2010 marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most significant events
of the Chicano movement: the Chicano Moratorium.
By Rosalío Munoz
February 11, 2010
You may have noticed all the 40th anniversary celebrations that are
taking place, especially in East/Northeast Los Angeles. If you are
from the Boomer Generation, those born after the end of WWII and the
Korean military action, when large numbers of young men returned to
their communities you notice because 40 years ago is when we first
started voting and were able to buy alcohol. And a few years earlier
is when we guys became eligible for the draft and to die in the Vietnam War.
I say "we" because I am a "boomer" from these parts. Though I was
born in Arizona in June of 1946, nine months after my dad returned
from serving in the Navy in the South Pacific during World War II, I
moved to East LA with my family when I was one-year-old and consider
myself a native of these parts.
This year, Mexican American boomers, los Chicanos y las Chicanas,
will mark the 40th anniversary of a pivotal time in the history of
the Chicano movement and the struggle for civil rights: the Aug. 29,
1970 Chicano Moratorium and the death of Ruben Salazar. On that day
in East L.A., some 20-30,000 people, mostly Chicanos, marched and
rallied against the Vietnam War as part of the National Chicano
Moratorium. At the time it was the largest political gathering ever
of Mexican Americans in the US, and the largest anti Vietnam War
demonstration in Los Angeles.
Studies by Mexican American scholar Ralph Guzman showed that Mexican
American soldiers were dying in the Vietnam War in proportions far
greater than their numbers in the general population. Because of
their low college enrollment numbers, few Chicanos were eligible for
deferments from the draft. About half of their general population
counterparts, however, were in college and able to avoid the draft.
Although the Mexican American population in Los Angeles County
numbered over a million at the time, only one congressman, one
assemblyman and one school board member were Mexican American. There
were no Mexican Americans on the City Council, Board of Supervisors,
or in the state Senate. Poverty levels were far higher in the barrios
than in the general population, and opportunities for the growing
numbers of boomer Chicanos coming of age were few. It was a time of
action, with young and old coming together to struggle against the
barriers of historic discrimination. The 1970 Moratorium was a high
point of the struggle, and arguably the whole Chicano movement.
It is also a day of infamy, for the rally was broken up brutally by
Los Angeles County Sheriffs and other federal, state, local police
and by some accounts, undercover military forces. Sheriffs said at
the time that they had chased suspected beer thieves to the eastside
park where thousands had gathered for a peaceful rally following the
Moratorium march, but were blocked from their pursuit by some of the
demonstrators. They declared the demonstration an illegal assembly
and began forcibly driving the thousands of men and women and
children out of the park. Armed and dressed in full riot gear, scores
and scores of officers poured into the park and began flailing away
with batons followed by tear gas.
They drove people onto the streets. Some of the rally participants
resisted at first, attempting to protect the elderly and children
being crushed in the panic created by the Sheriffs' actions. But
then, in anger, some began to break store windows. There were fires.
As thousands sought ways to get away from the batons and tear gas, a
few hundred of the protesters pushed aside the non-violent principles
of the demonstration.
On that day, Ruben Salazar was covering the march and rally as the
news director of KMEX TV, then the only Spanish language station in
Southern California, and as a Los Angeles Times syndicated columnist.
Salazar was one of the most respected and honored Mexican American
journalists of the time, having headed up the Times' Mexico City
bureau and as a star reporter stationed in Vietnam in the
mid-sixties. As the police began stampeding the crowd out of the
park, he told community leaders Bert Corona and Rudy Acuna "they
can't blame us (Mexican Americans) for this." He never got a chance
to report the truth behind the day's events, because a couple of
hours later and a few miles away, as he and his associates relaxed at
the Silver Dollar bar, a sheriff's deputy shot off part of his head
with a tear gas projectile, "by mistake."
Absent Salazar's voice, the Sheriffs were exonerated for the violence
that day and in the deaths of Ruben Salazar and two others, Lyn Ward
and Gilberto Diaz. In 2008, Salazar was honored with a commemorative
US Postal stamp. The stamp erroneously gives the impression he was
killed "during Chicano protest rally in East Los Angeles." He was
not killed at the rally, but hours later and miles away, and by a
sheriff who shot him. Such is the official history of the Mexican
American, the Chicano struggle for social justice.
Today, because of those who fought for change 40 years ago, Mexican
Americans are now a more significant part of the US political scene,
with more elected officials and registered voters. Now, a group of
Chicano Moratorium veterans are organizing a series of events to
commemorate the historic Aug. 29 demonstration and the grass root
struggle to get us where we are today. The 40th Anniversary
Commemoration Committee of the Chicano Moratoriums is organizing
forums, symposiums, documentary film showings, and a museum style
presentation of the real story on the Web. Volunteers and funding are
needed. This Sunday, Feb. 14, at 3 p.m., organizers will meet at the
Church of the Epiphany, located at 2808 Altura Street, Los Angeles
90031. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Rosalío Munoz was the chairperson of the August 29, 1970 National
Chicano Moratorium Committee.