Making of the Chicano Movement Revisited

Article excerpt

Twenty-eight years ago, on March 3, 1968, more than a thousand Mexican-American students walked out of Abraham Lincoln High School and marched through the streets of East Los Angeles, California. Later in the day, several thousand more of them walked out of five other predominantly Mexican-American high schools -- and, by day's end, more than 10,000 had joined the strike.

The student strike's major purpose was to protest racist teachers and school policies by demanding classes on Mexican-American culture and history. Several hundred African-American students at Thomas Jefferson High School in South Central Los Angeles, after learning what happened, walked out in solidarity with their Mexican-American brothers and sisters. The strike, which lasted nearly two weeks, disrupted the nation's largest public school system.

Three months after the student strike, the Los Angeles white power structure, with the help of the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), arrested 13 Mexican-American college student leaders and community activists who helped to organize the high school strike. Members of the United Mexican American Students (UMAS), the Brown Berets and other community organizations, they were arrested after being indicted for conspiracy to "willfully disturb the peace and quiet" of the City of Los Angeles. Each of the activists faced 66 years in prison if convicted of the charges. Approximately two years later, the California State Appellate Court ruled that the 13 activists were innocent of the conspiracy charges by virtue of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As one of the 13, I remain eternally grateful that we have an amendment granting us the right of freedom of speech.

In terms of numbers, the strike was the first major dramatic protest against racism ever staged by Mexican Americans in the history of the United States. It was carried out in the non-violent protest tradition of the Southern civil rights movement. Its historical significance was equal to the 1960 Black student sit-ins in Greensboro, NC. Whereas the Greensboro protest generated the emergence of the Black student movement in the South, the Los Angeles strike signaled the beginnings of a powerful Chicano student movement throughout the Southwestern United States. …