Jose Angel Gutierrez

Born on October 25,1944, José Ángel Gutiérrez was the son of a medical doctor in the South Texas town of Crystal City. Although better off than many of the farm workers who worked the crops of South Texas, Gutiérrez grew up witnessing first hand the discrimination that Mexican Americans experienced in South Texas where restaurants and bathrooms often had “White Only” signs displayed. This led to his early activism in 1963 when five Mexican Americans candidates ran for political office in Crystal City, Texas. As a door-to-door canvasser, Gutiérrez learned the power of getting out the vote when “Los Cinco” won in sweeping victories of the city council. After graduating from Crystal City high school in 1962, he attended Texas A & M Kingsville graduating in 1966 and then attended St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas in 1967. There he became friends with Mario Compeon, Willie Velásquez, Juan Patlán and Nacho Pérez. Together they founded the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) one of the first student activist groups of the incipient Chicano movement.

Crystal City

After receiving his M.A. degree in political science in 1969, he returned to Crystal City as part of the “Winter Garden Project” an attempt to politically organize Mexican Americans. He soon found himself advising Mexican American students from the local high school who were protesting discriminatory policies in the way cheerleaders were selected. Although Mexican Americans made up the majority of students at Crystal City High, only one Mexican American cheerleader was permitted, the other cheerleader slots were reserved for Anglo Americans students. The protest over the discriminatory cheerleader policy soon led to protests over the high drop out rate of Mexican American students and other educational inequities. In December of 1969, following the refusal of the Crystal City school board to respond to student demands, a hundred students walked out of the high school. The next day, the walk-out grew until by the end of the week more than 700 students had walked out of the high and junior high schools. Eventually the school board conceded to the student demands but not before Gutiérrez and other activists saw the power inherent in the community.

La Raza Unida Candidates

In April, 1970 the activists decided to run 16 candidates in local elections in the towns of Crystal City, Cotulla, Carrizo Springs and Robstown. Targeting the majority Mexican American voters, the group christened their political party “La Raza Unida,” (The United People). The successful election of 15 out of the 16 candidates put Crystal City on the map and within a short time La Raza Unida chapters sprang up in 17 states plus the District of Columbia. The high point of the La Raza Unida party came in September of 1972 when José Ángel Gutiérrez was elected national party Chairman at the El Paso, Texas National Convention, attended by more than 1,000 delegates. In 1979, the party was was outlawed by the Texas Legislature but by then it had left its mark on the political scene, challenging Democratic and Republican parties alike to court the hitherto ignored Mexican American voter.

1972 Raza Unida Convention

In 1976 Gutiérrez received a Ph.D. in Government from the University of Texas at Austin and remained politically active, creating a first time dialog between Chicanos  and then Mexican President Luís Echeverría Alvarez which resulted in scholarships for Mexican American youth and the financing of a Mexican motion picture on the Chicano struggle and immigration directed by Chicano filmmaker Jesús Treviño and titled Raíces de Sangre (Roots of Blood).  In 1980 Dr. Gutiérrez  moved to Oregon where he taught from 1981 through 1985 and where he founded the Oregon Council for Hispanic Advancement in 1985. In 1986 he left Oregon and returned to Dallas, Texas where he enrolled in law school at Southern Methodist University; he earned his law degree from Bates College of Law, Houston, Texas in 1988. Dr. Gutiérrez has published thirteen books, most notably the satiric A Gringo Manuel on How to Handle Mexicans (1974); The Making of A Chicano Militant (1998); They Call Me “King Tiger”: My struggle for our Land and our Rights (2000) (an edited translation of the autobiography of Reies López Tijerina), A Chicano Manual on How To Handle Gringos (2003) ,The Making of A Civil Rights Leader (2005), We Won’t Back Down (2005), and Chicanas in Charge (2007). Dr. Gutiérrez has remained active in championing the rights of Mexican Americans. He is the founder of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas Arlington where is a tenured professor. In 2000-2003 he served as the Texas Chair of the National Association of Hispanic and Latino Studies, writing frequently in scholarly journals and conducting more than 200 videotaped oral history interviews with movement activists which are archived at the University of Texas at Austin.