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The 1960’s Chicano Movement

Written by Sergio Pena 

The Civil Rights Movement swept the United States throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, providing freedoms that people of color had been denied of for centuries in the United States. The black narrative of the Civil Rights Movement is the one that is studied all throughout the United States and is given its own section in many American history textbooks, yet there is a movement that is rarely talked about or even given the slightest mention in textbooks or museums: The Chicano Movement of the 1960’s.

Let’s begin by defining what “chicanx” means in order to understand who the people behind the Chicano Movement were. “Chicanx” refers to a person of Mexican descent that lives in the United States. The Chicano Movement was created by Mexican-Americans/chicanxs and served as a continuation of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement of the 1940’s which worked for chicanx empowerment. One of the most important accomplishments of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement of the 1940’s was the complete desegregation of public schools in California through the case of Mendez v. Westminster, which set the stage for Brown v. Board of Education. But what exactly did the Chicano Movement of the 1960’s accomplish?

The Chicano Movement worked for land restoration because of the United States’ failure to comply with the original terms agreed upon the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo originally stated that when Mexican lands were to be ceded, Mexican property owners on the lands that were being ceded would be able to maintain their property rights and would become full United States citizens. However, that was not the case. Many lost their lands because the treaty failed to recognize the original Mexican land grants, and because of Jim Crow laws and the racism of the time many Mexicans that stayed on the ceded land were regarded as second class citizens and treated unequally. In 1966, Reies Lopez Tijerina led a three day march from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Santa Fe, New Mexico, petitioning that there be an investigation of the land grants that were illegally annexed, however, it failed.

Groups of students within the Chicano Movement also battled one of the most obvious issues of the era: The opportunity to receive an equal education. In 1968, there were several chicanx student walk outs in Denver and Los Angeles to protest Eurocentric curriculums, high chicanx dropout rates and low chicanx graduation rates, and bans on speaking Spanish at school. As a result of the protests, Congress passed the Equal Opportunity Act of 1974 which lead to the implementation of bilingual education programs in public schools, since the Supreme Court and other organizations declared it unlawful to bar non-English speaking students from receiving a proper education.

Another important battle that the Chicano Movement fought was the forced sterilization of chicanxs. The chicanxs that fought against forced sterilization formed the Comision Feminil Mexicana Nacional (National Mexican Women’s Commission) and became involved in the case Madrigal v. Quilligan. Dr. Quilligan sterilized ten chicanas without properly informing them before performing the sterilization. Typically, people of color with uteri weren’t properly informed of the procedure, didn’t understand well enough because of a language barrier, or were told that welfare benefits would be taken away from them if they did not agree to the sterilization. The verdict ruled in favor of Dr. Quilligan, however, it resulted in pamphlets in different languages explaining the procedure, patients under 21 would have three days to change their minds, and made it very clear that welfare benefits wouldn’t be taken away if not sterilized.

The Chicano Movement and the early Mexican American Civil Rights Movement definitely did a lot of the heavy lifting for equal rights. Despite that, prevailing social inequality and racism causes people to look down upon chicanxs and latinxs, as well as keeping us from having the same opportunity at success as a white person per se. In order to continue the legacy left behind by our chicanx predecessors, we must stand and have a voice in the topics and issues that affect us the most, such as immigration and police brutality, and not let people that have not experienced what we have experienced to dictate our lives. The hashtag, “#OPENYOUREYES”, has been used to shed light on police brutality against latinxs and it is imperative as a community of people that we speak up against these violent actions that are blatantly committed because of our race. African-Americans and advocates have been speaking about their issues using the hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” and have been gaining a lot of attention, so use the hashtag, “#OPENYOUREYES” to continue speaking up against these social injustices committed against us and not be complacent or silent. Remember: United we are large and powerful but fractured we are weak and silenced by others.

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