Daniel Bustamante

Duration: 1hr 12mins
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Interview with: Daniel Bustamante
Interviewed by:
Date: February 24, 1982
Archive Number: OH 366

I: This is a February 24, 1982 oral history interview with Daniel Bustamante about his involvement in the Raza Unida party in Houston, Texas. The first thing I’d like to begin with is what was your background, say, prior to 1970? What educationally, where you were from—?

DB: I graduated in 1967 from Roy Miller High School in Corpus Christie and I graduated in ’69 from Del Mar Junior College. And at that point I moved to Houston and I was a junior student at the University of Houston in the fall of ’69. So—you know—1970, I was already in my senior year, I guess, my last year of undergraduate work at the University of Houston.

I: What’s your parent’s background? What kind of home life—?

DB: My mother’s family is basically an agricultural family. They were farmers. My grandfather was a farmer and a barber—numerous other business enterprises in a farming community of Mathis, near Corpus Christie. But, basically he was a farmer. My grandfather was a farmer and a barber, and I was raised by my grandparents. That’s why I mentioned them. My grandmother was basically a housewife and, at times, ran restaurants or small grocery store operation—operations. They’re all very seasonal. It all depended on the migrant flow and the number of farm workers in the city. But my mother and her sisters and her family, when they were growing up, they were basically farm kids. Worked in the fields and went to school. At an early age, I guess, most of them got married and left and started their own families. But my father’s side of the family is from a small community of Jourdanton, south of San Antonio. It’s kind of a similar—not so much agriculturally oriented, but a similar type of situation. My other grandfather was also a barber by coincidence. My other grandmother was also a housewife. And that side of the family was not so much into agriculture as my mother’s side, but my mother’s side was agriculture.

I: Did your parents at all—where they an influence on you in terms of politics?

DB: No, not my parents. My grandfather was. My grandfather was and still is—he’ll be 82 St. Patrick’s Day—has always been a political activist and a community activist in his lifetime. He’s now 82, and I venture to say he’s been doing this all his life. He’s the one that got me started in politics when I was just a kid not even 10 years old in Mathis—in local election, in local politics. And him being a barber, the barber shop was a center of political activity many times. So I was always hanging around the barber shop.

I: 02:48.6 What were you politically? How would you characterize it?

DB: Oh, a revolutionary that’s probably still waiting for the revolution to come. That’s my grandfather. He still thinks of—in those terms. He’s—

I: Was he a native Texan?

DB: Oh yes. He was born in San Patricio, Texas and he’s named after the city. He was born on St. Patrick’s Day, and that community was settled by—established by the Irish in the 18th, 19th century. He’s a native Texan and so was—his father was also a native Texan. And I think, on his particular side of the family, there was a period when somebody did immigrate to this country. On my grandmother’s side, as far as we know, everyone was born in south Texas as far back as 1800s, so they’re all native—pretty well native Texans. And anybody that’s not a native Texan in our family is usually from the border areas of Mexico—Monterrey, that area, that far. Not too much deep in there. So there’s pretty close links to Guajillo and Nuevo Leon. But most of my family—

I: So, essentially, you’re from an old family in south Texas?

DB: It’s a pretty old family. My father’s—my name, Bustamante, is through my father and my other name—family name is Rivera. And the Riveras are an extensive family in south Texas---particularly in Mathis where I’m from. I’ve had uncles that have been on the city council, on the school board, and different types of positions there and they still hold those positions. And I have other relatives now pursuing different campaigns on a small-time basis in south Texas.

I: (speaking at the same time; unintelligible)

DB: Yeah, school boards mostly, and city councils. There are different family names, but this—mostly it’s Riveras in Mathis and those areas. But, the influences I had through the family was basically my grandfather. He’s still very much politically in tune with what’s happening.

I: What were the circumstances around which you became involved in La Raza Unida here or anywhere else?

DB: Well, I was—prior to Raza Unida being around—at Del Mar Junior College I got involved with the Young Democrats. This was in ’67. And my involvement with them didn’t last very long. I quickly realized there was no future for me in that organization, and at that point I started to get involved with MAYO. When I moved to Houston I was still keeping in touch and still involved to some extent with the Young Democrats. I dropped it altogether after my first semester at UH. I decided that there was no place for me and became actively involved in establishing and founding the chapter of MAYO at the University of Houston. This was in 1970, I believe—late ’69-1970. And was one of the founders of that group effort at the University of Houston. There was a community group of MAYO at the same time here in Houston, but they were two different organizations. Totally different leadership and orientation, I would say. It was one community-based group and one campus-based group. And I, being an out-of-towner, new in the community, and a student, I was pretty well—you know—with the campus group at that point.

I: 06:02.4 Were there any differences in the MAYO groups other than the fact that they were just different—had different bases of operation?

DB: I wouldn’t say there were any differences. There might have been some personality differences and maybe some philosophical differences, but at that point everything was so new I don’t think there was really a line or a philosophy that was pretty universally—you know—conforming with all the MAYO groups. They basically had the same background and philosophies. The only difference was that the campus people were, in general, from out of town, unfamiliar with local politics, local situations. Community MAYO was non-students who rightfully resented students coming into their communities and trying to organize them. And there was those kind of traditional problems with campus groups trying to get involved with community groups. And it took us a long, long time to be accepted in the community. And I was head of the—one committee of MAYO, which was the Raza Unida committee, and at that point Raza Unida was in existence in Crystal City and maybe a couple of other communities in south Texas. And all the organizers of MAYO were pursuing the establishment of the party in the areas of the state as a primary goal, and I was heading up that committee. So my role was to initiate the interest in, I guess, some of the grassroots work—to establish some of the first committees of Raza Unida, and this was in 1970. MAYO, as an organization, we officially dissolved it in the fall, I believe. I need to check my dates, but in the fall of 1970. I believe that was the time we officially dissolved the corporation of MAYO, because it was incorporated state-wide for a period of time. We did pursue some money programs to do some work in communities—community organizers. And at the point that we dissolved the organization, we immediately became the central committee of Raza Unida. And we had the same linkages state-wide that we had previously with MAYO. So that was the beginning links and communication network for Raza Unida state-wide.

I: 08:19.4 Where did this take place? You said that you had dissolved—(unintelligible)—into taking place?

DB: I need to remember, but I think it was San Antonio, Texas. San Antonio was usually a gathering place for meetings. The MAYO state office was in San Antonio. It had an office was office with staff for the WATS line. We had a pretty extensive operation in the late ‘60s, and we did quite a lot of community organizing—very involved.

I: Just as an aside, how effective did you feel MAYO was?

DB: I think MAYO was very, extremely effective in later—a lot of the cornerstones for the Chicano movement in the ‘70s. I think MAYO has been denied a lot of the credit that’s due them for doing the school walk-outs throughout Texas—not only in south Texas—in Houston and west Texas. MAYO was very much at the heart of them. If you recall the school walk-outs in Houston—the involvement of MAYO in that school period—they were extremely vocal, involved—went to jail over education issues, protesting at the school board, and picketing the schools, and so forth. MAYO was very much involved, and that was in keeping with MAYO being involved in Crystal City all the way to Odessa to San Angelo to the Valley to San Antonio and Mathis, Texas—even communities all over the state. MAYO was always, if not the organizer behind those efforts, a principle mover of those efforts. So I give MAYO a lot of credit for what happened in the ‘70s—the changes that occurred in a lot of different institutions.

I: In the two groups that were here—and this is extremely interesting and important—of the two groups, the MAYO groups that were here, who was involved in each one of them? Any names come to mind?

DB: Well, in the community MAYO group, Gregory Salazar, Yolanda Birdwell, Poncho Ruiz, a bunch of other folks. Campus group—myself, Maria Jimenez. Dutch didn’t come back until ’74 or ’73—whenever he came back from Brown was involved with us. Ramon Villagomez was already here. He was involved with us. Trying to think of other names of people—Edward Castillo (Proffit??) who is a native Houstonian. He was involved in the very beginning with MAYO. There’s—I would need to list them. Sit down and really think about it. There is an extensive group still here in Houston.

I: Can you think of any other activities that MAYO was involved in here in the Houston area?

DB: 10:58.7 On campus we were extremely involved in the anti-war movement. At that point we realized what was happening—the high percentages of draftees and casualties for Chicanos. We were involved in that protest there. We were very involved on campus and protesting to the administration the lack of Chicano faculty and Chicano studies programs, the lack of active recruitment. We were, I think, the instrument behind the creating of a Chicano recruiter on campus. There was officially a position, or whatever, but we were responsible for the recruitment efforts in the early ‘70s at the University of Houston. We even met with President Hoffman back then and made a very militant list of demands that were never complied with. They agreed to comply with a lot of them, but they never really have. We were involved in a lot of those issues. Primarily, it was education, political organizers. The Raza Unida organizing was pursued most aggressively by the University-based group as opposed to the community group. Mainly because our linkages and orientation and politics was on a state-wide level—through the state-wide network of MAYO before, so we were pretty well doing and saying and acting out on the same issues as everybody else around the state. And, again, we had a little more freedom because we were students, to express ourselves. We didn’t have families to support or jobs to worry about, so that made it easier for us to try to organize sometimes—on some issues. As opposed to somebody in the community who had a job and a family—had more limited time. And there was a period there when MAYO was being chastised extremely hard in Houston. When Gregory Salazar had just returned from a trip to Cuba, and he was asked a question if he was a communist and he said he was. And, thereafter, everybody was red-baited. And, shortly thereafter, MAYO was dissolved state-wide and on campus. At the University of Houston we all became involved Raza Unida, as far as that group. Other people took up MAYO efforts, but it was kind of like a graduation from one institution to another. That was around the early ‘70s when that occurred.

I: Okay. So, you all—I still don’t get the reasons for going to from MAYO to Raza Unida. I’m unfamiliar with what precipitated the transition.

DB: Well, the whole purpose of MAYO was an organization of organizers. That was our—the thought that we had of ourselves. We were an organization of organizers where nobody was really the know-it-all and nobody was really the so-called controller or anything. We were all together to criticize, to work together, to evaluate, and to, I guess, share resources and community organize and organizing around issues we were—involving Chicanos. This went on for years, and the point was reached where MAYO decided that the only solution legally available and accessible to them was through the political arena. So the Winter Garden project came out of MAYO. Jose Angel Guitierrez, at the time, was in charge of the Winter Garden project, and the project involved returning him to his hometown of Crystal City organizing around the issues that people were very concerned about then and developing some vehicle to meet those issues. And the result of the Winter Garden project was the school board got walk-out—the consequent city school board elections—MAYO/Raza Unida running candidates and being victorious. Back then, the first buttons that came out—the Raza Unida—say MAYO/Raza Unida, and that’s exactly what it was. It was MAYO/Raza Unida. At one point, the MAYO was dropped and Raza Unida just became the institution. And that change was done because of the experience of the individuals and people like Mario Compean from San Antonio and from Alberto Lara, Laredo and Lupe Youngblood from Robstown, and numerous other people that saw the only solution that we could legally pursue was to try to attack them directly in the political arena. And that’s why the party came into existence.

I: 15:33.3 Now, when you got back where you with the Raza Unida—when MAYO gave to Raza Unida—did you come back and do organizing efforts for Raza Unida here?

DB: Yes, well, ever since I was in MAYO I was—I was heading up the committee—the Raza Unida committee. I would travel to all the state-wide meetings, and so forth, and report back as to what the progress or efforts were in other areas. The purpose of my committee was to establish the beginnings of a Raza Unida party in Harris County, and—you know—this is what we were—our sole purpose of the committee was.

I: Sure.

DB: We continued, definitely continued. Not only myself, but everybody else in that MAYO group—we just kind of shifted gears.

I: Did everybody, just about, from MAYO go over to Raza Unida? I mean—you blend in—was there perfect blending in of personnel?

DB: Yes, I would say so. Nothing’s ever perfect. There were some rough spots and everything, but I would say it was just like a shift into a higher gear—into a different category of involvement. It just went rather smoothly outside of—if you forget all the red-baiting that went on, forget all the external pressures—it was very smooth. The only thing that didn’t go smooth was probably all the government pressures—the agents harassing people, the police harassment, and so forth. I would say it was an extremely well-carried out plan to implement the party, and we were very successful, as the 1972 general election results show. Ramsey Muniz got almost a quarter of a million votes and—you know—MAYO cannot take any or all the credit for that. It belongs to the people—the community that responded to what they saw was the issues. But I think that that indicates the level of organization of the ideals—you know. That was there because MAYO was everywhere. They were even in Baylor University and Waco and places like Dallas and El Paso. It was just the period of protest because of the war, and Chicanos were getting their eyes opened a little bit further by the Vietnam War—realizing the casualty rates, and so forth.

I: 17:46.0 Do you think the war had a great deal to do with the success—the early successes of the Raza Unida Party?

DB: No, not necessarily.

I: What are the issues here—by the time Raza Unida was formed and you all were getting it off the ground—what are the issues here, from a local level in Houston? What were the issues?

DB: Well, the issues were very basically the same as other areas in the state. There was still a lot of discrimination against Chicanos—particularly in education. That has been historically demonstrated by the Houston Independent School District—particularly in those periods of the late ‘60s and ‘70s. They were integrating Chicanos and blacks, so that was one key issue. The other traditional issues, of course, were the lack of representation in government—either in city, county, or state government or, for that matter, federal government. The lack of city services to Chicanos, the lack of adequate health care and lack of adequate streets and housing, and so forth—I mean—those were all issues that were definitely very much in our minds. But, I think the political thing was basically that we realized that the Democratic Party, at that time, was doing nothing but picking up a few Mexican names here and there, building them up, and making them become the (__chingones??) of their areas—you know—the big shots that would call all the—you know—all the shots in their neighborhoods or wards or precincts or what have you. And we decided that we would have to attack that directly, whether that meant running against people like Ben Reyes—you know—speaking up against people like Leonel Castillo back then. All these issues were extremely volatile and unpopular. The community was confused to some extent, but I think that our point was well-taken by quite a bit of the populous. When we ran Maria Jimenez against Ben Reyes in 1974, she succeeded in getting—you know—twenty percent of the vote. There was only two parties running in the general election in November. It was Raza Unida and the Democratic Party. And for 1974, to have those kinds of results for a so-called third party, I think, was pretty outstanding for this city. That demonstrated to us that people out there were not narrow-minded, that they were not all being taken in by the rhetoric of the establishment parties, that there was still some response. And these were all community people. And practically they were all Chicanos. In our voter analysis, we feel that we pretty well beat Ben Reyes with the Mexican vote. And Ben Reyes being just a name—just a name on a face—it could be called anything else in any other city where there is people like that everywhere. I think that the Chicano community in Houston is—was more militant, more intelligent than anybody ever gave them credit for. The way they responded to the school boycotts, the way they responded to so-called efforts like Raza Unida—that people try to downplay and call them third-party, minor party efforts—that showed definitely a need and a response and a concern there from the community—that they weren’t buying all the bullshit. Unfortunately, the repression—the oppression from the government and the parties and the other institutions hurt the Raza Unida a hell of a lot in its organizing abilities. I guess I’m making specific reference to the Ramsey Muniz bust and what that did to the organizational efforts of Raza Unida. It pretty well put it on the dead burner for quite a while and it has remained there. That really, I guess, was the one thing that was extremely hard to recover from. Just the burn—it was a bad period there. We were just burned.

I: 21:54.3 Was there any systematic harassment of Raza Unida here in Houston?

DB: I would say so. I’ve always felt that there was. Back starting from 1972, we have always been, I think, picked out by, not only police agents—this being local or federal. There were some federal instigator-types who were always around. We were always very leery of people we didn’t know. We’d had experience with certain individuals. We knew who they were, what they looked like. And we didn’t know all the other ones that were sent to spy on meetings and disrupt meetings or try to disrupt functions. A lot of this happened through the guise of so-called leftist groups. There’s a lot of police agents in a lot of these groups that would approach us and then want to get involved with us in different areas. You know—pretty soon learned how to—how to pretty well decide to do things by ourselves, and we were, I guess, criticized a lot back then for being isolationists in some sense in the Chicano organizing efforts. But the main reason—one of the big reasons was we were always fearful of instigators, people disrupting and misrepresenting what we were doing, because that had been happening repeatedly all the way from Brownsville all the way up to Dallas and everywhere in the state and throughout the country. I would say there was a very definite plan and a systematic harassment and intimidation.

I: 23:23.3 What particular leftist groups did you all have problems with? Do you remember any offhand?

 

DB: Well, no offhand, and it wouldn’t be fair to categorize some of these groups as problems. A lot of them did have some members that we were suspicious of constantly. They had different agendas and different goals. I can’t—

I: Do you suspect they were police planned?

DB: Some individuals, I would say, were definitely police plants. There were a few people that later turned out to be definite police agents. A guy named, I think, Frank Martinez who was through here during the school board cuts in the early ‘70s and later turned out in L.A. somewhere. He was spotted and confronted and accused and acknowledged as being an agent of the government. And individuals like him—Chicano people who were either ex-military-types or whatever—there were quite a few, I would say, throughout the United States—especially in Texas and the Southwest. And people were isolating Crystal City, isolating all the early successes. Trying to paint them as Red as they could. They were already, I guess, had captured the American public with the war effort as fighting communism, so the next step for them was to paint everybody as Red as they could and tell them that, “This guy’s no good. He’s pro-Castro. He’s pro-Communist and so is this organization.” They did that to us effectively in some cases and in other cases it backfired.

I: As Raza Unida, what was your first—or among the first activities here in the Houston area? Were the school walk-outs the first one or was that still MAYO?

DB: That was still MAYO, and that was basically a community-based effort. At that point we were not that involved. Raza Unida was not that much of an idea here yet. It was just beginning to develop. I guess our first efforts were an extensive voter education drive that we did—and voter registration and education at the same time. We had targeted the so-called Chicano district—district 87 back then—and we just worked that district heavily. And we had also done registration drives, education drives in the Northside—the Near Northside—extensively. We had a food coop in 1978 in the Near Northside, and that was another one of our community organizing efforts. And we met with great success reception-wise. Idea-wise, the people liked it. It was just that we were, again, low on resources. We didn’t have the money to pay people to work. We had to rely on volunteers. But we did mostly political education, political voter registration, and efforts like the food cooperative store that we had.

I: 26:10.0 Where was that?

DB: It was up on James—no, not James. No, it is James and Cochran. It’s now a bakery right across from Marshall Junior High School near Holy Name Church—about a block up.

I: Was that pretty successful?

DB: Yeah, it was extremely successful. It had quite a number of families, but the problem was—and the reason it didn’t continue—was somebody had to work that thing consistently, the same hours—you know—20-30 hours a week and it just got to be too much of a burden on the few people that were actually carrying that out. And without money it’s really kind of hard to keep people there.

I: How long did it last, at this point?

DB: Oh, at this stage, I would say a year, year and a half. I’d have to check. Edward Castillo probably has the best records and knowledge of that. He was extremely involved and so it was in his community—his neighborhood.

I: The political—your political voter registration, political registration—what election was that preparatory for?

DB: To the 1974 general election.

I: ’74? What about the ’72 election? Was that already—was that before—

DB: We did—this was before—we did some work before the ’72 election, then it was mostly petition work trying to get on the ballot. We did do a lot of registration work, but, at that point, we were just trying to be sure that we got on the ballot with adequate signatures, that we weren’t going to be kicked off, to remain on the ballot.

I: But you all were there in ’72?

DB: Oh yes. We were there in ’71. Well, actually ’70, but for ’72 we were there a year before working on it—working on the contacts and organizing the base to get the number of signatures and to pursue those people that wanted to get involved and get them involved in something or another.

I: What parts of town—say during your political education efforts and registration efforts—were you all most—best received in?

DB: 28:17.9 The Near Northside, I think, has always been the most receptive. And I still feel to this day that the Near Northside is probably the most politicized barrio in Houston. They may not be the most voting neighborhood in Houston, but that can be interpreted in two ways. People are either too intelligent to go for the B.S. people throw out or people just don’t care or are not registered. But that’s always been a receptive neighborhood—very politicized neighborhood.

I: More so than—how would you characterize, say, Magnolia Park?

DB: Magnolia has been a very limited community. There’s no room to grow there in terms of land or housing. Housing has been reduced greatly in Magnolia by the industry. So, instead of growing in population, I would venture to say their growth has been small compared to the Near Northside in other ways. Magnolia has been traditionally a stronghold for the traditional Mexican-American politicians. Our candidate in ’74, Maria Jimenez, was from Magnolia. Grew up and was educated in Magnolia. And knew all of this for a fact—you know—she knew who—what was happening in that neighborhood. When she ran for office she received a lot of support from there. And we did get a lot of votes from there much to everybody’s surprise. But Magnolia was not that big. I guess what my point was that Magnolia was not as big in numbers as Near Northside.

 

I: What about Second Ward?

DB: Second—fortunately, back then in the ‘70s, we had quite a few people—young people from Second Ward involved as organizers with us and very active. So we were getting around all those neighborhoods, and their families were getting involved. And neighbors and friends and so forth were becoming increasingly aware of the efforts and being supportive. A lot of them were being very supportive and backing us. Even some business people back then were supportive. So back in the early ‘70s was different from now. Now it’s—those neighborhoods have really been more dilapidated. The city has kind of neglected them and allowed industry and business interests to move in and kind of take over. You know—there’s a lot of whole city blocks over there in Magnolia and Second Ward where there used to be homes and other things, now they are these metal warehouses with fabrication outfits inside of them. That whole area is just—

I: 30:37.7 But in those various neighborhoods, you all were—there was a warm reception among the people?

DB: I would say so. In all those neighborhoods, without fail, there was some group or another that was very glad that we were there—that was very glad that somebody was trying to attack the institution. Politicians had been there historically. We had the best successes in Second Ward, Magnolia—particularly in the—

(End of tape 31:05.3)

(Start tape 02)

I: In terms of the coalescence of Raza Unida here in town emerging form MAYO, did the two groups then form—I mean—did the two groups, the community-based and the college-based, remain separate within Raza Unida or did they coalesce into Raza Unida?

DB: We pretty well coalesced. MAYO kind of ceased to exist, as far as we knew it, on campus after the switch was made to Raza Unida. At that point we had already totally removed ourselves from the campus we had been working on for a number of years. We didn’t even meet on campus anymore. We had an office in the community. We had already set up our first office on Harrisburg. We were already working in the community. We already considered ourselves part of a community organizing drive up front and the whole way—you know—it was—the campus thing was used against us a lot by people saying, “Oh, these students from the University of Houston.” You know—this and that. We were trying not to—give as little an appearance of being students as possible—everything from working out of offices in the community and having all our activities in the community. And this was all preparatory towards our running candidates and working towards elections later on. This was prior to ’72.

I: Do you consider the intellectual impetus coming from the campuses, or not?

DB: Uh, no, I don’t. And this has been a debatable point with me and some of the other academicians in the party. I’ve always felt that the intellectual base and, again, my definitions of intellectuals is different, I guess, than some folks. I always felt that it came from the community. That it came from the grassroots. My concept of intellectualism back then was the clearest, most concise definition of the problem and elicited a good response to that—you know—a good way to attack it. And the clearest definitions of the problems that I ever got are directions came from people that were probably not as educated as any of us were in the Raza Unida movement. People that, through their hard knocks and experience and—you know—had—I think shown or directed the group, in some form or another, towards the right issues. We weren’t going after pie-in-the-sky-type things. We were going after things that people could relate to. We weren’t really politicizing people towards any particular line of politics. It was kind of a developing process. We were developing our own ideas. Those ideas were becoming philosophies—sort of another—they might fit certain definitions, but then again, they had certain things about them that didn’t fit. And people were always trying to label the philosophy in one form or another. I always—and to this day I still refuse to label it simply because I know that out of all that, there, one day, will be some clear-cut, I guess, image of what was going on and people will be more prone to recognize that it was a mixture of influences. It wasn’t just any one influence. It was the best, I think, of everything that we had experienced—was involved there. Some—you know—there were some—some of these individuals in the party didn’t like each other because of philosophical differences. Some have very defined philosophies, orientations; others, the same way, but in a different area. And the great majority of people did have a defined philosophy. And they really were not seeking one at that point. They were seeking, just, quick responses and some solutions to some of these everyday problems. But I think that the creative, intellectual impulse came from the people that we were organizing. I think that’s one thing that Raza Unida did do—and MAYO—we were effectively reaching the unorganized people of Texas that were interested in bettering themselves through political activity or economic activity.

I: 04:19.0 In terms of Chicano organization, did you all have any cooperative efforts with them? Any endorsements, whether—not necessarily public endorsements, but what groups did you all work with better, or seem to get along with better? Were there any that attacked you publicly or not publicly?

DB: Well, there was—Henry B. Gonzales attacked MAYO on the floor of Congress one session—called them a bunch of communists—called us a bunch of communists I should say, but he was referring to a particular MAYO group and making these types of accusations. That sort of stuff, by people like Henry B., was repeated at a lesser scale and in different places in San Antonio, in Corpus, in Houston. In Houston we were attacked by Leonel Castillo on Election Day in ’74 referring to us as communists and instigating trouble and this and that. And these individuals represented groups like PASO. They were always on our back. PASO was one of those organizations that felt they had the right to dictate politics to the Mexican community. And we didn’t work with certain groups like that. We did work with a lot of small community groups. We didn’t really work with any national groups that I can think of.

I: 05:34.3 I’m talking about local groups.

 

DB: Yeah. Local groups? No, I don’t think so. They were always afraid of us. The LULACs were afraid of us. 05:41.7 (??) has never been strong here.

I: What about the Mutual Aid Society? Did you ever approach them?

DB: We worked—we did work closely with some Mutual Aid Societies. Some presidents and Mutualistas were with us. I think—we never had any trouble with the Mutualistas. I think of any organization in Houston that was probably most receptive was the Mutualistas, because they realized what the struggle was about. They realized the political repression and the economic repressions. One of our most active members was the president of a society in the east, and there were individuals like that. I’m glad you mentioned that. I had forgotten about them. And the—I hadn’t forgotten about them, I just wasn’t thinking of them as a political group. But there were other non-political groups that we were involved with. Some church groups, some parish priests were interested.

I: How were you received by the church here in Houston?

DB: I think we were received very well. They knew of the involvement of MAYO and the school boycott. The Catholic Church was not the only church, but one of the main churches behind the boycott. They offered facilities in Holy Name and Resurrection and different places for the boycott people to meet—the whole classes—boycott classes and so forth.

I: This is what? A result in the 06:58.6 (Wellig??) schools, right?

DB: Yeah. Those were the (Wellig??) schools and they were usually held in those types of places. But in general, I think the church was most receptive.

I: Did you do anything with the (Wellig??) schools?

DB: I taught government in the (Wellig??) schools.

 

I: For how long?

DB: As long as it lasted. The high school that we had set up was at Holy Name. I was teaching there.

I: 07:20.7 What, 2 years, or how long?

DB: It was over a 2-year—2-school-year period, but I’d have to really try to find out those dates a little more accurately. But it went over a period of semesters.

I: Okay. Where did you all—Raza Unida in the early years—where did you all meet? Did you all meet in one another’s houses or on the University? Did you all have—you mentioned a regular party headquarters?

DB: Well, I—we had several headquarters. The first headquarters we had was in back of our food coop and this was, again, on Cochran. There was a little room behind the bakery, and we had to set up our materials there and work out of that place doing our organizing. We’d meet in people’s homes or in different facilities we could get. We used to have a lot of meetings in Martin’s restaurant—little room upstairs she’s got for meetings and stuff. We had a lot of meetings there. We even met and interviewed Leonel Castilllo there at one point, when he first ran in 1972 for city controller. I remember very well that meeting. I was there, Poncho was there, and I think 08:31.1 (??) was there and some other folks, and we asked him if he would consider running as our candidate with our backing. And he said he would if we could guarantee him the election, the victory. And we told him, “No, it’s not a question of what we can guarantee you, it’s a question of what you want to bring to the people and—you know—to the party.” So from that point on, we have always been on the other side of the fence. He ran and was successful. He is one of those individuals that capitalize on the school boycott and the problems back then to get the prestige and popularity. Those were very liberal years in Houston, if you recall—very liberal years. We had a very liberal school board back then and David Lopez was in there and Gertrude Barnstone. This—it was around those years that things were going on. Ben Reyes got into the House of Representatives in 1972 and he was just a—you know—Leonel Castillo was one of those people who got elected in ’72 along with Ben Reyes, and both of them, I think, effectively used the walk-out school issue—educational issue—to get elected. David Lopez also got elected in ’72. That was the year for Chicanos to get elected in Houston.

I: Why do you suppose that was? The boycott, do you think?

DB: The level of activism was so great. The people were so united behind their issues. I think that the other communities—the Anglo, the black community—decided that they had to deal with it and they’d have to make certain concessions politically or otherwise to these individuals or groups. And there were no Chicanos on the school board, no Chicanos on city government. There was a Chicano in the House of Representatives. Ben Reyes—Senator Reyes took over. But that was a good year for Chicanos. Unfortunately the wrong Chicanos go into some of these places. People like David Lopez were very good and very sincere in what he was doing, but he quickly realized that he was still in the minority and decided it was a waste of time to be on a school board. He wasn’t really getting anything accomplished, so he pursued his legal career. Castillo, of course, pursued it to the point that he became the top Mexican office holder in the country and Carter took him to Washington. He came back home and saw his bubble burst. Reyes is still around. Reyes has never been the most intelligent of the local politicians, but surprisingly enough, I think, to a lot of people’s surprise, he survived and continues to survive.

I: 11:15.6 Did you all ever have a confab with him as you did, say, with Leonel?

DB: Yes. We did. I was the person that met with Ben Reyes in—oh, I would say—the fall of ’73 or it could have been early ’74. I met with him in his office. I had known him since the late ‘60s. We were involved in different projects together. The latest had been the school boycott. I knew him well enough to call him up and talk with him and to come to his office and sit down and talk with him. And I told him, “We’re going to go after your seat. We’re going after District 87, and we want to give you this opportunity to be our candidate.” And he didn’t think that that was a good way for him to go and it wasn’t what he wanted to do. He would have to run as a Democrat, so at that point we told him—or I told him that—to be prepared for opposition from us because we were developing a candidate for that race.

I: Would you—at that time were you all prepared to let him be “your candidate” in any other way than being under the banner of the Raza Unida party?

DB: No.

I: Could there have been concessions made at that point?

DB: No, we were very hard-nosed back then. We wouldn’t even consider—it was either under our banner or nothing, and we were very—we were very sure of our—what we wanted to accomplish and we wanted to—for people to realize the Raza Unida did not stand—it wasn’t there for the benefit or use of the Republican or Democratic or Socialist Worker’s Party or any other party, for that matter. It was—we were on our own.

I: 12:58.1 Could the Raza Unida be—here in Houston—be characterized by the term ‘youth’. Were you all young or not?

DB: Yes. We were young. We had some older folks, but the majority were young people. I would say so. And this carries back to the transformation from MAYO to Raza Unida that occurred. MAYO was—

I: Where was your last headquarters?

DB: Raza Unida?

I: Yes.

DB: The last one was on Harrisburg. On Harrisburg—5208 Harrisburg, I believe.

I: And it’s no longer there?

DB: No, the building is still there. Headquarters is no longer there.

I: At its peak, how many active members would you say there were in Houston’s Raza Unida. I know that’s a—(unintelligible).

DB: Membership—okay—well—

I: Not necessarily supporters, but membership—people who were really active in it.

DB: I would say several hundred—300-400 people. And these were people that, again, were supportive in different manners—some leadership roles, some work roles, some not-so-much-supportive-type roles—that they would show up only to support, but they would actually—you know—at some point or another—take some of the responsibility for doing some of the projects and doing a lot of the street work that needed to be done. There were quite a few hundred, and it would be hard to project the number. I guess if you go by the numbers that voted in our primaries, we’d get some figures. They wouldn’t be too accurate. They would be—you know—maybe close to what we had actively participating. In a general election, we received a lot of votes at different times. In ’72 it was up in the tens of thousands—you know—there were that many people voting for Raza Unida in the county. Those figures I would have to look up to get—you know—exact numbers, but we had quite a few people involved. And it’s always been hard to put a number on it—a real concise number on it, but I would say it was in the several hundreds.

I: 15:09.5 In terms of Harris County, when would you say, approximately—again, this is impressionistic—but, when would you say Raza Unida was at high tide here?

DB: Oh, our peak was in 1974 when Maria Jimenez ran for state rep. We did a hell of a lot of work to build towards that election. The work began in 1970, and we worked extremely hard registering voters. I have never seen—this is not being—scratching ourselves on the back—but I have never seen such an extensive voter registration drive in the city since the one we did preparing for that election. And I wish I could challenge all the other people to do that and let them show me differently. But we did it and it was—nobody gave us money for it. Every bit of money that we spent on it we raised ourselves through fundraisers and donations. We didn’t have a Southwest Voter Registration Project paying staff salaries or anything like that. I mean—everything was strictly on a commitment basis. There was no compensation to anybody. And it was very successful, and people were doing it out of dedication, out of commitment, as opposed to any other gains that they might get.

I: And you all came close at that time—or as close as you were going to get?

DB: We came, not as close as we would have liked, but we came close enough to feel satisfied that we had left a lasting impression in a lot of people’s lives and in a lot of politician’s careers they were not going to forget. And to this day in 1982, politicians in this city, when they meet behind closed doors, discuss certain agendas that they want to prepare for. Raza Unida is still being mentioned repeatedly. I hear it all the time. People refer to me as a Raza Unida person. Whatever impression they hope to make in people’s minds they still keep alive that name because we were effective in threatening and attacking the power base and moving the masks out of the way so people could see what they really stood for. So people like that—Reyes and the Castillos and so forth down the line—are still keeping us alive, really. Every once in a while, I pick up the paper and there will be some reference to Raza Unida and it’s not our people making those references. It’s the other folks. So apparently we made a pretty strong impression on some of the leaders in this city.

I: Was the 1974 state convention here simply coincidental, or was it part of your strategy to politicize this community? What’s the story behind that?

DB: 17:50.0 It was—that was a strategic move on our part. We wanted to have it here. We felt that our campaign with Maria Jimenez was the best local campaign that Raza Unida had anywhere in the state. And, again, we were just—we felt that way because we felt so sure about our candidate and her line and her ability to defend herself and to speak up for the principles of the party. So we wanted to have it here. We wanted the rest of the state organization to see—you know—what we were doing in the urban area—that Raza Unida was not just a rural movement—that the urban areas did have a key role to play. And that has been a historical issue within a party, urban or rural, when it—that’s a whole different discussion we could have, just on that. But we did it for those reasons. To show the community of Houston and Harris County that we did have—there was such a movement as Raza Unida in the state. We weren’t just talking and when we went out there and talked to them, they could see it on TV and on the radio. They could hear some of the other leadership around the state and the country talk on the issues, so we wanted it here. When we met in our state committees—state executive committee about it—there were other cities that wanted it, but we prevailed and our arguments prevailed and we had it here.

I: When you say ‘we’, who?

DB: The local Harris County Raza Unida people that were delegates of the conventions and—

I: Who was the—who were the delegates?

DB: In ’74, I was one of the delegates. There was a number of delegates. Delegates were selected by numbers—you know—each county—

I: Oh—I mean—in terms of getting it here to Houston.

DB: Well—

I: Who was influential in getting it here?

DB: Dutch Mendiola was involved. Maria Jimenez was involved. I was involved. There were some other folks, but I would guess probably the most influential person in getting it here was Maria Jimenez. Because of her dynamic ability to influence people and so forth, after she made her—you know—people knew her and they respected her. If she was going to be this into her campaign and her desire to do this—to run for the party and make an appeal to educate the general public about the party. They—I think they generally supported her, as well as the party, but she was most instrumental, I think, as a candidate—as a potential candidate. And she was a woman, she was young, and everything was just right for us here.

I: 20:31.7 And we can talk about this. I’d like to pursue this in another interview sometime, of course, but how—did the convention go successfully? Was it a successful convention here in ’74?

DB: Yes, I think so. We had some differences of opinion as to where it might be held, and my choice was not the Whitehall. I didn’t want to have it in the downtown area. I wanted to have it in as community-oriented place as possible, but I felt that it was very successful and that we had a good crowd state-wide. We had good media coverage. We got some good resolutions together and we got some good involvement from people and the convention process itself. I think it could have been better attended if we had been more accessible to the community. And my choice for having it was in the Northside in Jeff Davis auditorium or some big facility out there. But I didn’t—that was one—I didn’t prevail. It was just a certain—you know—a strategy.

I: The workings of the convention themselves, however, went smoothly?

DB: Oh, yes. It was smooth. There were no—just typical convention proceedings. We had discussions, disagreements, and we all resolved to work together and we did. We came out of that pretty strong.

I: What about—well, let’s talk about relations with other parts of the state of Texas briefly. Was—how would you characterize the local chapter’s relations with the rest of the state?

DB: It was good. I think it was extremely good. We didn’t have any difficulties really with anybody. We did have disagreements with a lot of the rural areas. And, again, everybody’s looking out for their own areas first. Back—you know—in the rural areas they were—a lot of people felt the cities—you know—“What can you get out of the cities? So big, so large, so difficult to organize, we need to concentrate on little areas where we can win.” And, myself, I’m basically a city person even though I have a lot of history behind me in the rural areas. My argument, and the argument of a lot of other folks, was that the cities was where it’s at. The cities hold the key to the future. It’s not in the rural areas anymore. If we don’t make a dent in the city, if we don’t make the efforts in the city, we might as well write it off because it’s not like captivating the surrounding rural areas and surrounding the city and then the city falls—you know—that kind of thinking is no longer valid. So—you know—a lot of us from the cities—from San Antonio, from Houston, and other big cities—we felt that—you know definitely should have an urban appeal, an urban aggressiveness to it. And it traditionally had had a rural success and appeal, because Crystal City was the first city. The other cities were all south Texas cities, and we never really won anything in any city but in San Antonio. In San Antonio, one of our candidates, one of our people still serve on the San Antonio River Authority—(April Morales??). And she got elected for a 6-year term. And she was one of—and she still is—but back then she was one of the main leaders of Raza Unida party in San Antonio. She’s—probably got elected in 1976-77. She’s still got another year or so to go. But there’s no—there were no real victories to speak of in the cities—city government, school boards, and so forth. And, again, it was just big populations that you’re dealing with and it’s not that easy. It’s not as easy as it is in a smaller setting where you only have 1000 people to turn out and win. You know—it’s—we’re talking here, like, for the state rep district Maria ran, she got 1000 votes and Reyes got almost 4000 votes. We’re talking about 5000 people turning out for a state rep district, so much less—you’re talking—at large basis—you’re talking 100,000 or more people—you know—to vote for some of these races that we were interested in. So that’s why we had concentrated in the state rep district. It was the smallest one, the smallest unit that we could actually evaluate and go after. 

I: 25:13.4 What was the response of the news media to Raza Unida in those years?

DB: It was very good. People were very interested in what we were doing—wanted to know more. In general, the media treated us, I think, adequately. They were never really as fair to us as they could have been. We did get a lot of bad, I guess, coverage in the sense that was not written up adequately. It was not sufficiently explained. They would make a statement about something that was said and not really pursue it to explain that statement. There was a period when—for instance—when they were red-baiting MAYO because of what Gregory had said—that everything that was said for weeks referring to MAYO was directed at making it look bad, or making the organization look bad. And Raza Unida, at that point, when the media coverage was happening was basically just the topic of journalistic interest. It was just something new to people and they were trying to investigate it and pursue leads and then trying to get stories out of it in any way they could. But we didn’t get—I don’t think we ever really got very good coverage. We got mediocre coverage in the media here.

I: Did you differentiate between the Anglo media and the Chicano media here in Houston?

DB: The only Chicano media that I’ve ever known in Houston is no longer around. It was Papel Chicano. There is no Chicano media. All these rinky dink radio stations here don’t really report news. You know—they really don’t. I know a lot of those news departments and they never have and probably never will.

I: 27:02.4 Did you all ever approach any of the Chicano radio? Well, at that time there was only one.

DB: KLVL, yeah.

I: What was your relationship with KLVL? Was there any?

DB: Yeah, there was a relationship. We bought time. We paid for it on their stations. We ran some ads in their program. There was a relationship. They did know who we were, but for them to call up and say, “Hey, Daniel, why don’t you bring Maria Jimenez down here for a noontime talk show, or for this or that—no, we would never have gotten that kind of treatment.

I: What about the newspaper here?

DB: The newspaper was nicer to us than the Mexican radio station—the Mexican papers. In particular, there’s one individual that I have to mention who’s now a big-time aide to Vice-President Bush—ex-State Rep Chase Untermeyer. Now Chase, a young Republican and generalist, was very interested in Raza Unida and he did give us some good coverage. And Chase, again, he was not a Democrat, was very much politically aware of what was going on. He was—he went out of his way to give us a fair shake. And, aside from him, I think he’s been the only one. I had to jump on Joe Nolan’s case one time because he gave me a real bad write-up one time after the ’78 elections And he was good enough to rewrite the piece and run another piece later that was more complimentary. That’s basically what I can call it because the first one was definitely not complimentary. But after I talked to him about it and expressed my—really, I was upset with him. When I expressed how upset I was with him, he decided that, indeed, he may have made some misrepresentations. Not because he wanted to, because it just turned out that way and he turned out doing it again. But, in general, the papers here were always looking for a way for sensational-type story.

I: What about El Sole?

DB: El Sole has never really been supportive of us. That’s one of those traditional newspapers in the community that really doesn’t report anything. Most of our newspapers in the Chicano communities just have ads and they steal bylines from other papers and—you know—they run other pieces. They don’t have their own.

I: 29:24.5 Was Papel Chicano—was it an organ of Raza Unida or was it just sort of coexistent there?

DB: It was just coexistent. It was not—we never had an organ—a newspaper organ.

I: Here, or anywhere?

DB: Here.

I: Here, you did not have an organ?

DB: Not here. In the state-wide there was a newspaper for a while out of Austin that was being done by some of the people up there that was, in a way, carried our information. It wasn’t really Raza Unida.

I: But you had nothing here.

DB: No, not in the sense of a newspaper. We’d experimented with newsletters and stuff like that, but no ongoing publication. A lot of our people were very instrumental in setting up and running all the other efforts. But I think our position was always if we’re going to have a newspaper, let it be a good journalist operation that will represent our facts, but, as well, will represent what goes on out there. We didn’t want people to pick up a thing and say, “No, that’s Raza Unida’s propaganda.” There’s a lot of political parties that do that, or groups that do that, but we felt that we wanted to be involved with a good newspaper, but not necessarily make that our—

I: Did you all have any ties with Papel Chicano?

(End of tape 30:41.5)

(Start tape)

I: You were saying about the Brown Berets—

DB: Yes. Well, the Berets have been active here. To my knowledge, the last period when they were active in Houston as a group was here in—there was the Campos Torres protest. It was just a couple of years ago—a few years ago, really. We’re already into 1982. It was in the late ‘70s—the last that they were real active.

I: 00:28.0 Did they—did you all work with them at all?

DB: Oh, yes. We worked together as much as possible. They were a very independent group. We did not have anything to do with their selection of issues or leadership or so forth, but they were always supportive of our programs. They were just two different organizations with two different purposes. Ours was political organizing and community organizing, and they had different organizational goals. And I’m not that familiar with their goals, but they were obviously a more—you know—in a different line. They were not in politics. They were in a different effort all together in terms of specific goals.

I: How about the decline of the Raza Unida? I mean—how do you characterize the decline here in Houston?

DB: Well, aside from all of the police agents and different efforts to discredit and disrupt the party, which was something that caused problems. And we have not yet—I think all of us have been able to really realize how much involvement there was because we’re always getting stuff that’s being uncovered years after the fact. So and so was indeed an agent and pursuing this goal of disrupting certain aspects. But the decline, I would say, really started to occur when the accusations started flying back and forth. Most of these Democratic accusations of Raza Unida people or the party taking money from the Republicans—that created an issue, an environment that we had to deal with those accusations, and something that we were not programmed to deal with. To this day, I do not know of anybody in the party that took or dealt with the Republican Party in that manner, but still we had to deal with those things. People were always throwing that out and we had to take time out to explain that. And maybe our real agenda was overlooked and people would look at that accusation.

I: Who started this? I mean—who was the—?

DB: Democratics—Democratic Party—different individuals in the Democratic Party. They were all using their dirty tricks, bags, to try to develop issues that could discredit us. The thread was already very real to them and the people in the hierarchy and the influential circles of the Democratic leadership way early in the middle ‘70s, or even earlier than that in the early ‘70s, started to do whatever they could to destroy the party. That’s just one group that was trying to destroy the party. But the decline, I think, really started to happen when Ramsey Muniz was indicted for conspiracy in the marijuana smuggling cases. That, I think, was the biggest—the people that it shocked the most, or caught off guard the most, was the people in the party. People like myself who were organizers or, in some capacity, had responsibilities within the party. It was totally unexpected—something that we were not prepared to deal with. We didn’t even suspect or know of any such things occurring or of any investigations going on. And immediately it just kind of threw a wet blanket over everything and people were—the first reaction was concern for the safety of Ramsey because we knew he was not in custody and nobody knew where he was and there was a lot of rumors going around about what might happen to him. So that was the first reaction. The second thing that I think most of us, after we got over that piece of shock, we were concerned about—because we knew what the following step would be. They were trying to destroy the party and paint the whole party as a bunch of militants and no-good individuals and we had to start defending that situation. We had to start defending the party. That’s when the—I would say—the downfall of the party occurred.

I: 04:43.4 What years where those?

DB: ’70—I think it was December ’76—late ’76.

I: It had repercussions down to the Houston area and out to the local chapter area here in town?

DB: Sure. The biggest medias were in Houston and San Antonio and Dallas, and it was very much in the media. So—

I: Were people disheartened by—I mean—the fear—I mean—

DB: You mean the general public? The party?

I: The party.

DB: People were disheartened because this stuff was going on. We didn’t in any instance, I think, any of us really believe or want to believe, what was being said. We kept looking for, “Hey, how do we—you know—who do we talk to to rectify this article that’s making noise and insinuations about the party, and so forth? We need to respond to this. We need to deal with it.” People were definitely hurt and were feeling bad and they wanted to do something. The first instinct was, “Let’s do something. Let’s make sure he’s got an attorney. We need to raise money. What do we need to do?” And so forth—those types of, I guess, self-preservation instincts took over because we saw the threat immediately, obviously, to the party. Ramsey was the bearer of the governor’s campaign for so many years running. He was never really a leader within the internal organization of the party. He was a candidate, period. But we realized, as a candidate, he represented the party and we were all going to be burned with him if he was burned, so we had to—

I: 06:24.7 Did you notice a—with the general public—did you notice a turning off toward the party here in Houston?

DB: Yes, I would say, very definitely—very definitely so.

I: So you see a kind of a bold stroke there. I mean—in terms of pinching him, of hurting your image here in Houston in very real terms?

DB: Oh, yes. In very, very real terms. Ramsey had gotten very good coverage here. We had worked very hard for Ramsey in this community. He had gotten extremely good press coverage, and when that happened, the press also covered it very well. It was in all the news.

I: Did you all—after Ramsey was—after that blow came about—did you all mount any more candidacies or get involved in any other activities here on the local end?

DB: Yes we did. I ran for state rep in 1978. At that point I realized what the future held for the party. I knew that that was the last election period in which we could get on the ballot without a major battle and petitions and so forth. I knew, as a political activist and organizer, I knew that somebody had to run in as many places as we could, whether they got one vote or 1000 votes, we just had to do it out of principle. We had to show, I felt, at least a—you know—a symbolic opposition to what was going on. And I ran here. There were a couple of other people that ran local races around the state. Mario Compean ran for governor in ’78. And that was it. I don’t foresee the day yet when there will be another Raza Unida candidate on the ballot. I, of course, see the day when there will be candidates for other political efforts that we may be involved with. Not Democratic or Republican, but maybe not necessarily Raza Unida.

I: You don’t think that Raza Unida will ever be resurrected as Raza Unida?

DB: It may be resurrected with the name, and I think that the name will be one of the only things that it may bear resemblance to. But even then I think that the name has pretty well been burned, and this has been something that I have considerably thought about. I’m probably almost sure that if we ever pursue a political effort, it won’t be exactly the same Raza Unida by name—you know—it won’t be exactly the same. It will be some differences. But, to this day right now, there is no—to my knowledge—there is no efforts to resurrect the party. People keep taking about it. A lot of enthusiastic young people that did not grow up with the party—and it kind of makes one realize how old he is—that are still looking back at that and have the enthusiasm and the energy. I do not try to dissuade them. I try to just point out to them not to use bridges that have already been burned, because it can be very dangerous.

I: 09:34.3 So the time period we’re talking about here—for just Raza Unida—would be the fall of 1970 through about 1978? Is that the correct time span in chronology?

DB: I would say so—roughly 8 years, 9 years, yeah. That sounds about right.

I: Well, I have no further questions at this time Daniel, but I certainly—needless to say—I appreciate you coming by and doing this with us for a program. And I look forward to this being the first of many.

DB: Sure. Well, maybe I can be more specific next time.