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In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals

In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals

In Defense of My People: Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals.  Michael A. Olivas, Editor.  Houston: Arte Público Press, Hispanic Civl Rights Series, 2013.

Yesterday, I was very pleased to receive my copy of In Defense of My People:  Alonso S. Perales and the Development of Mexican-American Public Intellectuals. Michael A. Olivas, William B. Bates Distinguished Chair of Law as well as and director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston, edited the volume of essays.  The term “edit” hardly does justice to the immense creativity, skill, dedication, and wisdom Professor Olivas applied to the task.

The family of Alonso Perales, a lawyer and advocate for Mexican Americans during the first half of the twentieth century, and much more (as the essays explain), donated Mr. Perales’ papers to the University of Houston Library Special Collections.  Professor Olivas saw an opportunity for people interested in the history of Mexican American struggles for justice to study this rich mine in order to come to new insights, so he issued a call for research papers based on the Perales collection.  The essays collected in the volume appeared first at a symposium held on January 13, 2012, at the University of Houston.  They address a range of concerns, from Alonso Perales’ critical as well as criticized role in the creation of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), his career as a diplomat for the U.S. government including his friendship with Somoza family of Nicaragua, and his law practice, to Perales’ religious beliefs, the paradox of Mexicans’ “legally white, socially brown” status in the U.S., and a re-thinking of what some historians used to call “the Mexican American Generation.”

Among the contributors, Cynthia E. Orozco, Emilio Zamora, F. Arturo Rosales, and Michael Olivas himself, are well-established scholars whose work I’ve admired for many years.  Others  — Benjamin Márquez, Joseph Orbock Medina, Lupe S. Salinas, Aarón E. Sánchez, George A. Martínez, Martio T. García, Norma Adelfa Mouton, and Donna M. Kabalen de Bichara — were less familiar to me, a fact that says more about my limitations than theirs.  I am honored that my essay, “Faithful Dissident: Alonso S. Perales, Discrimination, and the Catholic Church” is part of the book.

Huge thanks to Michael Olivas for his patience and encouragement, and for the challenge that allowed me to spend so many happy hours in the Special Collections at the University of Houston Library, the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, and (most beloved to me), the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas.

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