Saddleback College hosted the third lecture in the Latino Americans: 500 Years of History documentary series featuring Lisa Alvarez of Irvine Valley College and Dr. Marisela Chavez of CSU Dominguez Hills on Wednesday, Feb. 17. The series has been sharing “an untold chapter of the American Story” since Fall 2015 semester.
In the third program titled “Building America, Civil Rights and Diversity,” professors Chavez and Alvarez discussed different aspects of history behind Latino-American activism including the rights of farm workers, high school walkouts and women in the Chicano movement.
Although the program was open to the public and shared history behind the empowerment of Mexican-Americans during the Civil Rights period, one student attended. The final program of the documentary series will be May 4 at 7 p.m. in HS 145. An additional program will be held the following day, sharing the history of Cinco de Mayo.
“Activism saved me, kept me in college, gave me life-long friends and often landed me in jail,” Lisa Alvarez said. “At least one time with Cesar Chavez himself. Such experiences and such people taught me not to fear what would happen to me if I became an activist.”
Helen Chavez, Robert F. Kennedy and Cesar Chavez breaking fast on March 10, 1968 (Flickr Commons/ Korean Resource Center)
The movement began in the 1960s and 1970s when Mexican-American farmworkers, led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, began striking for livable wages and humane living conditions. Agricultural companies were profiting while laborers existed in extreme poverty, said a clip from “Pride and Prejudice,” one of the two documentaries shown at the program.
During this time, sitting down to have a meal meant the vegetables and fruit were the product of exploited workers, most of which would die by age 49, the film said.
“They are unseen, they are not usually considered American during this particular period,” said Dr. Chavez, chair of Chicano and Chicana studies at CSU Dominguez Hills. “People buy their grapes and buy their lettuce and don’t think about the connection between what they are purchasing in the supermarket and where it actually comes from.”
1973 UFW picket line urging boycott of non-union grapes at Safeway in Langley Park, MD (Flickr Commons/ Reading/Simpson)
Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta moved away from the history of violence surrounding the unionizing of farm workers, and chose a path on non-violent resistance that would gain public support. Strategies included “huelga,” Spanish for “strike,” urging a boycott of California grapes and a 300-mile pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento led by Chavez. These tactics led to the United Farm Workers union.
Dr. Chavez also discussed the student boycott of Los Angeles schools that began March 6, 1968, during the Civil Rights period. Although there was an estimated 130,000 Latino students, their graduation rate was among the lowest in the country.
While Martin Luther King organized in the South and Cesar Chavez organized workers in California, Lincoln High School social studies teacher Salvador Castro began organizing students in Los Angeles, the film said. Salvador Castro instilled a sense of pride in his students that led to the a two-week-long period of “walkouts.” School administrators began meeting demands of the students, which included Chicano and Latino studies, and Mexican-American administrators.
Dr. Chavez also discussed women in the Chicano movement who were at “triple jeopardy” because of race, class and gender.
“We have Chicanos shifting the way we think about gender and shifting the way gender roles have been laid out for them,” Chavez said while showing images of female paramilitary Brown Berets in miniskirts and leather boots.
The Latino Americans: 500 Years of History is produced by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association. Saddleback College is one of three community colleges in the state to receive the grant. Ana Maria Cobos, Saddleback librarian, wrote the grant and organized the documentary series.