This past weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium. Many Chicanos and Chicanas who lived through the 60’s and 70’s recognize August 29th as an honored day in our history. Despite the passage of time, the significance of the Chicano Moratorium and the lessons it taught us remain as relevant and instructive as ever.
Frustrated and angry that young Chicanos were disproportionately being sent to die in Vietnam, over 20,000 Chicanos took to the streets of East L.A in protest. Larger than the East L.A. school walkouts just two years before, the march was memorable as one of the largest organized protests of what was largely young Chicanos and Chicanas.
At this time in the history of the Chicano movement, language and theory evolved to define it as much a movement of social justice and change as it was one of cultural identity. After they had been denigrated as low class, Chicanos embraced cholos, lowriders, Spanglish, and the concept of la raza and Aztlán. We dismissed the notion of assimilation’s inevitability, the need and the need to lose our Spanish language. We clarified that our history embraced our indigenous roots, values, and traditions. It became a period of slogans that few non-Chicanos had ever seen before. Countless Chicano and Chicana activists could be heard to shoot:
¡Sí Se Puede!
¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!
Brown and Proud
¡Raza si! ¡Guerra no!
¡Viva la Causa!
Fifty years ago on August 29th began like many peaceful protests have in the last few months. Despite an otherwise peaceful rally, Los Angeles sheriffs fired on protesters with tear gas and billy clubs, resulting in the deaths of three people. Later, sheriffs claimed it was necessary to dismantle the rally because a crime been committed a few blocks away. Now that they had a “legitimate” reason to be at the park, the sheriffs provoked violence by beating protestors. Sounds a little familiar, doesn’t it?
The Chicano Moratorium was so much more than a successful march and rally infiltrated by the sheriffs. Organizing around the Moratorium had been evolving beyond the Vietnam War. Community organizers had begun cataloguing the discrimination and racism Chicanos faced in education, housing, employment, police brutality, and immigration. Despite the dark times they faced, there was a parallel resurgence of cultural identity and pride, and an unwillingness to deny it to gain the American Dream.
We can hold on to the lessons of the Chicano Moratorium. Their success lay in the understanding of their identity, an acknowledgement of their true history and cultural values, and a belief in the justice of their cause.
Pa’delante offers sincere thanks to all who marched those streets 50 years ago. Their fight on behalf of a safer, healthier community remains part of our history, values, and teachings today.
¡Sí Se Puede!