Chicano -- Mexican Civil Rights

Chicano! The History of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement

The 1960's in America was a time of such tremendous civil unrest, from the African-American civil rights movement, to the beginnings of the modern women's right's movement, to the inception of the gay rights movement after the Stonewall Riots, that it is easy to forget the importance of the struggle for equality amongst Mexican-Americans, particularly in the American Southwest. Chicano! The History of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement, as written by Francisco Arturo Rosales acts as an important reminder of how the fight for civil rights amongst peoples of Latin American ancestry, beginning with Mexicans, has a rightful place in the history of the struggles of the tumultuous era known as the 1960's. Moreover, Rosales suggests that the modern struggle for Latin American civil rights must learn important lessons about collective unity from this period, and carry those lessons on into the future.

The book is structured along four basic parts, which chronologically and thematically organize the movement's different chapters. Part 1 is called a "Quest for a Homeland," and examines the beginnings of the Chicano Movement, and its sources in Mexican-American history. Rosales stresses that Reies Lopez Tijerina's land grant movement in New Mexico in 1966 and 1967 began the modern Chicano movement. Tijerina demanded the American federal government honor the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848. By using the history of the past, Tijerina rallied Mexicans and Mexican-Americans of the present across the Southwest to resist present-day oppression. Thus, the author uses Tijerina as an example that Chicano rights are always both a movement forward and a return to positive aspects of the past -- a movement forward in the sense that a positive and proactive demand for rights was made and backward in the sense that the past wrongs became a rallying point and a sense of positive identity development. This can provide a template for future movements and future struggles, even today.

Interestingly, Rosales reminds the reader that 'Chicano' is a relatively recent and constructed term. The term was developed in the 1960s to mobilize collective unity and mass action amongst Mexican-Americans. Thus although many of the collective concepts of the movement were old, the movement also attempted to create a new common history. A resurgence of new voices in Latin American literature such as the poetry of Rodolpho "Corky" Gonzales rallied the developing movement, as did other writer's affirmation of cultural identity grounded in Aztec myths.

The Struggle in the Fields," the title of Part 2 of the book, is the tale of perhaps the most famous element of the Chicano civil rights struggle, namely is association with the labor movement and the economic concerns of Cesar Chavez. Chavez organized the grape pickers and other farm laborers in California, through the use of strikes, boycotts, pilgrimages, fasts and other nonviolent forms of faith-based resistance along the lines of Martin Luther King, Jr. Not eating grapes became a political statement in the 1960s, a…