Editor’s note: Although originally written in 2003, we thought this piece was appropriate to post to commemorate this year as the 40th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium. Reprinted with permission.
Reflections on the past are always a tricky endeavor. It is always best to proceed with the admonition to separate nostalgia from history. It has been thirty-three years since the great Chicano Moratorium Against the War, when more than 25,000 gentes marched through the heart of East LA (or maybe the soul of Aztlan?) in opposition to the American War (what the Vietnamese people call the barbaric aggression the United States waged against them). It is fairly well known that the march was a protest against the excessive casualty rate suffered by Chicano troops in the US military, that the march was attacked by a massive police force that wounded hundreds and murdered three of the marchers, including journalist Ruben Salazar. Up until the Great Los Angeles March Against Proposition 187, the Moratorium was the largest mass action in Chican@ history. Gracias to all those who keep the flame of this important memory alive with commemorations, teatros, spoken word, and mass actions.
For my part, I want to briefly share my thoughts on the significance of the Moratorium from a perspective slightly different from that we usually hear. I dedicate these thoughts to Larry Amaya, a Chicano veteran, activist, and working class intellectual who worked for years, ultimately successfully, to convince the GI Forum to oppose the US war against Viet Nam. I believe they were the first, and possibly only mainstream veterans’ organization to do so. Larry died several years ago, but remains an inspiration to all who knew him.
As a Chicano who came of political age during the time of the Moratorium, I celebrate it because it revealed, in a way that could not be denied by the powers-that-be, that the revolutionary/radical sector of our movement had a genuine and important mass following. Part of the self-conscious definition of the Chican@ revolutionaries was as an alternative to the mainstream forces (politicos and others) that were grouped around the Democratic Party and generally supported the status quo. For sure, most of them refused to condemn the US war in Viet Nam. From the beginning, radical organizations like the Crusade for Justice and the Brown Berets had challenged the often passive or accommodationist views and policies of the mainstream Chicanos (gracias a dios, few used the term Hispanic back in those days). While many of us probably tossed around the term “vendido” a little too loosely in reference to these forces, there was a lot of truth to the fact that the mainstreamers advocated a tired liberal integrationist road to social equality, and worked hard to contain within very proscribed political limits, the mass rage and mass action of our people. The mainstreamers often tried to reassure the establishment that the radicals had no real following among the people. The truly mass character of the Chicano Moratorium, organized and led by outspoken revolutionaries, shot that hot air balloon right out of the political sky.
The Moratorium was more than a slap in the face to the accommodationists. It was truly a festival of our working class—of the folks who make up the overwhelming majority of our people. The Moratorium was broad—it included many sectors of our community—youth, students, middle class, professionals, artists, elders, etc. But its ranks were filled mainly with folks whose shirt collar was blue, whose hands were calloused from very hard work. Their participation gave a special importance to the Moratorium because it showed to the world that the majority of our people were against, or was developing opposition to the US war. 25,000+ marching feet gave evidence more powerful than any Gallop poll that Chican@s was not blind patriots driven by a need to continually prove our “right” to reside in the US by going to fight its wars. Internal memos from the Nixon Administration show that the President was completely freaked by the Moratorium because he had always placidly assumed Chican@ support. His racist administration expected opposition from Blacks, but from Mexicans—please!
There is more talk these days about empire and imperialism. Even bourgeois pundits use the term pretty casually. Back in the day though, it was a term and a concept with currency mainly among the left and revolutionary sectors. What I love about the Chicano Moratorium was the fact that its slogan, signs and chants were an open declaration of war against empire: “Nuestra Guerra Es Aqui” is one hellacious grito, it is a statement that is unmistakable in its meaning. The Moratorium did not identify with the US military, but with the Vietnamese freedom fighters that were kicking the hell out of the most powerful war machine in the world (sound familiar?). This slogan, and others that expressed open support for the Vietnamese, identified the Chican@ struggle as a struggle for NATIONAL LIBERATION, not simply for a “piece of the pie” (elected officials, academics, entry into the corporate sector, etc.). While earlier Chican@ actions (such as the 1969 Chicano Youth Conference) had made a similar declaration, the Moratorium indicated mass support for what had been primarily a manifesto of activists. The Moratorium placed the Chican@ Liberation Struggle clearly and unequivocally within the ranks of the struggles in Southeast Asia, of the Cuban revolution, of the national liberation movements in Africa and Latin America.
Those were heady times my friends. I am sure that many of you have clearer recollections and deeper reflections about the Moratorium than I have. But I wanted to share these thoughts with you. Because you ARE my friends, colleagues, and fellow activists in our grand endeavor to end all oppression, exploitation, and inequality.
Que Viva El Moratorio Chicano!
Bill GallegosDownload this piece as a PDF