Democratic Renewal and the Mutual Aid Legacy of US Mexicans

Democratic Renewal and the Mutual Aid Legacy of US Mexicans

Democratic Renewal and the Mutual Aid Legacy of US Mexicans

Democratic Renewal and the Mutual Aid Legacy of US Mexicans


The legacy of the historic mutual aid organizing by US Mexicans, with its emphasis on self-help and community solidarity, continues to inform Mexican American activism and subtly influence a number of major US social movements. In Democratic Renewal and the Mutual Aid Legacy of US Mexicans, Julie Leininger Pycior traces the early origins of organizing in the decades following the US-Mexican War, when Mexicans in the Southwest established mutualista associations for their protection. Further, she traces the ways in which these efforts have been invoked by contemporary Latino civil rights leaders.

Pycior notes that the Mexican immigrant associations instrumental in the landmark 2006 immigration reform marches echo mutualista societies at their peak in the 1920s. Then Mexican immigrants from San Diego to New York engaged in economic, medical, cultural, educational, and legal aid. This path-breaking study culminates with an examination of Southwest community organizing networks as crucial counterweights to the outsize role of large financial contributions in the democratic political process. It also finds ways in which this community organizing echoes the activity of mutualista groups in the very same neighborhoods a century ago.


For all its importance, at first glance nothing seems more peripheral or passé than mutualista-style organizing. Few national observers recognize the mutualista influence on policy issues today, and no wonder: groups that labeled themselves “mutualista” were already in decline by the 1930s and even in their heyday typically operated far from the national stage, in barrios where us Mexicans struggled to survive. in fact, however, the long tradition of barrio mutual aid continues to resonate widely, influencing such important contemporary issues as immigration and the role of organized labor in a global economy.

The mass marches that have brought the immigration issue center stage “constitute a form of resistance [sic] to racialization, reminiscent of the mutualistas in the early 20th century,” in the words of social scientist Jonathan Fox. Thus, Part One of the book leads off with “Mutual Aid and Mexican Immigrant Organizing.” Mexicans famously constitute the largest us immigrant group today, and they have held that position for more than half a century, while mutual aid organizations themselves are most commonly associated with immigrants. in particular we think of the European immigrants from a century ago, but many activities carried out by Jewish, Italian, and such mutual benefit societies also can be seen in Mexican immigrant mutual aid, then and now, from burial funds to celebrations of homeland traditions.

Mexican immigrant mutual aid often demonstrated more active transnational organizing, however, given the proximity of the mother country. Some of the first Mexican immigrants to the United States had traveled that very same route a few years earlier when the journey had been totally within Mexico; no wonder they tended to disregard the new border laid down in their midst. the Tucson-based Alianza Hispano Americana, for instance, established chapters in Mexico, and its us chapters, stretching from California to New York by the 1920s, made the Alianza the first national Latino organization in the nation. Efforts at mutual aid among today’s Mexican immigrants are deeply transnational as well. Known as “hometown associations,” or “asociaciones de oriundos,” these groups support projects in their towns of origin. This, as the Alianza has been charac-

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