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LISTEN: A Conversation About Where The Chicano Movement Is Today

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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.)

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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.

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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:

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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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