Book Review: The Cristal Experiment: A Chicano Struggle for Community Control
The Cristal Experiment: A Chicano Struggle for Community Control
by Armando Navarro
University of Wisconsin Press
This book discusses two occasions where [email protected] struggled to control local politics. The first occasion was in 1963 at a time when the "Civil Rights Movement" was in full swing and the second was in 1970 when the slogan "Chicano Power" was popular. The "Cristal Experiment" occurred in Cristal City, Texas. "Cristal" was the Spanish name that [email protected] gave to this city. There were different methods employed in the struggle for community control. What was interesting in the 1963 struggle was that it highlighted the class struggle within Aztlan. When the Chican@ candidates were campaigning, the Chican@ middle class did not take part, or if they did vote they voted for the white politician. So here was a situation where [email protected] from the barrios were for the first time attempting to take community control and control the city council and yet the Chicano petty bourgeoisie sided with the oppressor. This is a lesson for those seeking real transformation that goes deeper than reforms: if the petty bourgeoisie are in a similar future position, many would side with the oppressors because their class interests are firmly in imperialism's pocket.
There was also a distinction in the two "electoral revolts" in that the 1963 struggle was spearheaded by the Chicano leader Juan Cornejo who, with an 8th grade education, mostly used his local popularity. His goals were to get elected and help Raza, but this struggle was limited and reformist at best. The second "electoral revolt" was spearheaded by the politically conscious Jose Angel Guitierrez who, at the time of the 1970 struggle for community control, was studying for his doctoral degree in political science.
Guitierrez displays some of his erroneous ideology when he likens colonialism to communism. Specifically he is quoted by the author as stating: "colonialism is there in South Texas and it's comparable to some of the stable dictatorships of Latin America such as Haiti and the Dominican Republic and pre-Castro Cuba... That's what we're trying to fight because colonialism, like communism, is the control of many by a few."(p. 75)
This comparison highlights the fact that although Gutierrez was an anti-colonialist, in many ways he took on colonial beliefs when it came to external belief systems outside of U.$. academia. He displays the effects of U.S. Anti-communist propaganda where the ridiculous notion is put forward that colonialism and communism are seen as the same. If Guitierrez had done as much studying of communism as he did of Amerikan political science he would have learned that communism is a stage of social development where there is no more "control" of one group over another. Communism has never been reached yet in the world, although there have been socialist governments throughout the years. But his comment defines not only his thought – because he was a leading factor of the struggle for community control in Cristal – but that of La Raza Unida Party (RUP) and what was being pushed in 1970 during this "electoral revolt." It was reformist at heart and did not strive to overthrow U.$. imperialism or capitalism per se. It appeared to be fine with capitalism so long as brown dollars stayed in brown hands. This is bourgeois nationalism; a dead end which merely replaces a white exploiter with a brown one.
There were some positive aspects to [email protected] taking control of Cristal's city politics. One example that was subjectively pleasing was when in 1971 the city's exclusively white country club was shut down by the Chican@ city council citing discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights act. When the white country club members won in court, however the city then exercised eminent domain to confiscate the land of the country club and convert it to public housing among other things. This is something that [email protected] have been dealing with since 1836 in Texas, and 1848 throughout Aztlan, when our nation became occupied by Amerika, only it was [email protected] always struggling against the city. So it was pleasing to see [email protected] acquiring small forms of justice, if only temporarily.
I did enjoy the change in curriculum that occurred as a result of the RUP's "peaceful revolution." Full Chican@ studies were incorporated into the school curriculum, things like history, politics, and art were all [email protected] or taught from the Chican@ experience. Even the music used by the high school band was changed to include corridos and ranchera music. In this way the schools were guiding the youth toward the Chican@ nation, rather than away from the nation as it is today in Amerikan schools. The author describes how the band members would, in formation, use a clenched fist salute. Football players in the high school would also raise a clenched fist whenever they scored a touchdown.(p. 232) The youth were being revolutionized.
The way the author sums up 1980 could be describing 2014 when he said: "The bottom line was that in 1980 Mexicanos still suffered an internal-colonial status dependent on state and federal mechanisms, which were controlled by whites. The Mexicano community essentially was left to fend for itself. People were increasingly alienated, disorganized, and lacking leadership." Although today's conditions still have the Chican@ nation existing as an internal semi-colony and the mechanisms Navarro discusses are controlled by Amerikans, I don't believe simply putting [email protected] in control of U.$. "mechanisms" will solve things. Socialism which puts people before profits will be what helps resolve our situation.
Today Cristal has been left to the capitalist wolves. As of 1990, 40% of the homes in Cristal did not have proper plumbing, almost half of the population was on food stamps, and Chican@ studies was replaced with "American studies."
The author makes clear that [email protected] exist as an internal colony and that we do need to pick up where the past Chican@ movement left off. He says we need a new movement and I agree. Let us begin to rebuild the Chican@ nation in our quest for independence. But this will take more than creating community control within U.$. imperialism; it means smashing capitalism-imperialism and replacing it with socialism. Only then can we be free.