Community Organizing: My Own Experiences (page in progress)
The Roots of My Community Organizing
My original exposure to organizing came on the campus. In high school, I was intrigued by what MAYO and La Raza Unida Party (RUP) had done one generation before, and at that point, I wanted to do exactly what they had done.
It must have been my junior year in high school, where I objected to the portrayal of Pancho Villa as a bandit and the invention of a Mexican Ice Cream party to promote the Cinco de Mayo festivities. I was encouraged by my parents, former RUP members and teachers at the Cristal project, and by an Anglo teacher, who thinly veiled his leftist views.
We circulated a petition, threatened a walkout and got full control of the following year’s Cinco de Mayo program. The next year, the Alliance for Latino Cultural Awareness, go full reign of the program, and introduced the Chicano Power clap and ideology in a historical context for the Cinco de Mayo Program. This didn’t go over well with the administration, but I was gone after that and the subsequent leaders had to deal with. Incidentally, my high school, Eisenhower, led the student walk outs, about ten years later.
I later went on to the University of Houston, where I became involved in MEChA. We had several successes, and I helped to organize a bus full of students to go to the Marcha Latina in DC. I published several guest editorials in the UH Cougar, and we railed against Frontier Fiesta, the rodeo and colonization.
I was nominated to the first National MEChA Coordinating Council by the Tejaztlan Region, but I declined in order pursue a bid for hosting the national conference.
I even got a shout out in Jose Angel Gutierrez’ A Gringo Manual On How To Handle Mexicans, a new edition of his classic work.
Several years after graduating, I attempted to move my campus organizing to the community level. I found that what I would read later in Rules for Radicals was true: a good campus organizer does not automatically make a good barrio community organizer.
Mexika Eagle Society
So after college (sort of…I had to go back to finish one semester, which I did), I spent a few years adjusting to married life. I did a presentation at a MEChA conference on nationalism, and it was during this conference that I saw a presentation by Kurly Tlapoyawa of the Mexika Eagle Society. I was largely inactive at the time, except for doing a few presentations here and there.
From what I can tell, Kurly is no longer active, but at the time, Kurly was a bad dude. He was a danzante. He was well-spoken and knowledgeable. More than anything, Kurly made me aware that there was a certain knowledge which had been hidden from us, as a people.
El Esplendor Mexica, the maps, the Nahuatl, Mexicayotl and the knowledge that be brought…well it was all sort of overwhelming and inspiring for someone who had seen Danza Azteca a handful of times. I remember being in awe that there were over a million Nahuatl speakers still in existence. I know this seems naive to most people now, but I had managed to get a minor in Mexican American studies, without knowing this and the other points he taught. Mind you this is only roughly seven years ago. Guatemala comes from the Nahuatl word Coatl, meaning place of snakes; Nicaragua “Nikan Anahuac,” up to this place Anahuac, with the other boundary potentially a few miles away, Anahuac, Texas; Temazcales and ancient ceremonies, Tlatohanis are not kings; they are speaking representatives; women were equal in Azteca times; Gods were not Gods, but manifestations of Ometeotl; we should adopt Nahuatl names, and we should learn Nahuatl, our real language. I remember showing some of the Mexika Eagle Society literature to my dad, a Raza Unida Veteran, and it was foreign to him. This was Houston, an ex-MEChA president, and ex-Raza Unida candidate dumbfounded by this knowledge brought to Houston circa 2002, by a self-described “two time drop out.” I remember Kurly standing on the stairs of the UC explaining to a young Chicano that the system was so bad, we should “separate” from it.
Happily, much has changed in Houston since then, and there are many more sources for this information.
The Raza Justice Movement Historical Workshop is largely based on the original workshop taught to me by Kurly (with his permission of course). I remember asking his permission to use it, and he told me to remember that the knowledge was not his, but that it was passed down from generations, so that he could not technically give or deny me permission, but he would be glad for me to pass it on as well.
I jumped in head first, with a couple of other Houstonians.
More to come