High Profile : José Angel Gutiérrez
By Bryan Woolley / The Dallas Morning News
José Angel Gutiérrez was 12 years old when his father
died. After that day, his view of the world changed, he says, because the
world changed in its treatment of him. "I became just another Mexican."His
father, Angel Gutiérrez, was a physician in the small South Texas
town of Crystal City. Because his father was a professional man, the community
even the Anglos had treated young José with respect. "I was somewhat
of a privileged kid," he says.
"My father was not wealthy by any means. He was a Mexican doctor dealing
with Mexican clients who paid him with chickens and onions. But we were
certainly better off than the regular Mexicans in the community. And we
were not migrants. We had been there all the time.
"After my father died, the very people who had smiled and said, 'Oh,
you're a good boy,' wouldn't even give me the time of day. Then I saw how
my mother was treated by the Anglos who had praised her and helped her
and worked with her when she was the doctor's wife. They turned right around
and tried to steal X-ray machines and all kinds of things from her. The
"It was very traumatic," he says. "I had grown up with a strong dose
of self-esteem, with the support of my parents. I was bilingually fluent,
confident, poised, the whole thing. Now I was being told, 'You've got to
keep your place.' 'Place' being kid, Mexican, wrong side of the tracks,
all those things. I wasn't used to being treated like that. I began to
connect the dots. I discovered it meant something to be Mexican."
This was the birth of a militant the beginning of a long political battle
that would bring him to national attention and controversy in the tumultuous
1970s. He has mellowed a little over the years and in his newest book softens
the definition of his old enemy. But in some parts of South Texas, the
mere mention of his name is still enough to make tempers rise.
In 1957, the year the physician died, being Mexican in South Texas meant being socially and economically inferior to the Anglos in the community and being politically powerless.
"This being a Mexican thing began to really drill into me," José Angel says. "I thought, 'What the hell is this deal?' "
Out and back
When he graduated from Crystal City High School in 1962, the now politically
and socially aware José Angel went away to earn his bachelor's degree
at Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M at Kingsville) and his master's
at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. Later he would earn a doctorate
in political science from the University of Texas at Austin (1976) and
a law degree from the University of Houston (1988).
After he had earned his bachelor's degree, Mr. Gutiérrez and
his wife also a college graduate returned to the hometown where his father
had been so respected. They applied for teaching jobs. They were turned
down. After they earned their master's degrees, they tried again. They
were turned down again.
So Mr. Gutiérrez grew into a firebrand leader of the budding
Chicano movement, an effort by militant Mexican-Americans to wrest political
control of Crystal City and Zavala County from the Anglos who had dominated
them for generations.
He founded La Raza Unida (The People United), a political party that
for years staged protest marches and boycotts and had angry confrontations
with local law enforcement officers and Texas Rangers ("the governor's
private army," he calls the Rangers).
During the early 1970s, La Raza Unida won control of the Crystal City
school board, the city council and all Zavala county offices, plus a few
offices in other counties and states. At 26, Mr. Gutiérrez was elected
to the school board that had refused to hire him as a teacher. In 1974,
he became Zavala County judge.
He tells the story of those heady days in his 1998 book, The Making
of a Chicano Militant: Lessons from Cristal, which has become a standard
history of the Chicano movement. But the work that captures the heat and
rage of the early struggle for Mexican-American dignity and power is Mr.
Gutiérrez' first book, written on the scene of the fight: A Gringo
Manual on How to Handle Mexicans.
Mr. Gutiérrez sold it out of his car trunk for $2.50 a copy.
The little, self-published paperback, badly printed on a Mexican press
in both Spanish and English, describes 141 "tricks" (movidas) that white
people, Anglos, gringos have used to keep Mexicans and Mexican-Americans
"in their place."
"I realize that books in themselves do not end oppression," Mr. Gutiérrez wrote in the introduction. "This book is a limited manual on how to deal with a racist, imperialist, colonialized society of white people."
It's also a satire about powerlessness, a humorous "guide" for white
people who want to learn how to oppress Mexicans more effectively. But
its true purpose was to train grass-roots Chicano leaders in strategies
for organization, protest and negotiation.
(Example: Trick Number 8: "Chicanos have long complained about police
brutality. The Texas Rangers, the migra [Border Patrol], the local pigs
are almost always lily-white. When Chicanos protest the brutality and discrimination
of the pigs, invariably someone will demand more Chicanos on the police
force. Bad mistake. Chicanos get what they want. Brown pigs must be tougher
and meaner than gringos in beating other Chicanos. Now even the rinches
[Rangers] have a few Chicanos on board.")
In 2001, Arte Público Press reprinted an expanded edition of A Gringo Manual that incorporates an essay on powerlessness and 100 new "tricks" to exploit Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants.
A subtler fight
The last "trick" in the original book, however, is a promise: "The tricks
discussed in these pages don't cover all the techniques gringos use against
us now. You could never cover them all. But the next book in this series
will tell about more gringo tricks and also tell about some tricks we Chicanos
can use to extend our power. Watch for the next book, The Chicano Manual
on How to Handle Gringos."
Now, almost 30 years later, Dr. Gutiérrez finally has kept that
promise. Earlier this month, Arte Público published A Chicano Manual
on How to Handle Gringos. In the new book, Dr. Gutiérrez' theme
no longer is powerlessness. For as the border of the Hispanic world moves
northward, he says, so does Latino economic, social and political power.
"Over the next 18 years," he writes, "our power condition will grow
from potential power to realized power. We will become the governors and
the governed. We will have established political sovereignty over much
of the United States. The White House, the various state houses, the numerous
city halls, the many school administration buildings, and scores of community
college presidents and chancellors will be positions held by Latinas and
A Chicano Manual is a guide to dealing with the gringo foe in that changed world.
However, in both the revised edition of A Gringo Manual and the new Chicano Manual, Dr. Gutiérrez has changed his definition of "gringo."
A gringo traditionally a pejorative Mexican word for "Anglo" is no longer
simply one of "a racist, imperialist, colonialized society of white people."
Now a gringo might belong to any race or ethnic group. "Not all Anglos
are gringos," he writes, "and not all gringos are white. I have met some
Hispanics, blacks and Mexican nationals that are as racist and prejudiced
against our Raza in the U.S. as any gringo. In fact, in Mexican society
there is an entire class of anti-Mexican Mexicans. I have met many of them."
"I try to use the word 'gringo,' carefully," Dr. Gutiérrez says in an interview. "It's a mindset. To me, a gringo is anyone with anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant views. Some of them are us. There are 'High-Spanics' who want to be anything but Mexican. It doesn't follow at all that all Anglo-Saxons are gringos. Racism is not the exclusive venue of white people."
Other matters also have changed since the '70s. La Raza Unida is dead,
partly the victim of laws and judicial decisions that make it difficult
for third parties to get candidates onto election ballots and partly because
of internal conflicts, fracture and scandal. Dr. Gutiérrez and others
are trying to revive it as a social protest movement but not as a political
party. (Its Web site is larazaunida.com.)
And the militants who organized and led the original Chicano movement
are no longer young. "We're past middle age," Mr. Gutiérrez says.
"Our generation has given its last hurrah. We're like dinosaurs heading
The Crystal City firebrand of the old days is a gray-haired grandfather
now, with "Ph.D." after his name. He's about to start his 11th year as
a professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington.
He has a law office in Oak Cliff. He's recognized as a distinguished author,
editor and lecturer.
"The generation that succeeded us got the benefit of us confronting
racism head-on," he says. "And, to their credit, a lot of gringos stopped
being racist. Maybe they still are privately, but not in their policies.
Most people now are at least civil and polite. It's not politically correct
to be a bigot in public."
Nevertheless, the Chicano fight isn't really over. The political and
social situation of Mexican people in Texas is worse now, he says, than
in the '70s.
"Our numbers are larger, but we've made very little gain in educational
attainment. We're poorer than we were then. We're less skilled than we
were then. We're sliding.
"But I have a sense of humor. I still maintain optimism. I think we
can make it better."
José Angel Gutiérrez
Date and place of birth: Oct. 25, 1944, Crystal City, Texas. Family:
Wife, Gloria; grown children Adrian, Tozi, Olin, Avina and Lena; Andrea
Lucia, 15, and Clavel Amariz, 12; four grandchildren. Occupation: full-time
university professor and part-time attorney. The most interesting job I
ever held: lifeguard at a just-integrated public swimming pool when I was
19. My heroes are: Virginia Muzquiz of Crystal City, my political godmother;
Emma Tenayuca, organizer of San Antonio pecan shellers; Reies Lopez Tijerina,
greatest Chicano leader of the 20th century Guests at my fantasy dinner
party would be: [Chilean leader] Salvador Allende, [Polish president] Lech
Walesa, the Apostle Paul, Marie Curie, Ho Chi Minh, [labor leader] Saul
Alinsky, Lyndon Baines Johnson, [comic actor] Cantinflas. My favorite president
is: Theodore Roosevelt. My favorite movie is: Twelve Angry Men. The best
advice I could give a 20-year-old: Get a job, get an education and go paint
the White House brown as soon as you can. My last meal would be: lamb chops
with red wine from Chile, and a good, cheap Dutch Masters cigar afterward.
My worst habit is: getting so engrossed in work that I don't eat. My best
asset is: optimism and good humor. I'm happiest when I'm: drinking red
wine. I regret: nothing.