Just off the historic West Side, where many of this city’s Mexican American civil rights fights were waged, the old Texans walked past unknowing college students and filed into the Durango Building.
They were once deemed radicals on the front lines of the fight for Chicano rights in Texas. On this cloudy Thursday so many decades later, the visitors of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s downtown campus were mostly septuagenarians. They arrived from South and Central Texas or made the trek from other parts of the country to revisit a brief but significant chapter of Texas history when legions of Latinos and Latinas banded together in pursuit of political empowerment.
Out of the fight against institutionalized racism and injustices came La Raza Unida Party, a regional political apparatus that for a few years grew large enough to offer Texans a third political party. The party won local elections, made political organizers out of marginalized Texans and brought scores of new voters into the electoral fold.
Now, reconvening decades later for the party’s 50-year reunion — and possibly for the last time — organization veterans were in search of inheritors.
Assembled at round white tables in the sort of conference center typical on college campuses, more than 100 attendees listened intently as party veterans weaved their life experiences into lore, trying to pass on a story that’s been easily forgotten. From the past, they hope, springs the future for the next generations of community organizers and activists aspiring for a better and more equal Texas.
At the reunion’s opening, Mario Compean, one of the party’s founders, told attendees he hoped younger generations would listen to their stories to better “understand how we did it, and why we did it.” Perhaps they would even feel compelled to “pick up the torch,” he said.
“In our view, for as much work as we did — and we have half a century doing that work — we see it as an unfinished product,” Compean said. “An unfinished product that others have to complete.”