50 YEARS OF CHICANO LIBERATION STRUGGLES
"In the spirit of a new people that is conscious not only of its proud historical heritage but also of the brutal “gringo” invasion of our territories, we, the Chicano inhabitants and civilizers of the northern land of Aztlan from whence came our forefathers, reclaiming the land of their birth and consecrating the determination of our people of the sun, declare that the call of our blood is our power, our responsibility, and our inevitable destiny."
--El Plan de Aztlan, delivered March of 1969
In the poetic epigraph above, Chicanx students, organizers, educators, and community member came together to produce a document that spoke of self-determination and liberation. Half poem and half manifesto, El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan sought to organize Chicanxs across the US Southwest in aim of building a Chicano Nation, a tenet of cultural nationalism to unify a people. Delivered in Denver, Colorado at the 1969 Chicano Youth Liberation Conference, El Plan de Aztlan would lay organizational foundations to a movement sparked by the desire to alleviate the social burdens placed on people of Mexican-descent. This is a reflection of popular Chicano history, and our need to critically remember.
This year of 2018 marks 50 years of the Chicano struggle, arguably almost 500 years since the Spanish invasion of Mexiko-Tenochtitlan in 1519. The 50 years I highlight here is informed by the East L.A. Blowouts of 1968, when over 10,000 Chicanx students and community members marched the streets of L.A. to demand educational justice in East L.A. This instance of Chicano rebellion, led by Chicanx youth, signifies not only a popular act of resistance but one demonstrating the words “¡ya basta!” The years following these blowouts would be instrumental to the building and growth of the Chicano Movement as we know it. To celebrate and remember the East L.A. Blowouts is to commemorate all the freedom struggles of Raza peoples in the United States that exploded afterward.
In the current political climate we are experiencing as a people it is important to think of our ancestors who have brought us here. Without the Chicano struggle of the ‘60s and ‘70s we would be in a very different United States. 50 years of struggle has meant challenges, difficulties, and compromises; and although we, especially students, don’t actualize this struggle everyday, we live and breath its legacies today. We are the legacies of the Chicano Movement.
In the same year of 1969 Chicanx organizers, educators, and activists would draft and publish a plan for higher education for Raza students across the US Southwest. This would be known as El Plan de Santa Barbara, which was assembled at UC Santa Barbara. Along with this document, as well with El Plan de Aztlan, Raza student organizations like the United Mexican American Union (known as UMAS) would merge together to form el Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (known as MEChA). Chicanx students would organize together to promote the philosophy of Chicanismo along with recruiting Raza students on college campuses. These historical efforts have endured until today, with MEChA chapters across the US sustaining and upholding the tenets of higher educational accessibility for Raza youth.
Chicano Studies programs, departments, and centers have also been a site of success and commemoration. With Ethnic Studies generally under attack in the US, the survival and resiliency of Chicano Studies has meant resistance to white traditional knowledges on university campuses. The placement of Chicano Studies in K-12 and higher educational settings is a direct result of El Plan de Santa Barbara, MEChA, and the overall Chicano liberation struggles in the United States. Maintaining our cultural heritage and critically analyzing our current conditions have been a major factor in radicalizing and creating an emergent Raza capable of advancing social transformation. Chicano Studies, like all Ethnic Studies, has made a timeless impact in our current world, and it will take a continuous struggle to keep Ethnic Studies alive and well for our future generations.
One aspect of this Chicano history that I as an emerging scholar have seen is the underrepresentation and dislocation of Chicano Indigenous resurgence. This resurgence is mostly critiqued as Chicanxs falsifying and imagining an Indigenous “past” or not being really Indigenous because of colonial mestizaje. Nonetheless, these critiques have not engaged critically or meticulously the structures of coloniality and logics of Native elimination. We mustn’t forget that Chicanxs, wherever their Indigenous roots are, consist of a detribalized people who are in diaspora in the US. But I am not here to defend Chicano Indigeneity; the efforts and organizing of Chicanx people with other Indigenous Nations within pan-Indigenous movements speaks for itself. This is the crucial component of Chicano liberation struggles.
As I continue to learn, research, and build community in the university setting, it comes as a surprise that histories of individuals speak differently about certain time periods. It is hard to say that in the 50 years of Chicano liberation struggles, Indigenous consciousness was not always received well. Whether in academic and radical texts, or in the movements and organizations themselves, Raza weren’t always receptive to those who sought Indigenous resurgence. One may point to the 90s and the statements created by MEChA to ban and exile many Chicanx Indigenous students in the guise of removing “Marxists” or Internationalists. It was a heated time of split philosophies, but one that isn’t new and continues to persist in our current time.
These Chicanx Indigenous students in the 90s were danzantes, organizing with other Indigenous students, partaking in Peace and Dignity Journeys, and were left behind by other Raza students reluctant to organize around decolonization struggles. My own experiences in MEChA spaces was met with same sentiments, and was most apparent when I went to MEChA National Conference in 2017 located in Seattle, Washington. A group of Raza students created an Indigenous caucus that consisted of students venting on the apolitical and counterrevolutionary politics MEChA was engaging in. Although many of us wanted to discuss Indigenous issues and its forced invisibility at this conference, the hosting MEChA chapter in Seattle dismissing a traditional sunrise ceremony because of its “Mexican-centricity,” the bulk of this caucus was talking about the structure and future of MEChA. I, with others, left this conference disappointed and frustrated with the national organization of this historic Chicano student organization.
Chicano liberation struggles for Raza people has not been, as I have demonstrated with personal experience, a clear-cut or easy process. The dwindling of a Chicano presence and the emergence of a Latinx politics leaves the legacies of Chicano efforts in the shadows. How we can honor these efforts and remember their impacts is a dire imperative.
To honor these 50 years of Chicano liberation struggles, I will end this reflection with an ending of a poem written by Alurista in his book written in 1972, Nationchild. The poem is “The Red Spirit of Aztlan: A Plan of National Liberation,” and goes like this:
end the genocide and biocide
of the yankee empire
for National Chicano Liberation
Kristian Emiliano Vasquez
Collective member of Xicana Tiahui
Here we post our writings of thoughts we have, essays we have written, poetry, social commentary, news reports, polemics, and other kinds of writing. We hold it valuable to our hearts the written word in the spirit of the huehuetlahtolli, and we aspire to be intellectually on point as well as accessible to our gente from the barrio to the academy.