Alonso S. Perales, civil rights activist, lawyer, diplomat, and public intellectual, was born on October 17, 1898, to Susana (Sandoval) and Nicolas Perales in Alice, Texas. He was orphaned at age six and as a child worked in the fields and on the railroad. The parents of Fortino Treviño raised him. Perales completed the eighth grade in Alice and graduated from Draughon’s Business College in San Antonio in 1915. He married Marta Pérez, the daughter of Casimiro Pérez Álvarez of Rio Grande City. They adopted a daughter and two sons in the 1950s. He was drafted into the United States Army during World War I and received an honorable discharge. After taking the civil service examination he moved to Washington D. C. and worked at the Department of Commerce. He graduated from high school at the Preparatory School in D. C., studied at George Washington University, and then received a B.A. from the School of Economics and Government at the National University. In 1926 he received his law degree from the National University. He also earned a certificate from the Universidad Nacional America (UNAM) in San Antonio in 1944. He was one of the most educated Latinos in the United States before 1960.
In the 1920s he participated in thirteen diplomatic missions in Latin America, including Nicaragua, Mexico, and the West Indies. He served as Nicaraguan consulate from 1937 to 1960, maintaining a relationship with dictator President Anastacio Somoza, and in 1948 he served as legal counsel to the Nicaraguan delegation at the inaugural United Nations conference. He was one of the first Latino diplomats in the U. S. His travels gave him a hemispheric consciousness thus allowing him to promote Pan-Americanism in the United States especially as it related to non-discrimination for Latinos.
Perales was a major civic and political leader and was one of the most influential Mexican Americans in the United States before 1960. He saw himself as a defender of la raza and especially battled charges that Mexicans were an inferior people and a social problem. He initiated the Harlingen Convention of 1927 and led the Latin American League in the Rio Grande Valley from 1927 to 1929 with J. Luz Sáenz, J. T. Canales, and Eduardo Idar. Thereafter he was the principal founder of LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens) in 1929. He served as the organization’s third national president and formed Council 16 in San Antonio, a rival to Council 2 and Manuel C. Gonzales. Council 16 initiated the survey of insufficient and underfunded schools on the west side of San Antonio which led to the Liga Defensa Pro-Escolar. Perales quit LULAC around 1938 but continued to advocate its causes especially through the League of Loyal Americans and the Committee of One Hundred.
Perales testified before U. S. Congress in 1930, 1943, and 1944. He testified on immigration and for the creation of the Federal Employment Practices Commission, a short-lived agency in the 1940s, before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A Democrat, he helped found the Independent Voters Association, a Mexican-American political club in San Antonio in the early 1930s. In the 1940s he worked along with Gonzales to introduce several bills in the Texas legislature prohibiting discrimination based on race. He ran for the San Antonio Independent School District school board in 1946 but lost. As an avid anti-Communist, he became a Republican in the early 1950s and campaigned for presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower.
Perales was a public intellectual. He wrote about civil rights and racial discrimination, which he argued “had the approval of a majority.” He wrote the two-volume En Defensa de Mi Raza (1936–1937), which includes his essays, letters, and speeches along with other intellectuals’ essays on racial discrimination in Texas, as well as Are We Good Neighbors? (1948). He wrote a column called Arquitecto de Nuestro Destino from 1945 to 1959 for La Prensa and for La Voz, a Catholic newspaper, from 1951 to 1960 and many other Spanish-language newspapers. He was an articulate orator and his written and spoken Spanish was impeccable. He was also a critic of the Texas Good Neighbor Commission and, along with Gonzales and LULAC, was responsible for the temporary banning of braceros into Texas in the mid-1940s due to mistreatment (seeBRACERO PROGRAM).
Spain awarded Perales the Spanish Honor of Merit in 1952. He died at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio on May 9, 1960. He was buried in San Fernando Cemetery No. 2. He was reburied in Alice, Texas, on October 15, 1960. In 1977 Adela Sloss-Vento published his biography, and the Alonso S. Perales Elementary School in the Edgewood ISD was dedicated on the west side of San Antonio. The national LULAC convention in Albuquerque paid tribute to him in 1990. The Hispanic Literary Recovery Project organized a conference about him in 2012.
Michael A. Olivas, ed., In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals (Houston: Arte Público Press, 2012). Cynthia E. Orozco, No Mexicans, Women or Dogs Allowed: The Rise of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement (Austin: University of Texas, 2009). Cynthia E. Orozco, Pioneer of Mexican-American Civil Rights: Alonso S. Perales (Houston: Arte Pñblico Press, 2020). Alonso S. Perales Papers, University of Houston Libraries Special Collections, M. D. Anderson Library, Houston. Adela Sloss Vento, Alonso S. Perales: His Struggle for the Rights of Mexican-Americans (San Antonio: Artes Gráficas, 1977).
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Civil Rights, Civil, and Constitutional Law
Activism and Social Reform
Texas in the 1920s
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