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A pioneering Latino student protest inspired a national outcry — and this stage play in Dallas

Latino high school protestors in Crystal City, TX in 1969
Cara Mia Theatre
The three student protest leaders, Mario Treviño, Severita Lara, and Diana Serna Aguilera in Washington, D.C. Here, they discuss the discrimination they faced at their school with Senator Ralph Yarborough.

"Crystal City 1969" is about small-town Texas teenagers who were discouraged from attending college or even speaking Spanish. So they walked out of their high school — and into history.

Cara Mia Theatre debuted the play "Crystal City 1969" in 2009 — the 40th anniversary of the original student protest. Yet the theater's executive director, David Lozano, had never even heard about the walkout, although its young leaders were eventually brought to Washington, D.C., to speak with elected officials.

When Lozano started co-writing the play with Raul Trevino, Jr., he hadn't even heard of Crystal City.

But "Crystal City 1969" has become Cara Mia's most popular play. The company revived it in 2015 and now they've brought it to the Latino Cultural Center.

For the play's debut in 2009, I interviewed Lozano for KERA TV, and now seemed like a good time to revisit that conversation.

In the '60s, the student demonstration may have seemed like a blowup over "kid's stuff" -- small-town arguments about who got to be involved in cheerleading or homecoming -- butit was actually tied to more pervasive discrimination against the adult population as well. Crystal City was 85 percent Mexican-American or Mexican, yet the students were forbidden to speak Spanish or even eat Mexican food. Most importantly, perhaps, they were regularly steered by their career counselors away from colleges and towards -- the U. S. military.

Cara Mia's David Lozano on THINK TV in 2009

The play is based on the efforts of high school walkout leaders Diana Serna Aguilera, Severita Lara and Mario Treviño. Along with the influence of civil rights leader José Angel Gutiérrez, these three students eventually changed their school’s discriminatory standards and gained opportunities that many teenagers wanted in South Texas.

In fact -- not mentioned in the TV interview (not enough time!) -- this 'minor' student protest would ultimately lead to fundamental changes in the town's establishment: Mexican-Americans began running for office. It even partly inspired the creation of the political party, La Raza Unida.

"Crystal City 1969" is onstage at the Latino Cultural Center through Dec. 18.

Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.