The Cristal Experiment
A Chicano Struggle for Community Control
Publication Year: 1998
Amidst the turbulence and militancy of the 1960s and early 1970s, the Mexicano population of the dusty agricultural town of Crystal City, Texas (Cristal in Spanish), staged two electoral revolts, each time winning control of the city council and school board. The landmark city council victory in 1963 was a first for Mexican Americans in South Texas, and Cristal—the “spinach capital of the world”—became for a time the political capital of the Chicano Movement.
In The Cristal Experiment, Armando Navarro presents the most comprehensive examination to date of the rise of the Chicano political movement in Cristal, its successes and conflicts (both internal and external), and its eventual decline. He looks particularly at the larger and more successful “Second Revolt” in 1970 and its aftermath up to 1981, examining the political, economic, educational, and social changes for Mexicanos that resulted. Drawing upon nearly 100 interviews, a wealth of secondary materials, and his own experiences as a political organizer in the Chicano Movement, Navarro offers a shrewd and insightful analysis not only of the events in Cristal, but also of the workings of local politics generally, the politics of community control, and the factors inherent in the American political system that lead to the self-destruction of political movements. As both a political scientist and an organizer, he outlines important lessons to be learned from what happened in Cristal and to the Chicano Movement.
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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This book is a case study of two electoral revolts that occurred in 1963 and 1970 in the small, dusty, and rural community of Crystal City, Texas, or Cristal, as it is known in Spanish by Mexicanos.1 These political takeovers were experiments in what I call the politics of community control, meaning control over the local government structures and public policy process. Both are of historical...
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First and foremost, I am indebted to the people of Cristal for their support in conducting the research for this study. Without their cooperation and willingness to participate in the numerous interviews and "platicas" that I conducted on various aspects of the Cristal Experiment, there would have been no book. My appreciation and thanks go...
Introduction: Community Control as a Conceptual Framework
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During the epoch of protest (1955-1974) Mexicanos in Crystal City, Texas, in 1963 and again in 1970 experimented with the concept of community control. After decades of internal colonialism they rejected their political subordination and powerlessness.1 The two historically unprecedented political takeovers form the basis of what I describe in this book as the Cristal experiment. Before community control became popular in the mid- and late 1960s, Mexicanos in Crystal City (hereafter...
Part One. The Genesis of the Cristal Experiment
1. The Electoral Revolt of 1963
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The Cristal experiment in community control began in 1963 in the small south Texas town of Crystal City, or Cristal, as it is called by Mexicanos. After years of living under internal colonialism, Mexicanos—who accounted for about 80 percent of the town's population of ninety-one hundred—rebelled politically against the gringo power...
Part Two. The Politics of Community Control: RUP's Peaceful Revolution in Cristal
2. The Second Electoral Revolt (1970)
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The five years that preceded Cristal's second revolt in 1970 were relatively quiet. The Chicano Movement had emerged as a political force by 1965, but its characteristic fervent protest and militant activism had not really reached Cristal. Although the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO), one of the most militant Chicano organizations...
3. The Emergence of RUP's Machine Politics (1971-1972)
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After a year of RUP's struggling to consolidate its community control of CristaI's city council and school board and make major policy changes and implement various programs, Ciudadanos Unidos (CU) was evolving into a full-fledged political machine. Jos� Angel Guti�rrez understood and applied Saul Alinsky's dictum that "the most powerful weapon in the arsenal of the poor and oppressed is organization." In doing so...
4. The Calm Before the Political Storm (1973-1975)
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The years between 1973 and early 1975 were the apogee of RUP's community control in Cristal. During these years Ciudadanos Unidos (CU) developed into a full-fledged political machine. After three years of community control RUP succeeded in effecting many changes that improved Mexicanos' quality of life. Politically, it defeated all challenges...
5. Schisms Emerge in Cristal's Power Structure (1972-1974)
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During the first two years of the politics of community control Jos� Angel Guti�rrez relied on the organizational power of his emerging political machine, CU, to build RUP locally and to develop the peaceful revolution's many changes and programs. However, as he consolidated his power, CU became part of RUP's local community power structure. By 1974 this centralization of power was causing internal...
6. The Political Rupture (1975)
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By 1975 the peaceful revolution's schisms had become major fissures. The discipline, organization, and unity of action that had characterized RUP's politics of community control since 1970 came to an abrupt end. Instead, competing bellicose factions resorted to the politics of self-destruction. Their differences became so irreconcilable that they...
7. The Political Decline of the Peaceful Revolution (1976-1978)
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The political rupture replaced RUP's politics of community control with a new mode of politics—the politics of self-destruction. After five years of centralized community control guided by CO's political machinery, the second phase of the Cristal experiment succumbed to internal antagonisms. For the next two years Cristal's politics was characterized...
Part Three. The Peaceful Revolution's Agenda for Change (1970-1980)
8. Revolution Through Education
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During the golden years, from 1970 to the period in 1975 before the political rupture, a plethora of political, economic, and social changes were enacted as a consequence of the peaceful revolution. However, it was in education that the peaceful revolution scored its greatest triumphs. The second revolt had succeeded in taking control of the Crystal...
9. Struggle for Economic Empowerment
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The scope of RUP's peaceful revolution was broader than attaining community control of the local political institutions or creating educational change. Another major thrust was economic empowerment. From the outset in 1970 the leadership of the peaceful revolution aimed for nothing less than the economic decolonization of Mexicanos in south Texas. RUP leaders tried to realize economic justice and democracy...
10. Quest for Social Change
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Equally important to RUP's peaceful revolution in Cristal was its commitment to social change. Through its political, educational, and economic struggles it fostered significant social change in Cristal's local government superstructures and policies, delivery of social services, establishment of new programs, Mexicano cultural awareness, organizational...
Part Four. The Politics of Self-Destruction
11. Guti�rrez's Departure: The end of an Era
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After nine years of political struggle RUP's peaceful revolution had all but disappeared by 1979. The destructive endogenous forces unleashed by the rupture in 1975, coupled with exogenous attacks on RUP's leadership and programs by state and federal politicians and officials, created a political climate that ultimately contributed to the demise of both RUP as a third-party movement and its peaceful revolution...
Epilogue: The Unfinished Experiment
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The Cristal experiment in community control was historic. After Mexicanos lost their political control to whites in 1836, Mexicanos in south Texas became powerless politically and otherwise. It was no different for Mexicanos in Cristal. For decades they were disenfranchised and governed locally by white patrones (bosses) who constituted a minority...
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Publication Year: 1998