Essay: The Chicano movement

The Chicano movement, also known as El Movimiento, was a civil rights movement that began in the 1960s with a primary objective of attaining empowerment and self-determination as well as rejecting and confronting the history of racism, discrimination and disenfranchisement of the Mexican-American community and was much more militant than movements prior to it. Some issues the Chicano movement dealt with were farm workers’ rights, political rights, better education and restoration of land grants. Additionally, the movement sought to gain social equality and economic opportunity. The movement strove to tackle the stereotype the media and America synonymized with Mexicans. The Chicano movement was influenced by progress made in movements such as the Black Power Movement, antiwar movement and various others.
Those who grew up before the start of the Chicano movement believed that assimilating into the American lifestyle and adopting their values, ideals and believing in their education and politics would help them become more white. The Mexican American community faced segregation in all parts of life. “Chicano” was used as a derogatory term towards Mexican Americans before the Chicano movement in the 1960s. Organizations formed in the early 1900s, such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), sought to end discrimination and segregation against Latinos.

The Chicano Movement did not start at one exact moment because of one action, but rather it grew over time and eventually flourished into the Chicano movement that began in the 1960s. Unlike before the term “Chicano” was embraced and seen as a symbol of who they were and what they were choosing for themselves.

During the Chicano movement various groups rose up to advocate for Chicano rights. The American GI Forum, Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund, United Farm Workers, MEChA and various others. The American GI Forum, founded in 1948 by Dr. Hector P. Garcia when the movement was first gaining momentum, was an organization that focused on the interests of Mexican American veterans such finding employment and voting rights. The AGIF helped returning veterans transition back into society by offering low mortgages, college and unemployment benefits as well as business loans and making sure all veterans, no matter what race or ethnicity, received their benefits.

The Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund (MALDEF), a non-profit civil rights organization, was founded in 1968 and protected the rights of Latinos in the United States. The United Farm Workers of America, also known as United Farm Workers (UFW), was founded in 1966 and it consists of two separate organizations, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). The UFW focused on labor organizing for workers across the nation.

MEChA, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán, is an organization that formed in the 1960s and became the largest student organization coming from the student movement. It spread across college and university campuses and represented the arrival of a new youth generation. MEChA strove for representation for Chicano students, embraced Chicano nationalism, and committed to advancements in education for Mexican Americans. The Brown Berets, founded in the 1960s, was a paramilitary organization that included both females and males and believed in the use of self-defense when facing aggression specifically from police officials. The organization focused on issues like struggles of farm workers, education and employment. The Brown Berets published a newspaper named “La Causa” and opened multiple health clinics.

As with any civil rights movement, there were a few people who rose up and became leaders for the people to look up to. Some of these notable figures were Cesar Chavez, Reis Lopez Tijerina, Dr. Hector P. Garcia, Rodolfo Gonzáles and Dolores Huerta. Each had their own contribution to the movement that helped get them one step closer to the goal of empowerment and equality.

Cesar Chavez, the most well known Chicano Movement leader, was a field worker until he got his start in the 1950s in a Mexican-American group called Community Service Organization (CSO) as an organizer and eventually became the national director. In 1962 Chavez left CSO along with Dolores Huerta and together they founded National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). Dolores Huerta, labor leader and civil rights activist, was the co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) along with Cesar Chavez. She was the lead negotiator for the organization and eventually served as its vice-president. Like Chavez she was part of the Community Service Organization (CSO).

Reis Lopez Tijerina, founder of Alianza de Pueblos Libres, was the face of the movement that focused on reclaiming land grants that were taken after the Mexican-American War and Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Tijerina is known for his raid of the Tierra Amarilla courthouse in 1967. Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, a Mexican American boxer, poet and activist, founded the Crusade for Justice in 1965, one of the first civil rights organizations for Mexican Americans. Gonzales and the Crusade for Justice strove for self-determination and community control and in 1969 held the first Chicano youth conference that resulted in the Plan Espiritual de Aztlán. Gonzales was known for his poem, Yo soy Joaquín, that became a work of Chicano movement literature. Dr. Hector P. Garcia, a surgeon, World War II veteran and an advocate for civil rights, was the founder of the American G.I. Forum.

During the movement there were moments that gained much more attention than others. Various moments that were able to gain so much attention were the Delano Grape Strike, Chicano Youth and Liberation Conference, Chicano Moratorium, and the pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento. The Delano Grape strike was led by AWOC and NFWA against grape growers in California for more than five years starting in September of 1965. The strike gained national attention and in the end UFW helped more than 10,000 farm workers. The Chicano Youth and Liberation Conference took place in Denver, Colorado and in the 5-day conference more than 1,000 youth attended. The attendees were able to see seminars dealing with activism, organizing and other topics. The conference resulted in El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán.

The Chicano Moratoirum was an anti-war movement led by the Brown Berets and other Chicano activists that attracted between 20,000 and 30,000 people. What started out as a peaceful movement turned aggressive when police officers broke it up. More than 100 people were arrested and 4 were killed. The pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento in 1966 was a 250-mile trek that lasted 3 weeks and grew from day to day. Chavez took this journey to bring attention to the farm worker’s cause.

While leaders like Chavez, Huerta, and Garcia helped to inspire Mexican Americans, the younger population took the inspiration, ran with it and made the movement even larger. The younger Mexican Americans started many organizations like MAYO, MASO, MASC, MASA and many others. These organizations gave Mexican American students a voice and they all believed having an education would lead to success. In the beginning, the youth were supporters of the movement, but eventually became a driving force. In 1968, students walked out of their classes and wanted to eliminate discriminatory policies within the school and wanted to have Mexican American history and culture to be part of the curriculum. College students started to join the students and in the end the Educational Issues Coordinating Committee (EICC) was formed. The blowouts in East L.A. caught national attention and saw the failure of educational systems to help the Mexican American youth.

Like any other movement there comes a time when progress slows down and can eventually come to a halt. The Chicano movement began to slow down and decline in the mid 1970s after the Vietnam War due to a loss of momentum. UFW couldn’t keep contracts due to the competition with other unions. The land grant movement stumbled after Tijerina was released from prison and the Alianza organization was too far gone to reconvene. The Crusade for Justice suffered setbacks as well with friction within the organization and hostility with police officials. Many Chicano organizations were targeted by COINTELPRO and infiltrated and eventually broke down. The Raza Unida Party dwindled down when candidates were arrested and failed to make office. Student activism decreased as well due to growing individualism.

The effects the Chicano movement left on the Mexican American community and for those who would come later were great. The Chicano Movement brought attention to the Mexican American population and since the 60s, the Mexican American population has grown tremendously. The Raza Unida Party led the way for Mexican American participation in politics. In terms of education, there is still some progress to be made for the Mexican American youth. In the end, being Mexican American is something to proud of and the Chicano Movement helped us embrace it.

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