Wilmington’s History: La Union Mutualista de San Jose in the 1920’s

Wilmington’s Backyard History: 1920’s & La Union Mutualista de San Jose

You might be wondering why this post is about the ever-popular “San Jose” Quinceañera and Wedding Ballroom Hall. Well, unbeknownst to some, this building is a part of history in the city of Wilmington in California, and was a source of aid to many Mexican immigrants and relocated Mexican-Americans during the 1920’s. This was a point in time in which the effects of World War I, which ended in 1918, rolled over into the following years and Mexican labor was highly desired.

Established in 1921, the still-existing building is an anchor in time. No longer a mutualista, it is now a privately owned Ballroom business. From my own personal recollection (and last visit around 1999), I recall seeing a wall near the entrance that was plastered in old, black-and-white photographs of the founding chief members throughout the years.

The following is the Wikipedia description of what a mutualista is, and provides a sneak peek into how these organizations branched out in later years,

Mutualistas were community-based mutual aid societies created by Mexican immigrants in the late 19th century United States. According to media analyst Charles M. Tatum, mutualistas

“provided most immigrants with a connection to their mother country and served to bring them together to meet their survival needs in a new and alien country. Cultural activities, education, health care, insurance coverage, legal protection and advocacy before police and immigration authorities, and anti-defamation activities were the main functions of these associations.[1]

Sometimes mutualistas were part of larger organizations affiliated with the Mexican government or other national associations. One such association included Alianza Hispano-Americana, which, founded in 1894 in Tucson, Arizona Territory, had 88 chapters throughout theSouthwestern United States by 1919. Usually mutualistas had separate women’s auxiliaries, but some, including Club Femenino Orquidia inSan Antonio, Texas and Sociedad Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez in Laredo, were founded and run by women.

While Tatum lauds mutualistas for “bringing together Mexican nationals from different social classes to form a common bond, a feat that no organization had been able to achieve in Mexico”, there were indeed social divisions within mutualistas. Some, such as Club Mexicano Independencia in Santa Barbara, California, were only open to male citizens of Mexico. Others had elitist membership restrictions.

Many historians describe the “familiar” orientation of mutualista societies. They fostered sentiments of unity, mutual protection, and volunteerism. Historian Vicki L. Ruiz sees mutualistas as “institutionalized forms of compadrazgo and commadrazgo“, the “concrete manifestations” of which were orphanages and nursing homes.[2]

Some mutualistas became politically active in the American Civil Rights Movement. The Comité de Vecinos de Lemon Grove filed a successful desegregation suit against the Lemon Grove School District in 1931. Many of the people that were involved in mutualismo were active in the subsequent Chicano student political, and feminist movements. María Hernández, who formed Orden Caballeros de America with her husband Pedro in 1929, later worked on educational desegregation and supported the Raza Unida Party.” (Web source: Wikipedia.)

Furthermore is an excerpt taken from author Rodolfo F. Acuña’s book titled Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, in which he states,

“The organizational life of Mexicans in Los Angeles resembled that of San Antonio, but it was also different. Mutualistas, as in San Antonio, met the immigrant families’ basic needs, maintaining their culture and when possible defending their civil rights. However, the mutualistas did not play as central a role as they did in San Antonio, partly because the Mexican-origin population of Los Angeles was widely scattered. Also, proportionately, San Antonio has a larger Mexican American population that did L.A.; consequently, the Mexican consul in Los Angeles played an influential role in establishing mutualista-like organizations like La Cruz Azul (the Blue Cross) for women and La Comisión Honorífica (the Honor Commission) for men. Such organizations did charitable work under the consul’s auspices.”

(Acuña, 155).

The contribution of La Union Mutualista de San Jose played a role in helping the recently relocated and immigrant Mexican workers with necessities. The workers labored in the railroad, farming, construction, and port work in the Wilmington and surrounding communities. That was just a little piece of Wilmington’s past-pie. I hope you enjoyed reading a bit on what is in our backyard’s…until next time!

P.S. – Below is the address of the UMSJ and Google map, just in case you might want to drive by and take a look.

Union Mutualista de San Jose
1023 North Henry Ford Avenue
Wilmington, CA 90744
Phone: (310) 835-6797

Book Reference Citation:

Acuña, Rodolfo F.

Occupied America: A History of Chicanos.

6th ed. New York, New York. Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.

1 Comment on "Wilmington’s History: La Union Mutualista de San Jose in the 1920’s"

  1. Cool story and background I never knew much about this place except for a good quincenera, wedding, or punk show.

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