Academic journal article Social Justice

Spatializing Chicano Power: Cartographic Memory and Community Practices of Care

Academic journal article Social Justice

Spatializing Chicano Power: Cartographic Memory and Community Practices of Care

Article excerpt

The San Francisco Bay Area is perhaps one of the geographies most power fully shaped by the activism of the 1960s and 1970s. Oakland, in particular, is a city etched by the political activism of the past, especially the civil rights movement and Black Panther mobilizations (Clay 2012; Miranda 2003; Self 2003). This activism is memorialized through the popular and academic construction of Oakland as a city of Black protest movements and a place of radical mobilizations. The imagery of this activism rests on a characterization of these movements as mass, grand-scale revolutionary attempts to remake US society, and therefore the spotlight remains on the most visible forms of mobilizing: street protests, sit-ins, boycotts, and the celebration of its most vocal leaders. As Andreana Clay (2012) argues, the legacies of this past activism continue to shape how people experience the city and how new generations of youth come to perceive themselves as activists.

The memorialization of Oakland as a site of Black protest has produced a historical amnesia about the city's Chicano/Latino mobilizations. We know little about how Mexican Americans historically mobilized in the city or where they have predominantly lived. Amid Oakland's historical Black and white spatial order lays Oakland's Latino neighborhood of Fruitvale, located in the city's more impoverished sections called its flatlands. It is the area in Oakland with the largest Latino population and a region, as this essay reveals, where the Chicano movement forged a broad base of support. Here Chicano movement activists experimented with the creation of community-based organizations that enlisted community members in projects of neighborhood improvement. The product of this activism included institutions such as legal centers, health clinics, and cultural organizations, many of which still stand today. The legacies of this activism continue to shape the neighborhood: from the murals on the streets to the architectural design of the neighborhood restaurants and shops, it is a region that has come to signal Chicano and Latino identity and an epicenter of present-day immigrant rights organizing.

In this essay I demonstrate how Chicano movement activists drew attention to the historical role they played in changing conditions in Oakland. In their recollections of the past, activists constructed a politics of activism, race, and social movement struggle forged through productions of space. Drawing from 10 oral histories, this essay considers how activists of the 1960s and 1970s remember the formation of community spaces as integral to their participation in the social movements of the past. My analysis extends to how historical and present-day activists experienced the results of this activism. I argue that the work of remembering 1960s social movement activism is a cartographic process that draws attention to the social movement production of space. My concept of cartographic memory is a practice deployed by activists and an analytic to interpret how and why they defined their activities though the invocation and graphing of space. For these activists, memory served as a central device to bring into focus the transformative and experimental aspects of the Chicano movement.

Activists' memories were central to how they constructed cultural politics of place. Through their activism, activists fashioned a collective community identity that differentiated the Fruitvale neighborhood from other Oakland districts. It also re-situated the neighborhood as one that was profoundly linked to the national Chicano movement. By recollecting this work, they created complex mappings of the organizations and new community spaces their work helped to construct. Most of the organizations dotted the main streets in Fruitvale and concentrated at the intersection of Fruitvale Avenue and East 14th. As a 1970s activist and now educator in Oakland, Annette Oropeza told me:

   You know, the focal point was in general in that corner: Fruitvale
   and East 14th. … 
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