Cruz Azul Mexicana, a charitable organization, was established in 1920 by Mexican-American women in San Antonio to help poor Mexican families. The organization was likely affiliated with other Cruz Azul groups in the country. It was similar to the Cruz Azul (Blue Cross) in Mexico and took on the motto "Charity, Abnegation, and Patriotism." Its influence was eventually felt beyond the city in the rural towns of south central Texas, such as Asherton, Castroville, Charlotte, Mackay, Luling, and Phelan. It set up an affiliate in Malakoff in East Texas.
Cruz Azul Mexicana grew out of the mutual-aid societies (see SOCIEDADES MUTUALISTAS) that Texas Mexicans organized beginning in the last quarter of the nineteenth century as a means to unite themselves to combat ethnic discrimination and economic uncertainty. The mutualistas themselves originated in Mexico, where several had been organized by 1869 to provide medical and funeral insurance and recreational and educational benefits to the poor and working classes. Moreover the ideal of mutualism was also evident in the founding of the first workingman's central-the Gran Círculo de Obreros-in Mexico in 1870. The formation of the Cruz Azul may have also been an effort to expand the active but limited role women played in the Texas-Mexican mutualist societies. Of the nineteen traditional mutualist associations in San Antonio between 1915 and 1930, only seven permitted both men and women to join and hold office; two others organized women's auxiliaries, and two more were composed almost exclusively of women.
The women who established Cruz Azul Mexicana were probably of the upper class, like the members most charitable organizations. These women set out to serve poor people who earned a few cents an hour as unskilled laborers, laundresses, or pecan shellers. Women were generally the officeholders of the Cruz Azul Mexicana; early leaders were María Luisa Garza, a journalist who served as president, and Delfina Tafolla, who served as vice president. Santiago Tafolla, Delfina's father and an officer of Orden Amigos del Pueblo and Orden Hijos de América (see ORDER OF SONS OF AMERICA), was its first vice president. The Comisión Honorífica, a service organization that had been established by men, and the Cruz Azul Mexicana both operated under the supervision of the Mexican Consulate in San Antonio.
One of the major projects of Cruz Azul was a public clinic funded by $4,000 from a fund-raising drive. The clinic was set up in 1925 and operated with the assistance of doctors of Mexican descent, who saw over 200 colonia residents each month. These patients received both medical attention and food. The clinic also distributed health-information brochures, such as one directed at mothers called Circular for Mothers. In addition, the Cruz Azul Mexicana collaborated with other service organizations to assist with disaster relief.
The Cruz Azul established such educational projects as a library in San Antonio in 1925. Books to supply it came from donors in Chihuahua and Coahuila. The library also subscribed to periodicals and newspapers from Mexico and South Texas. Another of its academic efforts was to set up Spanish-language classes.
In conjunction with the Comisión Honorífica, Cruz Azul offered legal assistance in the form of sample contracts available in both English and Spanish, prepared by the Mexican Consulate. These were intended to protect workers whose rights could be compromised in contracts. The organization also provided legal assistance to Mexican immigrants facing litigation.
Cruz Azul held annual meetings in San Antonio with other Comisiones Honoríficas to determine group action on social and economic causes. Projects included a legal-defense fund and proposals to build monuments to such heros as Gen. Ignacio S. Zaragoza and to organize a Mexican industrial school. Working with the local Mexican Consulate, Cruz Azul and the Comisión Honorífica also planned a census of Texas Mexicans in San Antonio to ascertain their living conditions. Later, when the group expanded its base of operations to other cities in the state, it published a monthly magazine first named Revista Azul and later renamed Revista Nacional. To fund all these activities, Cruz Azul apparently relied on such fund-raising activities as theatrical performances, public dances, and bazaars. The organization's reserve fund grew from little over $1,000 in 1924 to $4,500 in 1928.
Although the Cruz Azul was not a political organization, it influenced politicians to protect Texas Mexicans. The organization made Governor Pat Neff an honorary member despite both his alleged affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan and his endorsement of the death penalty. A month after Neff was inducted as an honorary Cruz Azul member, the group joined with other mutualistas and the Mexican Consulate and urged the governor to commute the death sentence of a Mexicano named Pedro Sánchez. Sánchez, who had been in the Marlin jail for a "minor offense" at the time that the jailer was murdered by two other inmates, had been sentenced to be hanged for "complicity in the murder." Jordan Israel, one of the two inmates hanged for the murder, had testified during his trial that Sánchez had no knowledge of the plan to kill the jailer. Governor Neff apparently relied on the opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals as well as the efforts of the Mexican Consulate and Mayor O. B. Black of San Antonio in making his decision to grant executive clemency and change Sánchez's sentence to life imprisonment.
The coming of the Great Depression and forced repatriation of numerous Texas Mexicans put an end to many civic groups in the Mexican community in San Antonio, especially the mutualistas. These events also likely meant the demise of the Cruz Azul, which relied on individual benevolence for maintaining its projects. Such groups as the Order of Knights of America and the League of United Latin American Citizens, which replaced the Cruz Azul Mexicana and its peer organizations as the agents for social change in the Texas Mexican community, emphasized individual legal rights over "economic cooperativism."