April 1, 2013

The Chicano Movement: Mexican-American History and the Struggle for Equality

Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung - New York

The United States currently has more than fifty million Latinos living within its borders, including an estimated eleven million who lack proper documentation. In recent years, this freshly minted “largest minority” has increasingly entered the national spotlight. Unfortunately, this has largely been due to a notable rise in state oppression. Arizona, Alabama, and other states have passed draconian immigration laws that target Latinos and trample on civil liberties and human rights. On the federal level, President Obama set deportation records in four consecutive years, expelling a total of 1.5 million women and men during his first term.

Despite this sorry record, Obama received an unprecedented 75% of the Latino vote in the 2012 presidential election. This was largely viewed as a vote against the Republicans, whose presidential candidate advocated “self-deportation,” while less cautious party members were far more overt in their racist declamations. Chastened by their defeat, Republican strategists now believe the party must appeal to Latinos to remain competitive, and demands for immigration reform have suddenly entered mainstream, national political discussion.

The distortions of the 24-hour news cycle and selective teachings of U.S. history have deprived most people of the framework to understand these events as part of a much longer struggle. To this day, centuries of injustice against Latinos have never been treated as a core constitutional or ethical issue in the United States. Similarly, courageous struggles by Latinos against this oppression have been largely left out of the history books and the news media.

The author of this study, Dr. Carlos Muñoz, Jr., knows these struggles as well as anybody. He is co-founder of the nation’s first Chicano Studies Department and the National Association of Chicana & Chicano Studies and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also a longtime activist who acted as a key figure in the Chicano Movement of the 1960s. His account of this period, Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement, is one of the seminal
works of Mexican American history.

In this study, Muñoz recounts the history of the Mexican American struggle, from the 19th century conquest of the American Southwest to the 1960s, when the Chicano Movement came into its own, and ultimately to the movement’s decline and the present state of Latino battles for equality. Reading this study today, at a moment when the need for visionary political action is so clear, Muñoz’ account of the last major wave of Latino activism is of great importance. What can Latino and immigrant rights supporters learn from past successes and failures? How can we organize to win the battles at hand while cultivating visions for a more truly egalitarian society tomorrow?