…The National Chicano Moratorium will convene to show the world that the Chicano will no longer fight against their brothers in far off lands and that the Chicano recognizes that the fight is here at home against a government that oppresses them and jails its poor, as we know, even kills them…
The Chicano will take to the streets Saturday to protest U.S. aggression throughout the world and: 1) the war in Vietnam, 2) the high rate of casualties, 3) the attitude the U.S. has as the world’s policeman, using our brothers to die for their interest, 4) the police aggression used in our own barrios, and 5) the United States’ imperialistic position throughout the world. – MEChA expressing their opposition to the war circa 1970
Lost in the narratives of documented anti-war resistance in the United States is the participation of the Chicana/o-Mexicana/o community. It goes without saying that we must not only dispel myths written about our history and culture, but must tell our own stories.
Most historical narratives written by non-Chicanas/os negate and simplify our social movements, while following a typical comparative and stereotypical archetype whereby Chicanas/os are depicted as docile, passive, single-issue oriented, and unable to act on its own without some outside assistance.
Take for example, Iowa State University history professor Brian Behnken who makes the absurd claim that since groups such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) had not evolved to a level of national protest, “They [Chicanas/os] were uncomfortable with marches. But that was about to change,” apparently because Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement had come on the scene.
As if LULAC somehow represents the entire period of Chicana/o history, Behnken somehow ignores the history of Chicana/o protest that pre-dated the Civil Rights Movement in the agricultural fields, urban educational settings, and the manufacturing/textile industries. Chicanas/os have always protested, resisted, marched and has defended its right to self-determination as Indigenous people in the United States.
Behnken’s type of analysis has seeped its way into narratives of anti-war resistance and other social justice movements, especially within social media circles where Chicanas/os are depicted as advocating only for “immigration” causes who somehow didn’t exist prior to the Civil Rights Movement.
“Our front line is not in Vietnam but in the struggle for social justice in the U.S.”
Chicano scholar-activists Carlos Muñoz and Jorge Mariscal both observed at a Viet Nam War symposium held in Oakland in 2000 that Anglo activists from the Viet Nam War era greeted them with “Oh, I had no idea Chicanos protested against the war.”
And yet, even our own community is unaware of the extent to which Chicanas/os have participated in anti-war movements. Chicana/o anti-war efforts do not begin with the Viet Nam War and most importantly have continued to the present moment with the condemnation of the U.S. War on Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Much of what is written around Chicana/o anti-war resistance centers on one event and one person: August 29, 1970 and Ruben Salazar.
As such, the significance of the Chicano Movement is reduced in complexity, and romanticized as a quixotic reformist movement that merely wanted inclusion in the American Dream because Chicanas/os are depicted as struggling with an identity crises.
Sadly, most Chicana/o Studies students have no idea that the August 29, 1970 march was actually the third Chicano Moratorium. The success of August 29, 1970 largely depended on the outcomes of the first, but especially the second Chicano Moratorium.
Towards a Chicano Moratorium
The Crusade for Justice attended the San Francisco Vietnam Moratorium in November of 1969. Rosalio Muñoz, who a month earlier had refused draft induction, proposed to the Chicana/o contingency in San Francisco that Chicanos should hold their own moratorium highlighting the high casualty rate of Chicanos.
Initially founded by the East Los Angeles Brown Berets in late 1969, the Chicano Moratorium Committee would become the central Chicana/o organizing mechanism to resist U.S imperial policy as it related to the Viet Nam War.
In the February 22, 1970 edition of La Causa, the Brown Beret newspaper, the group showed its hyper-masculine yet militant opposition to the Viet Nam War:
We Chicanos have come to the realization that the Vietnam War is the ultimate weapon of genocide of non-white peoples…The random genocide in the barrio, campo [fields] and ghettos is escalated to a calculated cold-blooded policy to enslave the Vietnamese people and rape their land of its resources. It is a war of example to other third world colonies both outside and inside the borders of the United States that they dare not resist or they will be napalmed or gunned down…
The Chicano Moratorium Committee condemned the disproportionate number of Chicana/o-Mexicana/o casualties in Southeast Asia in proportion to our population. Although it is sometimes argued that Chicanas/os had not yet articulated an anti-war position and weren’t overwhelmingly opposed to the war until the late 1960s, this is generally true of the majority of the population who still believed the war could be won.
Pockets of Chicana/o anti-war resistance did exist. For instance, Chicana Delia Alvarez, whose brother had been captured by the North Vietnamese when he was shot down in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964, began questioning the war the longer her brother remained a prisoner of war. Yet, it wasn’t until Dr. Ralph Guzman released a report showing that between January 1961 and February 1967, Chicanas/os were no more than 10 to 12 percent of the population yet were 19.4% of the casualties that Chicanas/os began opposing the war en masse.
After the San Francisco moratorium in November, the Crusade for Justice hosted an anti-war gathering attended in early December. At this gathering, it was announced that a protest would be scheduled for late December in Los Angeles.
On December 20, 1969, the Brown Berets organized the first Chicano Moratorium with over 2,000 Chicanas/os marching to Obregón Park in East Los Angeles.
The success of the first march led to a second Chicano Moratorium march a couple of months later on February 28, 1970 in East Los Angeles that would end at Laguna Park (now Salazar Park).
February 28, 1970
Approximately 7,000 people marched despite a pouring rain with some merchants closing their storefronts in “honor of the war dead.” Shouts of “Chicano Power! “Bring Them Home! “Hell No, We Won’t Go! and “Chale, We Won’t Go!” echoed in defiance throughout that day in the streets of East Los Angeles effectively negating the melancholy of the pouring rain. The Brown Berets described the march as having “liberated Whittier Blvd.”
According to Rosalio Muñoz, who by this time had become co-chair of the Chicano Moratorium along with David Sánchez, the second moratorium was the “decisive turning point” for Chicanas/os in the anti-war struggle. It demonstrated the strength of unity through the idea of Chicano self-determination.
Most importantly, the “March in the Rain” demonstrated the ability of Chicanas/os to mobilize at the national level as well as to appeal to the building of a multi-ethnic coalition. Marchers at the second Moratorium included a Black delegation from the Che Lumumba branch of the Communist Party, the Puerto Rican Young Lords, as well as Euroamericans from the Peace Action Council.
This is important to note, because historical and especially social media narratives depict Chicanas/os as being “anti-Black” and unwilling to join in broader social justice struggles beyond our community. Truth be told, Chicanas/os have always been at the forefront in the struggle for self-determination regardless of racial, ethnic, and gender boundaries.
Muñoz also adds that the march “was the first Chicano demonstration when a Chicana organization, Las Adelitas de Aztlán, marched in its own right.” Historian Lorena Oropeza asserts that the Adelitas demonstrated a “new woman power” within the growing Chicano Movement. Las Adelitas de Aztlán, mostly former Chicana Brown Berets, arrived at the march dressed in black mourning clothes, while carrying crosses etched with the names of dead Chicano soldiers.
Several speakers that day spoke about U.S. imperialism and genocide: David Sánchez (Prime Minister of the Brown Berets), Rosalio Muñoz (co-chair of the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, Alicia Escalante (Chicana Welfare Rights Organization), attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta, and Woodrow “Niño” Díaz (Puerto Rican Young Lords).
Niño Díaz spoke about connecting the struggles across racial and ethnic lines, “this social system is killing our brothers in Vietnam. We have one enemy, the capitalist system and their agents in the Democratic and Republican parties. We must organize independent political parties along with Puerto Ricans and including poor whites in a political coalition.”
Dr. Chris Perez, a professor in Chicano Studies, was interviewed by a local public television outlet for a documentary that would eventually be entitled “March in the Rain,” and which would be used throughout the country to build for the larger march and rally scheduled for later that year on August 29, 1970.
Dr. Perez stated that the moratorium march was an “excellent example of what can be done as far as organizing the community and the organization of the Brown Beret group is an example of the tremendous leadership and the organization abilities of the people del barrio.”
David Sánchez added, “for too long, continuously The Man is destroying our Raza, is destroying our Raza in Vietnam, is destroying our Raza in the jails, the schools, in the factory, the grape fields, it has to stop, and its up to the Raza that is here today, the Raza that will grow from today, it is up to us!
Consequently, two dozen Chicano Moratoriums were organized throughout California as well as in Denver, Albuquerque, San Antonio, Houston, and Chicago in preparation for the larger march in August of 1970.
The strength and power of the Chicano Movement was becoming evident, and as Chicanas/os were uniting for self-determination. The response by the State was to destroy the Chicano Movement at all costs.
Police Infiltration of the Chicano Movement
By late 1970 and early 1971, the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, as it was now known, would include ending police brutality as one of its goals. By this time, however, hostilities had developed between the Brown Berets and some of the leadership of the Chicano Moratorium Committee. The Brown Berets denounced “ego trippers and opportunists” within the Chicano Moratorium Committee.
The growing tensions between both groups was exploited by law-enforcement agencies. Frank “Eustacio” Martínez, an informant from Texas for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), infiltrated the East los Angeles Brown Berets and the Chicano Moratorium Committee, at one point becoming chair of the Moratorium, while also going so far as to accuse Rosalio Muñoz of being “too soft.”
Martínez instigated acts of violence in order to entrap Brown Beret members as well as intending to destroy the Chicano Movement. On November 13, 1970, for example, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) raided the Chicano Moratorium office with their “weapons drawn and their clubs swinging because someone had paraded with a shotgun on the sidewalk in front of the office. It was Martínez who was holding a shotgun outside of the Chicano Moratorium Committee office. Three people were hospitalized in the aftermath of the raid.
Martínez recounted his role in the police raid:
“They told me, you know, that…the main reason they wanted me [in Los Angeles] was because they wanted me to get the information and everything – in other words – the purpose was to eliminate all the organizations. So in order to cause confusion within the organizations, to provoke incidents…I had pressure [from the ATF]…I was being pressured, and how come I wasn’t givin’ them information, and how come there were no busts, you know?…So I was under pressure, so in order to get them off my back…by walkin’ out with the rifle so the pigs could see it, so that was the purpose, to get raided.”
Martinez, who had already become chairperson of the Moratorium, was responsible for inciting violence at the last two Chicano Moratorium marches in January of 1971.
In the aftermath of the Chicano Moratorium march of August 29, 1970, which led to the deaths of three Chicanos at the hands of the police, the East Los Angeles community was rocked by at least three more police instigated riots on September 16, 1970, January 9, and January 31, 1971.
As we approach the anniversary of the second Chicano Moratorium march on February 28, 1970, it is important that we document our own history in social justice movements, anti-war struggles as well as to dispel the myths that depict Chicanas/os as docile, passive, single-issue oriented, and unable to act on its own without outside assistance. Chicanas/os have always been at the forefront of radical activism, while also bearing the brute force of institutionalized police-state violence.
There was such a thing as Chicana/o Power, unity and self-determination. Although many try to sanitize the history of Chicano resistance, it is evident that we have lost so much nearly 45 years later. We must ask ourselves, what will it take to return to a period where our people aren’t afraid of protest and ashamed of identifying as Chicanas/os.
– by D. Cid
- Chávez, Ernesto. “Mi Raza Primero!” Nationalism, Identity, and Insurgency in the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles, 1966-1978. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
- Marin, Marguerite V. Social Protest in an Urban Barrio: A Study of the Chicano Movement, 1966-1974. Lanham: University Press of America, 1991.
- Mariscal, Jorge. Brown-Eyed Children of the Sun: Lessons from the Chicano Movement, 1965-1975. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.
- Oropeza, Lorena. ¡Raza Si! ¡Guerra No!: Chicano Protest and Patriotism During the Viet Nam War Era. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.
- Sánchez, David. Expedition Through Aztlán. La Puente: Perspectiva Publications, 1978.
- Treviño, Jesus Salvador. Eyewitness: A Filmmaker’s Memoir of the Chicano Movement. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2001.
- Personal correspondence with David Sánchez.
- March in the Rain documentary