Jose Angel Gutierrez
One of the most influential leaders of the Chicano movement in the 1960s and 1970s, Jose Angel Gutierrez was born in Crystal City, Texas, into the family of an affluent doctor. Gutierrezs father died when Gutierrez was twelve years old, however, and the family was forced to earn a living by working in the fields.
Gutierrez was a bright student who was elected student body president of his predomi¬ nantly white high school. He earned his B.A. in political science from Texas Arts and Industries University in 1966. In 1968, he earned a master’s degree in the same field from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.
He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Texas at Austin in 1976 and later obtained a law degree from the University of Houston.In 1967, Gutierrez and several other St. Mary’s students founded a local chapter of the Mexican American Youth Organization, which lobbied for improvements in Hispanic educational opportu¬ nities and for other causes.
In 1969, he aided the Crystal City student walkout, which protested discriminatory practices at the local high school. The event prompted him to cofound the La Raza Unida party (LRUP) to address the polit¬ ical disenfranchisement of Chicanos in the com¬ munity. Although Mexican Americans comprised more than 80 percent of the small town’s popula¬ tion, whites held all the local political power.
In 1970, Gutierrez and two other LRUP candidates were elected to the Crystal City School Board. Gutierrez later became chairperson of the board. The shift in the balance of power resulted in a number of changes, including the creation of bilingual education programs.
In 1972, Gutierrez was elected president of the national LRUP in a closely fought cam¬ paign against another high-profile activist, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales (see no. 52). The election symbolized a victory for Gutierrez’s more moderate policies. He advocated working within the existing two-party system rather than forming a national third party.
Gutierrez was elected judge in Zavala County, Texas, in 1974. The next year, he accepted an invitation from Fidel Castro to visit Cuba. The visit, combined with his long history of activism, strained his relations with the white members of the legal establishment, and he eventually resigned his judgeship.
He moved to Oregon and became a college profes¬ sor, but he returned to Texas in 1986 as the director of the Greater Dallas Legal and Community Development Foundation, a non¬ profit advocacy group for the poor.In 1990, Gutierrez became an administra¬ tive law judge for the city of Dallas. In the early 1990s, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate in Texas. For the rest of the decade, he continued to operate the Jose Angel Gutierrez Legal Center.