When I was in the last years of graduate school, I was already looking forward to studying special aspects of literature employing a relatively new analytical approach that helped answer many questions I had about the fate of communities and the trajectory of my own human experience. My mentors saw to it that I was well prepared and reasoned that I would take the next step in the study of intellectual perspectives that were just coming on the horizon.
When I came to my first job at what is now CSU-Pueblo, I found a world very different from the enclosed walls of academia. No one had prepared me for the raw life that was the Chicano Movement.
I came to understand that the knowledge and skills I had acquired had to be deployed in a different way. The Chicano Movement was a world of “action” in the classroom and in the streets.
I found that demonstrations and marches in the streets and confronting institutions in search of justice and fair play had become a common way to seek change. Organizations like the American GI Forum created to fight injustice against returning World War II veterans were superseded by other more radical organizations featuring young Chicanos in high schools and colleges enraged by their treatment.
The turmoil in the nation got even worse as the civil rights movements were joined by the anti-Vietnam War activists that eventually involved youth of every color, ethnicity and race across the country. Dying to save the idea of America became more important than dying in a war no one understood.
The other side of the Chicano Movement was the effort to recover language, a sense of place in history and identity as descendants of Spanish and Mexican legacies. Whatever ethnic studies classes accomplished in this regard was soon augmented by Mexican immigrants that themselves embodied the wholeness of identity that Chicanos had lost.
Mexican immigrants had their own issues with documentation that were addressed by the Immigration Reform and Control Act signed into law by President Reagan in 1986. But because of the great expansion of the labor market combined with U.S. immigration policies, the number of undocumented nevertheless rose to some 11 million today.
Among this number are the “Dreamers” that came as children with their parents. Their plight has been featured by national marches in white t-shirts and surrounded by American flags.
However, this way of demonstrating has gradually been replaced by an activist revolution within the ranks of this country’s two-party political system. As the demographic numbers and the reach across the country increases, Latinos are taking the fight to the ballot box, state legislatures, government representatives and the halls of Congress.
Although immigration has been a catalyst (because of the President and his racist crowd), the political movement led by Millennials such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) are doing within the system what the Chicano Movement attempted on the outside. It does not look pretty, especially at a time when folks are trying to find a way to get rid of Trump by denying him a second term.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with leaders like AOC, the fact remains that it is her generation, led in part by Latinos, that are reshaping the future of America. They also reflect the image of impatience that colored so much of the Chicano Movement.
Latino political action has moved from the streets into the institutional network of American life. Destiny in this regard is becoming clearer.