SOCIEDAD DE LA UNION
SOCIEDAD DE LA UNIÓN. The Sociedad de la Unión was the largest of the sociedades mutualistas in San Antonio and one of the most important mutual-aid societies in Texas. It was founded in 1885 to "protect members in the event of sickness or death." The organization fostered cooperation, friendship, and educational improvement among the members and in the Hispanic community. Founders included Ascención Lozano (a peddler), Crecencio A. Rodríguez (a grocer), José María Flores (a mason), and Benigno Talamantes (a laundry worker). La Unión was modeled on groups in Mexico, and the organization regularly corresponded with many mutualist associations there. Officers were elected by the members, who paid them stipends. This encouraged the leadership of such talented working-class people as "Don" Guadalupe M. Baez, a cowboy in the stockyards, who presided for sixteen years. To be eligible for membership, an applicant had to be between the ages of sixteen and fifty, have steady employment, be without a criminal record, and be sponsored by two members. About 60 percent of the membership had been born in Mexico, with about 40 percent born in the United States of Mexican descent, and an occasional Anglo-American, South American, Syrian, or European immigrant. The vast majority of members lived in the dilapidated barrio just west of the business district. Half of the members were skilled laborers, often unemployed, and one-third of the remainder were common laborers. About 5 percent of the immigrants and 2 percent of the native-born members were professionals. In addition, La Unión periodically made editors, clergymen, and politicians honorary members. Although not stipulated in the bylaws, membership was limited to males. In 1927 a female auxiliary was formed.
In the 1920s Sociedad de la Unión grew, capitalizing on the economic growth of the period and its own successful reputation. During its heyday, La Unión paid for the burial of hundreds of its associates, with the surviving families receiving financial assistance as well. Illness benefits and emergency loans were introduced. The organization established a library and a night school and sponsored a theater. Local residents rented La Unión Hall for activities ranging from boxing matches to labor rallies. In cooperation with Spanish-language newspapers, La Unión spearheaded neighborhood drives for Liberty Loans and the American Red Cross and in 1926 was instrumental in the formation of an alliance of mutualista groups. Sociedad de la Unión was one of the few mutualista associations to survive the Great Depression and the attendant repatriation, often under pressure, of thousands of West Side residents to Mexico. Like its peer organizations, however, La Unión failed to capture the imagination of a new generation, which relied increasingly on New Deal social programs and turned to labor organizing and to integrationist groups such as the League of United Latin American Citizens. In recent years Sociedad de la Unión has survived on the loyalty of long-time members.
Mario T. Garcia, Mexican Americans: Leadership, Ideology, and Identity, 1930–1960 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). Julie Leininger Pycior, La Raza Organizes: Mexican American Life in San Antonio, 1915–1930, as Reflected in Mutualista Activities (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1979). University Archives, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio.