Monday, August 29, 2011

The Chicano Moratorium 1970 - Ruben Salazar Homicide

The Chicano Moratorium, formally known as the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, was a movement of Chicano anti-war activists that built a broad-based but fragile coalition of Mexican-American groups to organize opposition to the Vietnam War. Led by activists from local colleges and members of the "Brown Berets," a group with roots in the high school student movement that staged walkouts in 1968, the coalition peaked with an August 29, 1970 march in East Los Angeles that drew 30,000 demonstrators.


The Chicano Moratorium was a movement of Chicano activists that organized anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and activities throughout the Southwest and other Mexican American communities from November 1969 through August 1971. "Our struggle is not in Vietnam but in the movement for social justice at home" was a key slogan of the movement. It was coordinated by the National Chicano Moratorium Committee (NCMC) and led largely by activists from the Chicano student movement and the Brown Beret organization.

The march took place at Laguna Park (now Ruben F. Salazar Park)[1]

The committee organized its first demonstration on December 20, 1969, in East Los Angeles, with over 1,000 participants. The group won the early support of the Denver-based Crusade for Justice, led by Rodolfo Gonzales, also known as Corky Gonzales. A conference of anti-war and anti-draft Chicano and Latino activists from the Southwest and Chicago was held at the Crusade headquarters in early December 1969 and began developing plans for nationwide mobilizations to be presented to a national Chicano youth conference planned for late March 1970. On February 28, 1970, a second Chicano Moratorium demonstration was held again in East Los Angeles, with more than 3,000 demonstrators from throughout California participating, despite a driving rain. A documentary of that march was prepared by a Chicano program on the local public television station that the committee used nationally to popularize its efforts. At the March Chicano Youth Conference in Denver, Los Angeles Chicano Moratorium co-chair Rosalio Munoz presented a motion to hold a National Chicano Moratorium against the war on August 29, 1970. Local moratoriums were projected for cities throughout the Southwest and beyond, to build up for the national event on August 29.

More than 20 local protests were held in cities such as Houston, Albuquerque, Chicago, Denver, Fresno, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, Oxnard, San Fernando, San Pedro and Douglas, Arizona. Most had 1,000 or more participants. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 from around the nation, Mexico and Puerto Rico marched through East Los Angeles on August 29, 1970. The rally however was broken up by local police who said that they had gotten reports that a nearby liquor store was being robbed. They chased the "suspects" into the park, and declared the gathering of thousands an illegal assembly. Monitors and activists resisted the attack, but eventually people were herded back to the march route, Whittier Boulevard. As protest organizer Rosalinda Montez Palacios recounts

"I was sitting on the lawn directly in front of the stage resting after a long and peacful march when out of nowwhere appeared a helicopter overhead and started dropping canisters of tear gas on the marchers as we were enjoying the program. We began to run for safety and as we breathed in the teargas, were blinded by it. Some of us made it to nearby homes where people started flusing their faces with water from garden hoses. Our eyes were burning and tearing and we choked as we tried to breath. The peaceful marchers could not believe what was happening and once we controlled the burning from our eyes, many decided to fight back."

Stores went up in smoke, scores were injured, more than 150 arrested and four were killed, including Gustav Montag, Lyn Ward, José Diaz, and award-winning journalist Rubén Salazar, news director of the local Spanish television station and columnist for the Los Angeles Times.[2]

As the Chicano poet Alurista put it: "The police called it a people's riot; the people called it a police riot."

Gustav Montag, arguably, was perhaps the only person purposely killed during the confrontations. While it has been a subject of conjecture and debate as to whether or not Salazar was intentionally wounded, the Los Angeles Times in its next day front page article described how several protesters stood facing police officers at the end of an alley, shouting at the police, who had rifles drawn, and that a few of those kept their ground, even when ordered to disperse. Some of them reportedly were throwing objects at those uniformed police. The article stated that Gustav was picking up pieces of broken concrete and aiming them at those officers, who opened fire towards him. Gustav died on the scene from gunshot wounds. The police officers later claimed that they had aimed over his head in order to scare him off. A photo accompanied this article, appearing on the front page showing Gustav's body being carried away by several brothers. What isn't generally known is that Gustav himself was not a Chicano, but in fact he was a Sephardic Jew. He was there to give support to the movement.

Though no further national demonstrations were called by the committee, it remained active for another year. Thousands marched on September 16 in East Los Angeles protesting the attack on the August 29 march and the killing of Salazar. On January 9, 1971, the committee led a demonstration of over 1000 protesting police attacks on committee office. On January 31 the committee organized a protest of political and community police abuse with 5,000 to 8,000 people participating. There were skirmishes with police after each of these events with charges of provocateur activity from community activists.

The continuous clashes with the police made mass mobilizations problematic, but the commitment to social change lasted. Many community leaders, politicians, clergy, businessmen, judges, teachers, trade unionists on local, state and national levels participated in the many Chicano Moratoriums.

The best known historical fact of the Moratorium was the death of Rubén Salazar (above), known for his reporting on civil rights and police brutality. The official story is that Salazar was killed by a tear gas canister fired by a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department into the Silver Dollar Café at the conclusion of the August 29 rally, leading some to claim that he had been targeted. While an inquest found that his death was a homicide, the deputy sheriff who fired the shell was not prosecuted.

Silver Dollar Café

The committee, like many better known protest groups of the time, such as Students for a Democratic Society, SNCC, the Black Panthers, Young Lords and others did not survive the period of mass mobilizations, but its efforts had significant impact.

The date is still commemorated every year on the weekend of August 29 with a demonstration and rally following the original route.

Further reading

George Mariscal, Aztlán and Viet Nam: Chicano and Chicana Experiences of the War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

Armando Morales, Ando Sangrando (Los Angeles: Perspectiva Publications, 1972).

Lorena Oropeza, Raza Si! Guerra No!': Chicano Protest and Patriotism during the Viet Nam War Era (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).


1.^ Eastside landmark: a history of the East Los Angeles Community Union, 1968-1993
2.^ YouTube - Ruben Salazar's Legacy Lives On

Further Reading


Photos from the UCLA Library Digital Photo Archive, used under Creative Commons License. Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library. Copyright Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library

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