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LISTEN: A Conversation About Where The Chicano Movement Is Today

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A car caravan in East L.A. Saturday commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium (Josie Huang / LAist)

Our newsroom's local news and culture show Take Two talked this week to Mario T. Garcia, professor of Chicano Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Erick Galindo, our Mis Ángeles columnist, about the Chicano Moratorium.

It was on this date in 1970 that tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in East Los Angeles to protest against the Vietnam War and the drafting of young Mexican Americans. What began as a peaceful march turned violent when Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies declared the demonstration an unlawful assembly.

Here are some key points made during the interview with Take Two host A Martínez (listen to the entire interview above.)

Mario T. Garcia:

The National Chicano moratorium, August 29, 1970, was the result of several months of organizing a Chicano anti-Vietnam War protest. The war had become a Chicano movement issue, not initially, but as more Chicanos were being drafted disproportionate to their numbers in the country, and more were being killed, disproportionate to their numbers. It was clear that the war was a Chicano issue. And so, despite the fact that Mexican Americans had a long military tradition... the young Chicanos, the Chicano generation, as I call them, began to realize, like other Americans, that this was an unjust war, it was an unnecessary war, and it was a war that was harming physically and financially the Chicano community.

A Martínez: Professor, for Chicanos who did not want to get drafted -- what were their options?

Garcia:

The only way, primarily, that you could not be drafted was to stay in school. Now, the reason that that affected Chicanos in a very disproportionate way was because of the segregated, inferior public schools that they have been attending for years and years. And so they were not encouraged to go to college. It was an alienating experience that spoke to nothing about their history and culture. So you have high dropout rates. East L.A. dropout rates were as high as 50% in some high schools. So you have dropped out? Uncle Sam wants you. If you graduate from high school but you're not encouraged to go to college? Uncle Sam wants you. Consequently, many simply had no choice but to go with the draft.

The conversation also got into the current state of the protest movements and significant and lasting deficiencies in how American and Los Angeles history is taught.

Galindo:

Latinos are left out of so much history. And it's sad cause we've been here from the beginning. I mean, our ancestors founded this city that we live in, you rarely hear about that. You don't learn about even L.A. history in a way that centers the immigrants who built it or even the people who were here before, the indigenous people. The history books tend to be very white and paint the white settlers as these heroes. Even the Vietnam War, when you learn about it in school, it's like there were these white soldiers that fought it. And then it was white people who were protesting against it and white people who ended the war. And so we are left out of the history books a lot, and it's hard.

To grow up in a city that's 50% Brown and not know your own history? It's really heartbreaking.

Garcia:

That's been unfortunate. Nevertheless, at least at the university level, in the last 50 years, we have produced so much historical knowledge of what it meant to be a Chicano Mexican American. But the problem is that it's only in the colleges and universities where you get this history.

What is shocking to me is that despite all of this historical production — books, articles — it has not seeped down to the K to 12. And so I get kids coming into my Chicano history classes, not only have they not heard about the Moratorium, they haven't heard about the blowouts, the walkouts in '68, some of them coming from the very schools that were involved in the walkout, and they don't know that history. That's a crime.

They also discussed where Latinos are today in terms of access to higher education and higher paying jobs.

Garcia:

One of the greatest successes I think of the Chicano movement was the access to higher education. I mean, you look back over the 50 years, we now have thousands and thousands of young Chicanos, probably including the three of us here on the phone, who got the opportunity to go to college, go to graduate school. That creates a professional class. That creates an expanded middle class and that creates more people voting, more people running for office. The roots of contemporary Chicano Latino political power, in my view, comes from that movement.

Having said that, there's still too much poverty. There's still too much lack of effective political representation. So it is a constant struggle... What have Latinos been primarily valuable for in this country? They've been primarily desired as sources of cheap labor...

And secondly, of course, the racism, the institutionalized racism. In the 20th century, anything Mexican was the smack of inferiority and so there's still a lot of still much around... What impresses me — and the Chicano movement and the Moratorum are part of that — is what I call the historical agency of Chicanos. Latinos and Chicanos have not just been victims of history, they have made history. And what they were doing in the movement in the moratorium was making history.

Martínez: Erick, what about you? What do you think needs to happen to push the movement forward?

You know, I feel as someone who grew up in a neighborhood that was patrolled by the Sheriff's and, you know, I experienced police brutality, I experienced gang violence, crime, stuff like that. It's hard for me to see this in an academic way. It's hard for me to say, academic progress is actual progress.

I feel like we ourselves need to change what defines value, because when we think about these, you know, quote unquote cheap labor -- to me, when I see farm worker, I see somebody that's beautiful. When I see somebody working at grocery store or making tacos? Like those are great jobs.

The question is, when did those jobs become seen as lower class? Is it when when Mexicans started doing them? When Latinos started doing them? So to me, it's like, what are the real changes that we can see in working-class communities, in these neighborhoods. To me, that's changing who speaks for us, how we see ourselves, how we're represented in media and how we tell our stories to other people.

Garcia:

I certainly would not say that people who have jobs that are low skilled and paid cheaper, that they're not important. They are important. They contribute and have contributed over the years to the economy of this country. The most significant contributions by Chicanos, Latinos, historically and even today, is their blood, sweat and tears and the production of wealth in this country.

But having said that, yes, of course, we've been producing a lot of wealth, but we need access to the high-tech jobs, and that's through education. And we need to continue pushing for more Chicano representation in colleges and universities and going into graduate schools and so forth. We do have to begin with empowering our communities. And that was much of the reason for the Movement, to empower the community. People feel good about themselves of being a Mexican, Latino background, and then moving forward to change conditions.

Take Two airs weekdays at 3 p.m. on 89.3 KPCC.

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WATCH: Ruben Salazar ¡Presente!' The Lessons Behind The Chicano Moratorium

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium — a decisive moment in the Chicano movement.

On that day, 30,000 protesters marched through East Los Angeles against the Vietnam War and civil rights violations of Mexican Americans. While the U.S. Latino population was less than 10% then, Latinos made up 20% of all deaths in Vietnam.

With its depictions of passionate protest and law enforcement violence against the demonstrators, including the police killing of Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar, the event made national and international news on this day in 1970. Yet for many, the lessons of the day have faded into history, if they were taught at all.

Mis Ángeles columnist Erick Galindo and LAist videojournalist Chava Sanchez spent the past week searching for the meanings behind the historic day. Watch their video above, and read his column here.

The Moratorium is being marked today with a series of events, including a march and car caravan retracing the original protest route along Whittier Boulevard. There's more information on day's events here, and there's additional coverage on Facebook Live.

Classic cars highlighted a caravan that traveled the route of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic protests. (Josie Huang/LAist)

Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University and a KPCC life trustee, says inequities motivating the Moratorium still exist:

"Today, the number one issue is COVID-19. And again, we see the disparity of people of color bearing the brunt of the virus, the essential workers, Latinos on the front lines. So to some extent, the more things change, the more they stay the same."

MORE SIGHTS AND SOUNDS FROM TODAY'S COMMEMORATION:

(Josie Huang / LAist)
(Josie Huang / LAist)

MORE ON THE CHICANO MORATORIUM:

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Morning Briefing: An ‘I Can’t Breathe’ Shirt Results In Death Threats

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A protester holds a sign reading 'I Can't Breathe' outside the District Attorney's office (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Never miss a morning briefing. Subscribe today to get our A.M. newsletter delivered to your inbox.

As America grapples with repeated, undeniable images of police brutality, some of our neighbors here in L.A. County are still opposed to public statements against such violence. After wearing a t-shirt with the words “I Can’t Breathe” to teach her 9th grade English class, one woman says she’s now receiving death threats.

“The emails ... came by the hundreds, all to varying degrees of threat” after a parent screenshotted her in the shirt and posted it to Facebook, she said (the teacher asked that we not use her name). “I tried to block them because it was scaring me so much.”

Other educators have come out to support the teacher, wearing their own clothing in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. But the teacher is still living in fear.

“This has forced us from our home,” she said, “and caused ... mental anguish and stress.”

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.

Jessica P. Ogilvie


The Past 24 Hours In LA

Race In L.A.: The 8 Percent is a new project from KPCC+LAist exploring how Black migration, community and culture have shaped and changed L.A. A new program seeks to help veterans of color deal with the subtle and overt ways racism affects their mental health. A teacher at El Camino Real Charter High School is facing death threats for wearing an "I Can't Breathe" t-shirt to her virtual classroom. Anti-racism protesters have filed a class action lawsuit against the L.A. Sheriff's Department, claiming that deputies violated their rights and used unreasonable force.

Coronavirus Updates: California has a new four-tier, color-coded reopening blueprint that goes into effect Aug. 31, and will allow hair salons to open once again. As the twin disasters of COVID-19 and fire season sweep through California, thousands of residents are pitting risk against risk as they figure out where to evacuate. A compromise bill intended to prevent a wave of evictions in California was announced.

Party Foul: L.A.’s City Attorney filed a misdemeanor complaint against TikTok stars Bryce Hall and Blake Gray, claiming that they violated both the municipal code and the “Safer LA” Emergency Declaration when they allegedly threw a large party earlier this month.

First Person: Contributor Brenda Dupré writes about overcoming the racism she endured growing up in suburban Orange County. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium march in East L.A., KPCC/LAist journalists Erick Galindo and Chava Sanchez walked the march’s route in search of information, history, and their own connection to the movement.


Weekend Reads

There's a lot going on in the world right now, and it’s hard enough to keep up with our day-to-day lives without also trying to stay current on the news. But if you have some time this weekend, these articles provide some much-needed insight into the current moment in L.A., as well as some news you may have missed:

When crime rates go down in neighborhoods with heavy gang violence, one local pastor says it’s because of the hard work done by gang leaders to bring about peace – not the police or politicians who get credit. (LA Sentinel)

A look inside a “Bridge Home” in Los Feliz, designed to create temporary housing for Angelenos with nowhere else to go . (Los Feliz Ledger)

City Councilman Gil Cedillo writes about how the Chicano Moratorium influenced his life. (The Eastsider)

Here’s how Chubby Rice, a multi-generational Chinese restaurant in Hawthorne, is holding up during COVID-19. (LA Taco)

The L.A. chapter of the Brown Beret National Party is holding its own march to commemorate Rubén Salazar and the Chicano Movement. (Boyle Heights Beat)

This grassroots organization is working towards turning voters in the San Fernando Valley away from President Trump. (San Fernando Sun)

Meet Saviii 3rd, Long Beach’s most promising up-and-coming rapper. (The LAnd)


Photo Of The Day

The Silver Dollar Bar sign hangs inside Sound of Music, the record shop that now occupies the space where journalist Ruben Salazar was killed on August 29, 1970. Salazar was struck in the head by a tear gas projectile fired by a Sheriff's deputy during the Chicano Moratorium anti-Vietnam War protest.

(Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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This post has been updated to reflect changes in what's coming up for today.


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