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36  By the end of the 1960s, 85 percent of Mexican Americans lived in urban spaces, 50 percent lived in California, 34 percent in Texas, and over a million in Los Angeles, making it the second largest Mexican city after Mexico City. The median age was 20.2, suggesting that most Mexican Americans were youth, a population that had doubled during the decade. Eighty-four percent were born in the United States, and only a fourth of Spanish-surname people held white-collar jobs. The decade gave Mexican American youth greater access to information—television, radio, and newspapers—they had more mobility than at any other time in history. However, none of this really explains fully how and why the perfect storm came together in the late 1960s.1 The Rise of the Mexican American Youth Organization Most of the Mexican American civil rights cases up to World War II originated in Texas, which had the largest repository of Mexicans in the United States. As early as 1910, parents in San Angelo, Texas, boycotted the schools because of segregated facilities. In September 1911, Tejanos convened El Primer Congreso Mexicanista, a conference that addressed educational reform. After World War I, an awareness of educational reform increased, and with the formation of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) the Mexican origin community sued local school districts. This activity continued into the 1950s. Led by Chicano attorney Gus García, they appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court. This fervor for education reform exploded in the sixties and was marked by the growth of the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO), which developed a strategy to take over school boards. At the forefront of educational reform was how to teach Mexican children and how to develop a positive self-image.2 As mentioned, the PASO 1963 Crystal City takeover proved that it could be done— that there was another way besides going through the existing social structure. By 1965 more moderate members of PASO returned to traditional politics, leaving From Student Power to Chicano Studies c h a p t e r 3 the organization in the hands of left-leaning activists and political officials. This opened space for further progressive elements. An example was the La Casita Farms Corporation strike of 1966 that Tejano sociologist David Montejano calls the catalyst for the Chicano movement in Texas. The strike was supported by clergy, white progressives, and Mexican American students from Texas A&I University and future MAYO leaders throughout the state.3 The brutality of the Texas Rangers during the La Casita strike politicized students and activists. A march on Austin to petition the governor drew the political line, with Governor John Connally refusing to meet with the marchers in Austin. Having left in June, the marchers arrived at the state capitol in time for a Labor Day rally. The Rio Grande Valley was a battle zone, with arrests continuing in Rio Grande City through 1966 into 1967. The United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC; aka NFWA) placed a picket line on the international bridge at Roma on October 24, 1966, trying to persuade green-carders to turn back. Mass arrests were made for obstructing a bridge. Violence increased as the spring melon crop ripened and time neared for the May harvest. In June, when beatings of two UFWOC supporters by Texas rangers surfaced, tempers flared.4 The strike collapsed when the union was unable to stop commuters from Mexico from crossing the picket line. However, the strike brought attention to conditions in the Lone Star State. The Civil Rights Committee of Texas, headed by Carlos Turán, exposed the Texas Rangers’ outrageous behavior. A Congressional Committee on Migratory Labor, headed by Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator Yarborough of Texas, also exposed the sorrowful state of Mexicans in the Rio Grande Valley. Willie Velásquez, later a MAYO founder, served as a committee chair. María Elena Martínez, who later became a member of MAYO and was the first woman to chair the La Raza Unida Party, cut her teeth on the strike. Because of La Casita, Texas became a social movement with boycott committees set up throughout Texas.5 As the Big Spring Herald put it, “The strike is confined to part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, made up of Starr, Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties. An estimated 40,000 migrant farm laborers live in the Valley and leave annually to follow harvests across the nation.”6 Through these...


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MARC Record
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