Soldado de la Raza: Carlos Montes & the Struggle for Self-Determination (Part Three)

The Brown Berets (left to right) Fred López, David Sánchez, Carlos Montes, and Ralph Ramírez in 1968.

The Brown Berets (left to right) Fred López, David Sánchez, Carlos Montes, and Ralph Ramírez in 1968.

As the new YCCA charted a new political course, and became the Brown Berets it began addressing the issue of police brutality by holding a series of demonstrations against the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s station. The picket was the first demonstration ever held in front of the sheriff station by Chicanas/os. Furthermore, the demonstration epitomized a growing militancy predicated on the politics of an emerging Chicano cultural nationalism. The demonstration brought the YCCA to the attention of law-enforcement authorities.

A few months before the walkouts, police agencies began harassing members of the YCCA, students, and customers of La Piranya. La Piranya would be forced to shut-down on the eve of the high school walkouts.

The demonstration against the law-enforcement agency also marked the transition of the YCCA to the Brown Berets. According to Carlos, the development of the Brown Berets occurred organically and spontaneously when dozens of berets were purchased at an army surplus store since “the beret was a popular headgear at the time because of Che Guevara and also the Black Panthers.” Carlos states that there was no meeting to officially designate the name change from YCCA to the Brown Berets. Carlos’ role as Minister of Information didn’t materialize until after the walkouts, when he replaced a member who had been recently ousted from that position.

As he settled into his new position of Minister of Information, Carlos began “organizing” and “agitating” on Whittier Blvd. in East Los Angeles with the various car clubs that would congregate along the boulevard because he remembers getting harassed by the police. The Brown Berets would speak to the car clubs through a “know your rights” style campaign. Carlos remembers how difficult this campaign was because the East Los Angeles Sheriffs had already poisoned the minds of the car clubs by telling them that the Brown Berets were speaking like “communists.”

In the aftermath of the East Los Angeles High School Blowouts, the Brown Berets ideologically emerged within the burgeoning cultural nationalist framework that in early 1968 had not yet been fully crafted. In fact, through the early ideas of cultural nationalism, the Brown Berets, according to Carlos, believed that the “White Man” was the enemy. Eventually, the political consciousness of the Brown Berets did develop further, especially within Carlos.

Carlos began developing an anti-imperialist ideology that was influenced by the Black Panthers, the revolutionary movements in Latin America, and the war in Viet Nam helped to radicalize him. Upon seeing many of his friends coming back dead or traumatized as a result of the Viet Nam War, Carlos became a revolutionary nationalist.

As a revolutionary nationalist, Carlos was open to different political ideas, such as socialism. The Black Panthers introduced the Brown Berets to the writings of Mao Tse Tung, but as a group they never studied the Marxist classics focusing primarily on the writings of Frantz Fanon instead. As one of the most outspoken and highly visible members of the Brown Berets, Carlos came into the radar of the various law-enforcement agencies nationally and locally.

Three months after the walkouts, a secret grand jury indicted thirteen Chicanos, including Carlos, for their role in a conspiracy to “disrupt” the school system punishable up to forty-years in prison. At the time of the grand jury indictments, Carlos had been participating with other Brown Beret members as part of the Chicana/o contingent (the Crusade for Justice, La Alianza Federal de Mercedes, and others) of the Poor People’s March in Washington D.C. Carlos was arrested upon his return to Los Angeles.

Brown Berets & Black Panther Party forge alliances during the Civil Rights Movement

Brown Berets & Black Panther Party forge alliances during the Civil Rights Movement.

Carlos participated in the first National Chicana/o Youth Liberation Conference held in Denver Colorado in April 1969, where El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán was drafted and the demand for self determination for a Chicano Nation was popularized. Carlos visited the mountains of New Mexico with Reies López Tijerina to see firsthand Chicano self government with the Alianza Federal de Mercedes. He also met with Chicano farmers who had led the armed raid on Tierra Amarilla in June 7, 1967.

In Los Angeles, Carlos worked to forge alliances with the Black Panther Party (BPP) and supported the Free Huey Newton political prisoner’s campaign. He worked with Bunchy Carter and John Huggins of the BPP to establish Black and Brown alliances.

– C/S

Cultural Sovereignty 

– part of an ongoing series of essays on the Chicano Movement, the Brown Berets, and Chicano Studies as part of my thesis/dissertation.

This entry was posted in Boyle Heights, Chicana/o, Chicana/o Identity, Chicana/o Studies, Chicano Movement, Community, Cultura, East Los Angeles, Education, History, Knowledge, Lincoln Heights, Los Angeles, Politics, Resistance. Bookmark the permalink.

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