MAYO, founded in San Antonio in 1967, was for a decade the major political organization of Mexican-American youth in Texas; it also led to the founding of the Raza Unida party in 1970. Like many other Mexican-American organizations in the state, MAYO sought social justice. But unlike older and more established groups, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens, the American G.I. Forum, or the Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations, it stressed Chicano cultural nationalism and preferred the techniques of direct political confrontation and mass demonstration to accomplish its goals. Activism among Mexican-American university students in the mid-1960s grew out of such events as the 1965 Crusade for Justice in Denver, Colorado, and the June 1967 takeover of the Tierra Amarilla County Courthouse in New Mexico. In Texas, MAYO became one of the anchors of the Chicano movement. Besides MAYO originator José Ángel Gutiérrez, the organization's other four founders were Willie (William) C. Velásquez, Mario Compean, Ignacio Pérez, and Juan Patlán. Later, Ernesto Cortez was invited to join the group. All were greatly influenced by the political dissent sweeping the country in the mid-1960s. They were particularly intrigued by the grassroots strategies employed by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee throughout the South and by Reies López Tijerina's New Mexico movement, the Alianza Federal de Pueblos Libres (Federal Alliance of Free Communities).
In San Antonio, MAYO members set up a political study group and consulted with civil-rights leaders Eleuterio Escobar, Jr., and María L. de Hernández. True to their activist vision, Gutiérrez, Compean, and Pérez staged MAYO's first demonstration in front of the Alamo on July 4, 1967. They continued to bring other young people into their growing circle-mainly disaffected youths from the West Side of San Antonio and urban and farm-labor activists from around the state. They called their new group the Mexican American Youth Organization for the term's "boy-scoutish" ring, hoping that the name would mollify the public criticism they expected to receive. The five founders incorporated MAYO into a nonprofit organization consisting of local chapters and a state-level board of directors. They selected as a logo an Aztec warrior inside a circle, a symbol they borrowed from the Mexican national airline, Aeronaves de México. Membership in MAYO was drawn from among Mexican-American teenagers and university students who were committed to "la raza." The concept of "la raza" was part of MAYO ideology from the start. For a time the organization was known informally as La Raza Unida because of a series of conferences that Velásquez organized under that heading. From its office on the West Side, with Gutiérrez as its head, MAYO spread to Kingsville, Uvalde, and other areas in South Texas and the Rio Grande valley. Thirty chapters were reportedly established by Chicano students around the state in 1967–68, and after MAYO spread to other parts of the country by 1970 its total membership reached 1,000. University students also became a part of the MAYO network. A chapter was established in 1968 at the University of Texas at Austin as an outgrowth of the Mexican American Student Association, an organization formed at the university in 1967. There, as in many MAYO chapters, men often held the top leadership roles. But scores of women joined MAYO around the state, and several headed the University of Texas chapter in the 1970s. When the Mexican American Unity Council, an economic development corporation in San Antonio, received a $110,000 Ford Foundation grant, it allocated $10,000 to MAYO, a move that was denounced at the time by United States representative Henry B. Gonzalez, a Democrat and a vocal foe of MAYO ethnocentricity.
MAYO identified and addressed three needs of Mexican Americans-economic independence, local control of education, and political strength and unity through the formation of a third party. The organization publicly protested the poverty and injustice faced by some Hispanics, denouncing incidents of exclusive employment policies and police brutality. It also organized walkouts in the public schools of Edcouch, Elsa, Weslaco, Crystal City, and other towns. Estimates of the total number of MAYO-organized walkouts varied from a low of seventeen to a high of thirty-eight. With MAYO's assistance, students protested the school authorities' treatment of Mexican Americans and usually presented them with a list of demands such as the employment of more Mexican-American teachers and staff and the addition of Mexican-American history to the curriculum. Starting a third party occurred to Gutiérrez and other leaders early in MAYO's history, but the idea did not gain wide support until late 1969. During the first (and only) national MAYO conference, held in Mission from December 26 to 30, 1969, conference participants endorsed the idea of forming the Raza Unida party. MAYO had recently proved its political mettle in the 1969 San Antonio city election, when Mario Compean had come within 300 votes of forcing a runoff in the mayor's race against the incumbent, Walter W. McAllister, Sr. In the San Antonio race, MAYO, working on the West Side, had increased voter registration among Mexican Americans by 14 percent and voter turnout by 11 percent over the previous year. MAYO leaders were therefore eager to take the next step in uniting Mexican Americans in politics across the state.
The mainstream press sometimes gave a "bandido" image to MAYO by characterizing its members as "wearers of brown berets, combat boots, serapes, and rolled blankets slung over [their] shoulder[s]." Nevertheless, though MAYO rejected the diplomatic tactics of established Mexican-American civil-rights organizations, the San Antonio chapters of the American G.I. Forum and the League of United Latin American Citizens originally admired MAYO's "aggressive style" and offered assistance. In addition, local Mexican-American businessmen made nominal contributions to the group. At the University of Texas at Austin, MAYO garnered the support of both the eminent anthropologist Américo Paredes and the well-regarded teacher George I. Sánchez. Though the general public usually became aware of MAYO only through the mainstream press, the organization had its own newspapers, in which it reported on its activities in English, standard Spanish, and the Spanish argot known as caló (see PACHUCOS). The newspapers, with such titles as El Despertador, Hoy, El Azteca, and La Revolución, often brought a decidedly different-some would say militant-slant to their articles. But they also published stories not seen in the general press, as well as poetry, and at least one newspaper occasionally carried "el güiri, güiri," a witty gossip column written in caló.
By the late 1970s, MAYO was losing momentum as the Chicano movement weakened throughout the Southwest, like many activist organizations across the country. The Raza Unida party was in ruins after the state election of 1978. Its gubernatorial candidate, Mario Compean, had received only 15,000 votes, a poor showing that caused the party's originating organization to lose its political clout statewide.