century, the majority of Tejanos were confined to agricultural jobs as farm laborers and ranch hands. Most spoke Spanish only, and community life revolved around the Catholic church and traditional Mexican holidays. This identification with Mexico rather than America was reinforced as thousands of Mexican immigrants fled the chaos of the Mexican Revolution and arrived in Texas. Most Tejanos were extremely poor and had to deal with seasonal employment, illiteracy, poor health, and substandard housing. Political participation was almost impossible. When not actively prevented from voting by the threat of lynching, Hispanic men were controlled by Anglo political bosses who forced them to vote for specific candidates and platforms.
Miserable as it was, life for Tejanos got much worse in 1915. Mexican revolutionaries (including some women) organized border raids against local authorities, the Texas Rangers, and the U.S. Army. Panic gripped the Anglo population, most of whom were new settlers who had followed the railroad boom. The vengeful attacks against Mexican Americans that followed caused as many as half of the Mexican residents of the lower Rio Grande Valley to abandon Texas and flee back across the border.
The facts of life for Tejanos made it impossible for Tejano women to participate in the women's suffrage movement. It was not until some years later that the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC, founded 1929) and the American GI Forum (founded 1948) began the work that eventually changed the political landscape for Texans of Mexican ancestry.
Fourth of July parade in Brownsville, Texas, 1909. Harry Lund Collection, Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. #1964/263-64.
Mexican American children, March 1916. Stugard Collection. Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. #1963/185-43.
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Page last modified: June 17, 2011