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Why A Westside Chicano/a Moratorium?

By Elias Serna  

This week, beginning with films at the 18th Street Arts Complex on Wednesday night, and Moratoriums Friday night in Santa Monica and Saturday morning in East L.A., Chicanos throughout LA remember the anti-war demonstrations of the late 60’s and evaluate Latino/Raza concerns today.

Almost 40 yeas after the largest political demonstration of Latinos in the country at that time, a new generation of activists recognize the accomplishments of the Chicano Movement and make connections to Latino issues today.   

Thirty-nine yeas ago this month, a Chicano teenager from Santa Monica was on his couch watching TV when he heard his older cousin talking outside on the porch of the house on 17th Street. He had returned from participating in the Chicano Moratorium in East LA.    

“Hey, man,” he said to the young cousin, “I’m not feeling so well. I was at the protest and the cops busted me and my buddies. They beat us up pretty bad. I need some rest, I’m gonna take a nap – but don’t tell no one what happened, O.K.?”

Sal Galvan, the teenager, nonchalantly returned to watching TV. His cousin, dazed from the violence of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium in East L.A., went into the next room and laid down to rest. He never woke up.

Galvan, a graduate of SMC, UCLA’s Urban Planning Masters program, and former handball world champion, will be one of the speakers on Friday evening at the Westside Chicano/a Moratorium, at the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC, 715 Pico Blvd.).

Also speaking will be Venice poet Lindsey Haley, and “Chino,” a pivotal Westside Moratorium activist and director of BALA (the Barrio Alliance of Latin Americans, 1968-73) which ran the La Causa Youth Center. Miguel Chavez, who grew up in Santa Monica’s Pico Neighborhood, presently completing a Ph.D. in History at UCLA, will provide historical context. Although organizers are prioritizing this information, a younger crowd will be drawn by superstars of underground hip-hop 2Mex, Xololanxinco, Mnemonic, Fauxie and other local artists such as political comedians Chicano Secret Service. Indeed, organizers seek to bridge generations of educators, youth and Westside communities.
The Association of Mexican American Educators (AMAE) Santa Monica/ West LA chapter and the PYFC are the sponsors and hope the event will not only educate Latinos on their activist history, but also integrate this history and culture into the curriculum of local schools. Building on past traditions (Day of the Dead, Chavez Day, Malcolm X Day, the Sacred Run), AMAE and the PYFC are planning to institutionalize this curriculum at local high schools and middle schools. Recognizing the absence or distortion of Chicano history in U.S. schools, Raza/Ethnic Studies curriculum gives Latino students a more truthful and inclusive education.

The organizers are living proof that this curriculum produces self-knowledge, self-esteem and citizens with a sense of social responsibility. Students in a similar program in Tucson, Arizona recently visited the PYFC and gave statistics of how Raza Studies students academically out-performed all demographic groups (including whites) in their district. Several non-Latino students spoke of the values and enlightenment Raza Studies provides to all students.    

Galvan’s story is part of what he calls the “hidden history” of Westside Chicanos, but also part of the repression activists experienced. Besides being the larges assemblage of Chicanos ever, the August 29th Moratorium was also known for the murder of three others, notably the most visible Chicano journalist at the time, Pulitzer prize winning LA Times reporter and TV news director, Ruben Salazar.

Salazar was shot by sheriffs in a bar under controversial circumstances. A coroner’s inquest red-baited Chicanos and found the officers innocent. Activists recognized the moment as a political assassination and proof of “gringo justice.” Riots and bombings erupted in Venice and throughout the Southwest, followed by further police repression.   

Salazar’s murder by police was an extreme example of what critical race theorists call “institutionalized racism,” and the media/social perception of the disposable nature of Raza – especially men and workers – as “normal.” Although the death of Salazar was followed by a new generation of Latino professionals in journalism and law enforcement, the media criminalization of Latinos continues to be a problem 9especially when only a small fraction of Latino youth are involved in gangs).

Another unique aspect of the Westside Chicano/a Moratorium is that the participants represent the fruit of the Chicano Movement. Two major accomplishments of the movement were a sharp increase in Latino college enrollment and the development of Chicano/Raza Studies departments at universities throughout the country. To their credit, Westside Chicanos have established a presence in schools and circles of policy.

On the Westside we have numbers as professionals (3 Latino School Board members) although Latinos are about a third of local students. In LA County, on the contrary, Latino students dominate schools (70%), but Latino school leaders and teachers lack power. The Westside is in the position to be innovative in education.

Indeed, a larger question posed by the Moratorium is can Raza students and teachers transform schools into more than careers, socialization factories and “learning prisons” (the majority of students at Olympic Continuation high school are academically under-performing Latino students). Have the students failed school, or are schools failing students?   

Latina singer Lila Downs commented this week, “we’ve had a lot of issues with our pride, about being Indian. It’s been denied to us for hundreds of years.” The Moratorium uncovers a “hidden history” and continues the transformative work of the Chicano Movement, both on Latinos and the system.

One aim of these events is to make curriculum more germane, plural and inclusive. The mission of AMAE and the PYFC is to inspire Latinos and students of color, and bring them “out of the shadows.” Like the 1970 Moratorium instructed, “La batalla esta aqui” (the struggle is here).    

The week’s events begin Wednesday with a night of films by native Elias Serna (“Mal Ojo” films include an Aztlan Underground music video for French TV and a documentary on three decades of Raza street activism) at the 18th Street Arts Complex (Olympic and 18th St.) as part of Sandra de la Loza’s “The Revolution Will…” exhibit. Friday night, from 7 to 11pm at the PYFC (715 Pico Blvd..) is the Westside Chicano/a Moratorium. The East LA Chicano Moratorium takes place Saturday form 11am to 5pm at Salazar Park in East LA. Other events citywide.

Serna is President of the Association of Mexican American Educators, Santa Monica – West LA Chapter and a PhD candidate in English at UC Riverside. He is a filmmaker and member of the political comedy group, Chicano Secret Service.

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