Today, there is little doubt that Mexicans, Mexican Americans, Chicanos, Chicanas and Lotins have become a major force in the social, political and cultural life of Los Angeles and the United States. But to understand the development of this community as a powerful and vital part of American life, we need to understand the forces that fueled these dynamics.
Our aim with the exhibit - El Movimiento en Los Angeles: Origins and Legacy - whose Closing Celebration is today at the Mexican Cultural Institute at Placita Olvera, is to bring out key features of the grassroots organizing against the cultural insensitivity, institutional racism and xenophobia of the time to encourage thinking and discussion that will bring insight and inspiration that strengthens our progressive movements of today.
This exhibit and photo essay explores this upsurge in Los Angeles, focusing on its three largest grassroots mobilizations: the high school student walkouts of 1668, the anti-Vietnam War Moratoriums, and the mass organizing of immigrants and other generations into the immigrant rights movement. The story is rooted in the community's reaction to the 1960 Census, which revealed that the population of Mexican Americans had grown to several million people who had the lowest levels of educational attainment and who, as a group along with African Americans, faces a second-class economic, social and political status.
The highest concentrations of Mexican Americans was in Los Angeles, where some 1 million resided and whose numbers were growing with high birth rates and increasing immigration from Mexico. The Census and other studies showed that nearly 50% of Mexican American students were dropping out of school. Only 5% of Mexican American adult males worked in professions or highly-skilled trades. The vast majority worked in manual labor and service jobs.
These stark realities persisted despite important breakthroughs in politics, civil rights and community organizing, with growing numbers in organized labor and an emerging professional middle class, many of who went to college with GI benefits from service in World War II and the Korean conflict and the escalating War in Vietnam.
The organized Mexican American community actively participated in the efforts that led to the passage of Civil Rights legislation and judicial decisions and the beginning of a national War on Poverty.
When conservative backlash and the war in Southeast Asia began to undercut these gains, activists and much of the community began realizing that without greater struggle, another generation of La Raza would be relegated to its historic role of mano de obra (cheap labor) and el pico y pala (pick and shovel jobs).
The grim statistics of the Census, the farmworkers revolt in the fields of California, and the escalating discontent amongst the youth that witness the increasing casualtiees of young Chicanos in Vietnam spurred an unprecedented mobilization for social justice beginning in the mid-sixties, which continues on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis in what became El Movimiento, building upon and extending the previous civil rights and labor movements of the previous generations of Mexican Americans.