The Chicano Moratorium: A 50 Year Struggle Continues

 

 

By Armando Vazquez

“Today, the sixteenth of September, the day of independence for all Mexican peoples, I declare my independence of the Selective Service System. I accuse the government of the United States of America of genocide against the Mexican people. Specifically, I accuse the draft, the entire social, political, and economical system of the United States of America, of Creating a funnel which shoots Mexican youth into Vietnam to be killed and to kill innocent men, women, and children. . . and of drafting their laws so that many more Chicanos are sent to Vietnam, in proportion to the total population, then they send off their own white youth…”                   Rosalio Munoz, one of the original founders and organizers of The National Chicano Moratorium Committee Against The Vietnam War

The Chicano Moratorium March of August 29, 1970, in East Los Angeles, that was organized by Chicano anti-war activists, students from throughout the greater Southwest, the Brown Beret and various Chicano civil rights groups and organizations, drew over 30,000 peaceful marchers protesting their opposition to the Vietnam War, police brutality, and incessant universal discrimination and inequality for minorities, culminating that day in a murderous state-sanctioned law enforcement (the Los Angeles Sheriffs for the most part, with some LAPD reinforcements) riot.

For many of us actively involved in the Chicano Movimiento the Moratorium was/is a bloody and murderous reminder that the deadly and oppressive force of the state would come down hard and furious on any minority, individual or group, that in any way challenged their societal dominance and superiority.

The Chicano Moratorium March of August 29, 1970, was to many of us Chicano activists a culminating event of a decade long struggle for self-determination, liberation, and a constant and daily struggle for social justice, equity and equality in the United States; California and throughout the Southwest in particular.

For many of us young Chicanos, the decade of 1960 through 1970 to a large degree was just a terrifying rite of passage where we were just literally trying to stay alive! My family had just emigrated from the tiny village of Ahualulco in Jalisco, Mexico to El Monte, California in late 1958. We were trying our damnest to be the “invisible guest workers” and keep out of the gringo’s way. But unbeknownst to this humble Mexicano family the world around us was becoming a maelstrom of revolutionary fire and fury and we, along with the rest of the world, would be sucked into its vortex!

By the start of the 1960s, the two competing world powers, the Americans and the Russians had become mortal enemies fighting for world domination. In October 1962 the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a nuclear standoff over the installation of Russian nuclear-armed missiles in the recently liberated communist Cuba.

The race to dominate the world by the Americans and the Russians only intensified after the Cuban Missile Crisis standoff. The threat of a Communist-dominated world terrified the Americans and help foment far-fetched, paranoid, and insane world-altering conspiracies and scenarios. One such scenario was the so-called “Domino Theory” that postulated that if a tiny nations in Southeast Asia fell into the hands of the Communists, the Western World and United States would be next. By 1964 the Americans were officially at war with the communist insurgent of North Vietnam. In early 1965 as many as 30,000 U.S. troops and “military advisors” comprised the invading American ground forces that had not even requested, much less been given tacit approval to invade by the South Vietnamese government. This was ugly American Imperialism at its most bold, stupid, and arrogant “Domino Theory” moment!

Back at home in the United States, all hell was breaking loose! The assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, George Jackson, and many other leaders sparked a furious, often militant, national backlash against the repressive and deadly government of Richard M. Nixon and the dominant suffocating establishment. Liberation movements of every stripe and color emerged to challenge the WASP dominant orthodoxy and their all-consuming terror of domestic and international communist threats. Under the leadership and orders of Nixon, the American involvement in Vietnam escalated rapidly, and more dead American soldiers had to be replaced immediately by more young sacrificial lives. By now Chicanos were dying at a higher disproportionate rate than any other racial group. The Chicano warriors came to symbolize the frontline sacrificial soldier in the Vietnam War.

On September 16, 1965, The United Farmworkers union of Cesar Chavez joined Filipino grape workers that were on strike in the Delano grape fields seeking better wages, worker safety and humane sanitary working conditions. With the UFW joining the initial Filipino strikers the Delano grape strike campaign would include demands to unionize the workers and a national call to boycott grapes.

Still a high school kid, I became active in the local marches and demonstrations that were organized in our communities of San Fernando and Pacoima to support the efforts of the UFW. Eventually, we targeted the Safeway supermarket chains and other local markets that carried Delano grown grapes and wines. We would go on to peacefully boycott and demonstrate for years in front of the local Safeway supermarkets and stores that refused to honor our UFW boycott demands. After five years of relentless demonstrations and marches our UFW inspired student and community lead national boycott worked. The UFW effectively forced the supermarket chain and local markets to sever their business relationship with the Delano grape growers, which in turn forced the grape growers to the bargaining table. The years of organizing, peaceful protest and demonstration taught me an invaluable lesson. I witnessed that the struggle for justice and equality is often a generational long term fight that at the time may seems to be against omnipotent and powerful forces. However a determined, organized and united people’s effort, could eventually defeat even the most formidable foe.

On November 21, 1968, as required by law, I registered for the draft. I already knew that some of my homeboys from San Fernando and Pacoima were getting killed in Vietnam and coming home in body bags. The war made no sense to me! I was becoming more and more politicized by UMAS high school and college students, the local Interfaith Council activists and friends and some of my homies coming home and telling me about the horrors and killing that they witnessed and experienced in Vietnam.

Our local clique of homies was known as Thee Group and we all feared that we would be drafted and get killed in Vietnam. For a few of us in Thee Group our deadly premonitions came true! That is how it was for most 18 years and older Chicano, Blacks and poor White young men during that dark and deadly period. What was equally terrifying was becoming politically “woke” and knowing that I was completely powerless to change any of the violent and deadly events that were sucking me toward my imminent doom! My life was not yet over! I was not dead yet!! I made one of my first calculated political decisions, I would not go to Vietnam and fight the White or rich man’s war. I would continue to march, protest, demonstrate against the war, and waited to go to jail as a conscientious objector. Our war to fight for our liberation was right here in the streets of the Americas!

The single most influential event that convinced me that I should resist induction into the U.S. military was the Mexican student massacre that occurred on October 2, 1968. The national student demonstrations and uprisings throughout Mexico in the summer of 1968 culminated in a huge student-led protest at the Plaza de Las Tres Culturas in the barrio of Tlateloco, in Mexico City. The largely peaceful protest was an attempt by the student to bring to the attention of the entire world the massive Mexican government and police corruption, the repression of human rights and the millions of dollars that were spent or stolen by the PRI in the showcasing of the 1968 Olympics which the students felt were an evil and gross misappropriation of public funds.

Without warning or orders to disperse the Mexican Army opened fire on the unarmed students and civilians, killing an undetermined number of protestors. Unofficial eyewitnesses and news accounts reported that hundreds, if not thousands, of students and civilians, were killed in cold blood by the Mexican army troops. Thousands of students and civilians were arrested and many were tortured or “disappeared” never to be seen again.

The 1968 Olympics Games in Mexico City went on as scheduled 10 days after the Talteloco Massacre as though nothing had happened. My Mexican sisters and brother had been executed, fighting for their self-determination and social justice, by a murderous, repressive and corrupt political system. Just as we Chicana/os were fighting for our own liberation here at home. As a “woke” activist I was clear of purpose. Our people’s struggle was not to go to war with the North Vietnamese, but with the repressive and murderous government and police forces of the Americas. I was absolutely sure I was going to prison, or get killed in 1968 or 1969!

In the summer of 1969 I received admission into San Fernando Valley State College (the following year to be changed to California State University, Northridge) I had forgotten that with the prodding and assistance of my older sister I had submitted a half-hearted application for admission at the college. I, of course, expected to be rejected. I forgot about the application, I was going to prison and not college. That letter of admission changed my life! My second miracle occurred on December 1, 1969, when the Selective Service of the U.S. instituted a lottery system and my November 21st birthdate was one of the last numbers called up. So I was cool, no prison or war, so long as I stayed in college and did not flunk out.

I was determined to make the best of my miraculous blessings and became completely immersed and involved in the Chicano Liberation Movement at CSUN and in the community. I attend the sessions and meeting of the Chicano Coordinating Council on Higher Education that took place at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and other Chicana/o political conscience raising conferences and seminars throughout California.

Out of the research, planning, and work came El Plan De Santa Barbara, a blueprint for the creation, development, and implementation of Chicana/o Studies in educational institutions and demands for institutional support for colleges and universities in California and throughout the United States was drafted. El Plan de Santa Barbara was a framework of educational and curriculum development, which put a heavy emphasis on barrio studies and working alongside our community. El Plan postulated that political mobilization was dependent on political education and conciseness raising. El Plan calls for community involvement, administration, and control of the key elements of the plan. By the end of 1969, we Chicano students of CSUN had a powerful, vibrant, and active Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MECHA). With the help of the blueprint of El Plan de Santa Barbara as a guide, the Chicano Studies Department at CSUN in a few years became one of the largest, most-respected and most influential minority studies department in the nation.

As the Vietnam War escalated, the protests and demonstrations in the streets of American intensified. “Chale No We Won’t Go!” became one of our battles cries at the universities and in the streets as we marched and protested against the war. Our demonstrations at CSUN, San Fernando, and East Los Angeles drew bigger crowds that culminated in The Chicano Moratorium March of August 29, 1970, that took place along Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles, where 30,000 peaceful protesters demonstrated, calling for the end of war in Vietnam. The march was broken up by L.A. Sheriffs and local LAPD using the bogus claim that a robbery was taking place along the demonstration route. The violent crackdown by the cops “herded” much of the panic crowd to Laguna Park (now known as Ruben F. Salazar Park), where the cops indiscriminately cracked heads, arrested over a thousand peaceful demonstrators, and when all of the teargas and smoke had cleared four innocent people lay dead, including the Chicano Los Angeles Times Reporter Ruben Salazar.

In the aftermath of the historical 1970 Chicano Moratorium peaceful demonstration and subsequent police riot In East Los Angeles, the urgency to educate, politicize, mobilize, and organize our community became our paramount goal. Throughout the Southwest Chicana/o students, activists, community leaders and scholars began seriously working on the creation of our own political party, as we had continuously suffered historical neglect and abuse at the hands of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. Efforts were already underway in Crystal City, Texas which established the beginnings of a new national political party, La Raza Unida Party, in January of 1970. La Raza Unidas platform in many ways mirrored the goals and aspirations of the Chicano Moratorium Committees, and El Plan de Santa Barbara with the focus on education reform, increased Raza admission in colleges and universitites, economic and employment opportunities, police and political reform, and social equity and justice for all.

The National Chicano Moratorium Committee Against The Vietnam War and the liberation and self-determination efforts and achievements that followed in the ensuing years was our, the Chicana/o’s, Black Live Matter historical period, just 50 years earlier. Reflecting back on 50 years of activism I am reminded of the old barrio saying that, “the more things change the more they seem to remain the same!” At first, blush that seems to be true, but then I think back to the late 1950s and early 1960s and I vividly remember that at that time we, the Mexicans, like other minorities, were less than second class citizen, we were invisible indentured servants in this nation. We had absolutely no rights, we were completely and total disenfranchised, and we worked for crumbs and in servitude for the omnipotent and dominate white folks of this country.

It was during this tumultuous and transformative decade, between 1960 through 1970, that I witnessed and participated in many of these history altering events, and was fortunate enough to meet and learn from many of the charismatic, brave and brilliant leaders that this period produced, that I was transformed into a full time activist and servant of my community. From this community activism and service experience I took the obvious next step and with the help of my partner and the community in 1997 we founded the Acuna Art Gallery & Cultural Center at Café on A in Oxnard. The center quickly became the ombligo, corazon y el espiritu of the Oxnard and the greater Ventura communities, a sanctuary for progressive organizing and community action.

Our community CORE group, based out of the Acuna Art & Cultural Center, worked 16 long years organizing, mobilizing, and strategic planning to finally defeat the unconstitutional Oxnard Civil “Gang” Injunctions. We are currently working on Police Reform and the development and implementation of a community controlled and administered 21st Century community safety and wellness model. CORE and Union Del Barrio, Los Angeles will host a virtual sate wide Peoples Summit, on Saturday, September 13, 2020 to discuss and the current state and developments on our continued fight to abolish all the unconstitutional Civil “Gang” injunction in California and throughout the nation. This current and vital community work could not have been done without the historical blueprint and subsequent actions and events that were organized, mobilized, and community actions carried out by The National Chicano Moratorium Committee Against The Vietnam War. As Cesar Chavez reminds us, “It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives (to the struggle) do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice” La lucha sigue!

*A Chicano activist personnel journey toward self-determination, liberation through community service!


Armando Vazquez, M.Ed.  is Executive Director of  Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition

 


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.


Get Citizensjournal.us Headlines free  SUBSCRIPTION. Keep us publishing –DONATE

One Response to The Chicano Moratorium: A 50 Year Struggle Continues

  1. Mark Savalla September 4, 2020 at 9:44 pm

    A perfect example of how free this country is and how a totally disturbed Marxist has gone so many years without going to jail. His tale of look at me I’m so much of a virtual self-proclaimed revolutionary supports the results of our constitution. Very sad waste of print.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *