Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s saw the arrival of a surging Chicano movement that worked towards political and social change. For the individuals involved it was a political learning experience that exposed them to the farm workers struggle, political organizing and the historical injustices that had denied their community equal access to employment, social services and quality education. It also promoted a new cultural understanding of themselves as Chicanos that emphasized the historical connection of their people to Aztlan, the ancient home of the Aztecs in an American Southwest that was once the northern part of Mexico prior to the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. The reclaiming of land, history and self became the basis a burgeoning cultural nationalism and a cornerstone of Chicanismo.
A critical event in the history of the movement was the Denver Youth Conference in March 1969. The gathering brought together Chicano and Chicana activists from all over the United States, with a majority coming from California. The participants set out to define the direction of the movement and develop a national plan of resistance and action. The Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, (The Spiritual Plan of Aztlan) brought together the nationalistic ideals that coalesced at the conference and outlined the rational for the movement. The conference also brought the struggle of Chicanas to be recognized as equals in the movement to a national forum. The women came together in an impromptu workshop where they condemned chauvinism in the movement and called for women to be recognized as leaders in the movement. The statement written by the workshop participants was never read to the general assembly and in fact was revised to state that Chicanas "did not want to be liberated," but instead understood their primary role was to offer support to Chicanos in the struggle.
Chicanas in the greater Los Angeles area were not deterred and many continued their activism, engaging in what historian Maylei Blackwell refers to as "a double time activism," working to address the needs of women in the community as part of their overall work in student organizations like MEChA and the movement in general. Writing in the publication Hijas de Cuahtemoc and later Encuentro Feminil, Chicanas developed an on-going discourse confronting race, class and gender discrimination. Their work influenced and informed Chicana artists, writers, academics and activists as they strived to define their place in the movement through the 1970s on through to the present.
The Denver conference, along with student-led gatherings at UC Santa Barbara, USC, Cal State Los Angeles and throughout Southern California, energized the movement and inspired Mexican-Americans throughout Los Angeles and the country to redefine themselves as Chicanos and Chicanas, as a cultural and political act - one that celebrates an indigenous/Mestizo past and manifests itself through a commitment to community empowerment and social justice. The power of this action was inscribed in several creative works produced during this time, including: the preamble to The Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, written by Alurista, the poem I am Joaquin, by Rudolfo "Corky" Gonzalez, the plays of El Teatro Campesino and the film, Yo Soy Chicano, directed by Jesus Trevino.
In the late 1960s Jesus Trevino was a young activist taking part in many of the first Chicano protests against the discriminatory policies of the educational and political system in Los Angeles. At his side was a Super 8 camera that he used to film some of the first images and pivotal events of the movement, including the successful six-day sit-in to re-instate High School Teacher Sal Castro, documented in La Nueva Raza, and the historic Denver Youth Conference.
In 1972, focusing on telling the untold story of Mexican-Americans, Trevino wrote and produced Yo Soy Chicano. The KCET-produced and nationally televised documentary used interviews and re-enactments to bring Mexican-Americans into the foreground of American history and offered a powerful argument in favor of the Chicano civil rights movement. Yo Soy Chicano provided a cultural resonance and historical framework that mobilized Chicanos and Chicanas into action.
Above, filmmaker Jesus Trevino recounts the origins of the Chicano Movement and his involvement in documenting their struggles; UCLA Chicano Studies professor Eric Avila explores the formation and evolution of Chicano identity in Los Angeles.