Protests, Movement, and Memory: The Chicano Moratorium
By Irene Sanchez
Originally published on
The Southwest Political Report
August 29, 2018
Protests have been used to challenge injustice in society. The freedom to peacefully assemble is part of the first amendment rights of the U.S. constitution. Time and time again these so-called guaranteed rights have been not only violated, but also met with repression. Today, August 29th, marks the day Chicana/o/x people rose up for social change in 1970 to protest the Vietnam war, that event was called the Chicano Moratorium.
Chicana/o/x people have been struggling to be recognized for generations. We have been struggling for a right to live with dignity and respect in the land that was once a homeland and still is. This land, the Southwest, is also a place where no matter what generation one may come from or country now from Latin America, regardless of citizenship you will always be seen as a foreigner and unwelcomed. We are taught that the most honorable way that any of us can show our allegiance to this country that at the same time closes the doors of opportunity to our community is to proudly fight for the flag and over the years, many members of our community have joined be it due to personal choice or lack of knowing of other opportunities due to tracking or believing there were no other options offered, including the option to go to college.
The Chicano Moratorium on August 29, 1970 was a protest of over 30,000 Chicanos who gathered in East Los Angeles to denounce the war in Vietnam. In that war Chicanos were dying at double the rate of their white counterparts. Out of an estimated 60,000 troops that died in the war, many were Latino, although it isn’t documented how many.
The impact of the Vietnam War and protests against it as well as impact on the Latina/o/x community is relevant today. Academics continue to study the past to shed light on what occurred. Professor Tomas Summers Sandoval, is working on a book that examines the impact the Vietnam War had on the Latino community based on oral history. Years later this history continues to be relevant and directly tied to what continues in our communities in our critical present political moment.
Fast forward to 2018, classes like the one I teach (Latina/o/x studies) compete with ROTC to this day in a district that is over 90 percent Latina/o/x students who of that are overwhelming of Mexican decent with Central American students being the next highest group. The first day of school, students at the continuation school were told that they can be successful and given examples of previous students who have been that attended the school. Aside retail jobs and some that may offer a stable working class life, the only other options that seem to be available for the students to be “successful” that are discussed are the military. Due to these recent memories, I question the purpose of education in terms of how our communities are still perceived and tracked, if that is still the case in certain schools under an inherently unequal system embedded with white supremacy, what opportunities will be offered to them? Will they learn their rights? What type of movement is this next generation capable of to speak truth to power and change things for the better? History has shown us, youth are capable of leading and changing history.
The Chicano Moratorium shaped and changed a generation of people. I had learned much of my own identity from seeds of knowledge my father planted including his description of the day events on August 29, 1970. He recalled many years ago how him and his friends went to go check it out though they were only 12 and ended up having to run for their lives due to the tear gas canisters and police. He was the first person who mentioned to me the name of Ruben Salazar and I remember the way my pops voice trembled when he said, “They killed Ruben Salazar”. Ruben Salazar was a Chicano journalist who was dedicated to the Chicano community and sought ways to reach Spanish speakers in Los Angeles. He was killed on the day of the Chicano Moratorium while covering the day’s events. When Ruben Salazar stopped into the Silver Dollar bar, police shot a tear gas canister into the bar and it hit and killed Ruben Salazar.
The look and voice of my father as he told me these things when I was a young girl, made me realize I was part of something and had a responsibility to my community. A little while after he told me what occurred when he was a kid, I walked out of my middle school in protest of proposition 187. A couple years later as a high school freshman, I think due to the protests, I was sitting in the first Chicano Studies class at Rubidoux High School in Jurupa Valley, CA.
Memory continues to live in us generations later. Some memories we inherit. Some memories shape and mold us into the people we need to become. Memory reminds us we are made of fire and the fire of memory urges us to keep moving forward, to teach the truth, to continue to work for social justice, and never ever forget the sacrifices that were made for us by previous generations.
For more information on Ruben Salazar see The Ruben Salazar Project out of USC
For more on events that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s see an exhibit and a program from KCET titled La Raza that was a publication that documented the events of the time in order to inform and empower the Chicano community. La Raza is at the Autry on display until February 10, 2019 and LA Raza from KCET you can stream online.
Check out this online curriculum project to connect on sharing ideas on how to teach this history and related Ethnic Studies topics http://www.chicanolatinostudiescurriculumproject.com