Page 21


MAYO was the eroding of the organization’s economic base. Governor Smith’s charges forced the national VISTA organization to clamp down on MAYO’s activities, and many of the organizers were soon purged from their jobs. Congressman Gonzalez’s denunciation ended the possibility of any more direct funds for MAYO. MAUC survived and prospered because Man moved the organization away from politics and eventually away from MAYO control, but TIED barely managed to hang on with small grants that were never large enough to hire much of a staff. Political consequences notwithstanding, MAYO had no intention of abrogating its agenda, and prominent among its objectives was educational.reform. While media events and public debates increased MAYO’s notoriety, another strategy became a trademark for which the organization would be known and feared: school boycotts. From day one the leadership gave education a high priority. In their constitution MAYO leaders unequivocally stated, “We seek to control local school districts or individual schools in order to make the institution adapt itself to the needs of the [Chicano] community rather than . . . making the . . . student adapt to the school.” They sought to gain control over the curriculum, the hiring of administrators and teachers, the financing, and the schools’ relationship to the community. MAYO leaders realized that even middle-class Mexican Americans had rallied to the issue of education in the past. It was also an area in which schools were vulnerable. Few Anglo educators could seriously defend the education system in the barrio. In San Antonio 98 percent of the teachers, without degrees were concentrated in schools that served the barrio. And these poor schools, like many others in the Southwest which served Mexican Americans, received much less money three hundred dollars less in San Antonio per pupil than the predominantly Anglo schools. WHEN THE MAYO leadership elected to challenge the educational system, it chose methods other than litigation or quiet diplomacy. Boycotts, they decided, would be the strongest weapons because funds were based on how many days of school a child attended during the year. The more absenteeism, the less money . Through their networks, MAYO activists identified students who were natural leaders and who could rally others to their cause. They oriented these students to “boycott politics,” assisted them in writing a list of demands and in setting up press conferences, and then let them take over the frontline leadership while the MAYO leaders from outside the locality remained in the background. In two years MAYO initiated numerous boycotts the estimates run from eighteen to thirty-nine from Lubbock in West Texas to the Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio in the south. Sidney Lanier High School, on San Antonio’s central West Side, was MAYO’s first target. Velasquez led the effort to create a student coordinating committee which presented a number of grievances to the school administration. The demands centered on three major points: the instituting of college preparatory courses, the establishment of culturally-relevant courses, and the elimination of the “No Spanish” rule forbidding the use of Spanish on the school grounds. That rule was seen as particularly demeaning by some of the more nationalistic students. The more moderate students strongly advocated the college preparatory courses. The student leaders came better prepared than the school officials. Lather seemed the wrong place to start a student revolt because it had a Mexican American student population of nearly 97 percent, was located in a stable workingclass neighborhood, had a large number of Mexican American teachers, and was recognized as academically the best high school in the barrios of San Antonio. Violence, vandalism, and absenteeism, so often associated with urban, inner-city schools, were not major problems at Lanier. Judging from appearances, the school did not seem a good place to organize, but MAYO activists were looking beyond appearances. They saw that there were few college preparatory courses, a large dropout rate, and that students were being punished for speaking Spanish. Most of the graduates were getting low-paying jobs, while graduates of the city’s Anglo high schools were going on to college. Possibly just as important, they saw that Sidney Lather student leaders were well-respected by the Mexican American community because they tended to be more articulate and came from more stable families than students in other west side high schools, which were worse off financially and located in less stable neighborhoods. The protest movement within the school created a rift between the students and the Mexican American principal and many of the Mexican American teachers, who sided with the Anglos. Even the nearby neighborhoods were divided, with some parents charging that the student leaders were communists and others defending the protesters’ courage and willingness to stand up for their rights. The student leaders, some coached by MAYO organizers, others encouraged by more moderate activists, were able to gather support from a number of the Mexican American politicians in the city and this gave legitimacy to the protest. Support from several Catholic priests also helped to divert some of the criticism. The climax of the student controversy came when school officials held a meeting with the parents and the student leaders in a Catholic parish hall adjacent to the school. More than five hundred people attended, including a group of Anglo sociology students who came to study the event. In a dramatic confrontation between students, led by Jose Vasquez and Homer C. Garcia both non-MAYO activists and school officials, the parents and other interested persons were able to hear both sides and to meet the conflict’s protagonists. The student leaders came better prepared than the school officials, who underestimated the students’ sophistication. School officials brought former students to testify in favor of the school’s rules, particularly the one dealing with no Spanish on the school grounds. When one former student told the audience, in heavily accented English that the “No Spanish” rule sought only to help students learn English, and that he was an example of one student who circumvented it to his detriment, a student leader quickly rebutted, telling the audience that speaking Spanish had hurt the student a lot less than the bad instruction he had received. Playing to the nationalist feelings of a large number in the crowd, the student leaders continually pointed out rules and practices they described as humiliating and degrading to the Mexican American community. In a tone and style that exuded pride in their ethnic heritage, they repeatedly demanded respect for the culture and traditions they brought from home. Slowly, they won the favor of the audience. Ironically, they did it by being more articulate, in both Spanish and English, than the “successful” students who were persuaded to speak on behalf of the school. Years later one former student wrote: The school was supposed to be the beacon of light that would lead us to a better life, but all that came from the school officials’ defense was the offer of a stable life of hard work, limited mobility, and a traditionally well-played football schedule. It wasn’t that the teachers did not teach about better things, it was just that no one in the school system did more than just teach. . . . In contrast, what I was hearing from the student protesters were new challenges, new horizons, all the things that my parents and an occasional good teacher had taught me to believe in. Completely embarrassed in the meeting, the school officials capitulated. In its May 1968 edition the Chicano newspaper Inferno reported: “Nine of the demands were granted as they were proposed. The one most popularly received was the one dealing with speaking Spanish at school.” Shortly after the Lather victory, students at Edgewood High School and Junior High School walked out of their classrooms, 12 SEPTEMBER 1, 1989