Biographical / Historical
Alonso S. Perales, civil-rights lawyer and diplomat, was born on Oct. 17, 1898, to Susana Sandoval and Nicolas Perales in Alice, Texas. His father died when he was six years old and his mother when he was 12, leaving him an orphan. He worked laying railroad ties and picking cotton to put himself through high school and college. Later, Perales was drafted into the United States Army during World War I. After the war, Perales received an honorable discharge and moved to Washington D.C. to work with the U.S. Commerce Department. Perales eventually enrolled at George Washington University, receiving his B.A. He then attended the National University where he received his Law degree in 1926.
Perales married Marta Pérez y Peña, a bookstore owner, and they eventually adopted a daughter and two sons. In the 1920s and 1930s he went on thirteen diplomatic missions to the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mexico, Chile, and the West Indies. In particular he was Legal Advisor to the United States Electoral Mission in Nicaragua in 1928, 1930 and 1932 and was one of the attorneys on General John J. Pershing’s staff for the Tacna-Arica Arbitration Commision in 1925-1926. He served as Consul General of Nicaragua in San Antonio, Texas and in 1945 he served as legal counsel to the Nicaraguan delegation at the United Nations conference. He also served under the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration.
From the 1920s until his death, Perales remained a prominent political leader, particularly as a defender of Mexican-American civil rights. As such he participated in various Civil Rights organizations and was one of the founders of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in 1929. Along with José Tomás Canales and Eduardo Idar, he helped write the LULAC constitution and served as the organization’s second president in 1930, organizing Council 16 in San Antonio. As president of LULAC one of Perales greatest accomplishments was the successful defeat of the Box Immigration Bill in 1930 which would have put a quota on Mexican immigration to the United States. His other civic activities included founding the Independent Voters Association, a Mexican-American political club in San Antonio, introducing legislation calling for the prohibition of racial discrimination, and membership in other religious and civil rights organizations. For his civic activities he was decorated by Spain with the “Medal of Civil Merit”, one of the nation’s highest civil honors.
Perales published numerous essays, speeches and two books: Are we good neighbors? which documents cases of racial discrimination, and the two volume En defensa de mi raza which compiles many of his essays and speeches on racial discrimination and those of other intellectuals. Also a regular columnist for La Prensa and other Spanish language newspapers, he published columns entitled “Arquitectos de nuestros propios destinos” which spoke of Mexican-American civil rights issues and “Por mi religión” which presents issues related to the Catholic Church.
Alonso S. Perales died on May 9, 1960. In 1977 the Alonso S. Perales Elementary School in Edgewood ISD was dedicated on the west side of San Antonio, and in 1990 the national LULAC convention in Albuquerque paid tribute to him.