2018 Interview – Nacho Perez Part 3

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

Chuy: Today is the second interview of Nacho Perez in San Antonio. Nacho, earlier today we attended a meeting of a group that is organizing the 50th  Year Anniversary of the U. S. Civil Rights hearings in San Antonio in–I believe that was–November of 1968?

Nacho:  Yeah.

Chuy:  Which I thought was an interesting project. Generally, what do you think is the purpose of that conference that you are holding in November of 2018?

Nacho:  Yeah, in November of this year in San Antonio it will be at the location of the November ’68 hearings, and the purpose is to revisit the same topics and add a couple more. So, for these fifty years and this particular anniversary, we added immigration and voting rights to topics that were not considered in 1968. So, the Civil Rights Commission and an official of the U. S. Civil Rights Commission, are also, on board for these fifty years.

Chuy:  I see.

Nacho:  And, we’re looking forward to it. As I understand it, they’re trying to find a way to actually to visit here, their top staff and Chairman of the Commission. Mr. Avena, Richard Avena, is trying to get them to come and actually hold a hearing at the time or some sort of official function. So, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s called “Revisiting the Civil Rights Commission of 1968: Holding Up the Mirror, Where Are We Now?”

Chuy:  “Holding Up the Mirror.” I saw that as a subtext of the conference. You know, I pulled out the Commission’s 1968 report. Actually, I shouldn’t say the report. I pulled out the testimony from the hearings because I was particularly interested in what some of the testimony focused on and to the extent that it focused on some of the issues that we were engaged in back in the 60s. And let me tell you, if you haven’t look at it…I don’t know if you’ve ever looked at it or not.

Nacho:  It’s been years and I looked at it briefly.

Chuy:  Okay. Well, let me tell you in terms of looking back or holding up the mirror, what was evident to me of some of the testimony. And at the risk of sounding overly cynical by that, and I’m speaking from someone who was intimately involved in that period of time as a very young person and fifty years later, reflecting generally, on who we were as Chicanos back in that period of time. I looked at the testimony of four or five people and what struck me was how much our powerlessness comes through in the testimony. And of course, I’m speaking as an attorney now and I do inquiries and I do depositions and I do trials and I take witnesses and try to show stories through testimony. And I got the impression–and I think any reasonable person would get the impression–that the folks who were testifying, well, the four or five folks who were brought in to testify whose testimony I reviewed were not prepared by anyone in any sense of the word, to provide some coherent, cogent discourse on our condition. But it was rather, it appears to me, putting somebody to fill in, finding somebody to say something. The inquiries that were made by the Commissioners were often condescending, least the ones that I saw. But, generally, I got the sense that, boy, we were so powerless back then. And we were almost, it kind of felt to me like we were going to the Temple and we were basically showing the powers that be, “Look at us. We are so poor, and we are so powerless. Ten piedad de nosotros. It bothered me. I haven’t said this to anyone before. And so, in retrospect, if it’s a looking back and holding up the mirror, my sense is that in those fifty years, Chicanos have made massive strides. So massive that oftentimes, I believe, that we don’t have a sense of our power and don’t even use our power. And, I would hope that this is something that will come out in the conference. That, you know, powerlessness to power: do we even know what we have? Do we even know we have it and do we know how to use it?

Nacho:  I think that’s a good observation, excellent observation and what I would suggest is that you write letter to self. “Here’s my impression right now of having attended the meeting in preparation for this year’s coming 50th Anniversary”. And if I understand correctly, you have, I think, in many ways, correctly suggested that we do have our hands on some levers of power. That we do actually, participate now where there wasn’t any participation in the past. On that regard, I absolutely agree. And that we’re actually going to do this again is testament to that. We actually have more people, more resource people, that I think all of us would be impressed, I hope, with the level of professionalism and the level of response to inquiries regarding those topics plus the topics of immigration and voting rights.

Chuy:  You know that you are absolutely on point. I think we are to a large extent agreeing. And I think the mere suggestion that Chicanos hold this session, and I could care less whether the Civil Rights Commission is here or not, more importantly for me is that that comparison take place. And this is what I mean by “that comparison”. You know, Rosie Castro, who in the 1960s and I guess, early 70s, when she was running for City Council in San Antonio along with the likes of Mario Compean, in that period of time they were viewed by many of the politicos and the community as essentially Don Quijotes, misguided children: “What do they think they’re doing?” “Where are they headed.” And if you move forward fifty years later, and that same Rosie Castro can show you what it takes to organize and use the electoral process to get folks elected in San Antonio. She can do that only because of all the intervening things that took place; the fights, the battles, all the blood shedding that took place for fifty years to get there. And, I would hope that the session, to the extent that it’s possible, that we get to show that. That it wasn’t always this way and we still have a long way to go, whereas a lot of people think that we are already there.

Nacho:  I think that distinction needs to be made. And I think that, I’m hoping that the professionals that have volunteered and are being asked by our committee to provide the information and the papers, the professionals look at these topics, provide that perspective. I think it’s important, you know, and as an observer now, I get the impression that we are not there. That there’s more to do, maybe in different ways. Now there are Chicanos, Mexican Americans in all levels of government, in very high levels of government and do participate and do take part in discussions. But, where is that translated into actual power on the national and international level?

Chuy:  Yeah, you know I think that we call it complacency and I think that those of us who have been involved over the years, we’ve gotten a little fat. We’ve gotten a little fat and lazy and complacent. I’ll admit that on my part. And I think that as a result of that, there is a general perception from some of the later generations that things are cool, things are fine. I think that on any given day, a lot of this can change. It’s all political and as a matter of fact, I think to a large extent in the last two years, given what’s happening at the national level that there has to be a serious reconsideration among all generations of Chicanos. Are we doing enough now to protect ourselves from the future?

Nacho:  I think that’s a good point and maybe that’s one of the outcomes or one of the objectives that we should have for ourselves out of this thing in November. I think so because if we don’t look at it, then it will just be another academic exercise. We didn’t look at it that way back then and we can’t afford to look at it that way now.

Chuy:  Yeah, and so, there can be a brief discussion, nothing that’s too forceful. But I think that one of the…and I have no business offering this, but from my end I think that there might be some value in the discussions. Does it make sense to come up, maybe, with a set of suggestions or recommendations at the end of this conference? Is there a message that has to come out, that has to resolve from this conference, a message to the public, to the Chicano community? You know?

Nacho:  That’s key. I think the closer we get to this thing, the more scared I get. What message is going to go out, you know?  Who’s going to deliver the message?

Chuy:  Who’s the appropriate person? Is this the appropriate venue and body that has legitimacy enough to send a message? Yes or no. If so, to what extent is this body legitimate and what message should be sent? You know? So that it doesn’t lose its value.

Nacho:  I think you have to say “yes”. Otherwise, it’s futility. So look at who we’re trying to get. We’re trying to get the first U. S. Senator, Latina, in the country ever, as I recall, from Nevada, to be our main speaker. We have the Castro brothers who, up to this point, have basically been our top spokesmen besides people like Luis Gutierrez and others. And Mr. Grijaldo in Arizona. And so, we look to them as spokespeople. As far as business is concerned, I couldn’t say. What could I say about business or academics? It’s only the political spokesman type that we’re looking to. In this regard, I think we’re going to use academicians and professionals in these fifty years to come and show us where they’re at, what are the indices that describe their industry right now. Where are the voting rights? Where is the electoral process? Where are we on immigration as far as, not law enforcement, but on justice? Administration of justice, where is it at? What are the incarceration levels?

Chuy:  Penal system and so forth?

Nacho:  Exactly. Taking a hard look at those numbers will give us a sense, I hope. It is my hope that, we’ve been meeting for more than two years in planning this, that it will give an impetus and as to what the current issues are now.

Chuy:  When I talk about complacency and that we don’t know what power we have, I really believe that power is being eroded every single day by the Republicans in Texas, in other states and nationally. It’s going to be a fight that they are going to continue. As long as they are in power, they are going to continue to gerrymander. They are going to wipe out voting rights as we’ve known them to try and retain power. This self-appointed committee, the Civil-Rights Committee may not have the legitimacy to go out there and make specific statements and recommendations, but it may have the legitimacy to offer a call, to make a call for such a subsequent Congress, a subsequent Convention where an agenda can be developed. Currently, there is no Chicano agenda, Nacho. And in the interviews that I’ve been conducting with people like yourself and others, I get the impression that what was happening in the 60s is that the young folks who were organizing, were in fact developing an agenda for all of us for at least a period of a decade, ’66 to ’76, maybe ’68 to ’78. There was an agenda or there was a semblance of an agenda that sent out a message to everyone, “This is what you can do. You can organize in politics, you can focus on college education.” Right now, there is no such agenda. There is a DACA agenda, right, for that limited group of people. But, everything else that is occurring is not something that is moving under some kind of consensus. Does that make any sense?

 

Nacho:  To some degree, yeah, I can see that. And I’m glad you said that because as an organizing group of the people who have been meeting for more than two years now, we need to see it as an opportunity to create an impetus, to launch a new effort among ourselves to describe what we’re doing. Because holding up a mirror is good, you see, but that’s just taking a look at what you see. But what do you do with that image? How do you portray that image? How do you communicate that image? I think that is what we will to have to do in more ways than one and I’m not sure exactly how to do it.

Chuy:  Yeah, well said.

Nacho:  Maybe this is just a portrayal of this work and this work will give that impetus to more. That’s the only thing I can see because you’ve got to be able to use this for something. Otherwise, it will just be an academic exercise and we don’t want that. We don’t want it to sit on a shelf. What we’re doing is we took that book off the shelf and we’re making something out of it. That, in itself, I think, is important and we ought to be able to relay the message.

Chuy:  And again, I don’t know how you do that, but given the years of life that some of us have left, it might be worth having a separate discussion, maybe not at the Board level but, or at that formal level, but that there might be a discussion to be had among people to say, “One, well, this is going to be a Conference. This is going to be pretty expensive.” You’re going to be laying out some good bucks. Two, it’ll probably be the most attended, or the venue most attended by people who have been pretty much active throughout a good portion of their lives. You’re going to have some nice national leadership which gives you publicity. How do you turn that into an opportunity to message, and who is the messager? Let me tell you what I mean by “who is giving the message?” One of the things, over the years, that I’ve focused on is, you know, how we relied in the early years on Jose Angel Gutierrez to provide the message. Whether he did it willingly or unwillingly, whether he did it planned, or it was all abrupt, he provided a message and the press and everyone went to him because he was willing to provide a message. He was willing to tell folks, “This is what we’re all about and this is what we’re looking for.” I am not suggesting that Jose Angel Gutierrez provide the message now, but I’m setting up an example, that unless somebody gives a message that’s well thought out and planned and coordinated, somebody else will. And right now, the only messages coming out is that we have a bunch of Chicanos in politics and who all act functionally for themselves primarily, except for a few minor cases. A lot of those Chicanos and politicians can be provided some leadership, some genuine community leadership, some national goals to try and get them on the program. For example, when someone like Trump comes out and makes a statement against Chicanos, there’s no reaction to it. There’s no national reaction to it. We just all sit back, and we let it happen. Should we even care? Right? In my mind, there is no one who in the last twenty years has been as effec33tive in messaging to her group and identifying us and in effect, showing how powerless we are.

Nacho:  Well, you’re looking at two different times. One, it was hard to deliver a message for one thing, and secondly maybe the audience was small. Now, you have mass communication everywhere. You walk around with it in your pocket. Of course, I still don’t know how to use it.

Chuy:  Good point.

Nacho:  But half the world does, aside from me. So, I look at my computer and I am able to access something like Newstock. My God, I never would’ve thought that, created by friends of ours, Carlos Guerra, Gilberto Cañas, Richard Landa. They are not putting it out now, but they’re trying to figure out how to use it, basically. They need people to keep it going. But I think that was great, people communicating across the country. Before that, we hadn’t been able to do that, only among friends or like-minded groups. But these guys, everybody can tune in to that kind of website and access information, that is at least for the Latino masses. And they had everything from kids to adults to politicians to accommodations to people that sold popsicles. They had everybody on their website because it was Chicano life or Latino life in this case.

Chuy:  Right. Well, maybe that’s the venue.

Nacho:  I think that’s a vehicle that needs to be promoted, that kind of vehicle. Even friends of mine, great. But what about the overall message at a national or even a regional level. Fortunately, or unfortunately, most of our spokespersons happen to be elected officials which I think is a drawback. Not a drawback but it’s insufficient.

Chuy:  Yeah, there are constraints.

Nacho:  Who can stand up and speak? Who is that willing? And who has the…what’s the word?

Chuy:  Legitimacy.

Nacho: Legitimacy. I don’t think I can claim anybody.

Chuy:  I agree.

Nacho:  And that, I think, is your point. So, maybe out of this effort, more people will

come and start speaking to us.

Chuy:  And I am not suggesting that we need to anoint a leader. I’m just saying that…and you brought up something very important with the Internet. I hadn’t thought about that but maybe that is the way of getting there. But, in any way, we were not here to do this. What I wanted was to touch bases on that, Nacho, because back in the 60s, I believe that people like yourself and the rest of the MAYO folks, the Mexican American Youth Organization folks, were trying to come up with an agenda, were trying to articulate “here we are and where do we want to go?” You mentioned something that was very interesting that I hadn’t focused on for a long time and that was Mexican American Unity Council. As I understand it, the Mexican American Unity Council in San Antonio was a creation of MAYO. Is that correct?

Nacho:  Yes.

Chuy:  And do you recall when, what year, it became operational?

Nacho:  ’68.

Chuy:  ’68. And what was the vision as far as you can remember? You were one of the first Chairmen at a very early age, still in your early twenties.

Nacho:  Yes. That’s the picture right there.

Chuy:  What was the vision? What is a twenty-two, twenty-three year-old kid talking about?

Nacho:  Well, we were all…

Chuy:  But from your mind, what were you doing?

Nacho:  Well, we weren’t dumb, right?

Chuy:  No.

Nacho:  Well, we weren’t all graduates. Most of us were still in school, if at all, in school. But, we knew what was lacking. We knew there were issues regarding police. We knew there were issues with immigration. We knew that poverty was a huge issue. We knew that education was lacking. We knew that we didn’t control any school boards. We knew that over half of the students were failing and dropping out before the eighth grade. We knew a lot of things. So, you didn’t have to be a scientist or a great academician to be able to understand this at the grassroots level. So, I think that’s where we or any other group would have a great starting point. I think that’s what we were looking at and there was stuff in the air. You look back and everybody says, “The 60s were incredible, all this action and activity, social unrest.” It’s all true. We just didn’t see it. We couldn’t see it because we didn’t have the Internet. We didn’t have 24-hour television news. We didn’t have the news feeds. We didn’t have communication among ourselves; it was rare. We looked to our supposed leaders. We looked for leaders. Who do we talk to? I was explaining to you earlier about the Ford Foundation in ’66, 67, thanks to people like their leadership, in particularly one lady, Siobahn Oppenheimer, among others, that reached out to the Black community in the Northeast. And because of that, they created a model. It was an attractive model because it was grass roots, it was community-based and it had vehicles and it had objectives. I said, “Wait, that looks pretty good.” And the reason we found out about that was because we were organizing. We self-identified. We created news; we were news-worthy. We were a thorn on the side. We got people elected. People had to pay attention. So, mexicanos in California and other places were doing the same thing. Those guys in California had more professors, they had more university people, they had more of everything and to some degree, they still do. So, when the __________ and other people that actually published books, God, it was incredible, got wind of people like ourselves because of other academicians and local attorneys mostly, the Mike Robledos and the Matt Garcias in San Antonio, in Texas. They were able to make a connection because of the East Coast Intelligentsia types. They said, “Okay, we’re doing something for the Blacks, what are we doing for the Mexican and Spanish-speaking, as they called it. In my mind, it was a certain group of Southwestern educated mexicanos that were able to say, “Hey, there’s a whole bunch of us.” In fact, one of these little chapter books that I have here makes that very argument. “Hey, there’s a whole bunch of people down here in the Southwest that you aren’t paying attention to.” So, because of the Ford Foundation, because of that kind of pressure from the R ______ Intelligentsia made to the money folks Ford Foundation said, “Well, who can we give money to? So, when people like Albert Peña and others such as Ralph Guzman said, “Hey, I think we can get money. I think we can attract resources to what we all think we need to do. But who’s going to use it, who’s going to receive it? I wish I had that little sketch that Montejano  (David)  put in his book. We said, “That’s  great.” We went to the Winter Garden area and sat down in Juan Patlan’s house, and actually decided what to do.

Chuy:  This is in ’68?

Nacho:  ’67. Maybe, ’66. ’67.

Chuy:  Okay.

Nacho:  We sat around. “What do you want to do? These guys want to give us money.  But exactly what do we want to do? I drew a little chart.

“The money comes in here. We want to do economic development.”

“Yeah.”

“What is that?”

“I’m not sure but we’re going to do that.”

So, we created a little chart and put down economic development. Then we put community development, then we put community organizing, then political participation.

Chuy:  So, you’re beginning to design a very rudimentary strategic plan, right?

Nacho:  That’s right.

Chuy:  In the very first illustration, in the very first scheme, right? But all of you guys are in your twenties, you don’t have any business experience to speak of. You don’t own your own businesses. You’re talking about economic development so I suspect that you are talking about economic development as a social vehicle, not for yourselves individually.

Nacho:  That’s right. No, no. We needed money to carry out our agenda.

Chuy:  Okay.

Nacho:  And businesses, you gotta make money somehow, if you aren’t an attorney. We always bugged attorneys. “Hey, man, we need a hundred dollars. We need fifty bucks.” We still do, to a great degree.

Chuy:  What was this economic development?

Nacho:  We weren’t sure. What did we know? We knew businesses created jobs. We knew that jobs were important for the people. People needed jobs so we  needed for people to have funds to create businesses so that they could be employed.

Chuy:  But the seed money that you were getting from the Ford Foundation, that was for capital investment?

Nacho:  Well, we had to decide how to use it.

Chuy:  But, you didn’t know that yet?

Nacho:  But we knew we needed to do part of that and so we did, through our vehicle. We created a vehicle. We started pizza places, funded a candy making operation on the West Side. We bought a McDonald’s, we started building homes. A lot of stuff got started. Impetus, impetus, impetus. We weren’t exactly sure, where we were going to go with this.

Chuy:  But, you were experimenting.

Nacho:  We just got on the horse and started riding.

Chuy:  Sure.

Nacho:  That’s what we wanted to do.

Chuy:  But, I’m sensing that…

Nacho:  And I think it scared people to some degree.

Chuy:  It scared people?

Nacho:  I think so. People took notice. The Mayor came to us and offered us stuff and  much to my chagrin now, if people like myself who were in leadership positions had had more experience, we would have said, “Yeah, we’ll take your offer.” To get us to the next level. But we didn’t. We said, “No, there’s something called self-determination.” That means stay poor.

Chuy:  Yeah.

Nacho:  And then because we’re going to do it ourselves.

Chuy:  Principles and all of that.

Nacho:  Was that the best choice? Probably not. You know, we could’ve taken the Lila Cochral’s…

Chuy:  Funding.[1]

Nacho:  …offers. Or a group that’s now called the Spurs offer or request for money.  ‘Cause we had cash, we actually had cash because of the Ford Foundation. There were a lot of opportunities that went by the wayside because we weren’t exactly sure what to do because of our inexperience.

Chuy:  Okay. And so, fifty years later, Nacho, you don’t need to have folks who are inexperienced in finance, capital formation and investments and economic development. Those minds are there, and they’ve been trained.

Nacho:  That’s very true. But I’m going to ask you a question. When Toyota wanted to build a plant in the United States. Texas was one of the finalists. Where were they going to build it? They wanted San Antonio because of labor costs and cheap land, the usual economic development.

Chuy:  Sure.

Nacho:  They picked the site and our response to Toyota was, “Wait a minute. You can’t just come in here. If you come in here and you just want to hire us as laborers, as workers, as line…people on the assembly line? So, the deal was made with Toyota to create a minority business-owned enterprise for the supply line. Who supplied the car parts, who supplied the plastic, who supplied the work force, who trained? So, there were four or five local mexicanos that got part of the Toyota business. And to their credit, they came through and they are successful business men to this day. So, where was that model back then? We wanted to create that kind of model, but we didn’t know exactly how to do it.

Chuy:  Right. There was some sense of, “There’s something missing here. We don’t know exactly what’s missing, but there’s something missing because we’re not playing in this game.”

Nacho:  Yeah. There’s a big game playing on and we’re not in it.

Chuy:  Yeah, and oftentimes, I see that. Fifty years later, I see it in my experience, in my practice, in my everyday life, I see that there is a big game being played out there and that we are at the periphery, still, for the most part. And that is because, to a large extent, we have not developed some kind of way of collectively putting together all those pieces of that power structure that we need. And again, I’m the same way you guys were fifty years ago. It’s missing. I don’t know how to put it together, but I know it’s missing. I know it’s missing right now. But, I’m going back to the Unity Council. So, Juan Patlan became kind of the person who would then focus on economic development. He had to go to school.

Nacho:  Well, we created a community development corporation, so we had by-laws, we had a structure. We needed an executive director, a president. What would he do? This, that and the other. And so, we had to decide who would take it. It was our decision, which was great to be in. Do I regret not taking one of those big jobs? Yes. Juan Patlan was selected as the guy, as the man to take over the Mexican American Unity Council.

Chuy:  That’s what happened.

Nacho:  That’s right.

Chuy:  Ok. And so, after that, what became your role?

Nacho:  I was on the Board, basically unpaid, which to my regret, you know, maybe I should have done it a little differently. And Angel went back to Winter Garden. Mario got other work and Willy went to Arizona and then to D.C. Willy ended up creating his own organization. There were five people involved in everything we did. But, success breeds other dynamics.

Chuy:  Sure. It breeds success and content and times and so forth. But, it is…I get the impression that the collective effort, by ’68, ’69, pretty much, the original MAYO organizers have now evolved beyond that and are now moving in different arenas. Right?

Nacho:  You can say that basically MAYO wasn’t really around but maybe, ‘70.

Chuy:  I totally agree. And I think that the same thing that you’re talking about was happening in San Antonio, happened everywhere.

Nacho:  Yeah.

Chuy:  I think that everywhere, in every region, people started doing their own thing, just moving into areas of expertise that they felt comfortable in.

Nacho:  So, we felt, to some degree, that we were successful. But, in 1969, we have like thirty MAYO chapters at some point. MAYO, you know, mostly young, and the issues were mostly academics and things related to that sphere.

Chuy:  The next generation of that life for many folks became Raza Unida Party and I’m going to offer a theory here. Again, I’m looking at the early 1970s. In 1970, there  are very few, a handful of elected officials anywhere in Texas. In the Valley, here and there we may have a few Chicanos elected to public office.

Nacho:  And what is the population of Latinos in the Valley. 90%?

Chuy:  Well, in Hidalgo County, it was probably 90%.

Nacho:  So, that’s incredible, right?

Chuy:  Yeah, it’s incredible and it’s an amazing…but that’s in numbers. Right?

Nacho:  Yeah.

Chuy:  In war, you don’t win with numbers, you win with strategies and tactics and weapons. In those years, the numbers were basically meaningless. Most people did not vote. Most people did not register to vote, and Chicanos as a general rule did not run for office.

Nacho:  Well, I’m not sure that was one of our failures as a group back in the 60s, not being able to see it or maybe just a decision to stay with what we wanted to do. For example, probably the most successful effort among the five of us, Willy Velasquez left Texas and eventually came back to Texas and created another organization which hadn’t existed before, the Southwest Voter Registration Project.

Chuy:  Now, what was that all about?

Nacho:  That was to register Latino voters. Latino people asked to register to vote. And he wanted to focus on that. And, eventually, he came back and just started doing it by himself and a couple of other folks. Finally, Andy Hernandez joined him and in a matter of two or three years, an incredibly short time, the process just took off, everywhere. You know, Choco Meza can tell you stories about that. You know, “Lucky to escape some places alive”. That kind of thing. People near Houston, same thing, people in Arizona, people outside here in San Antonio. So, a lot of stuff like that happened because there was a concerted effort to register to vote and take political office.

Chuy:   I see it the other way around. Let me tell you what I mean by that. When the superstructure, the five originators of MAYO, when they break up and go their own way, Jose Angel goes back to the Winter Garden area. He is laser-focused on those three counties. And there is a strategy for the first time, well, actually, the second time because you’d had something before in ’60 or ’61. Laser-focused on maybe recapturing some of that and felt, “Leave me alone. I’m gonna go back, take care of this thing, it’s got to be done. It will be major, massive, historical and unprecedented. Leave me alone and let me do that. ”Right? He’s not the only one that’s doing that. People are doing that everywhere and in South Texas, the same thing is happening. It’s ironic, but some-times we need to see other people do it before we can be motivated ourselves. The Southwest Voter Registration Project worked hand-in-hand and was parallel to Chicanos wanting to get elected to public office. And so, it was one thing to go to a community, say Las Milpas in Pharr, Texas, and say, “We’re here to register you to vote.” And people would say, “Who gives a rat’s ass about voting?” “Me vale madre.” But if there’s people who are running for office and there’s a hope that change might come, then there’s going to be a lot of interest. And I suspect that what happened in the early years with the Voter Registration Project was that they came in at the right time. It wouldn’t have worked as well before as it did coming in at the right and perfect time when Chicanos were getting mobilized and running for office.

Nacho:  No.

Chuy:  You disagree with that?

Nacho:  To some degree. You have to have, you have to want something.

Chuy:  Um-hmm.

Nacho:  What didn’t you have? Well, you need more politicians. No, you don’t need more politicians. You need more politicians to deliver something to the voters. That’s what was lacking. They knew what was going on. They knew that their streets weren’t paved. They knew they were flooded on the West side, constantly and regularly, even though there were a couple of Mexicans who were on the GGL and they controlled San Antonio. This translates in any power structure across the Southwest. We needed to be able to deliver our projects based on the new kind of politician, the new kind of elected official. That’s what I think was lacking.

Chuy:  Okay, but that’s what excited the voters, the Chicano voters.

Nacho:  Yeah, that’s what I’m telling you. When Willie went and started collecting signatures, they started telling him why they hadn’t voted. So, he went next ________. That got him elected. Then next _______. He kept trying and then Andy, in two years, all of a sudden, ‘cause people aren’t dumb. They see. They understand. ______________. They understand that there are things happening. So, they started, “Maybe this is part of it. We can get our streets fixed. Maybe the floods will go away. Maybe my kid will stay in school. Maybe they’ll fix the school down the street. Maybe they’ll build a bridge.” All these “maybes” started adding up and we said, “You know what? Maybe we can get it done.” And so that’s why I think Willie was successful in getting the power structure to understand that now there’s a Mexican in elected office. I think that made a difference because they control the tax money. They control the City Council, counties and school districts. Before you know it, you’ve got budgets to worry about. And who gets hired. You know for a fact that in small towns, if you control the damned City or County or the School Board, you know who’s going to get hired. That’s money in the bank.

Chuy:  So, that’s a motivator. Yeah, that’s a motivator.

Nacho:  It’s delivering to your base.

Chuy:  And so, Willie did that. Willie passed away what year? Do you recall? (06/16/88)

Nacho:  ’78? No, I’m sorry. When did Dukakis run?

Chuy:  It was in the 80s. It would have to be in the 80s.

Nacho:  Yeah. He was still giving me money to go different places.

Chuy:  And so, what kind of money was Willie able to raise for the voter registration  effort?

Nacho:  Well…

Chuy:  Do you know? Was it Ford Foundation as well?

Nacho:  I think it was Ford Foundation money. He had different foundations. I used to know exactly who.

Chuy:  But primarily foundations?

Nacho:  Yeah. Some Labor money and individual donors.

Chuy:  Okay. The model that he based it on, was there a Black model for that?

Nacho:  Yeah. I think so. I don’t know if he’d agree. But the Mississippi and the  Southern Strategy in terms of Black voters was very successful.

Chuy:  Very successful and that had been done as early as the 60s when they were killing Blacks.

Nacho:  Yeah, that’s exactly right. MAYO was non-existent then.

Chuy:  One of those people, then, finds his home in the Southwest Registration Project.

Nacho:  Well, he creates the Project.

Chuy:  He creates it and it becomes his home. That’s his focus. Jose Angel is moving Into the Regional politics and then, Raza Unida comes knocking on everybody’s door. And we talked about that earlier. I was saying that I believe I told Mario Compean that my recollection was that there had been a debate taking place back in the early 70s whether Raza Unida Party should be a regional or local party and avoid any kind of statewide structure or national structure. And it’s always easier to rationalize but as I recall, our position in South Texas was by 1970, we had our county party already. And we had experienced running a campaign, administering the election with state government supervision and control and we knew how tough it was. I thought our attitude was that there should be a statewide party because it would allow other counties that were interested to have candidates. In South Texas, I don’t recall that we were necessarily in favor of running statewide candidates.

Nacho:  No, I think that was a mistake.

Chuy:  …the mistake was going statewide?

Nacho:  Yeah.

Chuy:  Okay. You were here in San Antonio at the time. What was the motivation for  going statewide?

Nacho:  The usual, the attractiveness of a politician, potential elected official for higher office, that whole kind of thing and I don’t know, I don’t know the motivation. It’s just more attractive, I suppose. I don’t know what else. Maybe it’s more money to some degree. You know, what drives somebody to run for office? I never ran for office.

Chuy:  Yeah. Resources were…

Nacho:  Limited.

Chuy:  Well, not only were they limited, they were being used well in certain areas and all of a sudden, resources shifted from the local level to an entirely…

Nacho:  I think that’s exactly part of the issue. You know, I told you before, man,  “Control the countryside and the city will follow.” It applies to the county, I mean the state. I went with Angel to meet with, was it Dolph Briscoe?

Chuy:  Yes. White? Governor White?

Nacho:  It was somebody. Just him, the Governor and myself.

“Hey, where were you when I needed you?” he tells Angel.

“What are you talking about?”

It was one-on-one. I thought, “Wow, this is great.” Angel was very good one-on-one. I was impressed at certain times that I heard him one-on-one at high levels. I don’t remember what the guy’s name was, it was already apparent that he had ______ and you had to reckon with this guy sooner or later, just like they had reckoned with LBJ when he came out of Cotulla or wherever he came out of. All these guys come from somewhere, you know, before they’re governor. It was a very exciting time.

Chuy:  Yeah. Everything is in retrospect, but in 1970 when we ran the Raza Unida Party in Hidalgo County, we realized some things. And one of the things that we realized was that it was the Party was only a tactic. Raza Unida was not an end in itself. We were not interested in creating and maintaining a third party in Hidalgo County. That was not our goal.

Nacho:  Well, I think that was the, what’s a big word for that? Utopian? One of those big words that shows the inherent contradiction in something that everybody wants to do.

ChuySi. Yeah.

Nacho:  If you do that, where does it lead to? If you’re successful here, does that accomplish your total objectives which were “Power to the People”? Or does it do something else? So, if you believe your slogans, then your manifestations have to be apparent in that’s what you’re trying to do.

Chuy:  Yeah. I think that the Raza Unida Party, for those of us who would sit down and look at the motivation and the tactics, we had a very specific focus on what we were doing. Then, all of a sudden, by going statewide, we let the…

Nacho:  Put the cart before the horse or something like that?

Chuy:  Yeah, but we had captured, I thought, that the Winter Garden area and the Valley, I really believed those were areas where potentially, that was where it  was going to happen.

Nacho:  Yeah. Well, and why not? It’s true.

Chuy:  If anything was going to happen, it was going to happen there. That’s where we were going to start seeing change, just because of the numbers, where  you’ve got 90%, right? And so, we got caught up in looking at a tactic that we were using and everybody began saying, “No, that’s an objective, that’s the strategy to create a third party of Texas. And before you knew it, we ran Alex Moreno in Pharr, San Juan, Alamo precinct and we won something like 35% of the vote and we won all the Chicano precincts. But the turnout was ridiculously low and we lost.

Nacho:  Something was going to suffer and maybe we just didn’t have enough experience or we didn’t have an opportunity to grow. I don’t know.

Chuy:  I think that if we go back to how we began the discussion today, and that is,  where’s it got to be, I think, in any kind of movement, there’s got to be the mass, the cadre which are the key folks, the deep thinkers and the strategists. Those people need to communicate. And what happened in ’72, was that we were not communicating.

Nacho:  I think that’s a good point because it was just barely, you know, Ramsey Muñiz and the whole issue slips through our fingers.

Chuy:  I saw it, all of a sudden, in my mind, now everybody’s caught up in it and we’ve   got Don Quijote running for governor.

Nacho:  Big mistake. Unnecessary. You had a chance. We had a good chance. We just couldn’t make it happen. I’m not sure why. Anyway, that was MAYO. That was the end of MAYO in terms as an organization. Who wanted to leave MAYO? Mario, Carlos, Youngblood. There is no cadre left. There was no ideology, no Ho Chi Minh to keep the movement going.

Chuy:  Right.

Nacho:  There was not that kind of Sandino, keep-it-all-together.

Chuy:  Sure. But, in the totality of things, you know, when you take a beating in ’72, Raza Unida takes a beating in ’72. Rather than having a meeting of the minds, of the people who had run elections, who had been successful in elections, rather than having a meeting of the minds and saying, “Okay, let’s gather children, and let’s see what we’re going to do.”  There was no such meeting.

Nacho:  Yeah.

Chuy:  Not even later with ’74 all over again.

Nacho:  Well, maybe you guys should have come up and said, “Hey, let’s talk.”

Chuy:  Well, what happened to us at some point, we just gave up. In South Texas, we just gave up. And let me tell you what I mean by that. The state party concept by ’74, to us, did not make any sense.

Nacho:  Maybe you needed to have communicated better.

Chuy:  I totally agree.

Nacho:  So, there was not enough grassroots base communication. So, it would never work without it. I think it just fell apart by its own gravity or lack of. It didn’t fall apart, it dissipated. I think that’s as far as the topic of MAYO, I think that the conversion of that into strictly politics was a mistake. Maybe as an advocacy group it would have worked. It could’ve worked, you know, if it had stayed on school, education issues ‘cause all the MAYO chapters, thirty something from here to Wisconsin were kids. If we had stayed with school activities, something related to school, they could maybe get into school boards. Mario Salas and that guy what’s his name in Wisconsin.

Chuy: Manuel Salas.

Nacho:  Those guys, the same thing happened to them. “We’re doing our own thing.” Okay, great.  But the dynamics became the same. So, I don’t know. Maybe that was it. The more graduates the better. If someone comes out of that and becomes part of the power structure, fine. But you add that to your base.

Chuy:  So, we covered the creation and the demise of MAYO, pretty much. Is there anything that we’ve left out?

Nacho:  Well, we did a lot of picketing. I think all that was important.

Chuy:  Yeah. It had its place.

Nacho:  Your book’s on MAYO, right?  As a starting point?

Chuy:  One of the projects that I’m working on is that. That’s exactly what I’m talking about, that I’m trying to cover. At the end, every novel, every story requires a denouement and a good ending. So, what is a good ending to this thing? It seems to me and I’ve said it before, I think that for the most part, most of the people who were out there organizing and doing the picketing and were people who had the right morals and intents and purposes. That they had the goodwill of the people, of the public, of Chicanos. They were not politicians they made good judgments.

Nacho:  Are you trying to end your book before you tell the story? Hold on.

[1] Lila Cochral Funding

Ignacio Perez

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The September 2021 edition of IberoAzltan will be our ninth. We had projected publication of six editions which would be focused primarily on an interview project which we began in 2017, called the Chicana/o Legacy Project. The interest in and support for IberoAztlan was Unexpected.

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