Through Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society program, Congress passed the Economic Opportunity Act designed to plan and coordinate the so-called War on Poverty. Through the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the program initiated job-training and social efforts, such as the Job Corps, Head Start, Upward Bound, Vista, and other social services. Congress allocated nearly $1.6 billion to eliminate poverty. As such, in East Los Angeles, for instance, social service programs escalated. According to Brown Beret co-founder and Prime Minister David Sánchez, “social programs were everywhere in the East L.A. area, especially for young people.” In fact, the Youth Employability Project was granted nearly $500,000 to provide jobs for Eastside youths ages 16 to 21.
It was under these circumstances that as a student at East Los Angeles College (ELAC) Carlos became a member of the Mexican American Student Association (MASA). During late 1967, Carlos was able to find employment as a Teen Post Director in Lincoln Heights, which introduced him to Father John Luce’s Social Action Training Center at the Church of the Epiphany. At the Church of the Epiphany, former Camp Hess Kramer participants, such as David Sánchez, Vicky Castro, and Ralph Ramírez formed the Young Citizens for Community Action (YCCA).
As young Chicanas/o began growing more and more disenchanted with traditional political methods to changing society, Carlos became influenced by the social justice work of Father John Luce and the writings of Eliezer Risco, one of the editors of La Raza newspaper, who had just arrived from Cuba. Carlos recounts that it was Eliezer Risco who gave him copies of La Raza newspaper to distribute to the community. Carlos read La Raza and it inspired him to join the YCCA where he would eventually attend meetings at the basement of the Church of the Epiphany.
Carlos met and began working with many of the emerging young leaders of the YCCA. As a result, young Chicanas/os began breaking away from the assimilationist politics of the Mexican American Generation. Eventually, Carlos joined MASA at ELAC and was instrumental in the creation of a new organization called La Vida Nueva, which emerged as a force on campus that created the Chicana/o Studies program at the community college, which is now one of the largest in the country. The YCCA was initially involved with improving conditions in the community through education, but as the group became politicized, it went through a period of “identity transformation” by changing its name to the Young Chicanos for Community Action, which began with the opening of La Piranya coffeehouse in the Winter of 1967. Carlos remembers his identity transformation occurred around the same time with several discussions he had with his family and others in the community.
Carlos began identifying as a Chicano during 1967, and credits La Raza newspaper for circulating the word in the community. As the YCCA became politicized, they became “angry” and they wanted immediate action to take place unlike the moderate groups who wanted to work within the system. The YCCA saw the world-wide events unfolding, such as the student strikes in Mexico City and began reclaiming their non-white identity.
— part of an ongoing series of essays on the Chicano Movement, the Brown Berets, and Chicano Studies as part of my thesis/dissertation.