Updated: May 7, 2021
It’s the 70s. I am in the eye of the revolution. No - eye am the revolution. I see where my voice needs to fill space. I see where my art must take form. I see that nothing has changed, 50 years later. At the age of 20, I’ve culminated to being a proud Chicana. What does that mean? How can one derive such power from a word? From an essence? It’s easy. You don’t drink the “melting pot” soup. You choose to feel who you are and act as if. As if what you say matters. As if what you say saves lives. As if our ancestors were never raped and murdered. The truth hurts. But instead of dwelling in pain, I’ll paint as if the world is my mural.
Political art speaks for decades. Speaks as a mirror of self-determination, our right to preserve our history and the culture we continue to experience. Even in the face of ethnic cleansing. Yes, it’s 50 years later, but we’re still dying. The war is no longer in Southeast Asia, it is in our razas, in our communities. Systems fail us, kill us, and only fill us with rage. What do we do when they start to eliminate our history and culture? Roots we can connect with are the ones set by The National Chicano Moratorium Committee (NCMC). Jaime Cruz, chairman for this committee speaks with me about the importance and meaning of political art from a time within The Chicano Movement.
Raza Si! Guerra No!
How do we fight? A short stick, a flag, and a march. On August 29, 1970 The National Chicano Moratorium Committee, Brown Berets, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MECHA), Artistas, community organizations, and community members, organized a march in East Los Angeles. This day, la raza unida, the community united, marched against the war in Vietnam, against the draft, the different socio-economic education equities, and discrimination - that are still prevalent today, as Jaime Cruz would say. It is important to note that this was not the first, nor last Chicano Moratorium. The first was on Saturday, December 20, 1969. Less than a year later, the third Chicano Moratorium held on August 29, 1970 became the most violent.
On that day, the NCMC proudly waved flags with the words, Raza Si, Guerra No! high and fearless. Cruz shares, “I kept that flag along with other things because I wanted to have a record of the event. It’s part of my collecting nature.” He was a security monitor that day, on the documentation crew. From an early age Cruz was aware that preserving history was important for future generations to look back on. I know I appreciate it. This flag holds not only a message preserved in time, but also the essence of the birth of a movement.
You Can’t Kill The Revolution
200 arrested. 61 injured. 3 murdered. We can only imagine what the first Mexican-American journalist of the Los Angeles Times, Ruben Salazar, would have said about that day. He noted the militant and strident defense of Chicano culture, as this was a political approach for coping with negative feelings of not being “American” enough, or “Mexican'' enough. As Salazar would say, “I am not a Chicano journalist, I am a journalist who just so happened to be Chicano.” It’s safe to assume that he was not only writing for mainstream media, but also finding identity in the Chicano Movement. On August 29, 1970 Salazar witnessed the movement and its aggressors. It was in The Silver Dollar, a bar on La Verne and Whittier Blvd., Salazar was murdered. The voice of the people was assassinated ruthlessly by a 10-inch tear gas canister. Despite multiple California state legislations, the killer Deputy Thomas Wilson was never tried. In fact, the Los Angeles Sheriff Department refused to hand over their training manual upon the early steps of the so-called investigation and inquest.
I grew up on La Verne. I was raised within an energy I couldn’t quite decipher. The anger and anxiety instilled within me would overflow until I couldn’t hold it. Until I found an outlet. An understanding. That understanding is that history is still present. The pain remains, only, I discovered radical healing. My response to my environment is no longer filtered. We are system impacted and I cannot unsee it.
Posters, photos, and even plays inspired from that day, and on that day, hold the same energy of the collective experience of a community united in the face of harmful systems. “The various artforms that were generated from that day has always been a communicator of the movement”, states Cruz.
The Revolution is Protected by Its Armed Masses
Around 1976-1977, several Chicano organizations were invited to attend an international conference on colonization. Here, the Palestinian people recognized the The Chicano Movement as a national liberation struggle and gifted them this poster. Cruz notes the irony of the slogan because it lends itself to different interpretations. “We’re not exactly in an armed struggle here in the U.S, but if you talked to some white supremacists, they may think they have the right to be armed and so on. In their distorted interpretations of democracy, we must view the history and the context of particular slogans and revolutions.” Though the struggle was internationally recognized, the only time Chicanos were seen on TV was when they were murdered.
Who protects? Who preserves?
The need to rebel has never been higher, Cruz would say. He asserts, “You need to be courageous to stand up against this government to hopefully influence our ‘elected Latino officials’ to start doing the right things.” I second this and find myself wondering, just how did they come to power? Did they feel similar emotions as me? Or do they believe the system works because it works for them? All I know is I struggle locating youth spaces within City and County to voice my experience. Militancy has been diminished in the face of systems that continue to be increasingly colonized. Indeed, the manifest destiny continues. Only, it hides behind labels like “Hispanic” or “Latino”.
Fighting these racist systems and for equality is the movement. Yet sometimes the damage can be done to ourselves. Cruz shares, “There was self-violence, internal issues, and fights among people. Violence is not a realistic means to achieve self-determination.” Of course, these systems want us to fight amongst ourselves. It distracts us from fighting them. Our pain is collective. So should be the fight. Radical healing is what is necessary for us to refrain from self-violence. This type of healing is an individual response to one’s environment. It is a strength-based approach where self-determination does not involve violence for justice.
The Chicano Movement Wants You
This poster hung high and proud by Jaime Cruz at his office in USC. Cruz, who was assistant director of El Centro Chicano at USC, as well as advisor to (MECHA) and the Black Student Union, remembers when the Chicano Studies Department was just emerging on different campuses. Students were full of hope and ambition to finally see curricula that reflected them. However, he points out that over time students, organizations meant to preserve, and faculties have conformed more with the academic senate that has diminished the direction of the movement. Student organizations like MECHA are unfortunately not as revolutionary as originally intended.
Cruz shares his perception, “The Chicano Movement was necessary. It was and still is a catalyst for national revolution.” A catalyst transforms. Just like how the movement transformed a hyphenated label, Mexican-American, to a powerful one - Chicanx. This term was created to be a progressive format that reminds the people that there’s no tolerance for a butchered identity. We are proud of our struggles. We reclaim our experiences and hardships our parents and ancestors fought through. As a brown girl with roots to Mexico and Central America, raised in East Los Angeles, I claim my identity in this ever-evolving word that holds my countries as close as possible to me. In this so-called American Dream, I dream of creating healthy communities that reclaim our rights to education, healthcare, the lands that feed us, and everything else in between and around our shared experiences within this country. A country full of valuable, meaningful cultures does not deserve to be in the imaginary “melting pot”.
I am the Eye
I am the visionary who sees that the healing begins with me. My response to the injustice in my community can either fill me with rage or fuel my creativity. Or both. 51 years since the first Chicano Moratorium and what has changed? The war continues. So does the revolution. The revolution is alive - is live, and I have no time to sit and watch. I am driven by the fire I was born with, and this passion has the power to transform my community and I, to mean more than generalized statistics. To be more than the common racist label, “at-risk”. I am the eye of the revolution. We are the movement. We have roots we must tend to, and our creativity to nurture. Art is our weapon. Our experiences, cultures, and collective pain is enough inspiration for us to create the reality we want to see. May optimism be the death of me.
Photos provided by Jaime Cruz / Chicano Resource Center, East Los Angeles County Library