The Struggles of Our Ancestors
by Joe Olvera
Posted on October 30, 2006
As we say goodbye to another Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15–Oct. 15) it’s time to reflect on just what exactly the celebration means. This year, as in years past, many young Chicanos and Latinos will be celebrating freedoms that were probably nonexistent in their countries of origin. While they celebrate and enjoy the liberties that are available to them in the U.S., many of them aren’t aware of the battles – of the blood, of the sweat, and of the tears that generations before them had to endure so that those freedoms they now enjoy could be possible.
It hasn’t been easy being a minority in the United States. So, it’s vital that young Chicanos/Latinos become aware of the sacrifices that were made in early history so that today they could climb the ladder of success. It wasn’t so easy for past generations, as they struggled to gain a foothold in an America that didn’t always want them around – and, to some degree, still doesn’t. Although progress has been made to some extent the reality still exists that Chicanos/Latinos are still considered only nominally important to the future of this great nation.
Young people don’t know, for example, that in the 1960s the Brown Berets, the Puerto Rican Forum, LULAC and the Young Lords mobilized thousands of Latinos in school walkouts and protests to demand a better education for Chicanos/Latinos resulting in improvements that are evident today – such as the hiring of Latino teachers and staff to reflect the student body, bilingual education, policy reforms, and curriculum improvements. But those changes were not quick in coming and, in some instances the changes have not penetrated every college or university.
At some universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s, protests became the order of the day due to the fact that university officials didn’t think that Chicanos/Latinos needed any special attention, despite their high drop out rate. How wrong those officials were. And, even today, the numbers may be improving, but there is still a very high, very unacceptable rate of young people who don’t finish school.
Young people today don’t know that Latino student walkouts at the University of California, Santa Barbara forced the school to establish the first Chicano Studies Major in the nation. The group that began that process – MECHA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) – is today under fire because it dared to force officials to revisit their racist attitudes and prejudices against non-Anglo students. Today, former members of MECHA are your doctors, lawyers, educators, politicians, soldiers – in short, MECHA helped to create Chicano leaders in the Southwest. Young people don’t know that on the east coast Dr. Antonia Pantoja and other educators created ASPIRA to address the high drop out rate and low educational attainment of Puerto Rican youth.
They don’t know that like African Americans, Latinos were summarily subjected to segregation and racism that kept them from excelling or, in many cases, kept them from even attending school; a practice that came to a head in the 1947 landmark case of Mindez vs. Westminster in which one Mexican family took on an entire system. The decision ultimately outlawed segregation in California and served as a precedent for the more famous Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1954.
They don’t know that when the American G.I. Forum was formed, following World War II, veterans joined hands to fight the discrimination that existed against Latinos, including veterans. Many Latinos who had been killed in action were refused burial in veteran’s cemeteries despite the fact that they had fought for that right and privilege. Although it’s popular to say that Latinos have been awarded more Medals of Honor than any other ethnic group, the reality is that even with such a prestigious award in hand, they still suffered discrimination. Some gave their lives for America, but America didn’t care about those who managed to survive. They returned to the same old, same old – racist attitudes were prevalent.
Young Chicanos/Latinos don’t know that when Cesar Chavez underwent hunger strikes to bring attention to the plight of America’s Spanish-speaking farm workers in California, he was reviled as the Son of Satan or, worse, a Communist. They don’t know, or realize, that his organization – the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee – eventually helped to topple the grape industry, forcing growers to pay farm workers a decent, living wage, to improve working and living conditions, and to offer simple amenities such as clean drinking water and clean toilets.
All over the U.S. Latinos are unaware that it took gigantic battles before the Anglo majority was willing to concede. Too many Latinos today – who are now finding more doors open to them than ever before – just don’t have a clue as to how those doors were opened or the sacrifices, both of body and spirit, that were made. Worse, they don’t seem to care.
To them, the U.S. has always been a nirvana. There was never a Cesar Chavez, and the Young Lords or Brown Berets never existed. There was never a Dr. Antonio Pantoja, and there was no racism or discrimination because, certainly, they may not have experienced it directly. Instead, they are too busy being part of the MTV generation, too busy profiling themselves as thugs, or proclaiming their independence – even as others struggled to give them that freedom to choose.
The sad part is that today’s Latinos believe that the U.S. has always welcomed them. I think there’s a complacency, a reluctance to look at past history. They are too much in the “Now” Generation to look at the “Then” Generation. What they must realize is that those rights that they now take for granted are not cast in stone.
On the contrary, everyday, different groups chip away at that progress. Affirmative Action is still being fought bitterly in the judiciary. Bilingual Education is under fire by the English Only hordes, farm workers are still dying from working crops that are saturated with pesticides, and Head Start – one of this nation’s greatest contributions to helping minority children survive in school - is being compromised by politicians.
In short, as young Latinos clamor to celebrate Latino Heritage Month, they must remember that it took more than ballet folklorico dancers or beer-bellied caballeros stomping on historical fact to make the U.S. what it is today. It took guts, courage, perseverance; and, more important, it took a commitment and dedication to a common cause. Celebrate that instead.
* * *
Joe Olvera is a freelance writer who lives in beautiful El Paso. He can be reached at email@example.com .
Most Viewed Stories
- Sex clubs and swingers in El Paso
- Police Blotter 2.12.09: Bank robber nabbed; FBI says powder sent to offices not harmful; first homicide arrest; top collision intersections; 17-year-old shot self
- ABC-7 reporter and photographer handcuffed, detained while covering I-10 wreck
- FORUM Arts and Culture: Contemporary Art (and Money) Matter
- Police Blotter 2.24-27.09: Police officer charged with sexual assault; ex-detention officer charged with assaulting inmate; felons captured; motorcycle fatality
- Adrian Pena, accused of bribing a county commissioner, indicted again on $19 million EPISD contract
- Planned Parenthood of El Paso closure status: More than a half million in debt and a state investigation
- Police Blotter 4.6-9.09: 9,000 pounds of pot; murder suspect arrested; motorcyclist killed by sign; Village People bandit
- Photo Essay: Asarco Smoke Stack
- El Paso delegation to announce consensus agenda this morning