Jose Angel Gutierrez (1944– ) lawyer, professor, civil rights activist

2011-02-14 12:53:20

Jose Angel Gutierrez was one of the earliest leaders of the Chicano movement, helping to elect five Chicano city council members in the face of threats and Jim Crow laws.
While attending St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, in 1967, Gutierrez helped establish the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO). After returning to his Texan hometown of Crystal City, he organized Chicano students in walkouts to protest discrimination and misrepresentation of the Mexican heritage in the local school system. In 1970, Gutierrez helped found La Raza Unida Party (LRUP), the political arm of the Chicano movement; two years later, he was elected national chairman of the organization. Although LRUP enjoyed some local successes, it never found favor nationwide and declined as the 1970s wore on. In 1976, Gutierrez received a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Texas. Later, he also obtained a law degree from the University of Houston Law School. In 1996 he was fired from his position as director of the Mexican American Studies Center at the University of Texas at Arlington but was later reinstated. He resigned his position there in December 1996, citing the ongoing discrimination against which he had directed much of his life’s work.
In his autobiography, Gutierrez addressed the question of self-identification, explaining “how I became a Chicano and why I never became a Hispanic.” Hispanics, he argued, identified themselves with the white, European side of their culture, while Chicanos valued the native and mixed ancestry that was common to most Mexicans (see Hispanic and related terms).