In 1963 and again in 1969, Mexican Americans in Crystal City organized against Caucasian domination of city hall and the public school system. The result was an electoral victory for Hispanic Texans for the first time since the city's incorporation in 1910.
The 1963 movement was led by Juan Cornejo, a local representative of the Teamsters Union at the Del Monte cannery in Crystal City, and the Political Association of Spanish-speaking Organizations. PASSO succeeded in getting more Mexican Americans to pay the poll tax and vote. In addition, the Mexican Texans organized the large migrant farm-labor pool affiliated with the Teamsters at Del Monte. The Hispanics selected a slate of five candidates, who became known as los cinco, from among the poor and undereducated Mexican Texans, to run for the city council. The group faced intimidation by the political establishment. Several workers at the Del Monte plant were fired for wearing campaign buttons, for instance; but Teamsters officials intervened, and their jobs were reinstated. Texas Rangers were called in, reportedly to provide protection for the Mexican Americans. Agricultural leaders doubled hourly pay for their workers, and Del Monte went into overtime production to keep workers from voting. Los cinco, however, gained widespread support, and all five candidates defeated the five incumbents in a close election.
The newly elected all-Mexican-American city council and the succeeding administration had trouble governing the city because of political factions among the new officials. Cornejo was selected mayor from among the five new council members, but eventually his apparent quest for total control of city government led to his loss of support. A new group made up of both Caucasians and middle-class Mexican Americans, the Citizens Association Serving All Americans, announced its plans to run candidates for countywide offices in 1964, with the goal of ousting politicians that it considered dominated by "outside interests," an allusion to the roles of PASSO and the Teamsters in the elections of 1963. CASAA won the constable and commissioner seats and ran three Mexican-American and two Caucasian candidates in the city council election in 1965. The Hispanic activists did not repeat their poll-tax drive to bolster their voting bloc, and CASAA won.
In 1967 the Mexican American Youth Organization was founded by three Chicanos, including José Ángel Gutiérrez at Crystal City High School. In 1969, after a conflict about the ethnicity of cheerleaders, the school compromised to establish a cheerleading squad of three Caucasian and three Mexican-American girls. But in June the school board invalidated the compromise. The following November 100 Mexican-American students and their parents took a long list of grievances to the school board. In December 1969, when the board denied the charges of discrimination and refused to act on them, 200 Mexican-American students went out on strike, with their parents' support. The boycott soon extended to both the middle and elementary schools. The United States Department of Justice sent a team to intervene in the crisis, probably in response to the visit by three striking students to its Washington headquarters. The federal officials negotiated a settlement that obliged the board to meet most of the students' demands, including bilingual, bicultural education, better testing programs, and more cultural celebrations. The following January the Raza Unida Party, which was founded almost immediately after the successful student boycott, received enough votes to win seats on the school board and the city council.
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John Staples Shockley, Chicano Revolt in a Texas Town (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974).
Activism and Social Reform
Politics and Government
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Teresa Palomo Acosta,
“Crystal City Revolts,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 05, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
December 1, 1994
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