The 1970 Chicano Moratorium against the War in Vietnam: 45 Years Later

I’m honored today (Saturday August 29, 2015) to publish a guest column by Herman Baca, president of Committee on Chicano Rights (CCR), a nongovernment-funded, community-based organization in National City, California, that he founded in 1970 to protect the human, civil, and constitutional rights of persons of Mexican/Latin ancestry. Herman is, I’m pleased to add, a strong supporter of my underground press digital project. He personally gave the okay for me to include two newsletters that were published by CCR in the seventies: CCR Newsletter and its predecessor, El Tiempo Chicano. In 2006 the University of California San Diego (UCSD) acquired the Herman Baca Chicano Archives. All photos used in this blog entry are courtesy of UCSD and the UCSD Herman Baca Archives except for the poster, which is in the public domain.

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Long forgotten by U.S. history and barely remembered by many even in the Chicano community is the historical August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium against the war in Vietnam, which today celebrates its forty-fifth anniversary. The Moratorium, held in Los Angeles, California, was one of the most seminal events for Chicanos in the United States since the end of the U.S./Mexico War of 1848.

Depending on who you ask, the Moratorium drew 20 to 40,000 Chicanos from all over the U.S. who marched against and protested the war in Vietnam, where Chicano youth were dying in disproportionate numbers. Parents, children, seniors, working people, students, war veterans, and activists from throughout the U.S., Mexico, and Puerto Rico marched. Numerous persons were hurt; hundreds were jailed including national Chicano leader Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales (see photo left). Three people were shot and killed by the police: martyred Angel Diaz, Lynn Ward, and Los Angeles Times journalist Ruben Salazar (see photo below right). The Moratorium at the time was the largest protest to be organized by Chicanos in their 130-year history as a conquered people in the U.S. In essence, the demonstration turned into a police riot that was planned and carried out by the Los Angeles police and the U.S. government.

In 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a police action in Vietnam, Chicanos comprised but 6 percent of this nation’s population, but they already made up an obscene number of the casualties in Vietnam! Young whites were receiving college deferments and white-controlled draft boards began to draft (in record numbers) poor people, blacks, and especially Chicanos for Vietnam.

By 1970, reality finally hit home. Young Chicanos were continuing to die and “body bags” were being returned to the homes of grieving families throughout the country.

It had always been the Chicano movement’s political position that the U.S’s white supremacist system had made Chicanos strangers in their own land, placing them last in jobs, education, and rights but first to die in its wars!

From the beginning, the demonstration was to be a peaceful protest to seek redress from the U.S. government under rights supposedly guaranteed and protected by the Constitution.

I remember arriving in Los Angeles on Saturday morning around 7:00 a.m. At least one thousand persons from San Diego attended the demonstration. The march was 5 long miles; it was a sweltering hot day when we arrived at Laguna (now Salazar) Park around 2 or 3 p.m. People were tired, resting on the grass. The scene appeared to be like a giant family picnic.

As we sat down we heard and saw a commotion at a liquor store on Whittier Blvd. Suddenly without provocation the sheriff and police began to advance on the peaceful crowd. Security (the Brown Berets) attempted to explain that everything was under control, but to no avail. A full-fledged instigated POLICE RIOT was under way.

As the police advanced I witnessed scenes that I have never forgotten. Before my eyes, hundreds of our people, children, woman, young and old persons were being beaten, tear gassed, maimed, and arrested. Many of us remembered the zoot suit riots of 1943; now it was the forties all over again! In self-defense, Chicanos witnessing what was happening to our people stood up and fought back.

There I learned a lesson I carry with me to this day. Even though there were thousands of Chicanos and only hundreds of police, they had something we didn’t have: ORGANIZATION! As I stood in the park around the litter, fighting, and mayhem, I saw the police lining up in formation to lob tear gas indiscriminately.

Afterwards, a kind-hearted individual asked us if we needed a ride, so we asked if he would drive us to MAPA (Mexican American Political Association) headquarters on Brooklyn Avenue (now Cesar Chavez Blvd.). There, MAPA State President Abe Tapia and Bert Corona stated that a press conference was going to be held shortly to denounce the “police riot.” At the press conference, Tapia and Corona lambasted the police for the unprovoked attacks on our people, and the political system for the deaths of our youth in Vietnam.

We departed from Los Angeles to San Diego around 6:30 p.m. As we approached Interstate 5, I looked back, only to see East L.A. burning.

Forty-five long years have passed since August 29, 1970, and the political question for our people remains: What has changed? In 1970 our population in this country numbered but 7 million Chicanos/Latinos. In 2010 it was 55 million, and by 2050 it will number, according to projections, 134 million. Some progress has been made for individuals, but not for the masses of our people. In my opinion, conditions are worse today than in 1970. Why? Because there are more of us, and fewer resources needed to address the myriad issues and problems afflicting our people. Our population has increased dramatically, but our social, political, and historical consciousness has regressed back to the 1940s.

Our people remain afflicted with the effects of white supremacy. More of our youth are in prisons than in colleges. The age-old issues of police brutality, high unemployment rates, and problems affecting youth, seniors, housing, and health care remain. Deaths at the U.S./Mexico border are rampant and gross violations of constitutional rights by law enforcement especially from Homeland Security, ICE, and the Border Patrol occur daily in our communities.

Nationally, we are plagued by His-Her Panic unaccountable politicians (politicians of Mexican and Latin ancestry who are supposed to represent our people, but in reality are tools of the system); U.S. senators, congresspersons, governors, and corporation-paid poverty pimp organizations such as the National Council of La Raza (the largest, according to their claims, His-Her Panic organization in the U.S.). Locally, do nothing His-Her Panic politicians seeking contributions such as Congressman Juan Vargas, the CA Hispanic Caucus, state senators, assembly men and women, and go-along/get-along lackey city council members who don’t care why cities such as National City, California, are poor.

Chicano youth during the Vietnam War were used as “cannon fodder.” In 2015 millions of Mexican/Latin ancestry people are being used as fodder by proponents of white supremacy who are represented by Donald Trump and the Republican Party under the guise of the immigration issue. The political reality is that white supremacists are not discussing immigration, but rather what to do about MEXICANS and DEMOGRAPHICS!

One fact, however, is certain: History will surely repeat itself if 55 million of our people do not stand up and fight against white supremacist immigration attacks, “anchor babies,” and threats to “deport them all” and “build a wall” being proposed by both Republicans and Democrats. To date, Democrats have deported more Mexicans than any Republican administration. History documents that the 1930 repatriations (during the great depression) deported over 2 million documented and undocumented Mexicans, an estimated 1.2 million of whom were U.S. citizens!

Worst is what is happening in our own community, where 14 to 25 percent of our people supposedly agree with Donald Trump? The same Trump who fears and respects (out of a population of 55 million) only one person, “El Chapo?” After reports that Trump ran (like a baby) crying to the FBI seeking protection after El Chapo’s son was quoted as saying, “My dad will make Trump eat his words.” Even more disgraceful was the boot-licking display by malinche politicians in Laredo, Texas, who unbelievably welcomed Donald Trump after he accused Mexicans of being rapists and murderers—proving the old Mexican saying, “Pa pendéjo no se estudia!” (“One doesn’t have to study to be stupid.”)

After 45 years, the August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium remains for this seventy-two-year old lifetime Chicano activist a defining event in my personal and political life. To the Chicano movement and our people the Moratorium provided a valuable political lesson that problems such as the Vietnam War and other issues could be confronted and addressed through our own self-determination. Finally, historically the Chicano Moratorium, in demanding an end to the war in Vietnam and the return home of our youth, represented the moral high ground.