Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hispanics took over Catalina Island in 1972

Chicano movement led way for equality and participation
The Latino Journal E-News

VIVA LA CAUSA! BROWN POWER! These were the cries of a mostly young Chicano crowd in 1969 as they slowly made their way through the streets of East Los Angeles demanding an end to institutional racism and an end to the Vietnam War. Known as the “National Chicano Moratorium,” and considered to be the second wave behind the United Farm Worker’s movement of 1964, the Moratorium was led primarily by the Chicano student movement and the Brown Berets.

In 1969 the Vietnam War had become so unpopular that it produced numerous media-garnering events like Woodstock and the Moratorium. However, the Moratorium’s intent was to not only to bring attention to the disproportionate number of deaths among Hispanic soldiers in Vietnam, but to also bring out the social injustices experienced by Hispanics living in the United States. This too was the initial mission of the East L.A. born Brown Berets.

The “Young Citizens for Community Action” was an organization co-founded by David Sanchez, Alberto Rivera, Hank Rivera, Carlos Montez, and others. Their goal was to help young Chicanos address issues like police brutality, housing discrimination, and other social issues. But, when several members of this youth group began wearing berets that happened to be brown, they were dubbed “the Brown Berets” a name they formally adopted in 1968.

As with many anti-establishment groups of the period, like the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets adopted images that demonstrated their commitment to change. They adopted two rifles and a cross as their logo, “La Causa” as their slogan and kakis or army fatigues as a uniform. Although their mission was that of assistance, their image projected “militant” which is how the media, politicians, and the police described the Brown Berets.

Creating media events like large protests, campus takeovers and a three-day concert for peace at Woodstock was a strategy that brought public attention to several causes. The successful and peaceful takeover of Alcatraz Island, for example, by the American Indian Movement resulted in Congress declaring Indian self-rule. The Woodstock 3-day concert brought debate about the Vietnam War to Congress.

In 1972, the Brown Berets plotted and executed their media event – the takeover of Catalina Island and the Channel Islands, reclaiming them as having been obtained illegally by the United States from Mexico.

Recalling this event David Sanchez, Prime Minister of the Brown Berets and who led the takeover wrote: “We went to Catalina to claim land on the fact that the Channel Islands were not included in…the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (which) stated the new boundaries of the U.S. only went up to the coast at San Pedro, California.”

Utilizing a faction of the Brown Berets called “La Caravana de La Reconquista” or “The Movement to Reclaim,” the 26 well trained Brown Berets were led by Sanchez and laid claim to Catalina Island.

The following is Sanchez’s written account of what transpired:

“The Brown Berets went to Catalina Island to protest and to hold land. We did not know that a Coast Guard destroyer would chase us. Suddenly, the big ship at 400 yards faced our camp with big guns that could easily take us out. Nonetheless, we held the Island for 30 Days.”

Infiltrated by informants and FBI agents and having their supplies cut, the Brown Beret takeover of Catalina Island ended peacefully after 30 days. The actions of the young men and women involved in the takeover were symbolic, created media attention, and brought slow, but eventual change on how Chicanos were treated.

Soon thereafter, and after much infighting and distrust among the ranks, Sanchez declared an end to the 5-year old organization. The Brown Berets were no more, leaving a lasting impression among today’s Chicanos, Latinos, Hispanics, that they must stand up for their rights and take action for what they believe in, regardless of the odds. La Causa vive.

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