The Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations grew out of the Viva Kennedy-Viva Johnson clubs of the 1960 presidential campaign. The clubs were a result of increasing political activism that emerged among Mexican-American veterans of World War II who returned home to discover that they still had to contend with discrimination in employment and other civil-rights problems. The veterans' recognition that the attainment of political power would be achieved only through group action ultimately took on a national focus in the Viva Kennedy clubs. Seeking greater political power, Mexican-American leaders met in Victoria, Texas, after the November 1960 presidential election to discuss strategies. The resulting organization was called Mexican American Political Action and was led by Bexar county commissioner Albert Peña. Later, a group of leaders representing the California-based Mexican American Political Association, the Texas MAPA, the Community Service Organization, and the League of United Latin American Citizens met in Phoenix, Arizona, in an effort to effect political unity within the Latino community. Their discussions led to the establishment of PASSO. PASSO adopted as its statement of principles the political perspective of George I. Sánchez, which called for the enactment of social and economic measures for the advancement of Mexican Americans. Among these were strict regulation of the Texas-Mexico border; a minimum wage for migrant workers; welfare for elderly, widowed, and orphaned Mexican Americans; better education of Hispanics; and federal aid to education. Sánchez also called for a grassroots leadership by Mexican Americans who identified with "the common man and [sought] nothing from him but everything for him." In Texas PASSO was organized into local chapters in Houston, Port Arthur, Orange, Fort Worth, Dallas, and El Paso and throughout South Texas. PASSO joined with black organizations in San Antonio and Houston to elect minority officials.
PASSO's most significant role as a political action group occurred in 1962–63 when it joined forces with the Teamsters Union to help Hispanics gain political control of Crystal City, Texas. In this South Texas town, the overwhelming majority of the population were poor Mexican-American migrants or employees of Del Monte Foods, Incorporated, the town's major employer. The Teamsters helped organize the Del Monte employees and, together with PASSO, formed a political coalition. The effort resulted in the 1963 sweep of all five city council seats by Mexican Americans, a first-time victory in South Texas, and to a Hispanic-led city government for the next two years. In its involvement with Crystal City politics, often referred to as the "first uprising" of the Chicano movement in Texas, PASSO fulfilled its vision. Though the local coalition that had brought Mexican-American leaders to the city fell apart in 1965, the victory marked a major turning point in the quest for civil rights in Texas. It also contributed to infighting between the moderate members of PASSO and its more radical leaders over the political direction of PASSO. The mainly middle-class members grew disenchanted with the militancy of the group and began to abandon it. With this change, the remaining PASSO members began direct participation in farm-labor programs, aiming their efforts at La Casita farms, known locally as the "General Motors" of agribusiness in the Rio Grande valley. Though the strike against La Casita collapsed, it boosted the Chicano movement in Texas.
PASSO's success motivated urban-based Mexican-American organizations, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Program, in leading the fight for civil rights in the rural areas. By 1966 PASSO had joined LULAC in protesting against the Johnson administration's civil-rights record in employment. During a conference of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Peña testified that Mexican Americans were victims of job discrimination throughout the Southwest and yet no Mexican American was an EEOC commissioner. He and forty-nine other Mexican-American leaders walked out of the meeting. As the Chicano movement spread throughout the state in the mid-1960s, it resulted in the formation of such organizations as the Raza Unida party, which gained most of PASSO's membership.