A big shocker last night when Roger Rocha, head of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) issued his organization’s support of Trump’s ethnic cleansing so long as the Dreamers are protected. There was a giant “WTF?!?” Turns out that LULAC’s president can just do this without support of the board.
But this isn’t even all that surprising. LULAC has long been one of the most conservative of civil rights organizations. LULAC’s real significance is that it was one of the very first of the Latino civil rights groups, founded in 1929, but in part because of that, it was highly focused on respectability politics and good relationships with powerful whites, a plague that affected early African-American civil rights organizations, as well as some of the very first gay rights organizations. It’s understandable. Whitney Young had to drag the Urban League into civil rights activism kicking and screaming for instance. And when you are facing tremendous oppression and are a group constantly denigrated and attacked, that can be a place where the first set of priorities takes you.
Still, LULAC has a long history of opposing immigration in order to protect Latinos in the U.S. It opposed the Bracero Program, not because it existed to exploit Mexican workers, but because it feared it would pave the way for more immigration. It spent more time urging Mexicans to assimilate by learning English and stop speaking Spanish than it did fighting for their rights. Certainly it fought in hard conditions in south Texas to desegregate schools and it deserves credit for this. In recent decades, it has declined in relevance and like some older African-American civil rights organizations is more prominent today because of its history than because of anything it is doing. Yet, this is also a good time to remember that the Latino community has always had a mixed record on immigration. No one was more guilty of this than Cesar Chavez himself, who supported immigration restrictions and deportations to protect his members’ work. This was a terrible, immoral decision. It was also disastrous from a strategic perspective, as it was the family of his own members getting deported and this helped undermine UFW support in the fields, contributing to the irrelevancy of that union by the 80s.
Rocha has to be done at LULAC. Supporting Trump is completely unacceptable. But, as always, there’s a history here that helps explain this.