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Political Legacy of the Chicano Movement


Chicano Movement was the answer from Mexican Americans to the challenges of the entire Civil Rights era. Chicanos recognized that they were also oppressed in terms of labor opportunities, education quality, and were treated as second-class citizens. Their political fight, thus, was aimed to achieve positive upheaval in three main directions: rights of farmworkers, restoration of land, and educational reforms. Although many Chicano initiatives and protests failed, Mexican Americans gain a needed social offset and foothold to continue the movement, which is still ongoing to some extent. The goal of this paper is to find out and discuss the main achievements of the Chicano Movement, which is an essential legacy for current Mexican Americans.

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Farmworkers Rights

One of the most important goals for the Chicano Movement was the development of rights for farmworkers. Bracero Program, which was an agreement between Mexico and the US, became one of the main issues which triggered the fight for farmworkers’ rights. This agreement enabled Mexican residents to work temporarily in the United States in the agricultural sector. The US government designed the program to temporarily increase the number of the labor force because of the manpower shortage brought by WW II. However, the Bracero Program lasted for 22 years until it was terminated in 1964. Public Law 78 was very beneficial for the growers as they could pay lower wages, but this program affected adversely working and financial conditions both for domestic and Mexican workers.

In the 1960s, Mexican Americans were fighting for unionization for agricultural workers to achieve equal rights and higher wages. Dolores Huerta, a famous labor leader of the movement, created the Agriculture Workers Association, which in 1959 was incorporated in AWOC (Montoya 42). Cesar Chavez, who was raised by impoverished farmworkers, established the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, another prominent organization (Gómez-Quiñones and Vásquez 95). He found this organization after the CSO refusal to back his initiative to organize farmworkers. Together with Huerta, he had been building the union for three years, meeting with farm laborers across California.

In 1964, Chavez, along with other community leaders, put pressure on the government what helped to end the Bracero program. Moreover, in 1965 two leading organizations united to organize a famous grape growers boycott in Delano. The aim of roving pickets of grape pickers, which targeted different fields every day, was to raise the wage for workers and make growers recognize United Farm Workers as a union (Montoya 59). The movement applied various methods of striking, such as calling upon the consumers not to buy table grapes, organizing a 25-day hunger march to Sacramento, attracting media attention, etc. Those civil rights efforts were rewarded only in 1970 when growers conducted deals with UFW, recognizing them as a union.

As a result, the movement made employers sign union contracts and reorganize the industry what put an end to the discrimination and favoritism of growers. The activists achieved better pay, housing, and working conditions for Chicano workers. The UFW actions were successful due to its dual nature of civil rights and union struggle. It seemed that this organization was the first union of farmworkers, which could last for a long time.

Restoration of Land

“El Movimiento” in the 1960s and 1970s, apart from civil rights, was also focused on the question of land grants restoration. The Mexican-American war of 1846-1848 finished with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo’s conclusion between two warring states (Gómez-Quiñones and Vásquez 106). As a result, the US, famous for pursuing land expansion at that time, acquired part of Mexican territory that currently belongs to such Southwestern states as Utah, California, Nevada, etc.

The problem is that the treaty enclosed a provision aimed to protect the property rights of Mexicans who owned lands before the war. In other words, Hispanics were ensured to preserve their property rights in the territories that were transferred to the US. However, the American government considerably violated this part of the agreement, as it denied grants that were issued to Mexicans under Mexican and Spanish law. Many Mexicans who decided to stay on their land faced harsh racism and were treated as second-class citizens. That is why many Mexicans became victims of the war, as their original property rights were infringed.

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Moreover, Chicano activists named that lost lands Aztlan, as they supposed it comprised the ancestral homeland of the Nahua, Mexican indigenous group. The Hispanic community argued that many Mexicans were full United States citizens, not immigrants, which defends their legal ownership status over ceded lands (Montoya 68). Chicano leaders, simultaneously with the development of the Afro-American civil rights movement, addressed the question of lost territories. For instance, Reies Lopez Tijerina, also known as “King Tiger,” was a famous Mexican radical who spearheaded the fight for confiscated lands in New Mexico from 1956 to 1976.

Tijerina encouraged hundreds of Mexican Americans to demand land restitution and popularized the property rights movement in the 1960s with the help of the newspaper column and radio program (Montoya 70). In 1963, he founded the Federal Alliance of Land Grants, which initially dealt with 800 members possessing 48 grants. In 1966, La Alianza gained national attention due to their attempt to seize the San Joaquin land, which was reclaimed as the republic.

As a result, the group was accused of assaulting government officials (Gómez-Quiñones and Vásquez 108). Still, Tijerina organized a raid of the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla as he wanted to perform a citizen’s arrest of the attorney for their civil rights offense and undermining the organization’s efforts. The leader was eventually imprisoned in federal jail, La Alianza declined, and its efforts to start the land grants investigation failed (Montoya 77). The Crusade for Justice leader, Rodolfo Gonzales, should be mentioned as well, as he supported a separate Chicano state. He wrote an epic poem, “I am Joaquín,” which condemned the treaty and shed light on Mexican identity and history.

Education Reforms

The last but not least political direction of the Chicano struggle was a demand to eliminate social injustice in the educational system. According to Montoya, only twenty-five percent of Mexican Americans successfully finished high school (136). The majority of them suffered from segregation, unequal opportunities in the learning process, insufficient quality of education, and different types of racism. All that led to very pessimistic opportunities for the young Mexican students’ future, as they were forced to follow their parents and enter the cheap labor force market.

As a result, young Chicanos realized that their right to have proper education was violated, and they started to demand reforms from the government (Gómez-Quiñones and Vásquez 125). They were conscious of the discriminatory nature of the educational system and claimed that schools are guilty of helpless and poor generations of Mexican Americans. Another issue that intensified the movement was the Vietnam War, criticized for a higher rate of Chicano casualties in comparison to others in the army.

The Chicano youth, who had an important place in the movement due to their activism, radicalism, and energy, formed a chain of various student organizations, which they titled the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán. It consisted of such famous organizations as the Mexican American Youth Association and the United Mexican American Students (Montoya 107). In 1968-1969, the members of those groups organized school walkouts in Los Angeles and Denver, demonstrating against the exclusion of the Spanish language, high dropout rates among Mexican students, and inappropriate curriculums. Moreover, they had been putting pressure on the government to include Mexican American history in the syllabus and increase the number of Chicano teachers.

Meanwhile, other youth groups established militant organizations such as the Young Lords and Brown Berets, which were similar to Black Panthers (Montoya 109). Both groups had a comprehensive agenda consisting of fighting inferior health care, education issues, the lack of political representation, the Vietnam War, and inadequate employment opportunities. As a result, in the 1970s, the Chicano struggle was reimbursed with educational reforms. The US Supreme Court, together with the Health Department, recognized the breach of Mexican civil rights in prohibition to study in a different language. Moreover, in 1974 the Equal Opportunity Act was adopted by Congress what establish bilingual education programs.

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To conclude, Chicano activism embraced all the main spheres of political and social life to fight for equality and a bright future. Although land restoration efforts failed and the Raza Unida Party did not achieve what the leaders planned, the movement was successful in many other areas. Youth organizations forced the government to implement bilingual education, while such activists as Chavez and Huerta achieved better work conditions and higher payment for labor workers. As a result, many unfair and discriminative laws were replaced with more progressive ones. Chicano movement was also successful in terms of Mexican American self-determination, as extensive media representation helped them to attract the US attention to their social struggle.

Works Cited

Gómez-Quiñones, Juan, and Irene Vásquez. Making Aztlán: Ideology and Culture of the Chicana and Chicano Movement, 1966-1977. UNM Press, 2014.

Montoya, Maceo. Chicano Movement for Beginners. Red Wheel/Weiser, 2016.

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