Interview: Saturday, July 17, 2017, Guadalupe Street, West Side, San Antonio, Texas
Chuy: So let’s talk about the Del Rio March. This is what I want to focus on: I’m going to posit that the Del Rio March was a spontaneous reaction from around the state to a perceived unfair action by Governor Dolph Briscoe to terminate the VISTA program in the County of Val Verde. And that it was the first time that MAYO made great use of the mass media. Two things resulted from that. One is that we were beginning to understand the media and how the media could serve a function. It is the public media I’m talking about. Obviously, we did not have Facebook and all of that. And number two, that people who traditionally would never have associated with MAYO, responded to the call.
Mario: That is an accurate assessment. One correction. That would have been Preston Smith who was the governor. In addition to Montemayor, you should interview Arturo because Arturo was part of the MAYOs who organized that thing.
Chuy: I interviewed Arturo briefly last time I was in San Antonio when you and I served on a panel discussion. I need to follow up with him to get his perspective.
Mario: See, that was the issue there. The County Commissioners terminated the VISTA program and asked the governor to pull the program because these MAYO radicals, not VISTA were doing the organizing.
Chuy: Which was to a large extent true.
Mario: No, no. So you are right that there was a spontaneous reaction to that because it generated a sense of rage in the community of activists.
Chuy: But it was not a real substantive issue, right? There was a sense of outrage. In going back over it, I kind of felt that perhaps there was a general sense in Texas among Chicanos that we were waiting for one legitimate opportunity to go to the streets and to basically say to whomever was willing to listen: “We’ve arrived and from now on, we don’t put up with this.”
Mario: Right. That event, I think, created that. It was liberating for many of the people who were there, especially the young ones.
Mario: You’re right that it attracted the support of individuals who normally would not be associated with us because they were the ones who had been criticizing us before. But this act was enough for them to say, “Well, this is something we can to support.”
Chuy: Do you have any recollection of what the numbers were for that march?
Mario: All I can remember is that the line was long as we were walking into town. It was along the countryside. And then I remember the scenes in front of the courthouse. Pero…, it could have been a thousand, probably.
Chuy: Yeah, I think it was about a thousand, maybe a few more.
Mario: I was just fresh out of my…or it was right around when I was involved with a campaign here. It was my first campaign for City Council.
Mario: The backlash against the governor spun the actions. That was a great part of it, but part of it was the power struggle with the local commissioners, too. At a larger level, it was it was our strong attempt to capture some sense of power. I think what it also did was to establish MAYO as a legitimate group for those Chicanos who were calling us names.
Chuy: Yeah. I think for those who were looking for a space, an identity on the left side of the spectrum, then MAYO provided them that opportunity. If you wanted a part of that action, at what then would have been the extreme of the people who were complaining and trying to raise hell and organize, then we would be it. That’s where you wanted to be. So, would it be fair to say, Mario, that MAYO in those early stages was a cadre of organizers?