Alianza Hispano-Americana

The Alianza Hispano-Americana was founded on January 14, 1894, in Tucson, Arizona, by Carlos I. Velasco, Pedro C. Pellón, and Mariano G. Samaniego, as a fraternal benefit society. It fanned out across the rest of the Southwest over the next sixteen years, spreading to Texas by June 1906. It grew into the biggest and best known of the Mexican-American sociedades mutualistas in the Southwest. Although AHA was set up to offer life insurance at low rates and provide social activities for Mexican Americans, one source suggests that it was initially organized in response to hostile attitudes against Mexican Americans in Tucson. Its goals were similar to those of other fraternal aid groups in the United States, which began to multiply in the late nineteenth century among European immigrants. When AHA was established, most United States citizens could not depend on government social security programs, labor unions, or commercial life insurance to provide economic assistance to a family upon the loss of the chief family provider, usually the father. Besides tendering such services, AHA, like other mutual-aid groups, also sought to preserve the culture of its constituents and taught its members democratic traditions, such as free speech, by involving them in organizational activities.

Membership in AHA was limited to Mexican Americans who were committed to altruism toward their fellows, the work ethic, and good moral virtues; it did not offer membership to ex-convicts or individuals of African or Asian descent. However it joined forces with the NAACP in 1954 to fight discrimination and offered musician Louis Armstrong an honorary membership in 1957. Women were allowed to join AHA in 1913 as a response to the woman suffrage movement. Monthly dues subsidized the death-benefits package. An executive board oversaw AHA's activities, and by 1916 the national headquarters in Tucson moved into the Alianza building.

The June 1955 issue of the AHA Alianza noted two goals: equal opportunities for citizens of Mexican descent and expansion of AHA's services to those citizens. In Texas, George I. Sánchez spearheaded AHA's civil rights efforts in the mid-1950s as a consultant to Ralph Estrada, who headed the group's civil-liberties division. AHA's original work in the state sought legal remedies to end the segregation of prisoners. The organization hoped to use a two-pronged approach in attacking segregation-activism by a wide array of civil-rights leaders, and negotiations with Governor Allan Shivers. The Robert Marshall Civil Liberties Trust assisted AHA through a grant to Sánchez of $5,000.

In 1939 AHA membership climbed to 17,366, a monumental growth from its 1,171 members in 1907. It also organized lodges in Mexico and allied itself with the National Fraternal Congress, the largest organization for mutual-aid societies in the country. Although AHA ended most of its operations in the mid-1960s, a staff of two apparently remained at its Tucson headquarters through the early 1970s to finish its business. Budgetary woes forced AHA into receivership, and its president, James Carlos McCormick, was indicted, tried, and sentenced to a six-to-eight-year prison term for embezzlement. Later, all twenty-one counts against him were dismissed, and his sentence was reduced to five years' probation.

Initiation Ritual