Civil rights

Uvalde’s deep ties to Mexican American civil rights

Uvalde, Texas may have been unknown to most Americans before Tuesday’s mass shooting, but the town has deep roots in the Mexican-American civil rights struggle.

The big picture: The massacre that left 19 children and two teachers dead on Tuesday took place in a school district where one of the most crucial school walkouts in civil rights history took place.

  • Uvalde has also educated Latino journalists, historians and intellectuals for generations.
  • For decades, residents of the city, named after Spanish military commander Juan de Ugalde, lived with economic and racial divisions between whites and Mexican Americans.

Rollback: In 1970, a small group of Mexican American students in Uvalde staged a strike to protest the district’s refusal to renew the contract of Josue “George” Garza, a popular Mexican American teacher.

  • The students gave an all-white school board a list of 14 demands, including hiring more Mexican American educators and offering Chicano history lessons.
  • The school board refused to negotiate and the walkout grew from about 200 students to 500 people. It will last six weeks and become one of the longest school walkouts in US history.

What they say : “We were tired of discrimination”, former student Sergio Porras told the Voces Oral History Center. “We said, ‘We’ve had enough. Why not make a huelga, or just get out?’ It just happened.”

The plot: White leaders in Uvalde brought in the Texas Rangers to help crush the protests. Texas Rangers stood on buildings with guns pointed at protesters as helicopters flew low.

  • The protest was eventually canceled and the students were turned away for a year. Many left and completed their studies elsewhere.

Yes, but: Mexican Americans in Uvalde were mobilized as the Chicano movement grew. They ran for office and slowly took over political offices in the city.

  • Genoveva Moralesa mother of 11, successfully sued the Uvalde School District for discrimination and led a 40-year fight to get the district to integrate the schools.
  • The walkout also prompted Latino students in other parts of Texas to demand an end to discrimination.
  • Alfredo R. Santos, one of the participants in the Uvalde walkout, later became a labor organizer for Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers, then journalist.

Legacy: Monica Munoz Martinez took advantage of Uvalde’s years of walkouts. Educated in Uvalde, the future historian said she was influenced by activism and looked to the violence that Mexican Americans faced along the border.

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