We will start June with a belated Women of Mexican-American History. Alicia Dickerson Montemayor was an American woman from Texas who was a civil rights activist, for both the rights of Latino Americans and women, an educator, and a social worker.
Alicia (or Alice) was born in Laredo, Texas on August 6, 1902. Her parents came from different backgrounds. Her father John Dickerson was of Irish decent, and her mother Manuela Barrera Dickerson was Hispanic. She was raised bilingual, which would become useful in her later activism. She graduated from a public high school and proceeded to study law. However, her studies came to an end after the death of her father. She still attempted higher education, this time going to business school in the evenings.
She also married Francisco Montemayor in 1927. The two would have two children.
In 1934, she became a social worker in Webb County, a position she would hold for 15 years. It was the great depression, and her job was not made any easier by the fact she faced racial bias both by her fellow colleagues and by some of her clients. At one point a bodyguard was even provided due to threats. This also did nothing to dissuade her from her activism.
In 1936, she helped charter a women’s’ division in the local League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). The group promoted political activism such as voting and worked to support their local communities through raising funds and showing support. They also were active within their own organization and worked independently of the men’s division. One incident referenced was the council helping a local mother obtain justice after her son had been severely whipped by his teacher.
Alicia herself worked as the division secretary at first, reporting the activities and news to the local LULAC papers. She would be named President of the chapter in 1938 and would serve as representative to various conventions and meetings. She also served on a national level as Vice President and was able to promote the establishment of more women’s’ councils within the organization. She also was associate editor of LULAC news, where she promoted women’s rights.
She also helped develop the junior LULAC organization. The organization was founded by a Mrs. Charles Ramirez (I sadly could not find her personal name) in 1937, and Alicia would continue to support and assist the local junior league council well after her tenure in the national level.
In the late forties, she was inspired to reenroll in college. She attended Laredo Junior College (now Community College) and earned her degree. She would work various careers over the next thirty years. For several years she ran a dress shop. She also worked as a registrar at Laredo Independent School District and Christen Middle School from 1956 to 1972. Her involvement with education did not stop there, she also participated in various activities including teaching catechism and organizing the youth choir at her local parish, Our Lad of Guadalupe Catholic Church.
After her retirement in the seventies, Alicia did various things. She started getting involved in art and had an exhibition of her own work in August of 1978. She also continued her activism. In 1988 she was honored at the 59yh Annual LULAC convention.
Alicia died on May 13, 1989 at the age of 86. She was burried in the local catholic cemetery. Her activism for Latino rights, her Catholicism and her ideas of feminism were the ideals she held onto for her entire life.
She left behind a legacy of written works, both for civil rights for Latinos and as a feminist. Many are achieved in a collection at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. She was honored with the Conscience Builder designation by LULAC posthumously. Her son, Aurielo, accepted on her behalf. He also followed his mother into education.
Her feminism was not true feminism however, as she often wrote on how women were superior to men. She did promote positive aspects, such as empowerment of women and joining the workforce by choice. However, her stance also showed negative aspects, such as stressing the importance of women as caregivers, and statements about female intellect and common sense being better than men. Her feminist work was a divided state of positive and negative contributions.
Her legacy as a civil rights activist seems a little steadier. She developed several different aspects of LULAC that are still active today, such as the youth councils, and including women in civil rights activism. Her artwork promoted Mexican folk art and culture in America as well. She promoted youth literacy, and public service.