From the National Chicano Moratorium to the 2020 Election, What Have We Learned?

Photo courtesy of lataco.com Belatina, latinx
Photo courtesy of lataco.com

Historical distances, when looked at closely, are a repeated echo, decade after decade. It is not difficult to draw a line from the concentration camps in Auschwitz and the Trump Administration’s immigrant camps.

Nor is it difficult to connect Latinos’ early social movements in the U.S. with the urgency of voter mobilization in the 2020 elections.

One need only look at the shelves of books and dusty photos, which insist on calling our attention to the urgency of change.

Fifty years ago, the streets of Los Angeles witnessed the first major gathering of Mexican Americans in the country some 30,000 protesters who came out to protest the Vietnam War.

Organized by the so-called Brown Berets, a student group that by then had been making noise for equal rights in classrooms for two years, the march was dubbed the National Chicano Moratorium Committee Against The Vietnam War, now known only as The Chicano Moratorium.

At that time, those involved in the civil movements knew that their banners would face violence from law enforcement, which, as it seemed to continue, had zero respect for people of color’s integrity.

The evidence was thousands of miles away, in a war being fought under the slogan “Down with Communism,” and with Latino and African American soldiers as cannon fodder.

Boxer Rodolfo ‘Corky’ Gonzalez wrote: “My feelings and emotions are aroused by the complete disregard of our present society for the rights, dignity, and lives of not only people of other nations but of our own unfortunate young men who die for an abstract cause in a war that cannot be honestly justified by any of our present leaders.”

The sentiment was shared.

One by one, the thousands of protesters left their homes on August 29, 1970, and gathered in Laguna Park (now Ruben F. Salazar Park), and merged in a tide that would repeat only once, in 2006.

The police response, as expected, was overwhelming. After announcing that the gathering was an “illegal assembly,” they began attacking the protesters. Four people were killed, including Gustav Montag, Lyn Ward, Angel Gilbert Diaz, and Ruben Salazar, the most important Latino journalist in the 20th-century history in the United States.

“Salazar’s killing, by a tear-gas projectile shot through the curtained doorway of the Silver Dollar Bar & Cafe by Deputy Thomas Wilson, the acting sergeant at the scene, rattled East L.A. and reverberated nationally,” The LA Times remembers. “Salazar’s voice had begun to challenge mainstream interpretations of the political ferment brewing in major neighborhoods in the big cities of the West, from Denver to San Diego and El Paso and everywhere in between. Through spirited columns, Salazar became the de facto chronicler of the Latino civil rights movement at the time.”

Five decades have passed, and it is hard to be objective and think that anything has really changed.

Although reductionism invites many to blame the Trump administration directly for the increase in violence, this is only the icing on the cake.

The Black Lives Matter movement, which is now on everyone’s lips either in support or rejection emerged in July 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin 17 months earlier, in February 2012.

And before that, in 2006, the so-called “La Gran Marcha” (The Great March) embraced the movement against changes in U.S. immigration policies and brought together more than a million demonstrators, marking a milestone in the struggle for the rights of the immigrant community in the country.

Meanwhile, freedoms remain under threat, inequalities are increasingly evident, and yet some are hesitant to go out and vote in November.

What good will five decades of history have done then if we continue to overlook the one true mechanism for change?