Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist)

The Struggle for Chicano Liberation

III. The struggle of the Chicano people

From the very beginning of the U.S. annexation of the Southwest, the Chicano people continuously fought against their oppression. Their brutal treatment by the Anglo-American capitalists has created a profound revolutionary potential in the Chicano people’s struggle. From the resistance to annexation and the land grabs, to the struggles in the mines, mills and fields of the Southwest, to the great upsurge of the national movement in the 1960’s, the Chicano people have demanded liberation. The struggle for liberation has become a prominent aspect of the common experience and culture of the Chicano nation.

Resistance to annexation

Even before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed to formally hand over the Southwest to the U.S., there was strong opposition to the U.S. annexation among the people in the region. This was evident in the revolt of 1847 in Nuevo Mexico.

Soon after U.S. troops occupied the territories of Nuevo Mexico, Washington appointed Charles Bent to be territorial governor. Led by Jose Antonio Martinez (who previously had opposed domination by the Church under Mexican rule) and a peon named Pablo Montoya, Mexican and Indian rebels rose up, captured Bent and executed him. The U.S. federal soldiers sent in to quell the rebellion retaliated by laying siege to Taos, the stronghold of the resistance. One hundred and fifty New Mexicans were killed in battle and following the defeat of the rebels, another 30 prisoners were executed.

Thus began 30 years of resistance to annexation throughout the captured territories.

The most famous revolt during the first years of annexation was that led by Juan Cortina. Cortina was the son of a former landowner in the Brownsville area. One day in 1858 he tried to rescue a Chicano who was being beaten by a town marshall. The marshall responded to Cortina’s efforts with, “What’s it to you, you damned Mexican.” When the marshall refused to release the prisoner, after Cortina had fired a warning shot, Cortina shot the marshall in the shoulder and fled with the prisoner to safety.

Hounded by the marshall’s posse and later by the Texas Rangers, Cortina took to the hills, gathered others around him and fought against the Anglo occupiers. On September 28, 1859, his forces even swept down and captured Brownsville itself, replacing the U.S. flag with that of Mexico and demanding justice for the people. In the following years Cortina formed an army of several hundred rebels who fought and defeated time and time again the Texas Rangers and the Brownsville militia. The rebel forces virtually controlled the area from Brownsville to Rio Grande City, an area 150 miles in length.

Cortina formed a secret organization, Las Aguilas Negras (the Black Eagles) in southern Texas and issued a proclamation for Chicanos to join it and demand that the rights guaranteed by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo be respected. Cortina was eventually chased across the border by U.S. forces led by officers such as Robert E. Lee (later of the Confederacy), but his exploits were memorialized in many corridos (ballads) throughout the region.

During these years of Cortina’s activities in southern Texas, Chicanos in New Mexico and Texas waged three “wars” against Anglo land grabbers.

The El Paso Salt War of 1877 was a popular uprising against Anglo speculators who took over previously public salt beds near town. At that time all but 80 of the 12,000 inhabitants around El Paso were Chicanos. When the Anglo businessmen began to charge for the salt, the Chicanos rose up, killed several of the businessmen and wrecked their property. Government forces retaliated and a number of Chicanos were shot and several more lynched. Antagonisms over this incident lasted long after the uprising was suppressed.

Later, the Colfax and Lincoln County Land Wars broke out in New Mexico. In Colfax the Chicano and Indian people resisted the Santa Fe Ring’s accumulation of land and for months open battles raged between the forces.

The Lincoln County War (1876-78) was similar. The “War” began as a struggle between the Santa Fe Ring and other Anglo-American capitalists. The ensuing struggle engulfed the local Chicano population, who opposed the Ring. A man named Juan Patron helped organize the Chicanos to fight the Ring.

Later in New Mexico, Chicano peasants organized in several areas against the encroachments of the large landowners. In 1889 in northern New Mexico, peasants formed Las Gorras Blancas (the White Caps). This was a secret organization which fought against the fencing off of common grazing lands which had been used by the Chicanos for centuries. They also fought against attempts of the large Anglo-American ranches to monopolize the water supply. Joining together with some Anglo workers and Indians, Las Gorras Blancas issued a proclamation which stated, “We are down on race issues and will watch race agitation. We favor irrigation enterprises, but will fight any scheme that tends to monopolize the supply of water sources to the detriment of residents living on lands watered by the same streams.”[1] Las Gorras Blancas eventually grew to a membership of 1,500, including some small Anglo farmers and American Indians. It also cooperated with the Knights of Labor in opposing the exploitation of the large railroad corporations which were stealing Chicano lands and exploiting the workers. Las Gorras Blancas continued until 1891.

At the same time in northwestern New Mexico, La Mano Negra (the Black Hand) was formed to fight the railroads and large ranchers. The railroads not only stole Chicano lands but also charged the small farmers outrageous shipping rates. In one famous incident, a force of 300 Chicanos tore up 9,000 railroad ties belonging to the Atchison-Topeka & Santa Fe railroad. The group also regularly raided the property of the land syndicates. La Mano Negra continued until the 1920’s.

Also during these years numerous local heroes arose from among the Chicano people’s resistance to the conquerors. In New Mexico, Elfego Baca stood up against cowboy shootings of his people. In the Texas Panhandle, Sostenes l’Archeveque, who was born in Santa Fe of a French father and a Mexican-Indian mother, avenged the murder of his father by Anglo-Americans by becoming a one-man armed resistance force.

In California in 1855, a 20 year old Chicano, Francisco Ramirez began publishing El Clamor Publico, which crusaded against the injustices done to Chicanos. In one article he wrote:

What is the foreigner in California? He is what he is not in any other place in the world; he is what he is not in the most inhospitable land which can be imagined.... The North Americans pretend to give us lessons in humanity and to bring to our people the doctrine of salvation so we can govern ourselves, to respect the laws and conserve order. Are these the ones who treat us worse than slaves?[2]

Through the 1850’s and 1870’s California produced men such as Juan Flores, Joaquin Murietta, and Tiburcio Vasquez. Labeled as “bandits” and “desperados” by the Anglo press, to the Chicano people they were heroes who stood up to the rich Anglos. Vasquez, often given protection by the Chicano population in California, raided the farms, ranches and mines of the Anglo-Americans. Eventually Vasquez was captured and sentenced to death. Before dying he declared: “I fought many battles in defense of what I considered my rights and those of my compatriots. I believed that we were unjustly deprived of the social rights that had been ours.”[3]

By the turn of the century many Chicanos had come into contact with socialist and anti-imperialist ideas. This was reflected in proclamations such as El Plan de San Diego. Issued by Chicano revolutionaries in Texas in 1915, the manifesto called for the “independence and segregation of the States bordering upon the Mexican Nation, which are: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and upper California, of which states the Republic of Mexico was robbed in most perfidious manner by North American imperialism.”[4]

The manifesto also declared its support for a free Black republic in the South. Furthermore, the group saw itself under no obligation to the Mexican government but campaigned under the banner of “Equality and Independence.”

The group which put out El Plan de San Diego was composed mainly of small, Chicano merchants and storekeepers who had been ruined by competition from big, Anglo business interests.

The Plan reflected some of the deep national sentiments which existed among the masses of Chicano people. The sentiment of being in a conquered territory, of having the land stolen by big Anglo-American business interests has never disappeared from among the Chicano people. It has been the basis of many struggles throughout the 20th century.

The struggles of the Chicano proletariat

In the 1880’s a new class of Chicanos had appeared: the working class. Formerly peasants, small farmers and peones, the development of capitalism in the Southwest ruined many and transformed them into miners, railroad laborers and field workers. In turn, this gave rise to further struggle. The Chicano working people have an especially militant and heroic history of struggle against exploitation and oppression. Their struggles have often been both part of the Chicano national movement, as well as part of the struggle of the U.S. multinational working class.

One of the first workers groups that was formed was organized by miners and railroad workers in the 1880’s. Called Los Caballeros de Labor, it was patterned after the Knights of Labor, the principal labor organization in the rest of the U.S. at the time.

A main demand of Los Caballeros de Labor was for an end to the dual wage rate. It protested the system which gave Anglo workers a higher rate and Chicanos the so-called “Mexican rate.” This system was designed to reap superprofits for the capitalists and create a division between Anglo and Chicano workers. The dual wage system was a part of a larger system of national privileges which the Anglo capitalists used to oppress the Chicano people.

Los Caballeros also demanded that Chicano lands be protected from robbery by Anglo land speculators, ranchers and the large railroad companies. The railroads were some of the largest landholders in the Southwest. They controlled some 150 million acres throughout the West.

Chicanos formed Los Caballeros and other Chicano labor organizations because reactionary labor bureaucrats, who controlled many unions, refused to allow Chicanos into the unions.

During the 19th century several mine workers’ and ranch workers’ strikes took place, but the first major struggle involving Chicano workers took place in 1903 and 1904. In 1903 Chicano miners struck the mines in the copper fields of Clifton-Morenci, Arizona. The miners had been organized by the Western Federation of Miners which had socialists and other revolutionaries in its leadership. In Bisbee, Arizona, in 1903 Chicano mutualistas (mutual aid societies) led a strike of 3,500 and massive demonstrations of workers and their families to support the demands of the strike. Frightened by the significance of this great strike, the imperialists brought in the national guard to suppress the workers. In Los Angeles, hundreds of Chicano railway workers conducted several strikes against the Pacific Electric Railway and the Los Angeles Railway.

Around this same time, revolutionary ideas and theories began to influence the struggles of Chicano workers. These influences came from the developing socialist movement in the U.S., as well as in Mexico. As early as 1894 a paper called El Gato was published in Santa Fe denouncing imperialist exploitation of the mines and railroads. It carried an editorial entitled, “The Capitalist and the Worker,” which called for class solidarity against the capitalists. In 1905 the Founding Convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was held. Several Chicanos attended as delegates. Lucia Gonzales de Parsons (Lucy Parsons – who had organized demonstrations for the 8-hour day and rallied support for the Haymarket martyrs all over the country) addressed the convention and called on delegates to draw their inspiration from the revolutionary struggle going on then in Russia. The anarcho-syndicalist IWW had an important role in the Southwest as it organized many agricultural workers and miners. It organized all workers regardless of nationality.

In Laredo, Texas, railroad workers published El Defensor del Obrero (The Worker’s Defender) from 1905-07. It advocated a form of “socialism” as the only solution to the oppression of Chicanos and Mexicans. It supported strikes on both sides of the border. The Socialist Party’s paper, The Rebel, although printed only in English, had wide distribution in the Southwest. The Socialist Party’s Land League of America was headed by F.A. Hernandez and its chapters had about 1,000 workers and peasants as members. The League fought for land for the poor. A number of other anarchist and socialist newspapers were being published in the Southwest at this time. They include Punto Rojo (The Red Point), Lucha de Clases (Class Struggle) and El Amigo del Pueblo (The Friend of the People). Each of these papers identified the capitalist class as the enemy and called for unity of all workers against that class.

A particularly influential revolutionary leader in the Southwest was Ricardo Flores Magon. Magon had formed the Partido Liberal Mexicano (PLM) around the turn of the century in Mexico and was active in the famous copper miners’ strike at Cananea. The PLM was one of the first groups in Mexico to take up the struggle against the Diaz government. Although Magon was forced out of Mexico in 1904, he continued his work in the U.S. He organized a number of PLM chapters throughout the Southwest which were active in labor organizing and supporting the Mexican Revolution. The PLM’s paper in the Southwest was called Regeneracion. Magon was imprisoned by the U.S. authorities in 1911 and was murdered by prison guards in 1922. But many of his followers continued to be very active in struggles throughout the Southwest.

In 1914 Chicano workers played a major part in one of the most famous strikes in U.S. history – the Ludlow strike in Colorado. In that year, more than 9,000 miners struck the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. The workers were mostly Chicanos, Italian and Slavic immigrants. The working conditions at the mines were extremely unsafe, the pay low and the workers were forced to live in company housing camps and shop in company stores. The main demands of the strike were for union recognition, an increase in wages and improvement in safety and working conditions. The company had previously relied on promoting differences between nationalities to keep the workers divided and out of the union. But in this action the workers were united.

The company evicted the workers from the company housing shortly after the strike started. The strikers then erected their own “tent city” near the mining camp. J.D. Rockefeller ordered the state militia and a private army of hired thugs to attack the tent city. They machine-gunned the camp, killing two women and eleven children. Nine of the victims were Chicano. This slaughter became known as the “Ludlow Massacre.” In the two weeks following the attacks, workers armed themselves and received support from workers around the country, many coming into the area to battle Rockefeller’s army. The workers conducted a number of shootouts with the goons. In the end, 46 persons were killed – most of them Rockefeller guards.

Chicano workers’ struggles continued throughout the 1920’s in the Southwest and in the Midwest industrial cities. But it was the late 1920’s and 1930’s that witnessed a great increase in the activity of Chicano workers, especially in California agriculture. Several of the strikes and organizing efforts were assisted by communists.

One of the main communist-led unions which played a key role in organizing agricultural workers was the Cannery and Agricultural Workers Industrial Union (CAWIU). Through the depression years the union led dozens of strikes, including most of the major ones in California, such as the 1933 El Monte Berry strike, which involved 18,000 workers, and the Corcoran Cotton Strike.

In October 1933, 15,000 workers, 75% of them Spanish-speaking, refused to take a cut in pay in the cotton fields around Corcoran. They were fed up with the racism of the growers, the bad housing, and sanitation facilities. On October 10 near Visalia, the growers ambushed farm workers as they left a meeting. Shooting into the crowd, they murdered Delfino Davila and Dolores Hernandez and wounded a number of other workers. The police responded by arresting 17 strike leaders and labeling the incident the “Pixley Riots.” The growers were never convicted of their crimes and by the end of the struggle 42 people had been wounded and 113 arrested.

Another important struggle communists helped lead was the San Antonio pecan sheller’s strike. In 1938, angered over a cut in piece rates, over 10,000 Chicano shelters stopped work at 130 plants. The local police immediately arrested 1,000 workers in an attempt to break the strike. A key target of the officials was a young Chicana, Emma Tenayucca who was a strike leader and a communist.

The state viciously red-baited the workers and used organizations such as the Mexican Chamber of Commerce, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the local Catholic Church to oppose the strike. But in spite of such opposition, the workers won a union and a pay increase.

In contrast to communist-led workers organizations, there were many trade unions under the leadership of racist labor aristocrats who denied membership to Chicanos and attacked Mexican workers as harmful to American labor.

Chicano workers thus took steps to organize themselves and their brothers and sisters from Mexico. In Los Angeles in 1927, workers held a convention and formed several labor unions under La Confederacion de Uniones Obreras Mexicanas (CUOM) (The Confederation of Mexican Workers’ Unions). Its purpose was to organize Mexican and Chicano workers in the United States, fight for parity with Anglo-American workers, end the dual wage system, and end discrimination against Mexicans and Chicanos. Within a year CUOM had 3,000 members in 20 locals.

The Confederacion de Uniones de Campesinos y Obreros Mexicanos (CUCOM) (Confederation of Unions of Mexican Farm Workers and Workers) was soon formed which focused on agricultural workers. It helped lead several important strikes including the Imperial Valley Cantaloupe Strike of 1928. A number of its leaders were imprisoned and later deported to Mexico under the Criminal Syndicalist Act.

Chicano workers also played a significant role in the formation of several organizations which opposed national oppression. In March 1939 the First Congress of the Mexican and Spanish People was held in Albuquerque which brought together representatives of trade unions, small businessmen, religious groups, students and mutual aid organizations to fight such injustices as segregation in the Southwest.

One of the most important events of this period occurred in October 1935 in San Antonio. There, Chicano representatives from labor unions, unemployed councils and mutual aid societies from all over the Southwest met at La Convention Constitutiva Pro Derechos Mexicanos de Texas (Constituent Convention of Texas for Mexican Rights). This conference adopted a series of resolutions on different subjects related to national oppression, including the land question. It also adopted a resolution which called for the right of self-determination for south Texas and the border region, which were areas of predominantly Chicano population. In writing about this conference, a member of the Communist Party who had participated in it said:

Thus we in the Party recognized the similarity of the status of the Mexican people in Texas with that of the Negro people in the South and concluded that the remedy would be a similar one. We reached the conclusion that the struggles of the Mexican people in Texas must embrace the demand for the return of the land, for language and cultural rights and the right for political self-rule, even to the point of separation in the South Texas area where Mexican people constitute a large percentage or the majority of the population.[5]

Unfortunately, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) ignored the resolutions of this conference. While the CPUSA participated in some of the Chicano labor struggles of the 1930’s, they never adopted a revolutionary position on the Chicano national question and generally neglected the Chicano national movement. The CPUSA’s newspaper, The Worker, was given out in the Southwest only in English. Marxist-Leninist literature in Spanish was available mainly through Mexico. The CPUSA’s weakness on the national question eventually became part of its general degeneration into revisionism in the 1950’s.

During the 1950’s, due to the sellout of the CPUSA, the repression of McCarthyism and the temporary stabilization of U.S. imperialism, the Chicano national movement, like other social movements in the U.S., went into a period of relative inactivity. However, as with the Black movement, there were some struggles for civil rights. Groups such as the American G.I. Forum (a Chicano veterans’ organization), the Mexican-American Political Association (MAPA), the Unity League, and the Community Service Organization in California formed during these years. Their campaigns included voter registration drives, fights to end gerrymandering of districts (which divided Chicano barrios to minimize the Chicano vote) and backed candidates who supported their programs.

But perhaps the most famous Chicano struggle during the 1950’s was the Empire Zinc strike in Silver City, New Mexico. In 1951 the mainly Chicano miners of that company went on strike demanding increased pay and equal treatment. When the company got an injunction against the strikers, the miners’ wives took over the picket line. They were viciously attacked by goons, the police and scabs. Forty-five women and 17 children were arrested and several were hit by scab-driven cars. The strike became well-known because of the determination of the workers and because it was memorialized in the film Salt of the Earth which has become one of the most famous American workers’ films.

The quiescence of the 1950’s, though, was just the lull before the storm. By the mid-1960’s the Chicano people once again rose up on a massive scale along with other oppressed nationalities, workers and students to challenge the rule of monopoly capital.

The Chicano national movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s

The great upsurge of the Chicano national movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s was inspired in part by the people of Indochina resisting U.S. aggression, the struggle to build socialism in China and the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles of peoples in Latin America and Africa. The Chicano people also were encouraged by the militant example set by the Afro-American people who rose up in revolt in hundreds of cities across the U.S. in the 1960’s.

Most importantly, however, were the actual conditions of life for the Chicano people. For the masses of Chicanos, national and class oppression held them in chains, and it was inevitable that such oppression would lead to rebellion.

In 1960 Chicanos earned $3,000 less per year in family income than Anglos. Per capita income for Chicanos was $968, and $2,047 for Anglos. Twenty percent of Chicanos had white collar jobs while 47% of the Anglo working population held white collar positions. Compared to 7.5% for Anglos, 29.7% of all Chicanos resided in what the government itself designated as “over-crowded housing,” and 9% lived in “run down or ramshackle housing” compared to 1.3% of the Anglo population. In the Southwest, the median number of years of schooling for Chicanos was just 8.1 years while it was 12.0 for Anglos. In Texas the median years of schooling for Chicanos was only 4.8 years.

The Chicano population suffered continual police harassment. From the 1960’s to the present, dozens of Chicanos have been murdered by police in the Southwest. Hundreds of thousands of immigrant Mexicans annually were being deported. Faced with this pervasive and all-encompassing system of national oppression it is easy to understand why the Chicano people rose up in revolt in the 1960’s and why that revolt has continued throughout the 1970’s.

One of the struggles which perhaps most dramatized the oppression of the Chicano nation was that of the Alianza Federal de Mercedes (Federal Alliance of Land Grant Heirs) based in northern New Mexico and led by Reies Lopez Tijerina. The Alianza was founded in 1963 in order to try to regain the Chicano land grants and fight against the impoverishment of Chicano small farmers. As late as 1965 a Forest Service decision to drastically reduce grazing permits forced 20,000 Chicanos to leave their villages and abandon their small plots of land. In its early years the Alianza strived to gain its objectives through legal processes, but it was frustrated at every turn. Nevertheless the organization grew rapidly and at its peak its membership numbered 50,000, mainly composed of Chicano small farmers and sharecroppers. The Alianza issued proclamations in New Mexico declaring that the “U.S.A. Has No Title for New Mexico,” “All Spanish and Indian Pueblos are Free Forever,” and the famous cry “¡Tierra y Libertad!” (Land and Liberty). These calls struck a responsive chord among the Chicano people.

When the legal processes produced no results for the Alianza, it decided to take a militant action to dramatize its demands. In October, 1966, 350 Alianza members occupied a national park that had once been a part of a communal land grant. The Alianza claimed the land on behalf of the former land grant inhabitants.

The Chicano militants arrested two park rangers for trespassing but then were ousted themselves when the state moved in and arrested their leaders. While awaiting trial for the occupation, the Alianza continued its organizing but was constantly harassed by the police who attempted to prevent public meetings from being held and arrested some people for just trying to attend these meetings.

To counteract this harassment Tijerina and about 20 other Alianza members armed themselves and went to the Tierra Amari-11a courthouse to make a citizen’s arrest of the District Attorney responsible for the harassment. They seized the courthouse but did not find the DA. The police tried to intervene and a fight broke out resulting in the wounding of several people. Tijerina and the group then left the area with two lawmen as hostages. The state responded with the most massive military operation in New Mexico’s history. They imposed martial law over the area and called up several national guard units to track down Tijerina and the others. The manhunt included planes, helicopters, tanks and armed personnel carriers which rumbled through the small Chicano villages of New Mexico. The state detained several hundred Chicano villagers for questioning and investigation.

Tijerina eventually gave himself up and was later imprisoned for several years. But his struggle had an electrifying effect on the Chicano people as it brought to the forefront once again the desire for the return of the lands stolen from the Chicano people. At the same time as land struggles were taking place in the countryside, there was an upsurge in political activity among Chicanos in urban areas. Many Chicano youth began to form groups such as the Brown Berets and Black Berets. Inspired by the examples of the Black Panther Party and the Cuban Revolution, they formed to protect the Chicano communities from attacks by the police and to stop the fights between Chicano youth from rival barrios. The Black Berets which formed out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, put forth a 12 Point Political Program which included the call for “self-determination and liberation for all Chicanos in the U.S.A.” and “community control of our institutions and land.”[6] They supported the struggle of the farm workers and Chicano peasants and opposed the U.S. imperialist war. Point Six in their program demanded, “U.S.A. Out of Viet Nam, Latin America, and Aztlan!”[7] (Aztlan is a term popularly used to refer to the Chicano Nation.) The Black Berets were one of the first contemporary Chicano groups to raise the struggle as one against capitalism, upholding armed self-defense and armed struggle as necessary for liberation.

Another important political development during this time was the birth and development of La Raza Unida Party (LRUP) led by Jose Angel Gutierrez. This was a mass organization, first formed in south Texas, which called for Chicano independence from the Democratic and Republican Parties. This was a challenge to the long tradition of support for the Democratic Party among Chicanos, a tradition that went back to Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The LRUP grew rapidly throughout the Southwest and within a couple of years had over 100,000 registered members and sympathizers in the Southwest. La Raza Unida focused primarily on running Chicanos in local elections and in some cities succeeded in electing its candidates to office. Within LRUP, however, there were some strong differences over its direction. Chicano businessmen and merchants composed one main current of the organization. They proposed that LRUP become a pressure voting bloc which, in return for the Chicano vote, could wring some concessions from the bourgeois parties. They understood “Chicano self-determination” as Chicanos owning their own businesses and electing Chicanos to public office instead of Anglos.

In opposition, a revolutionary current arose which maintained that the enemy of the Chicano people was imperialism, that the struggle of the Chicano people was for self-determination, and that freedom and emancipation could not be achieved within the system of capitalism. This current became a strong force within LRUP. This influence was evident at the 1972 national convention of LRUP in El Paso. With over 2,000 delegates from throughout the Southwest and the U.S., the La Raza Unida Party after two days of debate rejected the “voting bloc” path. Later that year LRUP adopted a program which began with the words, “La Raza Unida Party proclaims the people of La Raza to be a nation within a nation endowed with the right and obligation to struggle for self-determination.”[8] This theme became a dominant sentiment in the Chicano movement and was expressed in most of the demonstrations and marches of the time.

Chicano students and youth were some of the most active forces in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In 1968 several thousand Chicano high school students in East Los Angeles walked out of the schools in the famous “high school blowouts.” They protested the discrimination against Chicanos which was normal policy in L.A. schools, against racist teachers who regularly disparaged Chicano history and culture, and for an end to the “tracking” system which kept Chicano students away from college. Underneath it all the Chicano students demanded an end to a school system which caused Chicanos to have the highest dropout rate in California, the lowest percentage of high school graduates and the lowest percentage of college students in the state.

As a result of the walkouts and similar actions throughout the Southwest, a number of progressive Chicano student and youth organizations were formed – the MEChAs (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan), MAYO (Mexican-American Youth Organization) and UMAS (United Mexican-American Students).

Chicano college students also played a leading role in the Third World Liberation Front struggle at the University of California, Berkeley, and led militant campaigns on campuses in Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, and California. In many of these struggles the students raised the demand for self-determination.

This sentiment too was strongly expressed at the Chicano Youth Conferences held in Denver, Colorado. At the first Conference in 1969, several thousand youth, students, workers and community people adopted the Plan de Aztlan which explicitly called for self-determination – “a nation autonomous and free – culturally, socially, economically and politically – will make its own decisions on the usage of our lands, the taxation of our goods, to utilization of our bodies for war, the determination of justice (reward and punishment) and the profit of our sweat.”[9] At this same conference another important statement was issued by a number of different Chicanos who called themselves the “revolutionary caucus.” Their statement was issued prior to the adoption of the Plan de Aztlan:

We, a nonconquered people living in a conquered land, come together hoping that a plan of liberation, a concrete revolutionary program acceptable to the entire Southwest, will come from this conference. Subjected to a system that has denied our human dignity, our rights are also being denied under a constitution which we had no part in formulating and, more fundamentally, the rights protected under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo .... have been violated.

We are oppressed first because we are Chicanos, because our skin is dark. But we are also exploited as workers by a system which feeds like a vulture off the work of our people only to enrich a few who own and control this entire country. We suffer double oppression. We catch double hell.

. . . We will not attain what is rightfully ours, or our democratic right of self-determination without having to overturn the entire system . ... [10]

A high point of these activities was the famous Chicano Moratorium Against the War held on August 29, 1970, in East Los Angeles. The march was organized by a committee made up of revolutionary and progressive Chicanos and was one of the largest Chicano demonstrations in recent times. The march was called to protest the war of aggression in Southeast Asia and the fact that a high percentage of Chicanos were being drafted, killed, and wounded in the war – a much larger proportion than the average. Chicanos made up 20% of the front line troops in Viet Nam, while they made up 3% of the U.S. population. Over 25,000 Chicanos marched through the streets chanting “Raza Si, Guerra No” and “Raza Si, Guerra Aqui” (Chicanos Yes, Our War is Here). The peaceful march was brutally attacked by a force of almost 2,000 police and sheriffs who killed three Chicanos, including Ruben Salazar, a well-known Chicano journalist who was shot in the head with a tear gas projectile while sitting in a cafe. Hundreds more were wounded, beaten and arrested.

In response many demonstrators stoned and fought the police. They put dozens of police in the hospital, and burned 12 squad cars. Demonstrations against the killings went on for weeks following August 29th.

With the memory of the police attack on August 29th still fresh in their minds, some 300,000 Chicanos and Mexicans came out just two weeks later on September 16 to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. This was a massive sign of resistance to police terror. People held up signs calling for “Chicano power” and “Remember Ruben Salazar.”

During the 1960’s and 1970’s Chicano workers also led struggles, including some of the most important labor battles of the time. The most well-known of them are the farm workers struggle, the Farah clothing workers strike, and the 1973 Los Angeles furniture workers walkout. These struggles were against both national and class oppression, and were noted for the high level of political consciousness, militancy, and determination of the workers.

In 1965 Chicano and Mexican farm workers, who constitute the majority of farm workers in the country, joined striking Philipino farm workers in Delano, California. This was the spark for the organizing efforts of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, and later the United Farm Workers Union. Tens of thousands of farm workers would be involved in a decade-long struggle to unionize the unorganized agricultural workers in the West. The farm workers battled bosses, police, hired armies of thugs, and the gangster leadership of the Teamsters union. Several farm workers were killed during the struggle, and hundreds more were wounded or jailed. The struggle eventually received national and international support, especially when the workers used the boycott of non-union grapes and lettuce as a tactic against the growers.

Through the campaign thousands of people actively helped propagate the cause of the farm workers and helped in the support and boycott work. The farm workers have achieved a number of successes, though the struggle is still ongoing and is difficult.

The farm workers’ efforts to unionize was at the same time a struggle against national oppression. This is because unionization has long been denied to many Chicano workers. It is no accident that the majority of the states in the Chicano nation are right-to-work states. As a result the farm workers also actively supported other Chicano struggles, such as the land struggle in New Mexico.

Another significant strike of Chicano workers during this time was that of the Farah workers. The two-year long strike against one of the largest clothing manufacturers in the U.S. took place deep in the Chicano nation, in El Paso, Texas.

The strike for unionization began in 1972 and eventually 4,000 workers, 98% of them Chicano and Mexican, and the majority women, walked out of Willie Farah’s plants. Starting pay was $1.70 per hour, and not a single person had received any retirement benefits from Farah in 53 years. The strikers defied the police, the courts, armed goons, and police dogs during the course of their strike. Over 800 strikers were arrested in one incident. Finally in 1974, with the support of people throughout the U.S., the workers won recognition for their union. The victory was a major blow against class exploitation and national oppression in the Chicano nation.

Many of the workers understood their struggle as connected to the Chicano people’s struggle against oppression. When a Dallas cop shot young Santos Rodriguez in the head inside a squad car, a number of Farah strikers organized a protest demonstration in El Paso.

A third example of struggles of Chicano workers during this time was that of the furniture workers walkout in Los Angeles in 1973. Several hundred furniture workers from eight plants walked off their jobs for one day to picket a convention of AFL-CIO union bureaucrats. Though not as large as the farm workers or Farah strikes, the walkout was significant because it was a one-day political strike to protest the Viet Nam War and Nixon’s wage freeze. Over 90% of the furniture workers in L.A. are Chicano or Mexican.

These examples serve to illustrate the militant and conscious role that Chicano workers played in the great national upsurge of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. In each and every case their struggles won support from the broad sectors of the Chicano community. Hundreds of Chicano students filled the jails of the Coachella Valley in support of the farm workers strikes. Hundreds more walked the picket lines of department stores around the Southwest in support of the Farah boycott. A number of MEChA students marched in the picket line during the walkout of the furniture workers. Support was also received from housewives, small businessmen and Chicano professionals who recognized that these struggles were a part of the Chicano people’s resistance to centuries-long oppression.

Chicano movement produces revolutionaries

Many revolutionary activists came out of the struggles of the Chicano people in the 1960’s and 1970’s. They saw that the oppressive conditions faced by Chicanos and other peoples were not accidental, but in fact historical and systematic. They recognized that there was a connection between the aggression of U.S. imperialism abroad and oppression in the barrios and fields at home.

Many Chicano activists reached the conclusion that in the long run only revolution could end the continuous and pervasive pattern of national oppression suffered by Chicanos. These activists were then confronted with new and more difficult questions: What kind of revolution was necessary and possible in the U.S.? Who would take part in this revolution? Who would lead this revolution? On a wide scale many Chicano activists began to study the experience of revolution in other countries, and particularly the teachings of Mao Zedong. At the same time they tried to deepen their understanding of the particular history and conditions in the United States, as they continued to take up many of the mass struggles in the Chicano national movement. They often played important roles in the struggles of the workers, students, youth, and others.

It was in the course of struggle that many Chicano activists saw increasingly that scientific socialism – Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought – was the revolutionary ideology which could help guide the working class to emancipation and the Chicano people to complete liberation. These young Chicano communists were an integral part of both the Chicano national movement and the overall revolutionary movement in the U.S. They strived to integrate the ideas of communism with the flesh and blood struggles of the Chicano people. They thus made important contributions in such struggles as the farm workers, in building support for the Farah strike, in the Dasco paper strike in Oakland, California, in the struggle to build the MEChAs, in housing struggles, in police repression struggles such as that to free Los Siete de La Raza, and in many others. Through this work they helped organize and raise the political consciousness of a large sector of the Chicano movement. It was largely out of this work that Marxist-Leninist organizations such as the August 29th Movement developed.

The 1960’s and 1970’s marked a turning point for the Chicano liberation struggle as well as for the entire revolutionary movement. The Marxist-Leninist movement in the U.S. today traces its origins back directly to the upsurges of that time. The Chicano movement was an important and integral part of that history, and played a crucial role in giving birth to the present-day Marxist-Leninist movement.


[1] Rodolfo Acuna, Occupied America, (San Francisco: Canfield Press, 1972), p. 74

[2] Ibid., p. 112

[3] Lopez y Rivas, The Chicanos, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), p. 32

[4] August 29th Movement (Marxist-Leninist), Fan the Flames, (Los Angeles, 1976), p. 65

[5] Ibid., p. 67

[6] Lopez y Rivas, The Chicanos, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), pp. 163-164

[7] Ibid, p. 165

[8] August 29th Movement (Marxist-Leninist), Fan the Flames, (Los Angeles, 1976), p. 69

[9] Ibid., p.69

[10] Lopez y Rivas, The Chicanos, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), pp. 149-150