Interview – July, 2018: Aurelio Montemayor, Activist, Educator, Part 2

Date of Interview: July 23, 2018
Interviewed By: Chuy Ramriez
Posted: September 10, 2021

Montemayor discusses the founding of what is probably the first successful Chicano/a college in the country; how Colejio Jacinto Trevino, Mercedes, Texas, came about and, ultimately, reasons for its demise.  The Colejio gained full-throated accreditation support from Antioch College.  Importantly, Montemayor identifies key Chicano and Chicana intellectuals of the time who sacrificed their own life plans and professional careers to develop the Colejio.  Early supporters in Washington included Raul Yzaguirre and Juan Gutierrez (both South Texans) with the consulting firm Interstate Research Associates.  Yzaguirre would serve as U.S. Ambassor to San Domingo.  Gutierrez has retired to Austin, Texas.  Marta and Juan Cotera live in Austin, Texas. Narciso Aleman, an attorney, has retired to Madison, Wisconsin.  Lalli Saenz lives in California.  There were many others played critical roles. In this edited interview, Montemayor also tells of a presentation by supporters of the colejio project at the Mexican American Youth Organization Conference during the Spring 1969 at La Lomita, in Mission, Texas.

Aurelio:  …a chance to talk and plan. So, René (Trevino, Kingsville, Texas MAYO member) and I were saying, “Why can’t we have a place that’s ours because the colleges that we have are neutral or even against the Movement? Why can’t we have our own thinking, our own academic work that’s connected to what is happening in the Community?

Chuy:  The Mexican-American Youth Organization Convention[1], what month was that?

Aurelio:  This one that I’m talking about was between Christmas and New Year’s. It was during the Winter Break.

Chuy:  Of ’69.

Aurelio:  Yeah, because in the Spring of ’69 fué cuando fué la march de Del Rio. All that summer I had been hanging out in Del Rio. So, by the time I came to the Valley, I was pretty much clear that I couldn’t do much in Del Rio. No había mucho que yo podia hacer. My hands were tied. I was very disillusioned with any leadership that I could provide or anything that could happen. I didn’t realize it, but I was looking for something else. I needed to be deeply involved. And because education was so much in my DNA, you know, the idea of a college popped up in my head. I don’t know if anyone else had talked about it, where it came from. Este, in Quijote Soldiers,[2] they say that we were imitating the schools que habían pa San Antonio. I wasn’t thinking of the San Antonio barrio schools up ahead. I mean, I knew about them, but that wasn’t at all what I was thinking when I started the conversation with a few people there. Because by the time the Conference ended, I said, “Me voy a ir para Del Rio and I’m coming back.”

Chuy:  You’re talking about Quijote Soldiers.  What is that?

Aurelio:  It’s the story of the Chicano Movement in the “60’s in San Antonio and a lot of the MAYO history. El que lo escribió is from San Antonio. He’s a professor somewhere in the West Coast. No me acuerdo come se llama. [David Montejano, Ph D.). In fact, I went and heard him when the book first came out. He had some meetings in San Antonio and I saw him. And I know him from the Movement Days. No me acuerdo cómo se llama ahorita. That book came out four or five years ago.

Chuy:  In any case, by December of 1969, you and others are already talking about a Chicano College.

Aurelio:  And I actually made a motion. You know I said, “I want to propose…” and got complete approval. Yeees! But I wanted it to be a MAYO project and it never really became a MAYO project for other reasons. But I wanted it to be a MAYO supported project.

Chuy:  In your mind, what kinds of things did you anticipate a college like that would do?

Aurelio:  Well, since I’d never started a college before, I knew there was a lot of learning to do. But the idea was: If we can bring some really bright Chicanos together, who are interested in developing a college setting, where the curriculum and the materials and all that emerges from the Chicano Movement so that it’s strengthening our culture and our language, developing our notions of how we’re going to have a revolution, how we can have real change in our communities from the bottom up. How the ideas del pueblo can dominate. For example, I knew very clearly that the Public-School system was mis-educating our children, that our language was getting wiped out. One of my angers has always been that because aprendí el español lírico, I still don’t know where the accents go. And you know, I am not fully bi-literate and that I knew that that was wrong. We all agreed. We got together and said, “How can salvage our language?

Chuy:  Who were some of the people at that Convention or prior to the Convention that you had run this idea through?

Aurelio:  Nobody.

Chuy:  Nobody?

Aurelio:  Nobody, ahí fué donde se me prendió el foco. I may have mentioned it to one or two MAYOs in Del Rio, but I don’t remember. Those nights of patrolling with the walkie-talkie there at La Lomita Conference just kept stirring that. And because I was bringing it up, Rene Trevino…The reason I mention René Treviño[3] because he disappeared soon after that. I never saw him much soon after that. On all my trips that I left the Valley to go to training and when I had some money or after the walk-out in Uvalde, l went back to the Valley and they said, “Se va a llamar Jacinto Treviño el colegio.” And I had never heard of Jacinto Treviño. I think René Treviño was a distant relative and he was the one who suggested it and someone adopted it. I don’t know how it happened, but at some point, se llamó Jacinto Treviño.[4] And then we started looking up the corrido and doing research and all that. It made sense to me because all of us were familiar with Americo Paredes “With A Pistol in His Hand”. Y sabíamos que el corrido de Gregorio Cortez había sido muy importante porque había otros corridos…

Chuy:  It seems to me that what comes out of the Convention is strong support for…

Aurelio:  …an independent Chicano College.

Chuy:  But that’s pretty much it?

Aurelio:  Yes, it was very vague. It was an idea.

Chuy:  There is no written plan for it. For instance, when you first describe it, what comes to my mind is an image of a think-tank as opposed to a full-blown four-year institution.

Aurelio, kind of. Sometimes we used that.

Chuy:  Now, I remember, Aurelio, sometime, and don’t remember, frankly, if it would have been the Fall of ’69 or the Summer of ’70, I don’t remember. But I do remember, it’s kind of a blur, I remember traveling to Antioch myself with Narciso Aleman.

AurelioFuímos a Washington. First of all, Raúl Yzaguirre and the other people, Juan Gutiérrez, had a Chicano consulting firm in Washington, the first of its kind, que se llamaba Something Associates, IRA. (Interstate Research Associates) And they got us plane tickets to go up to Washington.

Chuy:  Who is us?

AurelioPos yo fuí, Narciso fué. You might have been with us, I don’t remember.

Chuy:  I don’t remember.

AurelioSí, porque ahí fué donde conocímos a Antioch.

Chuy:  No, I wasn’t on that trip.

Aurelio:  Six months into it, the IRA people got us a five-thousand-dollar grant from the Department of Education to establish the principles for this Chicano Learning Center and I was the lead on that. I rented an apartment in Edinburg for a few months. I was out so much and it was open, when I came back the owner said, “Hey, there’s been drinking parties.” So, I had to find someplace else. Entonces, Óscar Cerda said, “Vente a vivir con nosotros” I went to live with the Cerdas in Weslaco. But, to stay alive, I had to go do VISTA trainings and come back. But at the same time, they would pull me out. For example, in that Spring, hubo un walk-out en Uvalde[5], so they put me in charge of the walk-out school y ahí estuve un mes. Then los de Washington got pissed off, “Hey, you’re supposed to be running this project in the Valley. You’re supposed to be writing a paper.” So, during this period, we went to Washington[1] We actually slept in their offices. But they had a reception. Entonces, one of the people there was a man from this college called Antioch and I guess he was in charge of Admissions or something like that. He and his girlfriend were there and we were telling him about this Colegio that we’re starting. Because at that time it was really a think tank and we had no curriculum. He says, “Well, Antioch has a graduate program that’s a university without walls. Antioch had adopted this program que estaba en Vermont, que se estaba muriendo, Antioch Putnick. It was a university without walls and people didn’t have to be there all year to get their degrees. He said, “Why don’t you come to Antioch?” Somebody got us all the resources and we went to Antioch. We were at Antioch three or four days. We split up. Some people went to talk to the Student Council, others talked to the Administration and by the time we left, Antioch said, “We’ll give you the umbrella to start this college in South Texas. You’ll be part of our network.”

Chuy:  So at this point, it’s primarily you and Narciso Aleman who are spearheading this thing.

Aurelio:  Yes. We ended up being co-leaders. I don’t know how it happened. I kept on doing it, whatever it was. I was all excited about the idea. And then I had gone to Austin and had talked to Marta Cotera and Andre Guerrero and they decided to move to the Valley.

Chuy:  Who are they, Marta Cotera and Andre Guerrero?

Aurelio:  Marta Cotera is obviously a very strong feminist leader in the Chicano Movement. She’s written about it. She’s considered a leader. Her husband, Juan, is a very successful architect. At that time, they were a young couple. They have one daughter, a little girl. Marta was the Librarian for the SEDL, Southwest Educational Development Lab and Juan was a young, practicing architect. So, they picked up everything. I convinced them to come to the Valley with us.

Chuy:  You knew them from before?

Aurelio:  No, I met them there. I was going around recruiting brainy people.

Chuy:  You met them where?

Aurelio:  In Austin. I went to the Lab to see Andre, whose brother had been my classmate. Andre is from Laredo. Andre was working there. He introduced me to Marta. I fell in love with her immediately.

She said, “I am not a Librarian, I’m an Information Scientist.”  Nunca se me va a olvidar. She was brilliant. I started telling them about the Colegio we were starting. Y me dijo Andre, “We’ll call you.” And a week later he called, “Nos vamos a ir pa’l Valle.”

Chuy:  Wow. Andre’s last name is what?

Aurelio:  Guerrero. Yeah, he’s from Laredo. So as things were collecting in the Valley, we were going to have a Graduate Program.

Chuy:  But I take it, as you recruit people, then the idea, the planning and the theories all are expanding.

Aurelio:  Yeah. By the time we had the core group, which is before the end of the year and we had to submit the papers for the grant that we had gotten. It’s “A Rationale for a Chicano Learning Center.” It was published eventually in Hojas.[6] I picked everybody’s ideas and I wrote that essay and we submitted it for the grant. It was the planning grant. By that time, we had the name “Jacinto Treviño”. I had no idea where it had come from but I was okay with that. In October of ’70, we had the first official kick-off en un salón que tenía el…¿cómo se llamaba? There was a Chicano lending group. There was a guy. I guess he was from San Juan.

Chuy:  Raudel López?

Aurelio:  Raudel López. He had this ¿cómo se llamaba?

Chuy:  Amigo Unidos Federal Credit Union.

Aurelio:  Amigo Unidos Credit Union. It had un saloncito and we all stood on the stage and sang “De Colores”. Yo lloré. I couldn’t hold back the emotion because it was the kick-off de Jacinto Treviño.

Chuy:  Where was this? What city?

Aurelio:  Pues donde estaba la oficina de Raudel. Wherever that office was. It’s either San Juan or Alamo.

Chuy:  Okay.

Aurelio:  And that was when all fifteen of us were on the stage, maybe more. Para entonces, some people that we didn’t know had also come. Sylvia Yañez and her mother came on from California and joined us. Duffy[7] ya era parte del grupo. Carmen[8] ya era parte del grupo. Because when I moved back to the Valley to start the Colegio and I was living in Edinburg, Carmen started hanging out with us and she was finishing up her degree in Art in Kingsville. Ah, y el otro que se fué to work for the Navy, ¿cómo se llamaba? Lost complete track of him. Anyway, se formó el grupo and then I had to pull everybody together to finish the documentation that I was doing, the paper, and I wrote the paper. Then, Narciso introduced me to Dr. Leonard Mestas. Dr. Leonard Mestas had a Doctorate in Education and he was the Education Coordinator for the Colorado Migrant Council Head Start Programs. And a lot of the employees in the Valley were actually employees of the Colorado Migrant Council that had this extension. And some of them were on their payroll and so was Leonard. So, Leonard came to be the Doctor in charge of the program with us.

Chuy:  He was the PhD you needed.

Aurelio:  Yes. And he was very Movement.  No hablaba mucho español, but he was really solid.

Chuy:  Academician.

Aurelio:  Very strong-willed and very practical too. So, he then started giving us a base. We found this old doctor’s house in Mercedes. We got in there. Estaba bien jodido, pintando las paredes y Leonard poniendo cortinas to make it somehow presentable.

Chuy:  Sure.

Aurelio:  And each one of us had his own little office. So then, it started gelling, there in Mercedes. Then, one thing that I found out later was, when the Conference happened at La Lomita, and this is months after La Lomita that we started doing all these things. The Sunday of the Conference…During the day we would go off and sleep in a motel room que tenia José Angel. Those of us working at night would sleep during the day. They had a mass in front of La Lomita y había un Imaculada Concepción, a white statue. Some of the MAYOs decided to buy bronze paint y pintarla porque querian la Virgen Morena. Obviously, at that Conference, habia muchos espías. Somebody made a video of that y se la mando a los Oblatos. The Oblates[9] had that. We didn’t know it. So, when we started organizing Jacinto Treviño, the Oblates tell us, “It’s the Devil.” For one thing, la Colonia Anzalduas[10] hated us porque les manchamos su Virgen. They had

no appreciation of La Virgen Morena[2], ni nada. ¿Como jodidos? You know. And in fact, I think the community cleaned it up y los MAYOs fueron y la pintaron otra vez. It was just totally against organizing principles and everything else.

Chuy:  Well, I remember José Angel, I don’t remember anybody else, but I remember him painting, having a spray paint can and participating in the process.

AurelioSí, sí, sí. I wasn’t physically there. Yo lo ví antes de…

AurelioMira, we found out. Before the big split of Jacinto Treviño, two years later, we had a meeting with the Provincial in San Antonio de los Oblates, que queríamos que nos dieran La Lomita para Jacinto Treviño. Y nos la iban a dar. If we hadn’t split, we would have gotten La Lomita. But, anyway, when we got there, había un padre Oblato who had been the Chaplain at the Huntsville Prison. In fact, he’s the one who tried negotiating with Carrazco[3] en ese evento. He hated MAYO and everything we stood for. Part of it was based on that video. He saw us as a bunch of renegades, Comunistas and all that. And he thought they were all young kids. He didn’t know we had people with degrees. The Oblates kept resisting us y había un Oblate que era amigo de nosotros, Ballard, en Brownsville que trabajaba con el Obispo. Decía, “There’s some deep, deep hate and anger from within the Order, from the established leadership of the Order towards MAYO and towards Jacinto Treviño.”  We found out that somebody was feeding some information to them and to a Baptist minister who started putting ads about us in the paper, page-long ads calling us shit and a half. Yo y los demas, tracing us, that I had caused trouble in Del Rio and had come to the Valley…todo ese jale estaba saliendo de todos nosotros. A lot of it was lies, but you could tell there was some Intel support that church groups were getting, the Oblates tanto como el Baptist minister. As we established ourselves, y pues tenías un arquitecto, Juan, and I had a Bachelor’s, you know. I have been a teacher. We started trying to develop a curriculum. Our graduate, our Master’s, work was to develop an undergraduate curriculum for this Colegio. And we had professors from A&I. Estaba Emilio Zamora.[11] Venía a hablar con nosotros los weekends. Estaba Steinhauser. No me acuerdo cómo se llamaba. Steiner, an old Anglo, very radical Anglo professor, very nice guy.

Chuy:  I assume that after you acquired that building in Mercedes and recruited that initial group, that you really felt it was really going to go places.

Aurelio:  Oh, . Because, first of all, the combination of thinking we had. I mean, some of us never got along. I think Narciso and I never got along or agreed on anything. Pero tener los Cotera ahí, y Andre Guerrero y Carmen (Lomas) Garza. For example, Lupe Saavedra came to us. He was a Veteran. He came to us to the Colegio. We did not know where he had come from. He was older than we were. He was veterano de Viet Nam, I think, and he was a poet and he had all this poetry.

Chuy:  Well, he came with Narciso.

Aurelio:  I didn’t know that.

Chuy:  He would have been brought. I knew Saavedra. He spent some time with the Crusade for Justice in Denver.

AurelioSí, sí, había conectado. One of the reasons we never became a MAYO project was because they hated José Angel so much. It was a Corky González kind of contingent. And I don’t think Corky pushed it.

Chuy:  No.

Aurelio:  Eran los batos de aquí que lo pensaban. ‘Cause Narciso hated the Farmworkers and Cesar Chavez because he thought non-violence was stupid. He said it, you know. Hated José Angel Gutiérrez, hated MAYO and all that. We made connections, I don’t remember through whom, with a really interesting group, Los Mascarones. Remember, this is just a couple of years after Plaza Tlaltelolco[12] so there were some student groups that were doing guerrilla theater en los parques about La Matanza. Somehow, we connected with them and somebody gave us the resources and we ended up going to Mexico City. The plan that some of us had was to start… There was very little literature around that was useful, and we wanted to start a literature exchange with progressive literature from Mexico City, from las impresoras progresistas, ves. Y queríamos empezar an archival and library center at Jacinto Treviño for the stuff you couldn’t find anywhere else. And we also had decided we were going to do a fundraiser to kick it off, where we would take all of Lupe Saavedra’s poetry. We later found out it all wasn’t his either. Tenía un libro de mucho poetry y era bien dramatico y todo eso. Carmen Garza was going to do the art work for that book and we were going to sell it for one hundred dollars each and raise money. When we would go to Mexico City, nos quedabamos en las casas de Los Mascarones and we would go to all these radical things. It was very exciting. I went to five different publishing houses that I later found out were eminences. They were very progressive. Nos daban libros y todo eso. We did two trips to Mexico City and we were going to set up the clearinghouse. Carmen ya había hecho parte del arte. In fact, Semillas de Liberación was going to be the cover and the Coteras had the original print of the art Carmen had done. Our internal relationship was getting worse and worse and we were more and more separate. And I just hated it, hated it, porqué nos juntabamos y era gr-r-r-r. So, por fin, tuvimos una junta en una conferencia. We were all there for some Chicano conference in Austin. Some of us were staying in Andre’s apartment. We had a convening. We decided we were going to have revolving leadership because todo era ¿Quién es el chingón, Aurelio ó Narciso? So, we said, “Well, let’s have revolving leadership. Then soon after that we met with the Oblates y parecía que nos iban a dar el terreno. But when we got to the Valley, internally we were just so separate.

Chuy:  Could you point to what was divisive? What was the source of the division?

AurelioNo sé. Part of it was machismo. Part of it is personality and part of it is “I don’t know”. Different views of what power was.

Chuy:  But nothing substantial in terms of the organization?

Aurelio:  Well, some on my side said they couldn’t agree with the Marxism some were advocating. To me, the issues were always that no matter what theory you used, the rich in South Texas, the Gringos were controlling, and it was a power issue. I was very tenuous about using Marxist terms simply because te quemas tan fácil. And I knew that to use that terminology would burn you out with the chance to talk and plan.

 

 [1] The Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) was organized in the Spring of 1968 as state non-profit corporation and 501c-3 federally tax-exempt organization.  It would become an activist organization and would disband after pressure from San Antonio Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, and the missteps of some of its members.  Interviews of Mario Compean and Ignacio Perez (co-founders) and Alberto Luera (one time president).

[2] David Montejano

[3] Rene Trevino,  MAYO member from the Kingsville area.

[4] Jacinto Trevino became a mythical icon for the bravery showed against the Texas Rangers at the turn of the 20th Century by virtue of the corrido, and Dr. Americo Peredes book, With a Pistol in His Hand.

[5] See interview of Alfredo Santos and his article at www.IberoAztlan.com.

[6] A published journal of Colejio Jacinto Trevino.

[7] Adolfo Ramirez, originally from Weslaco, Texas.

[8] Carmen Lomas Garza, Texas A & I University graduate, artist and children’s books, presently living in San Francisco.

[9] The “Oblates,”  a Catholic order of priests.

[10] A Mexican American colonia adjacent to La Lomita complex.

[11] Dr.  Emilio Zamora, University of Texas, Austin, author.

[12] Central Plaza in Mexico City where student protestors were killed by police during 1968 Olympics.

Aurelio Montemayor

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