The readings and video for today delve into the changing forms and various achievements of the Chicano movement in Texas in the early 1970s. Class, gender, and regional differences all contribute to these changes in important ways. The book chapters look particularly at the rises, falls, and interactions among MAYO, La Universidad, the Brown Berets, and the Raza Unida Party. The video examines experiences in Dallas and Fort Worth.
Chapter 6 of Quixote’s Soldiers deals with the birth and formation of the Brown Berets. The Brown Berets, as an organization, was the brainchild of returning Mexican-American veterans which sought to change the detrimental conditions inherent within the Chicano barrio. Since its inception, the central function of the Brown Berets was to serve, observe, and protect the Chicano community (barrio). The Brown Berets attempted to rectify systemic violence and social ills within the barrio with a dual-pronged approach: they attempted to “reduce gang conflict” while simultaneously “monitoring police conducting the Chicano barrios” (130). Above all, the Brown Berets emphasized “Carnalismo” (brotherhood) and “La Raza Unida” (the united race) as a way to unify Chicano gangs and youth within the barrios (143). The Brown Beret’s emphasis on brotherhood and commonality was an attempt to transcend longstanding gang borders and instill a sense of cultural and ethnic solidarity in and amongst the Chicano barrio. One of the most significant aspects of the Brown Berets was their national growth and publicity. Over time, Brown Beret chapters could be found in most major US cities which had a substantial Mexican-American population. Perhaps most importantly, the Brown Berets can be credited with establishing a strong sense of security in the Chicano barrio and promoting systematic change through vocal and physical activism.
Chapter 7 highlights the Chicana movement in the 1960’s and 70’s. Mexican culture is centered around family, and women traditionally took on subordinate, support roles. This was reflected in the Chicano movement in the 1960’s, as “Chicano movement groups often organized around the ideal of la familia” (151). Mexican American women had long been involved in the political arena and in the Chicano movement, but they were not represented as leaders, although they did all the important busywork. Therefore, Chicana feminist activists that amidst the Chicano movement had to choose between fighting for their race or their gender. They did not want feminist issues to divide the Chicano movement, but at the same time, they felt that it was important for their voices to be heard. Therefore, Chicana activists were very careful in voicing their stance initially, in the first Chicano Youth Conference in Denver in 1969. However, the Raza Unida Party arose only a year later in 1970, and Chicana activist women would ardently press for equal representation. “ In a short time, the deferential sentiment expressed at the 1969 youth conference had evaporated” (152). In the end, their rally was successful, but what is more important is that this sudden shift from a conservative to radical stance portrays the confusion faced by Chicana women in this era. To choose their race over their sex signified a symbolic defeat against patriarchy. To choose their sex over their race meant assimilating and giving into the ideals of Anglo feminism. Nonetheless, although they were caught in a catch-22, they realized that it was “illogical to ask a woman to ignore and postpone her struggle as a woman” (171) and that “our people cannot come out of oppression unless we do it together” (165) by the end of their tumultuous journey.
Chapter 8 describes the decline of the West Side Brown Berets. It begins by exploring class issues that had begun to isolate the Brown Berets from other organizations within the Chicano movement, noting that college educated Chicanos were gravitating toward the Raza Unida Party while “batos” saw them as losing touch with their Chicano identities and barrio ties. The chapter then discusses the Chicana Berets and the unique difficulties they faced. The Berets decided to admit female members and give them autonomy over their membership at first. This became a source of some gender tensions. The chapter then assesses various possible contributing forces to the Berets’ downfall. People outside the group perceived them variously as another gang, as an unrealistic group that used intimidation as their only tactic, and as Communists. Finally, when the South Side chapter joined, differences in disciplinary norms and expectations further exacerbated existing tensions in the group. The West Side Berets formally dissolved in April, 1974.
In the video clip, Pride and Anger, we hear various different testimonies of community members’ experiences living in the Texas cities of Fort Worth and Dallas. While community members in Fort Worth express their satisfaction with its community in instilling sensitivity towards issues of race and facilitating communal values and camaraderie within its members, citizens of Dallas express their discontent with the racist, and unfair treatment of minorities there. Through its promotion of business and individualistic agency, Dallas is depicted as very conservative and lacking sympathy. Fort worth on the other hand can be characterized as a community that emphasizes interdependency and is more open to hearing different perspectives of various issues. In an analogy made, Fort Worth is represented as a freeway in which other courteous drivers let other fellow drivers merge in, while Dallas represents a freeway that inhibits other drivers from merging. In addition, the video clip discusses Chicanos and Latinos as an emerging growing population, especially within Texas. This highlights the changing demographics of the time and foreshadows the greater political issues that will be raised as a result of the emerging majority’s shifted focus. The death of Santos Rodriguez shows the increasing tensions of that time between whites and minorities. The death of this 12 year-old boy as a result of receiving beatings and being handcuffed inside a police car served as a catalyst for the awakening of minorities’ coalition to combat these acts of violence against minorities. This demonstration of police brutality caused minority communities to politically ally together in marches, protests, or other various forms of civil disobedience. Through this coalition, many minority communities merged together for aligned goals. This video clip mostly shows the increased collaboration between different minority communities to combat the existent racist forces within the US.
The similarities, differences, and interconnectedness among all of these various experiences, organizations, and locations provide important information about the history of the Chicano movement. They also raise numerous additional questions about interpretations, explanations, and extrapolations possible within the constraints established by that information. We look forward to further exploring this in class tomorrow.