Mexican American college students fought racism in a 1969 walkout. A play dredges the missed historical past.

SAN ANTONIO — In 5 performances, a Latino theater firm’s restaging of a play about historic however missed Mexican American scholar walkouts rekindled sorrow and delight amongst audiences, whereas triggering worries in regards to the current.

The play “Crystal Metropolis 1969,” first staged in 2009 in Dallas, was carried out for the primary time in San Antonio final weekend on the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

The play tells the story of the Crystal City, Texas, student school walkouts and boycotts, when 1000’s of scholars demanded adjustments from college and native leaders, who have been white, and an finish to racist and discriminatory therapy of Mexican American college students.

Student walkout in Crystal City, Texas on Dec. 20, 1969. San Antonio Express-News Photograph Collection/UTSA Special Collections (San Antonio Express-News Photograph Collection / UTSA Special Collections)

Pupil walkout in Crystal Metropolis, Texas on Dec. 20, 1969. San Antonio Specific-Information {Photograph} Assortment/UTSA Particular Collections (San Antonio Specific-Information {Photograph} Assortment / UTSA Particular Collections)

“We’d get paddled if we spoke Spanish at school. Self-discipline was very unequal. We didn’t have Chicano counselors. They demeaned us. They have been very racist with us,” Severita Lara told NBC News in 2019.

The scholars went to the college board with 13 calls for, together with extra Mexican American college, the inclusion of Mexican American historical past within the curriculum, a good self-discipline system and extra cheerleading slots for Mexican Individuals — for the reason that college had put limits on what number of Mexican Individuals may very well be on the staff.

In addition they demanded academic fairness. Lara mentioned she wasn’t allowed to take a chemistry class as a result of she was instructed that was just for college students who have been occurring to varsity. She did go — and earned a level in biology with a minor in chemistry.

The play captures a few of that, how girls and moms grew to become the catalyst for fogeys to prepare and the way their actions have been a part of the formation of the Raza Unida Get together by one of many walkout organizers, José Angel Gutiérrez.

“Once we have been lively, there have been no books. There have been no mentors. There was no one to inform us the right way to do what we needed to do. There was simply rage,” mentioned Gutiérrez, who went on to change into an legal professional and is a professor on the College of Texas at Arlington.

College students in San Antonio and different communities in South Texas had also staged walkouts within the late Sixties and early ‘70s.

Some members of the viewers had skilled what passed off within the play, having their very own reminiscences of being hit in class by lecturers and principals for talking Spanish and having been denied academic alternatives.

A play dramatizing the history made by former Crystal City students who staged walkouts to protest racism and unequal treatment was staged to sold out crowds. From left to right, panel moderator and blogger Melanie Mendez-Gonzales, attorney and professor Jose Angel Gutierrez (former student and walkout organizer), Diana Serna (Crystal City student leader), Diana Palacios (former cheerleader denied a position on the squad because there was already one Mexicana), Severita Lara (former student leader), Mario Treviño (fromer student leader). Credit: David Lozano, executive director Casa Mía Theater.  (Courtesy David Lozano)

A play dramatizing the historical past made by former Crystal Metropolis college students who staged walkouts to protest racism and unequal therapy was staged to bought out crowds. From left to proper, panel moderator and blogger Melanie Mendez-Gonzales, legal professional and professor Jose Angel Gutierrez (former scholar and walkout organizer), Diana Serna (Crystal Metropolis scholar chief), Diana Palacios (former cheerleader denied a place on the squad as a result of there was already one Mexicana), Severita Lara (former scholar chief), Mario Treviño (fromer scholar chief). Credit score: David Lozano, govt director Casa Mía Theater. (Courtesy David Lozano)

However the occasions depicted within the play, new to some, function a reminder of what’s at stake now, as conservative elected leaders and college boards ban ethnic research books and people with LGBTQ characters and themes and put limits on the instructing of Black, Latino and different historical past, in line with David Lozano, who co-wrote the play with Raul Treviño.

“That is our story and it’s additionally a historical past that we’ve been denied rising up in faculties and even in school. You’ll be able to have a grasp’s diploma and nonetheless not know the story of Crystal Metropolis,” mentioned Lozano, who’s the chief inventive director of Cara Mía Theatre in Dallas.

“So long as this story is being denied in our faculties, this story continues to be related, and that is 53 years after the primary day of the (Crystal Metropolis) walkout,” Lozano mentioned.

The showings in San Antonio have been the primary alternative for a number of the former college students who had participated within the walkouts to see the play and gave present Crystal Metropolis college students and residents the prospect to see it. Crystal Metropolis is about two hours from San Antonio, however the play has by no means been staged there.

The attendance for the play in Austin and San Antonio “tells me that Latinos love our historical past. We’re hungry. We’re starved for our historical past and we’re nonetheless not getting it,” mentioned Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, director of the College of Texas at Austin’s Heart for Mexican American Research, or CMAS.

“The opposite factor is, I feel there’s some unfinished enterprise. I feel you possibly can see it if you have a look at political illustration … making an attempt to get folks to grasp that this neighborhood belongs to them and they should make that declare,” she mentioned, “to ensure our elected officers are actually defending their greatest pursuits.”

Rivas-Rodriguez mentioned that at each efficiency, somebody raised the difficulty of the present actions in opposition to instructing about race, racism and identification, such because the latest block by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration of a brand new Advance Placement course on African American studies.

“The folks see … that if we need to have our historical past taught in class and our historical past woven into the bigger American tales and Texas tales, we have to arise and be counted after which make certain they’re included, and if there are makes an attempt to not embrace them, we have to let our elected officers know,” she mentioned.

It is a historical past that’s painful for many who lived it. Rivas-Rodriguez mentioned she heard her sister, who sat subsequent to her in a efficiency Saturday, sniffling by the play “as a result of we acknowledged these are a number of the issues that occurred to us in our childhoods.”

Rivas-Rodriguez grew up in Devine, Texas. When her mom, who she mentioned spoke “good unaccented English and ideal unaccented Spanish,” took her to enroll in first grade, the superintendent tried to enroll Rivas-Rodriguez in a category for youngsters with studying disabilities.

“My mom requested why and he mentioned, ‘Effectively she does not converse English, does she?'” Rivas-Rodriguez mentioned. He then requested Rivas-Rodriguez if she spoke English.

“That was one of many some ways they managed to segregate children, to make them really feel completely different,” Rivas-Rodriguez mentioned.

James Garcia, a Phoenix playwright and journalist who hosts a Latino-focused radio present, “Vanguardia America,” skilled comparable discrimination whereas rising up on Chicago’s South Facet. Rising up in a Mexican American family, he spoke no English. On his first day of faculty, he could not inform the trainer he wanted to go to the toilet.

“The subsequent factor I knew, I used to be on the entrance steps of the college and was instructed, ‘Wait right here till your mom comes and will get you,'” he mentioned. “I realized later they instructed her do not carry him again till he learns English.”

“Folks neglect there was a type of cultural trauma that affected Mexicans and Mexican Individuals,” Garcia mentioned. The impact of that kind of discrimination was to inform Mexican American and Mexican college students that their language, their tradition, was nugatory, worthless and one thing to be ashamed of, Garcia mentioned.

Performs like “Crystal Metropolis 1969” and “Voices of Valor,” a play Garcia has staged about Latinos who fought for the nation, assist dismantle the Hollywood depictions of Mexicans as dangerous guys, thieves and ignorant, Garcia mentioned.

Staging of the play in San Antonio was a part of the fiftieth anniversary celebration of UT CMAS, which occurred throughout the pandemic and due to this fact had delayed a few of its occasions. It was additionally staged final yr in Dallas and outdoor in Austin to an enthusiastic crowd of about 600, according to Lozano, together with some who watched it on-line.

Olga Muñoz Rodriquez was a 26-year-old mom who helped college students in Uvalde, Texas, manage walkouts in 1970, after the college board determined to not renew a contract for a trainer, George Garza, the one Spanish-speaking trainer within the college, Robb Elementary.

This is identical college the place 19 college students and two lecturers have been killed by a gunman final yr.

Rodriquez attended one of many performances of “Crystal Metropolis 1969” over the weekend. “I saved desirous to say, ‘That occurred in Uvalde!'” mentioned Rodriquez, 78, who went on to write down and publish her personal newspaper and a book on the heroes of Uvalde. “They impressed the children in Uvalde. They impressed us all.”

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