MÚZQUIZ, VIRGINIA AGUIRRE

Jessica Cantú and Katherine Kuehler Walters

MÚZQUIZ, VIRGINIA AGUIRRE (1925–2002). Virginia Múzquiz, political activist and community organizer, was born in the South Texas town of Nordheim on December 13, 1925, to Anita Vega and Juan Aguirre. She participated in two successful efforts by Mexican Americans in Crystal City, Texas, to wrest control of local political offices from conservative Anglos. Múzquiz also ran for state office in 1964 and worked for the rights of women through Ciudadanos Unidos, a community-based organization from Crystal City.

Estranged from her father at a young age, Múzquiz and her seven siblings were raised primarily by her mother, a migrant farm worker, and traveled with her mother following seasonal agricultural work throughout Texas when she was young. When she was old enough, she too became a farm laborer and traveled with her family to farms as far away as Virginia and Wyoming. Because of this, Múzquiz received only intermittent schooling and spoke little English until she was older. In 1943 Múzquiz married Encarnacion García and gave birth to a daughter, Luz Elena García, in 1944. At that time Virginia was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was quarantined at the State Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Sanatorium, Texas, near San Angelo. She contracted the disease as a child; however, her illness had gone undiagnosed due to her family’s limited access to healthcare, a common problem that faced many migrant farm workers.

She and her husband divorced soon after, and she returned to her family in La Pryor, Texas. For the next five years Múzquiz was in and out of hospitals and had to have a lung surgically removed due to her condition. At the age of twenty-two years, she moved to Crystal City with her sisters to find work and soon married Jesús Múzquiz de la Garza, a successful local businessman. Twenty-five years her senior, her husband had been born to a prominent family in the town of Melchor Múzquiz in Coahuila, Mexico. He came to the United States in 1914 as a teenager to continue his formal education in San Antonio, Texas, and to escape the violence of the Mexican Revolution. Within a year of marriage, Virginia and Jesús had a daughter named Elda Lina. Another child died in infancy. After her pregnancy, she was once again interred for tuberculosis, this time in Mission, Texas. While there, with her husband’s encouragement, she learned English through the Hemphill Correspondence School.

Virginia Múzquiz was well-known in Crystal City. In the segregated town, her husband owned the only hotel for Mexican guests, as well as a restaurant and regional coin-operated pianola business. She became a public notary, did bookkeeping for her husband, and attended a segregated Methodist church in town. She also served as a community translator for her friends and neighbors by advising them on official government, school, and business activities, and advocating on their behalf. 

Múzquiz’s political activity increased as Crystal City became a key center of political activism for Mexican civil rights during the early 1960s in Texas (see CRYSTAL CITY REVOLTS). In 1960 Tejanos and Mexican immigrants comprised 85 percent of Crystal City’s population; yet, Anglos dominated local government because various factors, including the poll tax, effectively disfranchised much of the local population. In 1963 the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations (PASSO), a coalition of civil and worker rights groups, helped spearhead registration and voter drives and held rallies for Los Cinco Candidatos, a slate of five Mexican-American candidates to challenge the local Anglo political establishment. Múzquiz joined the local movement in 1963 first by attending rallies with her husband and daughter, then by speaking publicly on behalf of the candidates. She also worked as a poll watcher. The effort paid off. The slate of five won every seat. The following year, Múzquiz ran for state representative of the Sixty-seventh District of Dimmit, Zavala, Medina, and Uvalde counties, making her one of the first Latinas to run for a state office in Texas. She lost the election because too few Mexican Americans registered to vote, perhaps discouraged by the required poll tax and fear of employer reprisal, to compete with an Anglo reactionary resurgence at the polls. Múzquiz, however, believed that her campaign raised political awareness within the Mexican American community, especially among women. In 1965 she ran for city council on the PASSO ticket which lost to the Anglo-business led counter-coup.

Múzquiz used her voice and public recognition to support other movements for Mexican-American rights. In 1969 she spoke at student rallies after Crystal City’s Mexican-American high school students walked out of their classes to protest discriminatory practices in area schools. Múzquiz helped organize a community and student protest against the arrest of striking farmworkers which was held in Crystal City in 1972. In 1970 she joined the Raza Unida Party (RUP), a political party first organized in Crystal City that same year, and served as its national chair from 1972 to 1974. During her chairmanship, Múzquiz helped establish the Mujeres Por La Raza, the women’s caucus of RUP, which worked for gender equality in the party. She also became an important advisor to the RUP. She guided them through the intricacies of election law and the process of gaining official ballot status for the party. José Angel Gutiérrez, a prominent leader in the Crystal City movement, credited Múzquiz and her leadership abilities with the early success of the RUP. Múzquiz served on the Crystal City Urban Renewal Board of Commissioners in 1974 and was the first Tejana elected to county clerk of Zavala County. She served from 1975 through 1977. She retired from public life in 1978.

Múzquiz has been recognized as a powerful and eloquent speaker, a civil rights activist, and a pioneer among Chicana feminists in the Chicano movement. Virginia Aguirre Múzquiz died on February 12, 2002, in Crystal City.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Teresa Palomo Acosta and Ruthe Winegarten, Las Tejanas: 300 Years of History (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003). José Angel Gutiérrez, Michelle Meléndez, and Sonia Adriana Noyola, Chicanas in Charge: Texas Women in the Public Arena (Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2007). Virginia Múzquiz, Interview by José Angel Gutiérrez, September 24, 1999, Tejano Voices (University of Texas at Arlington Center for Mexican American Studies, 2011). Armando Navarro, The Cristal Experiment, A Chicano Struggle for Community Control (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998). 

Jessica Cantú
Katherine Kuehler Walters

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Handbook of Texas Online, Jessica Cantú and Katherine Kuehler Walters, "MÚZQUIZ, VIRGINIA AGUIRRE," accessed April 20, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fmu45.

Uploaded on March 16, 2019. Modified on March 19, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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