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Thursday, December 1, 2022

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UH alum discusses activism and change in diversity


Daniel Bustamante speaks on diversity and activism.

UH alumnus Daniel Bustamante speaks on activism in 1970 and how change in diversity at UH has changed over the years. | Greg Fails/The Cougar

A lot has changed since the 1970s. UH alumnus and recipient of the 2015 Mayor’s Hispanic Heritage Art in the Community Award, Daniel Bustamante can attest to that.

Bustamante is known as the founder of the annual Chicano Festival at Miller Outdoor Theater, as well as for his work with Casa de Amigos Health Clinics and the Houston Rodeo’s Go Tejano Day Committee.

Since attending UH in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bustamante has worked to improve the lives of minorities and workers, while expanding cultural diversity in the arts across the city.

Bustamante sat down with The Cougar to discuss activism at UH in the early 1970s, the fight for diversity on campus, the cultural arts, current issues and the future of student activism.

TC: What was the first thing that stood out to you about UH when you got here as a student?

DB: When I first got here in 1969, the university was a hotbed of activity. There was an anti-war movement, an environmental movement, the civil rights movement, a lot of things were going on. I think one of the things that really stood out to me was the unity between all the different groups and protest movements, which was really gratifying because we were all centered around the campus.

TC: How diverse was campus when you were a student?

DB: The administration back then was still very traditional, like most of the other Texas universities. One of the things that happened in the early 1970s, though, was the coalition of students. Chicanos and African Americans lobbied and protested the administration and succeeded in getting increased admissions and more opportunities for minorities to come to the campus.

TC: What was it like living in Houston, and what effect do you think you had on the community here as a student activist?

DB:  Houston was conservative (and had) a very small-town mentality back then. The campus was sort of an oasis for progressive thought, so I think we had a great influence on the community. A lot of us were community organizers and activists trying to carry messages into the communities and get off campus. We were always a good source of manpower.

TC: You’re well known in Houston for organizing free cultural music festivals, what made you start doing that?

DB: I was empowered when I saw (Campesino Teatro) because they were delivering a message through theater that everyone could communicate with, especially people who couldn’t read or write, but could see themselves on stage. I learned from that effort to use culture as a tool for organizing. I knew if I put up any small musical ensemble or group, people would gather because they enjoyed it and if we could sell some food we could raise some money for our different causes. More importantly though, it usually had to do with organizing communities to get power through the vote or by taking over institutions like schools.

TC: As an activist, what is something you’d say to student activists fighting for some of the current issues such as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in the elections this coming November?

DB: One of the things to do is battle the misconceptions others have about unknown communities. There’s a lot of good people that would do the right thing but are held back by more traditional values. There’s a large faith-based opposition to the more progressive things being proposed so, I think the best thing that individual activists and organizers can do is to put the pressure on and keep being as positive as possible. Don’t allow the other side to pick on negative things they can exploit and present the message incorrectly. Don’t give up, stick to the fundamental principles that you are about, and make sure people respect you for your integrity because it all goes back to treating human beings in an equitable manner.

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