‘Chicano,’ the Series Recovered From Oblivion, 50 Years Later

Chicano Series BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of latimes.com/Frank Cruz holds a flier promoting “Chicano I & II: The Mexican American Heritage Series.”(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

At 82, Frank Cruz, a former teacher, reporter, Telemundo co-founder, and television host, found a treasure like no other in his garage.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Cruz found nine reels of 16-millimeter film from “Chicano I and II: The Mexican American Heritage Series,” the television show that first aired on KNBC-TV in Los Angeles in July 1971. The series, hosted by Cruz when he was in his early 30s, was also broadcast on sister stations in Chicago, New York, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C.

It was a program that sought to explore the issues facing the Mexican-American community in the context of the late 1960s — between the East Los Angeles strikes of 1968, followed by the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. the Chicano Moratorium, and the assassination of reporter Ruben Salazar.

Following this period of social and political activism, Sal Castro, one of the main leaders of the historic strikes, and Julian Nava, the first Mexican-American elected to the Los Angeles Board of Education, approached KNBC-TV in Los Angeles with the proposal.

Cruz agreed to host the program, which would open doors to a career as a journalist.

As the Los Angeles Times continued, the “Chicano I and II” episodes were put together by professors, historians, and experts, many of them founders of Chicano studies departments at their universities, including UCLA, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Fernando Valley State College (now Cal State Northridge). 

Among the topics they examined were the history of migrant workers and Chicano labor activities, economic repression and educational inequality, as well as the many cultural and other contributions of their Mexican ancestors to the Western world.

The “Chicano I and II” series is still going strong, and thanks to USC archivist Dino Everett nine of the 20 episodes are available to the public on USC’s Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive website.

With information from the Los Angeles Times.