Los Cinco Candidatos The highway signs proclaim the existence of “The Spinach Capital of the World,” and a mile or two further on, “Crystal City, population 9,500.” It is a long, hot, dusty drive from Central Texas to this forsaken corner of the state near the middle Rio Grande, 50 miles from Eagle Pass and its Mexican twin, Piedras Negras. In the flat, bleak brush country sprawling south of San Antonio to the river there live some million Texans, only 200,000 of them “Anglos.” Of Crystal City’s people, about 7,500, or three out of four, are MexicanAmericans . . or Latin-Americans . . . or Latinos . . . or, as they call themselves, mexicanos. But this year Crystal City has an historic distinction : of the 1,681 paid poll taxes in the town, 1,139 belong to mexicanos. Crystal City has become a special town, undergoing its own special kind of ordeal. Tuesday of last week, five mexicanos formally challenged, by contesting for all city council posts, the government of the town and the spending of the taxes that come in large part from the Anglos who control the economy. Out of this challenge grew the sombre trial of a rural people caught up in all the cruel complexities of 20th century racism . . . and counter-racism .. . and countercounter racism. It began with an Anglo. Last October Andrew Dickens got mad at B. H. Holsomback, the mayor Larry Goodwyn of Crystal City for the past 25 years. Dickens says he started a poll tax drive among the mexicanos after he was “taken” by the city fathers on a property lease. “I was taught as a youngster,” Dickens says, “there’s a difference between Anglos and LatinAmericans, but these officials taught me there can be quite a difference between Anglos and Anglos.” Leaders of the political association of Spanish speaking organizations Texas Mexicans’ voting strength ever since the 1960 Kennedy campaign. Albert Fuentes, P.A.S.O. state executive secretary and a noted survivor of San Antonio’s storied west side political infighting, is fond of citing the potential political impac’t in Texas of the two million mexicanos he habitually describes as “the sleeping giant.” Mexicano power in San Antonio politics is a permanent fact of that city’s life. But the head of P.A.S.O., Albert Pena, a Bexar County commissioner, says the mexicano as a political force is still laggard in Texas because he is afraid he will lose his job if he steps out politically and he does not believe he has a chance to win. Crystal City was a ready-made situation for a local test whether these two conditions could be overcome, because it is an Anglo-dominated town with a mexicano majority, and because a large pocket of several hundred workers at the California town belong to a teamsters’ union local and therefore have protection from political firings. The teamsters and P.A.S.O. joined in with a will on the poll tax drive, and when the smoke cleared at the end of last January, better than a two-to-one majority of the qualified voters were people with Spanish names. Many of the people who call Crystal City home are migrant farm workers, part of the. 125,000 Texas-Mexicans who travel throughout the country following the crops. They live in Crystal City four or five months of the year. A few own stores and are doing all right, but the great majority are common laborers, stoop farmhands, or clerks and packers at best. They live, of course, in a quarter, which Rep. Jake Johnson of San Antonio thinks looks like “a slum in Puerto Rico with a bunch of secondhand cars.” FIVE DAYS after the poll tax drive ended, Martin Garcia, a 23year-old student from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, drove down from San Antonio to help establish the “citizens’ committee for better government.” Garcia embodies the strange cross of forces here: he is a district director of P.A.S.O. and an employee of the teamsters.He is on’e of the “outsiders” from San Antonio the Anglos say stirred up all the trouble. When politics permits, he is a law student at St. Mary’s. The “crowd” at this first meeting in early February numbered 23 persons, the retired Andrew Dickens and 22 mexicanos who responded to the call of Juan Cornejp, the teamsters’ business agent at the packing plant. All 23 became directors of the committee; the decision was made to run five candidates in the April city elections. In Crystal City all power is vested in the five-man city council that hires the city manager. Fifty attended a second meeting; before the third, a sound truck rented from San Antonio was used to promote attendance, and 100 showed up. A candidate committee recommended ten candidates, and anyone else who wanted to run was told by Garcia to show up for the next meeting, at which the final five would be chosen. April 18, 1963 3
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