Negotiating race relations through activism: women activists and women's organizations in San Antonio, Texas during the 1920s
After World War I, United States residents became concerned over racial and cultural differences, especially once the “foreign element” increased significantly within its borders. Anti-immigrant sentiments grew as race relations intensified, and the United States became wary of its neighbors to the south. Under these circumstances, how did Black, White and Mexican women negotiate their racial identity in places like San Antonio, Texas, where immigration was central and race permeated the political discourse. Did women accommodate, resist, or accept the racial standards of the day and what imprint did they leave in the “Alamo” city of the early 1900s? Employing gender, culture, and race as categories of historical analysis, this dissertation argues that race and gender were central issues in community organization as well as in society in general. The study analyzes the work of women activists within a highly racialized setting. The focus is on activists associated with prominent community organizations. These included the Cruz Azul, Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the Pan American Round Table of San Antonio, the San Antonio Mission Home and Training School, the Mexican Christian Institute, the House of Neighborly Service, the Wesley Community Center, and the Catholic Community Center. Drawing on sources in the United States, including Spanish language newspapers, oral histories, and various activists’ archives, this project seeks to understand the role that race played in the local politics of San Antonio in the 1920s. This project places women activists as central figures in the scholarship on race relations in the Southwest. Moreover, it explores how relations between Mexican and Mexican American women and their interaction with Anglo and Black women shaped the trajectory of their own social and political activism. Despite the fact that San Antonio was considered an oasis of improved race relations for Blacks and Mexicans, the city continued to adhere to the conventional form of racial politics in the era. Even though San Antonio had a racially and culturally diverse society, race relations and their resultant conflicts were not unique in the Southwest. Women and men in San Antonio were just as racially conscious and biased as people in other parts of the country and they adhered to similar racial patterns and tensions.