Forum in Rio Grande Valley: Bringing Back Ideas, Freeing Ramsey Muñiz

By Nick Braune…

Smugglers? — Yes, book smugglers, “librotraficantes,” traveled this spring in a caravan across Texas and across New Mexico, eventually reaching their destination, Tucson, Arizona. Back in 2010, when the harsh anti-immigrant bill (SB 1070) was passed in Arizona, there was also a coordinated attack against Mexican-American Studies, and Tucson took the whole program out of its high schools. The “book smugglers” brought with them 80 different books which the high school Mexican-American Studies program had been using successfully in Tucson before it was shut down. (The program had a vibrant history and literature component.)

The smugglers made stops on the way to Tucson, holding community meetings in many towns and reading selections from the shut-down program’s books. In Tucson they are helping to form an “underground library” center to rally the people against the prejudiced, xenophobic legislators and to give the youth a sense of their heritage and a connection to liberative activity.

My wife and I had just read an interesting article (Huffington Post, 2-22-12) about the smuggler’s caravan — surely book smuggling and standing up to censorship and bans must hold an honored place in civilization — and we were pleased that a speaker we heard on Friday (July 27) also mentioned the “Librotraficantes” favorably. And the speaker understood the caravan’s symbolism: If power tries to stifle ideas, those ideas will come back in innovative ways.

The speaker was Raul Garcia, who teaches philosophy at Lamar University and was addressing a Valley meeting sponsored by People for Peace and Justice. Garcia is part of a campaign urging President Obama to release Ramsey Muñiz, an imprisoned Chicano activist who ran for governor of Texas in 1972 and 1974 on the La Raza Unida ticket. Garcia knew Ramsey in middle school and high school in Corpus Christi, where they both were athletes.

Maybe because Muñiz picked cotton as a child and for some reason would push himself to work faster and harder than people thought he could – he would even skip breaks — he became a driven football player. His high school won the state championship, and Muñiz got a scholarship to Baylor. He graduated from Baylor, as did his friend Raul Garcia, our speaker. During their years in high school and particularly their years in college in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was growing Chicano activism in Texas. Courageous new voices were being heard, what some social theorists call a “mass strike process.” After Muñiz graduated, he went to Baylor’s law school (making ends meet as an assistant football coach), and became a fine young lawyer and a charismatic speaker.

Because Muñiz, as La Raza Unida’s ticket leader, got almost 7 percent of the vote — this was really surprising for a new third party — powerful groups became edgy. (Just as members of the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement found themselves viciously targeted by the FBI, particularly during the Nixon administration, La Raza Unida was also on the government’s internal “enemies list.” Senator Frank Church in the 1970s documented the FBI and CIA illegal intelligence-gathering and frame-up mentality: the FBI’s notorious “Cointelpro” effort.)

Drug charges hit Muñiz once in the 1970s and once in the 1990s — with informants and government-owned narcotics around every corner. The story is complicated, but Muñiz looks innocent to me and he is now 70 years old.

The presentation we attended on Friday night was energetic, and Garcia was an informative and stimulating speaker. Prompted by his presentation, the questions focused on two matters: on the need to teach Mexican-American History and the need to pressure Obama to release Ramsey Muñiz. There was also a philosophical theme recurring, that there is always a back and forth connection between ignorance and injustice.

One person in attendance found and wore her “Vote for Ramsey Muniz” campaign button from 1974.”

Irma Muñiz, the wife of Ramsey, sent greetings to our meeting and to the Valley.

[This piece first appeared in “Reflection and Change,” Mid-Valley Town Crier, 7-30-12]

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