Austin Revealed: Chicano Civil Rights “Rise of Mexican-Americans in Politics”

Austin Revealed: Chicano Civil Rights “Rise of Mexican-Americans in Politics”


(music) – There’s increasingly
high expectations being expressed by
Mexican-Americans reinforced by the returning veterans
from the Second World War who have experienced
foxhole democracy. They come back expecting
to be treated fairly, the way they were
treated in the military. They’re still facing
seemingly unchanging social conditions that we
describe in terms of a gap. Gaps in political
representation. – It was basically
a patron system. Two, three guys got together, went to visit with
the powerbrokers, and they established
themselves as the patrones. When the World War II veterans
came back from the war, they started to change
things, but not politically. It was more socially. – Organizations that had
been organized before like the League of United
Latin American Citizens, the American G.I. Forum
become more aggressive in their demands for change. The youth that makes use
of these opportunities when they graduate from high
schools at a higher rate and then attend colleges
at a higher rate, and then join the
professional ranks in the Mexican-American
community and the
social movement. Many of us joined the
Community Action Programs established by Congress during
the Johnson administration. – And this administration today, here and now declares
unconditional war on poverty in America. (audience applause) – We were beginning The
War on Poverty in Austin. When they heard me talk
about my experience and what I was doing
and all of that, they said, “You’re
exactly what we need. “We need neighborhood
centers and we’re gonna need “people to run ’em
and help people “get to where they need to go.” And the following year, there were some other
programs came about. One of them was
called Project Enable, which is where Gonzalo landed. He came to my
neighborhood center looking for space,
which we gave him. – And we had that office there in what was then East First, later to become Cesar Chavez. John Trevino was a
neighborhood center director. Richard Moya was an
investigator for legal aid. That’s really when
we became friends after working in the
community for several years. – At that time, it was
still an at-large system. So of course, it was very
difficult for anybody to win without the approval
of the whites from the other side of town. – And actually, that
was my first election that I ever got involved in. I learned from scratch what it was like to campaign. We learned how to
walk door to door. We learned how to
register people. We learned the basics, the basics of what it takes to win an election. But we just came up a
little short on some votes. That didn’t stop us. That was just the first step. – This was happening
here in Austin and many things were happening
throughout the country. It was our time. And they said the sleeping
giant has awakened. – The four precincts were not evenly divided
among population. So when the court ruled
that you have to have equal one man, one vote, out of that came the expansion of Precinct Four. I remember Moya
telling me one day, “Hey, now we have a chance. “We have a larger
number of voters, “Hispanic voters
in this precinct. “And if we could
get a few Anglos, “maybe a few blacks, “we have at least a chance.” – That was a period of time when Mexican-Americans were starting to
feel empowerment in all angles of the community. Politics, community organizing
community leadership, youth leadership, student power, all of these things were
at a height in 1970. – It was a grassroots campaign. John Trevino was my
campaign manager. He quit his job, with about five kids, and came to run my
campaign for nothing. I didn’t have any money
to pay anybody I was a printer, right? I went and bought a secondhand, beat-up offset press and we just did
our own printing. And so every weekend, we had a lot of volunteers,
lot of kids, Dan Ruiz rounded
up the volunteers from Salvation Army and we would print
a flyer every week, a different colored paper and we just flooded
the neighborhood. – That printing machine led to what some people term
the brown machine. I forget who it was, hey,
there comes the brown machine! Moya, Barrientos, and Trevino. So we let it go,esta bueno,
brown machine. – We had Pachangas
at Zaragosa Park where we had
hundreds of people there. And it was all the same thing. (laughs) Free beer and sausage
wraps. (laughs) That was the deal. And people showed up. We don’t know how many of them actually were registered to vote because we didn’t check, but we encouraged them to register to vote
if they hadn’t Some people told us that
they’ve never voted. They’ve been registered to vote maybe 20 years, but
they never voted. – For me, it was a kind
of the opening of doors of actually, of what
political activism was. And having also the experience of going into the
community door to door, voter registration, engaging
people in conversation about why it was
important to vote. And having this
discussion, you know, in the differentbarrios. – Me and Paul Tovar ran
against the incumbent who’d been there for 21 years. They didn’t think we could win, but you know, I did win. And the way I won was because these guys like
Gonzalo and John, and a lot of others,
worked real hard to make sure that we
turned out to vote. – While the Mexican-American
vote could not, by itself, elect
someone county-wide, we therefore set up coalitions. African-Americans,
Mexican-Americans, labor, students,
environmentalists. We all kinda needed each
other during those years. – We rallied around him. And it wasn’t an easy campaign. There was a lot of resistance from the white establishment to have someone like
Richard Moya running for an important position,
County Commissioner. But this was something
that we were able to do, to rally people and educate
them about our right to register and vote
and use that as a means of speaking out
on our own behalf. – And we got tremendous turnout, and I thought all of a sudden, our constituents felt like
yeah, we can win these things. Where before, it’s all
“What you running for? “You can’t win anyway.” – Richard Moya’s campaign
actually was a catalyst for getting a lot of
this action going throughout the community. And a lot of political
leadership developed from that. – When you’re running
for office, you gotta
go door to door, especially if you
don’t have the money for television, etcetera One of the first doors I hit
on the west side of Austin, I knocked on the door and this guy comes
out and I said, “Hello, my name’s
Gonzalo Barrientos “and I’m running for state
representative Place Four.” He said, “Get outta
here, I ain’t gonna vote “for no damn Mexican.” Slams the door. Eh, kinda hurts your feelings. But you gotta go
to the next door. So I knocked on a lot of doors, lost about 10 or 20 pounds. And finally got there. – They made some bumper stickers and they said, “Who is
Gonzalo Barrientos?” And I stuck those
all over the place, I had them in my purse, my hippie purse, I just stuck them all over. – I lost the first race. John Trevino lost
the first race. Ran again on the second time. We both won. – John Trevino was the
first Mexican-American to be elected to
the City Council, and I was there the
night he was elected. That was such a big deal. The City Council was
elected at-large, and so it’s difficult
for minorities, particularly to get
on the City Council. – Activists in East Austin
were starting to organize, especially to
begin to identify Mexican-American candidates who would represent East
Austin in local politics. The political
activity, by the way, led to some of those folks then becoming very active
in the Raza Unida Party that Jose Angel
Gutierrez and others were starting around
the state of Texas. But there was local Raza Unida
participation in that, too. – We wanted to use
these campaigns for state office
as a way to promote change for improved
representation of Mexican-Americans in
the Democratic party. – The enthusiasm that
came forth out of that was primarily out of the
gubernatorial campaign. Ramsey Muniz was the candidate and the charisma
that he possessed. – Everywhere we go,
a donde vamos,
our people are awakening. And their eyes are opening. – The Raza Unida
Party was something that gave people a lot of hope and it educated a lot of people of their rights to vote and the importance of voting and how people who
cared about community and who looked like
us could actually get into political
power and make changes. – The split between those
that went to Democrats and Raza Unida,
we were friendly, but we didn’t think the same. You know, we had two different points of view politically. And, too, it was all men. Margaret Gomez was
really one of the few, you know, to run, but most of them were men. In Raza Unida, you’d
look at any platform and there would be
least half women. And in some cases, more women. – We’re all walking
towards the same goal, it’s just different paths. And sometimes we do differ. Sometimes we run
against each other. – The Democratic
party started reacting to what we were doing, and like I say, opening up more, which attracted more Raza. Our people wanted to have
a feeling of belonging and if that
acceptance was there, they were gonna be part of that. To this day, I still
consider myself Raza Unida, and even though I
might vote Democrat, in my heart I’m
still Raza Unida. – The party didn’t do very
well in the ’78 elections. They were very impressive
with their voting results in ’72 and ’74, but not in ’78. It dissolved also because
of very serious attempts to undermine the party. These attempts involved
law enforcement officials who brought drug charges
against some of our candidates. Some of those cases may
have been justified. In some cases, the
charges were not. So it dissolved. – We repeat mistakes,
we repeat agendas, but you know, the thing
is, the struggle goes on,seguimos en la lucha.– You look back now. From where we started, where
we are now, you know, I mean, now any young
man or young woman that wants to be whatever,
they can do it now. It’s there. Now, you know, now what
you gonna do with it? We opened the door for you. Now what you gonna do with it?

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