Crystal City 1969 Brings Mexican American History to Life

Celebrating 50 years of UT’s CMAS with a live reading

Courtesy of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center

Seated on hay bales in the back of a rusty pickup truck, glowing stage lights in place of the hot Texas sun, 20 actors will perform an intimate reading of Crystal City 1969 at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center on March 5.

Written by David Lozano and Raul Treviño in 2009, the play is based on the true story of a brave group of Mexican American students who walked out of their rural South Texas high school to protest discrimination. The performance – a product of efforts from the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Department of Theatre and Dance at UT Austin – is part of a series of events commemorating 50 years of CMAS.

Due to COVID-19, proper celebration of the center's anniversary was postponed. However, leaders at the CMAS wanted to make sure the center's significance was not forgotten. "Because of walkouts in places like Crystal City, there was another walkout in another little town called Uvalde, not far from Crystal City, the following year," CMAS Director Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez said. "That was the soil we were living in at the time, and that soil contributed to the founding of what is the Center for Mexican American studies in 1970."

CMAS provides Austinites and UT students with resources needed to celebrate and learn about Mexican American culture, especially in the context of Texas history. The production – taking stage at the Mexican American Cultural Center – will offer people in the Austin area and beyond a chance to learn about the center and the community events it offers. "A lot of parts of Austin and Texas history have not been well-documented, and I want CMAS to bring those to light and share those with the larger community," Rivas-Rodriguez said. "[The MACC] really is the homeplace of the local Latino community. Whenever you want to have an event that celebrates the Latino culture, whether it be the pastorela at Christmas time or the Día de los Muertos, it's kind of the ground zero for Latinos in Austin."

Many aspects of the play's set reflect historical aspects of Mexican American storytelling. The flatbed trucks seating the actors onstage serve as a nod to El Teatro Campesino – a Chicano theatre company who performed for farm workers throughout California, Rivas-Rodriguez explained. "It was an educational tool to demonstrate to people, 'These are your rights. These are the incidents and events that you yourself have lived through, and these are some of the ways that we can overcome that.'"

Though Crystal City 1969 takes place over five decades ago, the themes of empowerment and social justice still apply today, said Rivas-Rodriguez. "I'm hoping people will be inspired by seeing the story of a bunch of young people taking a stand for what they believe is right."

Live Reading: Crystal City 1969, Sat., March 5, 5pm. Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River.

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