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Frontline East LA: The Chicano Moratorium 50 Years Later

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Fifty years ago, 30,000 mostly Chicanos peacefully protested the disproportionate number of Latinos dying on the frontlines in Vietnam. They came from across the country to also protest substandard education, racism, police violence, and other issues negatively affecting Latinos. What started out as a peaceful march ended with an attack by riot-clad police, 400 arrests, and the deaths of four people, one of whom was Los Angeles Times journalist Rubén Salazar. The August 29th Chicano Moratorium wasn’t simply a rally that turned violent. It was a turning point in the Chicano civil rights movement and left a stain on Los Angeles that after half a century still hasn’t gone away.

In memoriam: David García, director and editor of Requiem 29.

Special thanks to Yolanda Provost, Moctezuma Esparza, and Susan Racho.

Caption: Chicano Moratorium march, East Los Angeles, August 29, 1970; Credit: Courtesy of Joe Razo and the publication, La Raza
Transcript Below

 

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Featuring

  • Raul Ruiz (archival recording) – Photographer, La Raza Newspaper
  • Jesús Treviño – Documentary Filmmaker/Director
  • Rosalio Muñoz – Spokesperson and Chair of the Chicano Moratorium Committee
  • Irene Tovar – Commissioner Member of City of Los Angeles Human Relations Commission
  • Gloria Arellanes – Tongva Elder and Former Brown Beret
  • Félix Gutiérrez – Professor Emeritus, USC Annenberg School of Journalism
  • Tom Wilson (archival recording) – Retired LA County deputy sheriff
  • Norman Pittluck (archival recording) – Los Angeles County Coroner’s Inquest Hearing Officer

Credits

  • Host: Monica Lopez
  • Making Contact Staff Producers: Monica Lopez, Anita Johnson, Salima Hamirani
  • Executive Director: Sonya Green
  • Director of Production Initiatives and Distribution: Lisa Rudman

Music

  • “Signs of Life”, Anamorphic Orchestra
  • “Arbic Tallow”, Blue Dot Sessions
  • “Velvet Ladder”, Blue Dot Sessions

TRANSCRIPT

Monica Lopez August 29, 1970. 30000 people, mostly Chicanos, peacefully demonstrated against the disproportionate number of Latinos dying on the front lines in Vietnam. Chicanos were calling for a moratorium on the war, but the three mile march and rally to Laguna Park wasn’t only about that. People came from as far as Texas, New Mexico and New York to also protest substandard education, racism, police violence and other issues negatively affecting Latinos. Tongva elder Gloria Arellanes is a former Brown Beret and one of the moratorium organizers.

Gloria Arellanes It was a beautiful day weather wise. The crowds were amazing.

 

Monica Lopez Chicano moratorium organizer Rosalio Munoz.

Rosalio Munoz It was a wondrous event. It was like a moving fiesta down the main commercial center of East Los Angeles.

 

Gloria Arellanes And there was something going on that made me go up on the stage. And all I could see at the back of the park was like a wave. People just coming in and then moving out and then coming back again. And then all hell broke loose.

 

Monica Lopez What started out as a peaceful demonstration of students and families ended with an attack on the crowd by riot clad police, 400 arrests and the deaths of four people, one of whom was Los Angeles Times journalist Ruben Salazar. But the August twenty ninth Chicano moratorium wasn’t simply a march and rally that turned violent. It became a turning point in the Chicano civil rights movement and left a stain on Los Angeles that, after half a century, still hasn’t gone away.

This is Frontline East L.A., the Chicano moratorium, fifty years later, on Making Contact. I’m Monica Lopez.

L.A. was a very different place in 1970. For one thing, Latinos, mostly Mexican Americans, made up 13 percent of the city’s population. Today, it’s about half. Few held political office. Instead, they wielded their power through their activism. In the summer of 1970, the Chicano civil rights movement had reached a high point and Latinos were marching en masse for peace and social change.

 

Rosalio Munoz One of our slogans was, our war is here. Our front line is here, not in Vietnam. Our front line is in the struggle for social justice at home.

 

Monica Lopez Rosalio Munoz traveled to dozens of U.S. cities to speak about the importance of Chicanos creating a peace movement of their own.

 

Rosalio Munoz It was called Chicano Moratorium because that fall of 1969 there were major demonstrations going on all over the country in 50 to 100 cities and a couple of million people or more demonstrated, including a lot of Chicanos.

 

Monica Lopez And yet Chicano activists knew the full picture about Latino casualties was not being reported. Nearly everyone I spoke to for this story used the term cannon fodder to describe the military’s treatment of Chicano soldiers. Political scientist Dr. Ralph Guzman found that while Mexican Americans made up only about 10 percent of the population in the Southwest, they were a staggering nineteen point four percent of casualties in Vietnam.

 

Ralph Guzman The farm workers were organizing farm workers, the leaders of walkouts, for a better education. They were fighting for a better education. They were fighting against gerrymandering and to register voters. They were doing that, but we needed people that would focus on organizing against the war nationally.

 

Monica Lopez The Brown Berets of UCLA were instrumental in calling for a Chicano moratorium. Local and national media were onsite to cover it.

 

Jesus Trevino On August twenty ninth, I was an associate producer at television station KCET in Los Angeles.

 

Monica Lopez Jesus Trevino and his sound recordist, Henry D’angel wrapped up their coverage of the rally at Laguna Park and headed back to their car.  It was near the entrance to the sheriff’s substation.

 

Jesus Trevino  And we were unloading the equipment into my car when all of a sudden we heard this incredible wailing of sirens and these cars started emerging from the parking lot. There must have been I think I counted something like thirty five different cars that whizzed by, and they were going so fast that we had to flatten ourselves up against the cars or else we would be hit. And in each of these sheriff’s patrol cars there were four or five or even six officers jammed in there with full riot gear.

 

Monica Lopez Trevino found out later that someone at a liquor store near the park had called the police to report a stolen six pack of beer.

 

Jesus Trevino 20 minutes earlier. And there had been a peaceful march. And I did the math and said, well, how long does it take to get 35 cars full of sheriffs with their uniforms and everything else together and organized? And it was evident to me that they must have been waiting there for hours, perhaps. And I think when the call came in about the Green Mill liquor store, that was the pretext they were waiting for.

 

Monica Lopez UCLA history professor Juan Gomez Quinones, wrote that five hundred police officers and sheriff’s deputies joined the melee that day. When it was all over 400 people had been arrested and four were dead, including L.A. Times journalist and KMEX News director Ruben Salazar. Salazar was killed when L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Wilson fired a projectile into the Silver Dollar Cafe. The canister struck the reporter in the head. Gloria Arrellanes recalls that the deaths of Lynn Ward, Angel Gilbert Diaz, Gustav Montag and Ruben Salazar overshadowed the issues behind the moratorium.

 

Gloria Arellanes Then, of course, the whole thing. What became the issue was the death of Ruben Salazar. You know, news reporter, a well liked man, he just went in there for beer and how did somebody shoot through a curtain and get him. He’s sitting at a bar. That means they didn’t announce. They just shot that canister in there.

 

Monica Lopez Documentary filmmaker Jesus Treviño,.

Jesus Trevino Tempers were pretty high and they were fearful that there was going to be another riot, that the community would explode again. And so the authorities all agreed that they should convene a blue ribbon panel made up of community members.

 

Monica Lopez Members like clergy and community activists who could lend credibility to the coroner’s inquest into Ruben Salazar’s death. People like Irene Tovar, who currently sits on the city of Elli’s Human Relations Commission.

 

Irene Tovar I guess to placate us, they created the inquest and basically it was most of us who had been the organizers and our role was really nothing. We would go there every day and then they would be interviewing the sheriffs and the LAPD. And our role was to sit there and observe.

 

Jesus Trevino And as it turned out, many of these people wound up walking away from it because they felt they were being used.

 

Monica Lopez The following clip was taken from a 1970 documentary film about the moratorium, Requiem 29. In the film hearing, Officer Norman Pitluck asks Raul Ruiz whether he saw people breaking police car windows. Ruiz was a staff photographer for the Chicano newspaper La Raza.

 

Norman Pitluck Would you describe the individual you saw throwing the article or articles at police car windows, if you know.

 

Raul Ruiz That’s really impossible.

 

Norman Pitluck All right. Do you have any photographs in your collection of individuals who did break police car windows?

 

Raul Ruiz No, I don’t.

 

Norman Pitluck Do you have any photographs in your collection of broken police windows, police car windows?

 

Raul Ruiz I would imagine I do have.

 

Norman Pitluck Do you have them with you?

 

Raul Ruiz No I don’t.

 

Norman Pitluck Did you personally see any windows broken in any stores or shops along Whittier boulevard?

 

Raul Ruiz I saw windows broken on Whittier Boulevard, not at the time that they were being broken. I observed that they were broken. You know, as I passed through Whittier Boulevard.

 

Norman Pitluck Do you know what type of item was used to break the windows, if you know.

 

Raul Ruiz No.

 

Norman Pitluck Did you see any particular individuals who were breaking windows?

 

Raul Ruiz I think I answered that question already.

 

Norman Pitluck Well, if the answer is no, I’d appreciate.

 

Raul Ruiz Well, I answered that question already. I told you already before that.

 

Norman Pitluck No, that was in connection with police windows.  This is in connection with store windows.

 

Raul Ruiz In the previous question you ask me that if I observed any individuals and I had said no to that. I observed windows were already broken when I passed by them.

 

Norman Pitluck All right. Do you have any pictures of any individuals in that connection? Any pictures of anyone breaking a window?

 

Raul Ruiz Well, if we follow the logic of the questions that you’re asking me. I told you that the windows that I did see were already broken, of course. How would I be able to see?

 

Norman Pitluck All right.

 

Monica Lopez On August twenty ninth, Salazar was seated with colleagues inside the Silver Dollar Bar and Cafe. They were further down Whittier Boulevard, about two miles away from the attack by police at the park. At the inquest, then L.A. County Deputy Sheriff Tom Wilson describes what he did at the entrance to the Silver Dollar Café,.

 

Tom Wilson I made a decision to fire tear gas. When I approached the doorway, I knew I had a tear gas projectile and a weapon. I didn’t know whether I had a long range missile or whether I had a flight right. It really wouldn’t make that much difference to me. The reason for using a flight right or a Tumbler would be to get inside a location. But I wanted to get something inside and I wanted to get it inside quick.

 

Monica Lopez Wilson shot a nine and a half inch long tear gas canister into the bar, which struck the journalist in the head and killed him. Filmmaker Jesus Trevino.

 

Jesus Trevino The inquest was not about the death of Ruben Salazar and who had killed him. The inquest was a pretext to vilify the Chicano community, to portray the Chicano community as a group of radicals that had from the very beginning set their mind to destroying and to attacking the police. And then they tried to find any evidence they could to support this.

 

Felix Gutierrez So they went through a showcase coroner’s inquest. It was a divided vote, as I understand. Then the district attorney, Will J. Younger, decided not to file any charges.

 

Monica Lopez Felix Gutierrez is emeritus professor at USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

 

Felix Gutierrez Ruben Salazar was the only person who could speak with authority and credibility to both the Anglo or general population and the Spanish speaking population through his L.A. Times work and then his column. And he also, because of being a news director, a Spanish language TV station, KMEX, he spoke directly to the Latino community. So he was a bridge. He was a bridge between two very divided worlds in those days. So silencing his voice was a devastating move toward interracial intergroup interethnic understanding for the Spanish speaking audience. You led a significant news organization and it showed that, you know, if you speak out or speak up too much, you might end up paying a price. I don’t know that it was directly, but I’m sure that if the news director of one of the English language stations had been killed the way Salazar was killed by a sheriff’s deputy, there would have been more of an inquest, more of a serious attention to what happened.

 

Monica Lopez The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department historian declined to comment for this story on Ruben Salazar’s death or the investigation that followed.

 

You’re listening to Frontline East L.A. on Making Contact.  Making Contact is offered for free to stations across the country and around the world. Check us out on Twitter and Instagram or wherever you get your podcasts. Our handle is making underscore contact. And now back to Frontline East L.A., the Chicano moratorium 50 years later.

 

On August 29, 1970 some thirty thousand people demonstrated against the disproportionate number of Latinos dying on the front lines in Vietnam.

 

Irene Tovar And let me tell you, it was an ocean of people you could hear, coming and coming and coming.

 

Monica Lopez But this Chicano moratorium against the war was built on the foundations of years of organizing for social change on many different fronts. That’s how Irene Tovar began working on behalf of the community. She got started by working to improve education for Spanish speaking children.

 

Irene Tovar In the sense that we were united we felt good about each other because we united against an injustice. That was the good part of it. But at the same time, we were acknowledging the tragedy of the casualties that were occurring in our community, especially since we were denied all these things. And the reason I tell you about the education, how we were involved, because that was one of many other issues that throughout the Southwest we were complaining or protesting about, the issue of our children’s education, the punishment because of our culture, our language.

 

Monica Lopez In 2001, Tovar was honored by the U.S. Congress for her decades of service in empowering Latinos in California. One of her earliest projects was establishing the first educational Headstart program in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles. A few years prior to that, Tovar and her community took it upon themselves to support Spanish speaking children in school.

 

Irene Tovar Between 1962 and 1965, roughly, we raised money. We sold enchiladas, we had bake sales, whatever to pay a bona fide preschool teacher to come twice a week and teach children six hundred words of English and other early child development skills. OK, preparing them for elementary because at that time, again, the local schools had corporal punishment. If you spoke Spanish in my elementary school, the practice was that if the child was heard speaking Spanish in the classroom, in the hallway, in the playground, you were punished. And for usually the girls, you went in front of the classroom and you extended your hand out and the teacher would ask you Margarita, why are you being punished? And Margarita, very shy, very frightened, would say because I spoke Spanish. So what the teacher would do, get the ruler and hit the little girl on the hand. And that was, can you just imagine a young child being humiliated in front of their fellow students? OK, problem. So we wanted to address that. We wanted children to feel comfortable when they entered at least six hundred words in English.

 

Monica Lopez It was experiences like these, whether it was the shaming of a child’s first language, a lack of opportunity in the workplace, or having a higher probability of finding yourself on the front lines in Vietnam that drew Latinos to the moratorium. At the same time, Chicano activists and journalists say they were being surveilled and increasingly scrutinized. In this clip from the film Requiem Twenty nine, Raul Ruiz tells hearing officer Norman Pittluck look about his newspaper’s experience with L.A. County sheriffs after the protest.

 

Norman Pitluck Would you bring a complete set of your pictures to this session this afternoon?

 

Raul Ruiz  That is impossible.

 

Norman Pitluck Is that because you can’t get your hands on him or something?

 

Raul Ruiz That’s right.

 

Norman Pitluck Where are they now?

 

Raul Ruiz Most of our negatives, since we believed the sherrifs were going to raid us.  Since the day before La Raza was published the sheriffs were all over our office.  At one point the sheriffs did try to come into our office.  And at this point one of our lawyers stopped the sheriffs from coming into our office and asked them just what they were trying to do.  At this point the sheriffs retreated back into the squad car to question some of the people that were outside.  They searched some of the people, they searched their cars.  And this was on a half hour basis at our office.  Anybody coming in or going out was stopped.  And therefore as far as the work that was being done, we could not take the chance of the sheriff coming and stealing our property so therefore it was removed from the area.

 

Norman Pitluck And where are the negatives now?

 

Raul Ruiz Well. You know, I again, I don’t understand, you know, this line of questioning, whether it is from you, the prosecutor or whoever, you know, as to what it has to do with the inquest into the death of Ruben Salazar.

 

Monica Lopez It’s been 50 years since the events that transpired on August 29, 1970, and the investigation into Ruben Salazar’s death remains officially unresolved. Still, there was a backlash that people suffered through and a culture of surveillance to navigate or at least the threat of it.

Irene Tovar:

 

Irene Tovar I’ll tell you, some of our meetings were packed with people, but we knew who was who. OK, the East LA people knew who they were. And so we could identify just by. We never confronted, to my knowledge, we never confronted them. But we knew it and we would announce it in our meetings. We know that there are some undercover people here. So we wanted them to know that. We knew that they were there and hearing everything and we had nothing that we that we were hiding from them. We were legitimately exercising our amendment rights under the Constitution. And so we were very open about it.

 

So we were harassed before, during and after. After maybe a little bit more. It was just as harassment, just as painful, just as ugly, just as efforts to put fear in us. For me, it didn’t do that. It made me more determined that in whatever way I could as one individual, that I was going to fight anything that resembled this ever again. It made me so determined because I had seen it. We had planned it. We had legitimate concerns, like any other citizen, to protest the war that was really taking our young men in large, in ridiculous proportion to our population and then denying our rights in education and employment and housing, every aspect that constitute our society. We had not been giving our dues. We were there, but we were not visible.

 

Monica Lopez In five decades progress has certainly been made in politics and labor and education. For the first time, the majority of the University of California, 2020 freshman class are Latinos. Comparing Latinx representation in politics and media to 50 years ago, Félix Gutierrez acknowledges that we’ve made significant progress. But when considering the population size of Latino communities and their issues, there’s still a long way to go.

 

Felix Gutierrez Compared to 50 years ago, we’ve made significant progress. Compared to where we are today in terms of the population size and issues and understanding we still have a long way to go. People know who we are. People do recognize our existence, something that I think they did not always before. But the level of understanding, I think, is still not there. We have more celebrities than we did 50 years ago. Sports stars, politicians who play significant roles. But the day to day Latino events, I think are still separated into problem people and zoo stories; we’re either people who are beset or causing problems for others or we’re on display like in the zoo on Cinco de Mayo or Puerto Rican Independence Day. We have to go beyond visibility to understanding, and we’re not there yet.

 

Monica Lopez Jesus Trevino:

 

Jesus Trevino All you need to do is look at local news. We’ve heard reports of the federal government sending camouflaged federal agents to Portland to infiltrate and arrest people, literally kidnaping people off the streets whom they think are troublemakers and are responsible for the riots and and without any identification of who they are or on what grounds people are being detained or kidnaped. And this, of course, is reminiscent of totalitarian societies where you don’t have a say and where you don’t have rights. And so in a way, what you see, what they’re trying to do is portray those instances where, you know, there is confrontation or there is violence. And they’re trying to basically paint the whole crowd with the same paint brush and say this is happening throughout and therefore we have to come in and take over. And in many ways, this is reflective of how the sheriffs and LAPD, in the aftermath of the moratorium march and riot, were trying to portray the Latino community as the bad guys and justifying any actions that they did to bring down violence upon them.

 

Monica Lopez Rosalio Munoz.

 

Rosalio Munoz And these Gestapo like attacks on demonstrations in Seattle and other places around the country that are they’re promoting. It’s deja vu all over again with a vengeance. And so those lessons we need to know about August 29.  Most of my life it’s not been August twenty ninth as the main date to focus on.  It’s been different issues. And this year it’s November 3rd. And that’s where we need a big turnout of people to change the direction of our country and in the White House and in the Senate. That’s where the moratorium for me is. One of the best ways of doing that is registering especially young people of all sorts and organizing to get people to vote by mail. That’s  where the mobilization is needed. So that’s my focus on that. There’s many ways that we should be celebrating our legacy of teaching our people’s history and bringing it to people’s attention. I hope I’ve been able to bring some attention to what was happening on August 29. We kept on demonstrating, there kept on being much, much more infiltration and surveillance and intervention. At one point, there were people that came and said in the name of the community and ousted me as being too nonviolent after the moratorium. But later on, it was revealed that they were led by undercover agents.

 

Monica Lopez Irene Tovar.

 

Irene Tovar I’ve learned that in this country under these rules now, if you don’t, speak up, you don’t get anywhere. The other thing is that we’ve got to be very persistent. I’ve been around a long, long time. As long as God gives me the strength, I will keep on trucking, as they say. OK, because we’re dealing with the dignity of human beings. OK. If we really believe either religiously or secular that we’re valuable as human beings, then we have to play a role in ensuring that we dignify that body, that human being. What many started long before I was here, someone was battling for my rights. And I was able to get a little bit more than the previous generation because of them. And we hope that those of us that have been advocating, that they remember that now they have an obligation to do the same for their next generation that will come after them.

 

Monica Lopez The Chicano moratorium march to Laguna Park, now Ruben Salazar Park, brought visibility to the issues affecting Latinos. But the police attacks overshadowed the activist message of peace and social change. It shook up the community and disrupted the movement’s momentum. It also propelled some Chicano activists to create works of art, to educate others, or to continue to fight for social change, while other Mexican-American journalists followed the path cut by Ruben Salazar.

 

You’ve been listening to Frontline East L.A., the Chicano Moratorium 50 years later. Special thanks to Yolanda Provost for allowing us to use excerpts of the film Requiem 29, directed by David Garcia and produced by Moctezuma Esparza. Special thanks also to Susan Rocio for editorial assistance. The Making Contact team is Sonya Green, Lisa Rudman, Anita Johnson, Salima Hamarani, Sabine Blazin. And I’m Monica Lopez. Thanks for listening to Making Contact.

 

Author: Radio Project

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