Raza Unida Party
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|Founder||José Ángel Gutiérrez
|Founded||17 January 1970|
Mexican American interests
Partido Nacional de La Raza Unida (National United Peoples Party or United Race Party) is a Chicano political party centered on Chicano nationalism. It was born in the early 1970s and became prominent throughout Texas and Southern California. It was started to combat growing inequality and dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party that was typically supported by Mexican-American voters. La Raza, as it was usually known, experienced the majority of its success at the local level in Southwest Texas, most notably when the party swept city council, school board, and mayoralty elections in Crystal City, Cotulla, and Carrizo Springs. Much of the success was attributed to the aggressive grassroots organizing that was concentrated in cities that had the lowest incomes as well as the least amounts of formal education.
MAYO and the Birth of La Raza Unida Party
The Mexican American Youth Organization, MAYO, was begun by five young men studying at St. Mary’s in 1967: Jose Angel Gutierrez, Mario Compean, William Velasquez, Ignacio Perez, and Juan Patlan. As to what united them all in creating this organization, Jose Angel explained “all of us were the products of the traditional Mexican American organizations […]All of us were very frustrated at the lack of political efficacy, at the lack of any broad based movement, and at the lack of expertise”. Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and by leaders like Martin Luther King Jr and black nationalists like Malcolm X, they reached the conclusion that the actions being taken by the leaders of the Chicano Movement were not doing enough to get results. They decided that they would halt the current approach being utilized by groups like LULAC and the American G. I. Forum, “which by the 1960’s relied on litigation and support from sympathetic Anglos to achieve their goals”. The five men decided that their new tactics would be much more confrontational, utilizing civil disobedience tactics used in the Civil Rights Movement. They decided to incorporate Saul Alinsky’s model of confrontation politics: "And we said that was going to be the strategy[…] use confrontational politics based on information[…] well researched, but also foregoing the use of nice language”. MAYO became dedicated to creating meaningful social change by relying on abrasing, confrontational (but nonviolent) measures. They protested, picketed, and spread their message through newspapers like El Deguello, El Azteca,and La Revolucion. Their tactics earned them criticisms both white and Mexican American political figures who felt that they were being too abrasive in their tactics. Jose Angel became targeted especially after comments he made where he called to “eliminate the gringo”. While he elaborated to say that by gringo he meant “a person or institution that has a certain policy or program, or attitudes that reflect bigotry, racism, discord, prejudice, and violence”, the damage was done. Despite attacks on all sides, MAYO continued to organize protests and boycotts, which is what ultimately led them to Crystal City.
The La Raza Unida Party started with simultaneous efforts throughout the U.S. Southwest. The most widely known and accepted story is that the La Raza Unida Party was established on January 17, 1970 at a meeting of some three hundred Mexican-Americans in Crystal City, Texas by José Ángel Gutiérrez and Mario Compean, who had also helped in the foundation of the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) in 1967. In Lubbock, the youth organization was headed by journalist Bidal Aguero, who later worked in the Raza Unida Party. The party originated from a group called WOW, or Workmen of the World. Its original thirteen members included Alfredo Zamora, Jr., the first Chicano mayor of Cotulla, Texas, who unseated a member of the Cotulla family. A second Hispanic mayor followed, Arcenio A. Garcia, who was twenty-four at the time of his election, the youngest mayor then in Texas. Zamora left LaSalle County within two years and the next election in 1972 was won by Garcia under the Raza Unida party. Previously in December 1969, at the only national MAYO meeting, Chicano activists decided on the formation of that third party Raza Unida. This new party would focus on improving the economic, social and political aspects of the Chicano community throughout Texas. This party resulted in the election of the first 2 Mexican American Mayors in LaSalle County.
Following the victory of the RUP in municipal elections in Crystal City and Cotulla, the party grew and expanded to other states, especially California and Colorado. In Colorado the RUP worked closely with Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales and the Crusade For Justice based out of Denver. In California the RUP spread throughout the state and held strong ground in the County of Los Angeles at one point with as many as 20 different chapters.
The novice city council was not very effective in implementing its goals and damaged the party's reputation in the short-term. RUP, however, ran candidates for governor of Texas, Ramsey Muniz in 1972 and 1974 and Mario Compean of San Antonio in 1978. They petitioned the conservative Dr. Hector P. Garcia to run on the RUP ticket, but he declined. In 1972, they ran a candidate, Secundion Salazar, in a competitive U. S. Senate race in Colorado. Salazar received 1.4 percent of the vote, as victory went to the Democrat Floyd Haskell.
During the late 1970s the La Raza Unida Party decided to change tactics from a "get out the vote" organization to a more community based, grassroots, revolutionary nationalist format seeking the unity of all Chicano, Latino, and Native Americans in the American Southwest, commonly called Aztlán. Xenaro Ayala was voted in as the national party chairman in 1978. The party held a second national convention in which Juan Jose Pena was elected chairman in 1980. However, the party was effectively eliminated from electoral politics after Compean's weak showing in 1978.
A reunion conference commemorating the 40th anniversary of the party was held from July 6 to 7, 2012, in the capital city of Austin. According to an organizer, the aging former members of the party wanted to get together for "el utimo adios," or "one final goodbye". Attendees included José Ángel Gutiérrez and Mario Compean.
1972 Texas elections
After initial successes where Chicanos were elected in the South Texas counties of Dimmit, La Salle, and Zavala, La Raza Unida Party decided to be more ambitious for the 1972 gubernatorial elections. The campaign run by La Raza Unida for the 1972 was extremely controversial because it was entirely racially based. The leaders of the party believed that change could only occur by appealing to the cultural and familial values shared by Mexican Americans. They also asserted that racism against Mexican Americans was so prolific that the entire political system would have to be reevaluated. Mario Compean, past spokesperson for La Raza Unida, said “Ours was a message of liberation from […] a corrupt political system anchored on the twin pillars of racism and discrimination, on the one hand, and social subordination imposed by capitalism on the other”. The candidate endorsed by La Raza Unida was an ex-Baylor football-player-turned-lawyer named Ramsey Muñiz. He was, at the time, a political unknown, who had been involved with MAYO since 1968 but not distinguished himself.
Muñiz ran an aggressive campaign, “everywhere he went he hammered away at both parties, although the Democrats, who controlled the state legislature and the governor’s mansion, received the brunt of the criticism”. In a speech at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, he said,
“Ya basta. Raza Unida offers the people an alternative and the days of being led to the polls to vote straight ticket for these two other parties are over… if it is not done this year, it will come next year or the next… as long as there are Mexican Americans there will be persons to replace people like me”
Muñiz ran on a campaign devoted to improving education in Texas, developing multilingual and multicultural curriculums, equal funding for all school districts, for local school boards to proportionately reflect their communities, free early childhood education, and a number of other services. Despite his immense popularity and recognition in the state as one of the leading Mexican-American political figures, his fellow LRUP candidates fell short in attaining the same level of popularity. Despite obstacles, Muñiz campaigned tirelessly both in the state and outside – targeting areas with high numbers of migrant workers from Texas. Similar to campaigns run previously in Crystal City, La Raza Unida distributed massive amounts of buttons, stickers, and posters along with holding huge vote drives on election day in the barrios.
Ramsay Muñiz lost his bid for governor in the 1972 elections. He obtained 6.28 percent of the vote, Dolph Briscoe – the Democratic candidate – received 47.8 percent of the vote, and Republican Henry Grover received 45.08 percent. An estimated 18 percent of Mexican Americans who voted in the 1972 election voted for Ramsay Muñiz. They also party received very high voting rates in rural cities and counties with lower incomes[xiv]. He received 51 percent of the vote in Brooks County and 46 percent in Jim Hogg County. In the 15 Mexican American counties, he received 30,020 votes compared to Grover's 31,641, and the winning Democrat, Dolph Briscoe. who polled 60,697 votes. While they lost the gubernatorial election, La Raza Unida Party won fifteen local positions in several borderland counties: La Salle, Dimmit, Zavala, and Hidalgo. Despite this success in the 1972 election, it could not be replicated at the state level again. However, several counties in South Texas continued to see candidates elected by La Raza Unida for years after the 1972 election, until 1978, when the party broke apart.
Crystal City indictments
In 1976, eleven officials in Crystal City, Texas, were indicted on various counts. Angel Noe Gonzalez, the former Crystal City Independent School District superintendent who later worked in the United States Department of Education in Washington, D.C., upon his indictment retained the San Antonio lawyer and later mayor, Phil Hardberger. Gonzalez was charged with paying Adan Cantu for doing no work. Hardberger, however, documented to the court specific duties that Cantu had performed and disputed all the witnesses called against Cantu. The jury unanimously acquitted Gonzalez. Many newspapers reported on the indictments but not on the acquittal. John Luke Hill, the 1978 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, had sought to weaken RUP so that he would not lose general election votes to a third party candidate. Victory, however, went not to Hill but narrowly to his Republican rival, Bill Clements. Compean received only 15,000 votes, or 0.6 percent, just under Clements's 17,000-vote plurality over Hill.
- Maria L. de Hernández (1896 – 1986), Mexican-American rights activist
- Armando Navarro (2000) La Raza Unida Party, p. 20
- Van Gosse (2005) Rethinking the New Left, p. 145
- Juarez, Alberto (1972). "The Emergence of El Partido De La Raza Unida: California's New Political Party". Aztlán.
- Márquez, Benjamin; Espino, Rodolfo (2010-02-01). "Mexican American support for third parties: the case of La Raza Unida". Ethnic and Racial Studies. 33 (2): 290–312. doi:10.1080/01419870903006996. ISSN 0141-9870.
- Garcia, Ignacio (1989). United We Win: The Rise and Fall of La Raza Unida Party. The University of Arizona. ISBN 9780939363018.
- "TSHA Online - RAZA UNIDA PARTY". tshaonline.org. Retrieved 2009-09-18.
- "Aging La Raza Unida members unite for el ultimo adios". Austin Statesman. 2012-06-30. Retrieved 2012-12-27.
- Rick Casey, "Not first time La Raza Unida has been blamed", San Antonio Express-News, February 13, 2016, p. A19
- Marquez, Benjamin; Espino, Rodolfo. "Mexican American support for third parties: the case of La Raza Unida," Ethnic & Racial Studies (Feb 2010) 33#2 pp 290–312. (online)
- Navarro, Armando. Mexican American Youth Organization: Avant-Garde of the Movement in Texas (University of Texas Press, 1995)
- Navarro, Armando. The Cristal Experiment: A Chicano Struggle for Community Control (University of Wisconsin Press, 1998)
- Navarro, Armando. La Raza Unida Party: A Chicano Challenge to the U.S. Two Party Dictatorship (Temple University Press, 2000)
- (Partido Nacional de La Raza Unida)
- Handbook of Texas Online: La Raza Unida Party
- La Raza Unida Organizing Committee (Albuquerque chapter, info about party history)
-  1996 documentary film from South Tucson, AZ featuring Raza Unida members
- Texas Raza Unida Party, 1974 state convention, Houston, Tex., September 21-22.