A civil rights lawyer, diplomat, political leader and soldier, Alonso S. Perales (1898-1960) was one of the most influential Mexican Americans of his time. These photographs and documents, highlighting aspects of his life and career, were part of a larger exhibition, In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals, on view at the M.D. Anderson Library from December 8, 2011 through February 29, 2012.
Perales saw himself as a defender of la raza, or race, especially battling charges that Mexicans and Latin Americans were inferior and a social problem. Perales was one of the founders of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in 1929 and helped write LULAC’s constitution. He served as the organization’s second president.
An intellectual who firmly believed in the law, Perales wrote about civil rights, religion and racial discrimination, which he argued “had the approval of the majority.” His work included the pamphlet Are We Good Neighbors? and the two-volume set En defense de mi raza. A member of the American Legion and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Perales was also a columnist for La Prensa and other Spanish-language newspapers.
Highlighting the 2010 acquisition of the Alonso S. Perales Papers by the University of Houston Libraries’ Special Collections Department, courtesy of the Perales Family and the Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage Project, scholars presented their research on this trailblazing public intellectual at a day-long conference (January 13, 2012) bearing the same name as the exhibition. These presentations shed light on Perales’ activism and defense of Latinos, including the chronology and history of Mexican American and Latino civil rights movements, the impact of religion on Latinos, the concept of “race,” and individual versus community action to bring about social and political change.