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The history of the 20th century in America is rife with the struggle against racism and discrimination against minorities that call this land their home. At some point in history in America, every nationality except for the “title nation” felt the heavy burden of wanton discrimination. For African-Americans and Latino-Americans, discrimination was a reality they had to deal with throughout their entire lives, as they faced it not only in films produced by Hollywood but also in the news, employment, the justice system, and daily interactions.
Still, they managed to preserve their traditions and culture instead of becoming fully assimilated and turned into second-class citizens by the ruling white majority. It could not have been done without the affirmative action and struggle that went on throughout the second half of the 20th century and well into the 21st in order to turn the tide. The purpose of this paper is to review the actions of five significant historical figures in modern Chicano history through the lens of historical recordings of that time period. These people are Cantinflas, Bert Corona, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Barbara Carrasco.
Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) was a civil rights activist, a political figure, and one of the founders of the United Farm Workers union. His actions were primarily focused on protecting the rights of Latin-Americans, Chicano, and immigrants, who were facing various injustices under the existing laws, like unemployment (“Demonstration Protesting High Unemployment”), harassment, institutional racism, and target laws aimed at worsening the situation of immigrants, such as the Dixon-Arnett law (“Demonstration Protesting Dixon-Arnett Law”).
In the clips provided for this assignment, it is possible to see the UFW protesting against Red Coach Lettuce in Los Angeles. Red Coach Lettuce was one of the few farms that did not unionize its workers (“United Farm Workers Pickets;” “United Farm Workers Protest;” “Cesar Chaves Announces Advertising”). The civil demonstration no doubt surprised many inhabitants of Los Angeles, who grew to view the Chicano as vile, criminal, and lazy, based on the image portrayed by films and social media. Cesar Chaves was known for his honorable image and opposition to racism and injustice. After Chaves’s death, he was considered one of the most influential figures in Chicano modern history, with several public locations named after him.
Dolores Huerta (born 1930) is one of the founding members of the UFW, along with Cesar Chaves. Her organizational skills were instrumental for the UFW to expand and flourish. Along with Chaves, she dedicated her life to advocacy for Latin-American, immigrant, and worker rights. She participated in various rallies against racism, discrimination, and exploitation of workers. Despite the common image, as shown in clips of demonstrations in front of Teamsters Building and of the UFW grape strike, the demonstrators behaved in an authorized and civil manner (“United Farm Workers Grape Strike”).
Due to her efforts, the protesters were able to conform to the high standards of peaceful protests and represent their nation in the best possible way. It helped make the bystanders sympathize with the plight of Chicano and Mexican workers, eventually forcing change and promoting unionization and legal protection (“United Farm Workers Demonstration;” “Student Lettuce Protest”).
Mario Fortino Alfonso Moreno Reyes, also known as Cantinflas (1911-1993), was an actor, screenwriter, and a prominent political figure in Mexican and American politics. Through art and affirmative political action, he promoted the cause of equality and fought racism and discrimination against Chicano, Mexicans, and Latin-Americans. In his works, he depicted the life and hardships of hardworking peasants, which helped battle the enforced stereotypes and depict the nation in its true colors.
He was a charming and charismatic individual. In one of the clips offered for this study, Cantinflas visits Robert F. Kennedy Elementary school, giving out autographs and speaking with children and teachers, with a purpose of ensuring good relations between nations and facilitating better treatment of students, who, as seen in the clip, were primary Mexican-American (“Cantinflas Visits School”).
Bert Corona (1918-2001) was a strong proponent of labor and civil rights for Chicano. He stood at the roots of many union organizations, such as the ANMA and MAPA. A professor at California State University, he taught the controversial (at the time) Chicano studies, which helped build up a strong national identity of the Chicano people and educate outsiders about Chicano traditions, history, and culture. He was involved in many important struggles against the corrupt justice system in America, which was racist not only towards Chicano but also towards other minorities, such as African-Americans.
He was against the use of informants by law enforcement agencies, viewing these acts as disruptive to the community (“Use of Informants”). He also supported Ricardo Chavez Ortiz’ actions in 1972, speaking not only about breaking the law but also about the issue regarding moral judgment about individuals (“Press Conference”). A respected veteran civil rights leader, his legacy is respected and remembered among the minorities he helped protect.
Barbara Carrasco (born 1955) is one of the most prominent Chicano artists, famous for her politically-charged large-scale arts and murals. A social activist and a feminist, she challenges the injustices of socioeconomics, race, and gender through art—one of her most famous works, currently displayed at the Union Station in L. A subway is titled “L. A History – A Mexican Perspective.” The mural is 18 by 80 feet in size and demonstrates the tragic events of the city’s past woven into a Mexican woman’s hair, which included Japanese-American internment, Zoot Suit Riots, and many other transgressions against the minorities of the city (“Union Station Mural”). It took a long time for the woman to get her work placed where it currently is, as she was frequently censored, her art described as “controversial,” as it demonstrated facts that were not comfortable for the white majority.
Chicano and Latin-American Culture
Hollywood and the American cinematography portrayed the Chicano and Latin-Americans as villainous, dim-witted, uncultured, and lazy people in comparison to the whites. However, it could not be further from the truth. The five people presented above exemplify the best traits of Latin-American culture, such as the desire to work and earn honest pay, stand up against injustice, show talent in both art and cinematography, and engage in peaceful political processes (“Demonstration Protesting High Unemployment”).
Forced into a corner by the existing legal and political systems, the Chicano had to utilize artistic expression and music as means of protest, exemplified by Chicano students at Cal State Los Angeles, who threw a musical concert to protest against educational inequalities and financial aid problems (“Chicano Students”). Other means of peaceful protest and affirmative action involved the production of local newspapers by family households in order to oppose the mainstream media (“Chicano Community Newspaper”), and automobile rallies performed with the assistance of Lowriders – people who use old and modified trucks and vehicles as means of self-expression (“Lowrider Cars”).
These protests reaffirm the stance that most Chicano people share – that the problems of their community are largely related to systematic racism and neglect from local authorities, which make it impossible for the Chicano and other Indian communities to obtain the necessary funding, in combination with generational poverty and inequalities regarding the justice system (“Chicano Caucus”).
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“Cantinflas visits school in East Los Angeles.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“Cesar Chavez Announces Advertising Campaign for Grape and Lettuce Boycott.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“Chicano Caucus and Obtaining Funds for Chicano Communities.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“Chicano community newspaper Eastside Sun.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“Chicano Students at Cal State Los Angeles Voice Concerns.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“Demonstration Protesting High Unemployment Among Chicanos in East Los Angeles.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“Lowrider cars.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“Press Conference Regarding Ricardo Chavez Ortiz.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“Student Lettuce Protest and Boycott at San Fernando Valley State College.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“Union Station Mural.” Youtube, uploaded by LA This Week. 2017. Web.
“United Farm Workers Demonstration at Teamsters Building.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“United Farm Workers Grape Strike.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“United Farm Workers Pickets Red Coach Lettuce.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“United Farm Workers Protest in Los Angeles.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.
“Use of Informants in Law Enforcement Agencies.” UCLA, uploaded by KTLA News. Web.