2018 Interview – Nacho Perez Part 2

Date of Interview: April 19, 2018
Interviewed By: Chuy Ramriez
Posted: September 7th, 2021

Nacho:  Stopped the train. Stopped the melons. Y se hizo un borlote. And a national organizing effort started. So, then comes the critical point which to this day I think was a mistake but, you know, I wasn’t in charge, I was twenty-one. So, the guys who were working in the fields, they wanted the extra fifty cents or at least something. That’s what they wanted.

Chuy:  That was their goal.

Nacho:  Yeah. And so, more and more people started showing up. Because of our efforts, they could sustain themselves because they could eat. We took chingos (tons, loads, a lot) de comida. The Bishop’s Committee for the Spanish-Speaking out of San Antonio, Erasmo Andrade, that’s him right there, ended up taking a lot of the loads of food to Starr County.  

Chuy:   For the strikers?

Nacho:  For the strikers, yeah. We found one of the supporters in the city, in the little town, had a teatro that was vacant.

Chuy:  You’re talking about a movie theatre.

Nacho:  Yeah, he told us, “Lo pueden usar, si quieren”. So that was our headquarters. That’s where I was. Before I knew it, I stayed. I was coordinating all the food distribution. Man, there was a ton of support. It was impressive. I remember that Houston came in with two big trucks. I said, “Wait a minute. Who the heck are you guys?” They said, “We’re here delivering. Where do you want it?” I said, “I don’t know who you are.” I was very protective. They were the Diaz brothers, Mael and those other guys.  It was great. So, Ismael Diaz and I were the caretakers for the warehouse. So, that’s what I did for the summer.

Chuy:  How long were you physically there in Starr County?

Nacho:  Summer. June to August or September. Something like that because I ended up at St. Mary’s in September.

Chuy:  Okay. You came to school?

Nacho:  Yeah. St. Mary’s University where… I met Jose Angel Gutierrez on the march in Starr County because the march went through the Valley and then up to…what’s the name of that road that goes by Kingsville?

Chuy:  Seventy-seven? Forty-four to Kingsville.

Nacho:  It wasn’t the main one. The A & I people had to come to the highway. It wasn’t the real close one.

Chuy:  Right.

Nacho:  So that’s where I met Jose Angel Gutierrez, on the highway.

Chuy:  Those guys…Jose Angel was still at A & I?

Nacho:  They had a PASSO (Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations)

Chuy:  At A& I?

Nacho:  Yeah. I think it was a PASSO group.

Chuy:  So, you’re physically in the march coming up from the Valley?

Nacho:  Not the whole way through.

Chuy:  Okay, so you met them somewhere.

Nacho:  I would come and go back to Rio Grande City and then, as they got closer, I moved back to San Antonio.

Chuy:  I see. Okay. So how long did the march take? Do you recall?

Nacho:  Thirty days. Less than that.

Chuy:  I remember going to the Church in San Juan there which is now the Basilica.

Nacho:  Yeah, that was almost like the kick-off. Because I went from Starr County to Mission or McAllen or somewhere.

Chuy:  San Juan is probably what it was. So, you go back and meet Jose Angel on the march.

Nacho:  Yeah, and then, by that time, I had good contacts with the San Antonio people and I went back to St. Mary’s and I met Jose Wille Velasquez. 

Chuy:   Was Willie in school too?

Nacho:  Yeah. Willie Velasquez, Jose Angel Gutierrez and Juan Patlan and Mario Compean. 

Chuy:  That’s where you guys met?

Nacho:  Yeah, that’s where we met, at St. Mary’s.

Chuy:  Now, what gave rise to this idea, at that point, of a formal structure called the Mexican-American Youth Organization?

Nacho:  Well, we knew that we needed to continue. We needed to mobilize more effort.

Chuy:  But not as farmworkers? 

Nacho:  No. We were city kids. Well, mostly. Juan was from Carrizo (Springs), Angel was from Crystal (City).

Chuy:  And you and Willie were San Antonio folks.

Nacho:  And Willie tambien. 

Chuy:  Yeah, and Willie. So, what were your thoughts when you were thinking about MAYO?

Nacho:  We already knew who the other groups were. You know, the labor unions, LULAC, the GI Forum. Those were established groups. Not to use the “v” word.  “No, ‘ombre. No se mueven. No’mas estan como el azadón, No’mas pa’ aca.” Anyway, there wasn’t a fit for us. They wanted to take it slowly: “Here’s a lawyer. Get the lawyer involved. We’ll have a lawsuit; we’ll hold press conferences ¿y que?… I’ll make a speech.”We felt, “Jijo, there’s something missing here.”

Chuy:  So, the tactics were not something that you were comfortable with.

Nacho:  No, it didn’t seem that they were trying to organize or mobilize or continue some sort of movement and that’s what we wanted to do. Don’t forget, man, this was the mid-60s. Watts had burned. There was all kinds of stuff going on. The African Americans were all over the country. It was hard to avoid knowing what’s going on.

Chuy:  Okay, so you’re pointing to external events. You seem to be saying, “There’s other stuff happening. The world is moving quickly, and things are kind of too slow for us as young people.”

Nacho:  As Texans. In Texas, man. It wasn’t California. It wasn’t New York. We were like isolated. I mean, los gabachos really controlled Texas, man. Look at John Connally and Lyndon Johnson.

Chuy:  They still do, even more so.

Nacho:  I guess so. We lost that fight.

Chuy:  Yeah. But what did you think? When you organized MAYO at St. Mary’s, was it supposed to be an organization of massive membership like LULAC and the GI Forum or what was its core interest?

Nacho:  The official conversations were about, “What do we do to keep this movement or to create a movement? How do we get more young people involved? What comes out of this? We’re not farmworkers. We’re over here. The issues are at City Hall, the issues are at the counties, the issues are at the universities.”  We could see what other college kids were doing across the country. So, there we are at St. Mary’s University. It wasn’t a hot bed of radicalism. It was a Catholic school. But, everybody’s there. Everybody knew the Bishop’s Committee for Spanish Speaking was Catholic. So, there was a lot of sympathy. A lot of the priests, you know, Sherill Smith, Bob Killian, all those priests were involved. Henry Casso was a priest. All those priests were involved with what we were doing with the farmworkers. But that was the farmworkers. What were we doing in the cities? We had the Cursillista people. They weren’t particularly interested in doing other kinds of stuff.  “So, what can we do?” “Well, we need economic development. We need voter mobilization.” We needed all this other stuff, it was very true. We had no clue. We weren’t wealthy. We didn’t have the power. But, we could mobilize issues and get people to pay attention to them. 

Chuy:  Now, Willie, as I recall, as I believe, Willie had some experience himself already, in politics. That would have been with whom, with Henry B? Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez.

Nacho:  Yeah, with Henry B. I believe Henry B. wanted to groom Willie Velasquez as his eventual heir, political heir. ‘Cause Willie was a very smart guy so he could articulate the message. You know, he came from the West Side, working class family, the whole thing. So, it would work, and he liked it.

Chuy:  He liked the environment.

Nacho:  He liked the environment. He was already involved in whatever groups were at St. Mary’s. I forget the names of the groups, the student groups that were active. They were like Democratic Fronts.

Chuy:  Yeah, Young Democrats.

Nacho:  Yeah, that kind of stuff. So, he wasn’t the perfect fit. But what we were doing was kind of sexy for a young guy. You’re out there mobilizing, doing stuff, picketing. Before you know it, he and I are heading up the boycott efforts for the farmworkers in San Antonio. 

Chuy:  Now, what did those boycott efforts consist of?

Nacho:  Well, we didn’t do what we were asked to do: set up an office, sit at the office, go leave leaflets, get people organized. Man, that’s strictly California farmworker and it works. But, I think that maybe we were looking for something more. I think especially Willie, we were looking for something to come out of this. The guys from LULAC would talk to us, the guys from the GI Forum would talk to us, you know. The politicians, the mexicano lawyer guys would talk to us. But, it wasn’t very attractive. We were asking: “How do we get the neighborhoods working? What do we do to attract more attention to where raza was at that time and move it forward?”

Chuy:  Do you sense that the farmworkers’ movement or the farmworkers organizing as a union, had to have a strategy and their tactics had to work within that strategy. 

Nacho:  Yeah. 

Chuy:  And what they needed from volunteers was for the volunteers to work within those tactics. They were not in the business of sprouting and spawning new movements. 

Nacho:  No.

Chuy:  That wasn’t what their job was. They were laser-focused on creating a union.

Nacho:  That’s right.

Chuy:   And here you have all these young people who all of a sudden have a taste of what it is to organize and are getting these ideas, maybe, just maybe, we can do something in our community. Maybe we can develop some skills to organize something along those lines. Does that make sense?

Nacho:  No, I think that’s just about it.

Chuy:  Okay. Now, I hear about MAYO, oh, ’67 or ’68. I don’t know if it was in the summer or spring of ’68. I think it was the spring of ’68 and I was a junior in high school. That’s when I first may have heard about MAYO. 

Nacho:  How did you hear about it. Do you remember?

Chuy:  Yeah, well, I hear about it because I pick up this guy who’s hitching a ride. 

Nacho:  Sounds like us.

Chuy:  In San Juan, this guy, it’s in either spring or summer because the guy was entirely Inappropriately dressed. 

Nacho:  ¿Traía chaleco?

Chuy:  No, he was wearing a Viet Nam…

Nacho:  Jacket?

Chuy:  …jacket. And he had a …

Nacho:  Peace button?

Chuy:  No…

Nacho:  A cane?

Chuy:  A cane and he’s hitching a ride. I said, “Who is this mf?”

Nacho:  Don’t tell me it was Profe?

Chuy:  No, it wasn’t Profe.  I’d met Profe. It was Salazar from Kingsville.

Nacho:  Oh, my God. Not Efrain, el hermano de Efrain?

Chuy:  No, primo or relative.

Nacho:  Un medio güero. 

Chuy:  Un güero, güero. And I think he’s still down there. Anyway, I picked him up. Frank. Frank Salazar. I picked him up and I said, “Are you a veteran or what?”

He said, “No.”

I said, “Why are you wearing that thing?”

“Well, he says, “I like it.”

“Well, where can I drop you off?”

“Drop me off at this hotel in Pharr.” And it was a strip joint. Real crappy, next to a bar where all the whores rented. So, I said, “What are you doing here, man?”

“I am working as a volunteer with VISTA.”

“VISTA? What is that?”

“Volunteers in Service to America.”

“What?”

“As a matter of fact, we’re down here doing a training. He says, “We’re having a meeting. We’re organizing the Mexican Americans.”

Chuy: “A la … you’re doing what?”

Nacho:  That’s the way you got into this thing?

Chuy:  Yeah, and so, I come from a family where my father was always, from when we were young, always, always, you know, we had these long sessions about the power structure and the need for unions.

Nacho:  Really?

Chuy:  Oh, yeah. And my dad was very strong pro-union en Mexico. 

Nacho:  Oh, I didn’t know that.

Chuy. In any case, he invites me to this shabby room and I go in there. Efrain Fernandez is there, I think.  could be wrong.  It was a group from Kingsville. Puros malcontents, pachucos y la….

Nacho:  And some of those guys were bad.

Chuy:  That’s where I said, “Wow, that is absolutely interesting.” Then he says, “We’re organizing MAYO.” And within a matter of a few months, I got absorbed with the idea.

Nacho:  I didn’t know who did that. It was Efrain and his hermano, el hermano de el.

Chuy:  I don’t know his brother. I don’t think I ever met his brother.

Nacho:  Yes, his brother was güero but the guys around him, those were tough guys.

Chuy:  Yeah, they were tough guys. Those guys actually went to the Valley later on and needless to say, they did and said some things down here…

Nacho:  When Del Rio happened, me llamaron esos batos, “Oye, ¿llevamos armas?” I said, “Oh, my God. No! No! No armas.”

Chuy:  But that’s the way that we started out en el Valle. And again, the same thing that you’re saying is I think that we had already seen things around us and realizing that there were other people who were thinking the same thing that we were.

Nacho:  It’s impressive, man. ‘Cause out of Crystal City, when Severita Lara and her eventual husband started doing their thing, it just grew real quick. And that’s where Angel came from and Juan Perlan in Carrizo Springs. David Ojeda and all those guys. Guys from Cotulla. So, I think, and this is my side view. But, I think that Ho Shi Minh was correct, “Control the countryside and the city will fall.” And you probably remember, the big ideological discussion was, “No, ¿pos por qué estamos allá en Crystal y Carrizo? We should be organizing, start the party in San Antonio. No, no, no. If you control the courthouse, you have jobs. If you control City Hall, the gringos have to come to you because they pay the taxes. So, that was the discussion. And I think Angel was correct in that assessment.

Chuy:  You know in ’69, no, in ’68, in San Juan, there was  a city election. And back then it was two council members and a mayor. I think the mayor was an Anglo and two mexicanos were council members. It was the same group, though, maybe two Anglos and one mexicano. And so, there was an effort to unseat them. I was involved but it wasn’t an organized youth thing. I was involved peripherally and that was right before MAYO. And I was unimpressed with their strategy. They had no voter registration effort. They did not even have the voter registration lists.

Nacho:  You were thinking like that?

Chuy:  Yeah, yeah.

Nacho:  That’s very good.

Chuy:  Yeah, and so, by the following year, I graduated high school in ’69. What happened over there is that we organized Raza Unida Party in 1970. And the people over in Crystal were organizing the Winter Garden Raza Unida Party. But, if you recall, they didn’t make it to the ballot because the Texas Supreme Court kicked them out. [1] We made it to the ballot in Hidalgo County because of Federal Judge Garza.

Nacho:  Oh, I didn’t know that.

Chuy:  Yes. And this is what I’m telling you about Edcouch-Elsa, okay? David Hall is our party attorney. And we go out and collect signatures. This is 1969, ’70. Collect the signatures and so, by 1970, we have the necessary signatures. 

Nacho:  Get on the ballot.

Chuy:  Right. We’re doing this on our own. We don’t have money. We don’t have the Union. We’re doing this on our own. And Alex Moreno is our sole candidate. David Hall files a law suit. Crystal loses in the Supreme Court. David Hall files a lawsuit in federal court in Brownsville. And the County judge, Judge Richardson, who was in an election at the time, for County Judge or something, on his own, he could have pulled that thing from under us like they did over at Crystal. Judge Garza, in chamber, with David Hall in chambers, calls the County Judge and ballot. Can you tell me that you’re going to leave them on the ballot?” And the guy says, “Yes, you’re going on the ballot.” 

Nacho:  Garza? 

Chuy:  Federal Judge Garza.

Nacho:  That’s power, bro. That’s why you love these judges.

Chuy:  We’re watching all this stuff. Nosotros. How that works. And we’re saying, “Well, sh—, man.  “¿Pa’que quieres andar protesting? Ahí está el poder. So, we run Alex Moreno and the party is on the ballot. This is 1970, before Raza Unida Party is anywhere, it’s in Hidalgo County. Right? And we start organizing in San Juan to take over the whole place. In summer of ’69 or the fall, I go to St. Mary’s University. I had read somewhere that Jose Angel had written for his master’s thesis. He had written a paper on the empirical conditions that are ready for change, right? I said, “Well, I’ve got to read it. What is he talking about?” So, I go to St. Mary’s and I read his master’s thesis. Not very impressive writing but the underlying thesis is very impressive, right? “You can count. You’ve got the majority. Power is yours.” Basically, Jose Angel always understood power. He may not have known all the right ways to get there, but he understood that power was important. And so, reading that thesis, I said, “Well, that’s what we’re talking about you know.”  What are the numbers and so forth. That’s how the San Juan experience came to be. Now, let me go back to your story which is what we’re here for. VISTA. I have a theory. That without VISTA we may not have had the change that occurred within the time that it occurred. That it would have taken longer. That’s my theory. VISTA did two things. VISTA hired a whole bunch of people who already had an inkling of organizing in these communities. They had it in mind. 

Nacho:  That’s the idea.

Chuy:  And they knew that there had to be some training and a sense of structure. And according to him…

Nacho:  Who? Angel?

Chuy:  No, Gil Murillo.

Ignacio Perez

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