Window on Freedom: Race, Civil Rights, and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1988

By Brenda Gayle Plummer | Go to book overview

Antiwar Aztlán
The Chicano Movement Opposes
U.S. Intervention in Vietnam
LORENA OROPEZA

On 20 December 1969 a contingent of some seventy Brown Berets, a militant Mexican American youth group, marched in formation and in full-dress uniform—berets, army jackets, and dark pants for the men, brown skirts for the women—down Michigan Avenue in an unincorporated section of East Los Angeles. 1 Following the Berets, six young men acted as pallbearers and carried a replica of a coffin in a procession that organizers had labeled a “March against Death.” Behind the mock funeral, another group held upright a large painting of a bloodied Chicano soldier, with the rank of private, who had been given the Chicano common name J. J. Montez. Both painting and coffin were meant to symbolize all Mexican Americans who had died in Vietnam. Several hundred more marchers followed this dramatic vanguard. As they traveled the narrow, residential street that was Michigan Avenue, demonstrators at the front of the line shouted, “Raza Si!” prompting those behind to thunder in return, “Vietnam No!” The call-and-response captured the most central theme of Chicano antiwar protest, that Chicanos and Chicanas should struggle at home for their raza, their fellow Mexican Americans, not fight and die in a war in Vietnam. 2

The first large-scale antiwar protest by Mexican Americans in the Los Angeles area, the December 1969 march also was the first of more than a dozen Chicano Movement antiwar demonstrations that took place across the Southwest in the following months under the auspices of an organization called the National Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War. 3 The ethnic antiwar campaign culminated on 29 August 1970, when between 20,000 and 30,000 people gathered in East Los Angeles to protest the Vietnam War and its domestic consequences. 4 The march was the largest demonstration to occur during the course of the Chicano Movement, which remains the most intense epoch of Mexican American political and cultural protest to date. Although members of the ethnic group had long sought equal treatment, beginning in the 1960s, thousands of mostly young people combined demonstrative politics and cultural affirmation in a dynamic endeavor to address such social in

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