East Los Angeles commemorates 40 years of struggle
With a police escort, they marched down Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles yesterday, just like their predecessors did nearly 40 years ago. Their was a sense that history is repeating itself. Back then it was about ending the Vietnam War. Now, it’s about ending the Afghan War. And just like then, it’s also about respect for and recognition of their culture, its place in our history and our future.
Yesterday, the 40th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium march was honored, which originally took place on Aug. 29, 1970. Following the same path as in 1970, Chicano-rights organizations and their supporters marched from First Street and Mednick Avenue to Salazar Park. Waiting for them at the park was a rally that featured speakers and performers.
Jaime Cruz, chair of the National Moratorium Committee, took to the stage and addressed the crowd. He criticized the Democratic Party for not taking on right-wing elements and defending the Latino community against what he called a “clear-cut case of ethnic cleansing.”
“Never before, really, have we felt the tremendous racism from the Republican Party,” he said. “[They are] legitimizing themselves through their shock-troops: the tea baggers, Minutemen, KKK, on and on. For what? For so-called American values.”
It is these values that Cruz said were not the values of the Chicano movement.
“Today’s march shows how proud we are to still be able to oppose these so-called American values that we are supposed to believe in,” he said. “It’s hard to believe in something that wants to eradicate you, … that wants to deport you, … that stops you in your car because you look brown.”
Cruz held a moment of silence for Lynn Ward, Angel Diaz and journalist Ruben Salazar, who were killed by police during the 1970 Chicano Moratorium. During the peaceful rally held at Salazar Park, then-Laguna Park, police fired tear gas into the crowd to break it up, which was followed by police using their batons on the demonstrators. A riot ensued.
Salazar, a Los Angeles Times columnist and a news director for KMEX-TV, was killed by a tear gas missile fired by a sheriff’s deputy into the former Silver Dollar bar. Questions have surrounded Salazar’s death since, primarily because the journalist had a contentious relationship with police due to his reporting on police brutality and the Chicano civil rights movement. Furthermore, the rioting had long since passed the Silver Dollar when sheriffs raided it, leading some to speculate that it was an intentional homicide.
“All of a sudden, without any provocation from anybody … we saw the police coming down,” Genaro Ayala, director of La Raza Unida Party, said to the crowd while reflecting on the events of Aug. 29, 1970. “Obviously, they new that our movement was gaining power, … was becoming effective and they knew they were going to have to do something about that. And they did it.”
Ayala went onto to say that police failed to stop the movement as evidenced by the 40th anniversary march and rally. He then affirmed the movement’s nationalistic goals.
“We are seeking self-determination and we are seeking liberation,” he said. “And bottom line is, we want our land back. We want Aztlan back. … This is our land.”
However, such nationalistic ambitions are complicated and not shared by all. A few want Aztlan returned to Mexico or want it to be a sovereign nation, but most speak of it in terms of unity, cultural pride and a springboard for civil rights issues.
At the heart of such sentiment may be the fact that many Chicanos feel they are under attack. Tomas Avila-Carrasco, a Ph.D. candidate in Chicano studies at UC Santa Barbara, summarized this as a “violent and non-violent” war on immigrants. Such things as a militarized border, an anti-immigrant backlash and the hyper-criminalization of the community is something he traces back to failed economic polices.
“Since 1994, NAFTA has literally broken Mexico in half,” he said. “Our governments need to work together. We really need to assist [Mexico] to develop industries so they don’t have to come here, like we did after World War II with Germany and Japan.”
Avila-Carrasco is a member of the Chicano Secret Service, a comedy troupe that performed at the rally. His performance included several digs directed at Fox News and how they treat immigrants and Chicanos in their reporting.
“It’s out of control, this verbal violence,” he said. “A lot of misinformation gets produced at Fox News. They are pretty much the mouth piece of the Republican Party and that’s why I attack them.”
The Brown Berets, a Chicano nationalist organization whose uniform consists of brown fatigues and berets, provided security, first aid and crowd control during the march and rally. Supporting organizations handed out literature and provided refreshments.
Present at the rally was Brown Beret Commander Luis Rodriguez. He has been a member of the Brown Berets since 1968. He says his wife has been in the U.S. for 20 years. Since 2004 she has been working on becoming a citizen, a process he said has been difficult for both of them.
“I would like to see the border open again,” he said. “This is our land. I’d like to see everyone happy and free.”