By Cynthia Pasquale • Through pickets, strikes, protests and boycotts in the 1960s and ’70s, Mexican Americans fought for civil rights, cultural preservation, and social and political change in Colorado.
Memories may have faded of the sometimes-bitter struggles for better pay and working conditions for farmworkers, an end to racism and educational equality.
AARP Colorado; History Colorado, the state historical society; and Regis University in Denver are working to celebrate and keep alive the achievements of the Chicano movement in Colorado.
Keeping memories alive
“Our goal is to stimulate interest in the Latino community to get involved with capturing our history before it’s lost,” said Phil Hernandez, 70, of Boulder, chairman of El Comité, a group of volunteers who advise AARP Colorado on programs for the Latino community.
AARP volunteers and Regis University students are collecting oral histories from movement leaders. Transcripts will be archived at History Colorado and Regis University.
“We hope to get a comprehensive narrative of the movement in Colorado,” said Nicki Gonzales, associate professor of history at Regis. “Colorado has been given less attention in the historical scholarship of the movement, which is remarkable because it was such a hotbed of Chicano activism.”
AARP and History Colorado also are sponsoring “El Movimiento—The Chicano Movement in Colorado,” a Sept. 25 reception at the History Colorado Center in Denver. It includes cultural programs, speakers and photo displays and coincides with National Hispanic Heritage Month. Visitors will be able to record their remembrances of the movement.
Many participants in the Chicano movement are active in AARP, so the organization has tapped into their knowledge, said Roberto Rey, AARP Colorado associate state director of multicultural outreach.
Students’ key role
Hernandez was active in the movement as a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1969. For El Movimiento, he organized a display of photos and activists’ statements to document the role of students.
Groups such as UMAS (United Mexican-American Students) fought to increase the number of Mexican American and African American students on college campuses, which led to the implementation of ethnic studies programs.
In 1972, as a student at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, UMAS member Ramon Del Castillo was inspired by the example of activist Cesar Chavez. Chavez championed the civil rights of farmworkers using nonviolence through the organization he cofounded, which became the United Farm Workers.
The movement “struck my passion and my soul. Nothing had ever awakened me that way,” said Del Castillo, who also directed lettuce boycotts on campus and later founded the Cesar Chavez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver. “Chavez taught me the importance of struggle and commitment and the use of faith in the process.”
Del Castillo, professor and chairman of the Department of Chicana/o Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver, organized a photo display for El Movimiento about the United Farm Workers. He collaborated on another on the Vietnam War because of the large number of deaths of Mexican American soldiers.
Emanuel Martinez, a Denver-area artist, developed an overview of art’s role in the push for civil rights.
Other displays focus on the Crusade for Justice formed by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, the land grant disputes in the San Luis Valley and the women of the movement.
Photographs from the event’s displays and others that AARP will solicit from the public will be copied and used to augment History Colorado’s permanent collection.
“We have to pass the baton and teach the value of struggle and social justice” so young people understand the source of the rights they now have, Del Castillo said.
Cynthia Pasquale is a writer living in Denver, Colo.