Roots of the Movement

Mutualistas

The first organizations to organize Mexicanos were mutualistas. These organizations were mutual aid organizations that started in the 1870s. They were the backbones of Mexican-American organizations that were church based to provide food, clothing, cash, burials, school supplies, or whatever the members of the Mexicano community needed. Mutualista halls became barrio entertainment centers and featured both Mexican and American acts. They allowed for a place where Mexicano culture could be celebrated and shared without fear of rejection or discrimination, sponsoring traditional dances and community celebrations. These organizations helped Mexicanos locate jobs and provided them with money when they needed it most. Mutualistas provided a place for Mexicanos to organize and encouraged community involvement. Some mutualistas even became active organizations in politics themselves, suing school districts for the desegregation of local schools.

Crystal City Walkout 1969-1 copy

Crystal City Walkout 1969
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Crystal City, Texas

There were a series of school walkouts in both 1963 and 1969. The walkouts in 1963 were led by PASSO and led to a greater majority of Mexican Americans paying the poll tax and voting. Los Cinco, five Mexicano candidates, were chosen to run for city council as well, and all won against the incumbents. Texas Rangers were even called into the city due to the walkouts and riots in the city. In 1967, MAYO was established by José Angel Gutierrez at Crystal City High School. The walkouts in 1969 were due to an ethnic conflict about the composition of the cheerleading team at Crystal City High School. The school board denied that there was any discrimination going on, and over 200 students and parents went on strike. The United States Department of Justice was sent to intervene in the crisis.

Shortly after, La Raza Unida Party, a third party political movement, was started by José Ángel Gutiérrez and Mario Compean on January 17, 1970 at a meeting of MAYO in Crystal City of 300 Mexican-Americans. Crystal City, Texas had a Mexican-American majority, of which 96 percent were migratory farm laborers. However, this population did not have the political representation it deserved. La Raza Unida won elections to offices in Crystal City and Zavala County, and in most cases, the elections of Mexican-Americans to office was making history. Only Anglos had been city managers with one exception and schools superintendents had been all Anglos as well. However,  Mexican-Americans eventually did gain control of the city public schools in 1970, and from then on public schools were 98 percent Mexican American through the next ten years.

 

Sources: United we Win: the Rise and Fall of La Raza Unida Party by Ignacio M. García; Constructing identities in Mexican-American political organizations: choosing issues, taking sides by Benjamin Márquez

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