Interview – Nacho Perez Part 3

Date of Interview: April 19, 2018
Interviewed By: Chuy Ramriez
Posted: September 8th, 2021

Chuy:   Gil Murillo tells me that at the time he was a social worker in San Antonio. He is a liberal social worker and that Gonzalo Barrientos in Austin is working with the OEO, that’s where all these guys come from, from the Johnson Great Society Programs and that some Democratic firm has a huge contract to do some social work in all of these Democratic-leaning counties, you know, in South Texas, San Antonio, El Paso, Laredo. And there’s some discretionary money and that Gonzalo suggests that they put together a special locally- designed program. And they come up with the Minority Mobilization Program, the VISTA Minority Mobilization Program, different and apart from the Peace Corps mentality, right? They put this together and to their surprise, it gets funded.

Nacho:  I remember hearing, “Man, we gotta spend this money.” I remember hearing that.

Chuy:  Yeah. And so, there is this firm, it’s a private firm, through which this money is being challenged. (channeled?) A private consulting firm, like the IRA’s and all those people. And so, they hire him as the executive director. He doesn’t know sh–  from shinola. But he knows some of these guys who are already organizing, Mario Compean, people like that. And so, he starts recruiting those people because they are a perfect fit in those neighborhoods. And I explored with him at length, what turned him into an activist, being a social worker.

Nacho:  Who?

Chuy:  Gil Murillo. And he said he had been frustrated by working in the prisons and realizing that the people who were there were victims of structural issues in society.

Nacho:  Sounds like Gil.

Chuy:  Yeah. So, anyway, in his mind, he wants to recruit people who are a natural fit in the barrio and organize and empower folks. And he’s a Catholic, he’s a Jesuit and so, he meets people like Genaro. And Genaro already has a structure.

Nacho:  Damn right.

Chuy:  And you know Genaro from your own background. And so, that is how they start this VISTA MM program. Right? He says immediately he lost control of it. He did not have enough money. They wouldn’t pay him. The money had to come through this corporation. There were all kinds of issues and challenges and so forth. And so, on the eve of the Del Rio march, he quits, he resigns. And as you know, the Del Rio march was the result of the abolishment of the VISTA program in that county. With Hershey Montemayor.

Nacho:  Hershey.

Chuy:  But by that time, VISTA has been in South Texas, Laredo. They’ve been up in Uvalde, El Paso, San Antonio.

Nacho:  That was the plan, man. That was the plan.

Chuy:  It’s a network. It is out of control.

Nacho:  Pinches subversives, bato. Chin…

Chuy:  Well, yeah, exactly, but the point I’m trying to make, that’s why I wanted to ask you. Were you ever in VISTA?

Nacho:  Yeah.

Chuy:  Okay. How were you in VISTA? What were you doing?

Nacho:  VISTA Mobilization Project, Gonzalo Barrientos, the whole thing. Mario and I. Mario Compean and I.

Chuy:  Okay. And what was your function with the VISTA?

Nacho:  Well, there were very few people who actually followed the VISTA model.

Chuy:  Right.

Nacho:  If (that?) I’m aware. So, you can’t call it a real VISTA program. So, I’m kind of reluctant to go into that. But, essentially, we were able to support our efforts through this funding source which we thought was what it was for.

Chuy:  Well, let me put it to you this way. See if we can describe it in a way that is both palatable for historical purposes and not a felony.

Nacho:  That’s right.

Chuy:  But the VISTA program was…the objective was to empower and create local leadership, right? In the neighborhoods. That was it, right?

Nacho:  Yep.

Chuy:  I think the only thing that happened was that when you empower the leadership in the traditional Peace Corp way, you are creating a…this very silent group of people who live… that their lives asking for help and improving their lives a step a time and it’s a very long process. And all these young folks are saying, “That’s not what we’re interested in. We’re not interested in following the traditional way. It’s going to take decades and decades. We want action now.” Right?

Nacho:  No, that’s exactly right.

Chuy:  And all of you folks who are VISTA volunteers and by the way, you’re almost volunteers. You’re getting paid maybe thirty dollars a week or whatever it was. Basically, only enough to pay your gas.

Nacho:  Thirty dollars or something like that. Man, it was great.

Chuy:  But that was something that most other people didn’t have.

Nacho:  Yeah.

Chuy:  But, more importantly, the ability to move from place to place and the connections that were being made. Right? In other words, that’s how fire begin in 1966 and all of a sudden by 1968 there’s fires all over the place.

Nacho:  That’s right. I think that’s a good way of putting it because who knows what would have happened if we would not have been able to give Efrain Fernandez or the guys in Uvalde or the guys in Del Rio, some sort of stipend? What if we couldn’t come up with cash to pay the gas, for groceries for the family, the kid needs shoes, the whole thing. Unless you’re able to do that, you don’t have a real movement.

Chuy:  Exactly. And I think earlier what you were telling me about you serving in the warehousing for the UFOC in Starr County. Those strikers needed to have that support.

Nacho:  They needed to have something organized. They were organizing in the field for their fifty cents per bushel, whatever it was. But they needed support of their effort, of their organizing effort. Otherwise, I don’t know what could’ve happened. You know, somebody had to say, “How can I help?”  “You know, go help me at the warehouse. Or go wherever you’re from, pick up a load of food, cans and stuff. Bring it over and we’ll see that it gets to these families.”

Chuy:  Let me ask you this. At some point, did you ever consider, enter your mind, that what the farmworkers were doing in Starr County and later in South Texas was something that was a very long path to change? It would be a very long path to change.

Nacho:  Yeah. As far as farmworkers were concerned, yeah. It’s agribusiness. That’s when I finally understood the term. It started to seep down.(?) These are big enterprises. This is big money. The Anglos didn’t get there by chance. They worked it the whole century before that. It was their model, so it doesn’t just  fall apart. If you threaten it like in California, it took years for Dolores and Cesar to be successful.

Chuy:  Yeah. One of the things that we’ve discussed with some other folks about the farmworkers’ movement, and the whole labor movement as it relates to farmworkers is that if the workers, the laborers are doing this kind of labor, if the odds are that their children can be educated faster than the results will come from the Union effort, they will opt for educating their children and leaving the movement. In other words, the expectations are such that they are so far down the line of success, of financial success, that it’s very disconcerting to keep that movement actively involved, people actively involved in the movement. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Traditionally in South Texas where I come from, the success of agriculture, of agribusiness was based on an abundant labor market that would work for whatever was paid them. That was who we were. I grew up in that world as a child with my mother, picking. And so, we never asked what the pay was. We just worked, and they paid us what they paid us. And that was it. There was no one who would change that for us. Who would change that? Who do you go to change that? You’re powerless, right? And so, the advice of our parents always was, “There is only one way out of this thing.”  And it certainly was never the Union. It was never organizing unions. It was always, “Get yourself an education.” And that was it. In other words, the fastest way out of that environment was, “Get yourself an education.” And what was very common in the old day, “At least you’ll work in the shade.” The work may be tough but you work in the shade, right. So, the expectation of my parents’ generation was, “It’s too late for us. Because it’s like hell. This is hell. It doesn’t change but you guys can jump out of hell through an education.” Right? So, when you have that kind of mentality, it is very difficult to organize people.

Nacho:  It is extremely hard because if you threaten that model,

“Okay. Walk out of school.”

A la madre”

“Join the picket line.”

A la chingada.”

Look at the guys in Austin. Austin is a great example. All over the place there are excellent people working their ass off, right? MAYO can’t be everywhere in all places nor do you want it to be. You can’t because you can’t do it. So, there’s gotta be some sort of success. You know, I think that if Angel and you guys would have said, “Three counties, in Winter Garden, Hidalgo County, if you can organize several counties and have judgeships, control, all that stuff, eventually the LULACs, the PASSOs and the GI Forums would not have sway. They would have sway, but it would be a different model that could replace the traditional social service, civic-minded get-along together. Don’t get me wrong. Where would we be without the LULACs in the 1920s, 1930s and the GI Forums in the 1940s? So, you can’t discount them. I just saying about the 60s and the 70s.

Chuy:  Well, the 60s and 70s, I don’t know if you agree with this or not. In retrospect, also, you finally have enough educated Chicanos so that if you’re an activist, you don’t have to be the only one, you can actually hide among a bunch of them, right? It’s a lot easier to be an active when there’s plenty of us than to be the only one. And if you’re organizing back in the 40s and the 50s, things were a lot tougher for that generation than for us.

Nacho:  That’s true because very few people got out of high school. Even fewer got out of college or even got in college.

Chuy:  Yeah. But now, in the mid-1960’s and the late 60s, guess what? There’s numbers that are coming out of college.

Nacho:  Population was actually growing. Don’t forget that it was static. Do you remember that it was kind of a static population?

Chuy:  But after the war (WWII), what’s happening is the war baby generation (post-war, the Baby Boomers,1945 to 1964) was the first generation of Chicanos that actually went to school in real numbers.

Nacho:  I agree with you.

Chuy:  And I am talking about high school because before that, it was only up to the 6th grade. Texas public schools, Chicanos did not go to school beyond the 6th grade, right? So, what is happening in the 60s now, is very interesting because all of a sudden, at least for us in South Texas, here we are graduating from high school and we are being told, graduating from high school, that we’re going to work in the fields. A la chingada.

Chuy:  They’ve got the VA.

Nacho:  That’s all. In my neighborhood, Nogalito Street, Zarzamora Street, that’s all GI Bill people, lots of them. So, it changed. The guys who came back, that went to war and stuff, their expectations are different. They can hold a job. They can read specs and do stuff, build the planes or whatever they do.

Chuy:  All of a sudden, they feel equal and they feel like they’ve paid their dues.

Nacho:  That’s why the GI Forum helped change that.

Chuy:  Right. Absolutely.

Nacho:  They helped that movement. So, when Viet Nam came, all the guys I knew in the GI Forum, I worked for the GI Forum, one of the groups, were all Nam guys. They understood organization, they understood 8 to 5 and they understood, “This is the mission. You accomplish it.” All that stuff translates to the high schools and keeps you in school. So, MAYO in the 60s, 70s, all that is expectations are bigger. African Americans doing stuff, Anglo kids are challenging the Establishment, you know. Why are not better represented? Why aren’t our representatives not doing more for us? So, our expectations get higher. So, you say, “You know what? The gabachos are still controlling. We are the majority and why aren’t we in charge? Why aren’t we more progressive?” So, I think that’s they way we looked at it. That’s the way Willy, and Mario and myself looked at it, joined by Juan…

Chuy:  Paltran?

Nacho: … and Angel. Urban guys versus these guys. Those guys, Angel and them, they could actually see what being a county judge means and being  county assessor means. You can hire your friends. They understood the mechanism.

Chuy:  Right.

Nacho:  And the urban guys kind of diffused and spread out.

Chuy:  Right. Yeah, it’s more complex than the urban jungle. The San Antonio urban jungle, what Mario did in ’68 or ’69? What Mario did in running for mayor was basically challenging, not only the power structure, but challenging all Chicanos and telling them, “I’m showing you the way. Wake up.” That’s what he was doing. Now people begin to believe only when they see the results. In fact, that’s why it’s important. I asked about which precincts he won. He’s got those precincts in his mind. He knew exactly what they were, and he knew what he could have done if he’d had more money, more time and more organization. And that’s what we had in San Juan when we ran in San Juan. We knew where we had to win, we knew who the voters were, right? And once we did that, once we showed everyone, “This is how you do it.” Before you knew it…You go to South Texas right now, anywhere in South Texas, and find me, except for McAllen, find me a School Board, City Council or county that does not have 100% Chicanos. And it hasn’t been that many years ago that people would not have imagined that. San Antonio, who would’ve imagined what has happened in San Antonio today? And as a matter of fact, you go to some places throughout this country and they still can’t imagine that change. Now, one of the things that happened in the 60s I think, when I asked you your thoughts about that…We perceive power. We perceive power as vertical. The gringos are in control and they allow us to have a few Chicanos within the structure and those are the intercessionists. They are like Catholic priests. We go to them.

Nacho:  GGL

Chuy:  Yeah. We gotta go to them. But, also the Chicanos, we have the same structure. We gotta go to the patrones and we gotta ask them. MAYO, is all of a sudden  looking at this thing horizontally and basically saying, “We’re starting a new structure.”

Nacho:  It was grassroots stuff.

Chuy:    Grassroots, horizontal. For the first few years, I know with Raza Unida, for the first few years, I think, the old politicians and so forth would laugh at us or make fun or criticize. But that stopped. And it stopped because as politicians they understood…

Nacho:  Numbers.

Chuy:  Yeah, the numbers. And I think that MAYO, you know, Nacho, I think that MAYO from its beginning, from what you guys began, always had that in mind. That it was going to be, it was not going to be a traditional organization that dealt  through the existing structures. It was going to create structures to replace them. Right?

Nacho:  Ah, well, I always thought of MAYO as a Movimiento thing. It’s a movement.  You move forward. You have to challenge the structure. And in doing that, you have to, eventually offer alternatives. That’s the hard part.

Chuy:  Um-hmm.

Nacho:  It’s not the easy part. Especially in the urban areas. In the smaller towns you can actually, by sheer numbers, just take over. And hopefully, the Movimiento creed, the ideology, as it existed, mediocre as it may have been, would lead to good results…more inclusive types of governments. If you can do that, then I think we created a part of what our vision was.

Chuy:   What if we failed?

Nacho:  Well, I’m not sure. But I think the other part was you have to deliver another stuff (option?). Therefore, we created the Mexican American United Council. We tried to do other stuff in San Antonio. That was successful. Even though the power structure was against us. We had enough support among the attorneys, the unions, the Church. ‘Cause the Church had organized on its own in San Antonio, the Six Parish Coalition, before the, what do you call them?

Chuy:  CALPS. (note: is this correct?)

Nacho:  CALPS, before the CALPS, we had our own thing going. All that created a synergy where you could actually try to create your own business and not only that, to fund people that wanted to do (start?) their business. If we had stuck to that model, I think we would have been more successful, through MAUC.

Chuy:  Interesting.

Nacho:  Because Bed Styes(?) did it in the Northeast. Bedford Styverson, you know.

Chuy:  Um-hmm.

Nacho:  The California guys, Telacu and the guys in Oakland. California is a different animal and there’s a lot more money.

Chuy:  Really?

Nacho:  In California.

Chuy:  Among Chicanos?

Nacho:  No, in general. In the economy. There are big corporations in LA. In San Antonio, who you’re going to go to, you know, Walter McAllister? Big banks that’s it.

Chuy:  Well, you know about community investment, is that what you’re talking about?

Nacho:  Yeah, you’re talking about how you invest, how you’re going to reap rewards, where is the benefit to the families, to the structure you’re building that can generate more. If we would have stuck more to that, I think we would have been more successful.

Chuy:  Interesting.

Nacho:  “Cause MAUC was able to fund several businesses. One business, man, to this day, you have no idea. A guy came to us, to Juan Perlan’s office. He said, “Nacho, come on over, this guy wants to talk to us.”

“What’s he do?”

He says, “He’s got a basketball team. They’re in Dallas and they want to play in San Antonio.”

I said, “Oh, great. I was an All-Star basketball player in high school. Well, how is this a Chicano thing? How is this a grassroots from art? (note: is this correct?) To thisday, the name of that team is called Centralia Spurs. The guy came to Dallas with something called The Chaparrals.

He said, “I need 20 thousand.”

And we had cash. We had a hundred thousand dollars cash that we, Juan Perlan and myself and a couple of guys could decide what to do. Ford Foundation and the powers that be, they wanted to replicate stuff like Beth Stein around the country.

Chuy:  Right. So, who was the guy that came to you?

Nacho:  I can’t think of the guy’s name.

Chuy:   Was he a mexicano?

Nacho:  No, no, a gabacho. He said, “I’ve got this group. I’m looking for investors and I understand you’re an investment group.”

Chuy:  You could have invested in that effort.

Nacho:  We did. We started a McDonald’s, upholstery. We started several small businesses. But, pinche Juan, he let me decide. It was one of the worst  decisions. Have a front seat for the Spurs forever. It would have been great. He just needed a little extra cash to put the team together.

Chuy:  I take it he finally got it.

Nacho:  He got it. I don’t know where it came from. They did it.

Chuy:  Twenty thousand dollars back then was a chunk of change.

Nacho:  Yeah, a lot of cash. And who’s got cash. We had cash. So, don’t repeat that take it out of this.

Chuy:  I won’t. I will, I will. Listen, let’s follow up on this.

Nacho: What? We need to talk more about MAYO, don’t you think?

Chuy:  Yeah, we want to. I’ve been talking a lot and I need to stop.

Ignacio Perez

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