By SYLVANA AVILA ALONZO
The Dallas Examiner
Cara Mia Theatre Company will be presenting the original play, Crystal City 1969, at the Latino Cultural Center from Dec. 9 through Dec. 19. Written by David Lozano and Raul Treviño Crystal City 1969, commemorates the 40th anniversary of the student walkout in Crystal City, Texas in 1969. Trevino is the nephew of Mario Trevino, one of the three student leaders of the walkout. The elder Trevino moved to North Texas and has lived here for many years. The play has many other connections to Crystal City, Texas, and most of them have to do with people – familial relations – some political and educational.
Crystal City is a small rural town in South Texas with a population of about 7,000 today; approximately 90 percent being Mexican American. It is a typical South Texas town. It has a special place in history, however, for being a pioneer for its political and civil rights activities, which lead to the advancement of Mexican Americans in South Texas and throughout the country. The activism gave momentum to the Chicano Movement that grew exponentially after the Crystal City walkout.
In 1963, Crystal City also made political history when the town’s people elected five Mexican Americans to their city council. The five men were known as “Los Cinco.” The victory was short-lived when all were not re-elected or chose not to run for re-election due to losing their jobs or to harassment, among other reasons.
Perhaps influenced by the 1963 election, the youth became proactive in making a difference in 1969. They had suffered institutional discrimination for too long. They were left out of school activities and educational opportunities. The rules that were set in place were unfair and made it hard for students to participate fully. They were unable to run for homecoming king and queen. Only one Chicana was allowed to be cheerleader per year. They were not allowed to speak Spanish anywhere during school hours. The three student leaders, Mario Treviño, Diana Aguilera and Severita Lara were determined to make a difference. They went before the school board to ask for change.
When their request was rejected, the students understood that they needed to convey their message through an act of civil disobedience, so they organized and planned a walkout. They took to the streets in an organized manner with instructions given to all participants. In a photo posted on the Cara Mia Theatre’s Web site, the students are seen walking orderly down a city sidewalk. This photo does not show the emotion and excitement that I recall.
My memory is limited in terms of relaying information about the walkout; I was only 6-years-old at the time. But the experience of seeing hundreds of students marching outside the elementary school and chanting, “Walkout, walkout, walkout,” invoking the younger students inside the school to join them in the protest, was life changing. It is that image that became the mantra for my own activism and the defining moment of my identity as a Chicana.
It was Dec. 9, 1969. I was sitting at my desk in the grammar school, when all of a sudden we heard a distant sound that grew louder and louder by the second as students got closer and closer to our school. My classmates and I looked at each other, then through the widows of our second-floor corner classroom. It had enormous windows all around that began at counter height and reached the ceiling. As the chanting students arrived at the school and began circling it, we rushed to the windows. The teacher kept telling us to get back in our seats and not to leave the classroom. But one by one, as the students recognized their older siblings, they ran outside to join them. Soon there were only a handful of us in the classroom. The building was almost emptied in minutes. Other teachers and a few students joined us in our classroom. I stared out the window mesmerized; my adrenaline pumped and my heart was raced. I looked for familiar faces and saw none. I remember wanting to run outside and join the students, but also wanted to stay there at the window to take it all in. I don’t remember leaving the building or participating in the organized teachings in the park. It was December, and I probably stayed home for the remaining two weeks of school before the winter break. The rest of the story I learned through listening to other’s memories of their participation and through history books.
Those moments in time made a great impact on my life; I had become a child of the walkout and part of its legacy. I will always remember the students’ faces and body movements as they manifested their emotions through chants, signs and raised fists.
When I saw a vignette of Crystal City 1969 recently, the scene of the character Lara being spanked for speaking Spanish followed by the scene of her father threatening the principal was very emotional. It took several minutes and many deep breaths for me to rid myself of the knot in my stomach and throat. I am looking forward to seeing the play in full on opening night, which is Dec. 9, 2009. I think that for many, the experience of being spanked for speaking their own language, will provide them with cultural affirmation and perhaps heal old wounds caused by past insensitive practices.
Dallas has many connections to Crystal City. The first and most significant is the fact that the co-playwright’s father was the first bilingual education director for the Dallas Independent School District – a Cristaleño. Not only did Mario Treviño fight for the right to speak his own language and not be punished for it, but his brother was also instrumental in ensuring that other students were given equal educational opportunities in Dallas. The first Center for Mexican American Studies in North Texas – at the University of Texas in Arlington – was established by Dr. Jose Angel Gutierrez and created through the legislature by state Rep. Roberto R. Alonzo, both Cristaleños. The latter becoming the first [Mexican American] elected state representative in North Texas (Dallas – District 104).
It is fitting that Crystal City 1969 should make its world premiere in Dallas. Cara Mia is dedicated to presenting plays on the Chicano and Latino experience, and can be proud of its unique mission that no other theater company is attempting to promote – yet another reason to support the theater company and Crystal City 1969. For more information on the theatre or the play, visit http://www.caramiatheatre.com.