The Chicano Moratorium, formally known as the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, was a movement of Chicano anti-war activists that built a broad-based coalition of Mexican-American groups to organize opposition to the Vietnam War. Led by activists from local colleges and members of the "Brown Berets", a group with roots in the high school student movement that staged walkouts in 1968, the coalition peaked with an August 29, 1970 march in East Los Angeles that drew 30,000 demonstrators.
The Chicano Moratorium was a movement of Chicano activists that organized anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and activities in Mexican American communities throughout the Southwest and elsewhere from November 1969 through August 1971. "Our struggle is not in Vietnam but in the movement for social justice at home" was a key slogan of the movement. It was coordinated by the National Chicano Moratorium Committee (NCMC) and led largely by activists from the Chicano student movement and the Brown Beret organization.
The committee organized its first demonstration on December 20, 1969, in East Los Angeles, with over 1,000 participants. The groups won the early support of the Denver-based Crusade for Justice, led by Rodolfo Gonzales, also known as Corky Gonzales. A conference of anti-war and anti-draft Chicano and Latino activists from communities in the Southwest and the city of Chicago was held at the Crusade headquarters in early December 1969. They began developing plans for nationwide mobilizations to be presented to a national Chicano youth conference planned for late March 1970. On February 28, 1970, a second Chicano Moratorium demonstration was held again in East Los Angeles, with more than 3,000 demonstrators from throughout California participating, despite a driving rain. Las Adelitas de Aztlán marched in the February march, which NCMC organizer Rosalío Muñoz sees as the first time a Chicana organization participated in its own right in a Chicano demonstration. A Chicano program on the local public television station produced a documentary of that march, used nationally by the committee to popularize its efforts. At the March Chicano Youth Conference, held in Denver, Rosalío Muñoz, the co-chair for the Los Angeles Chicano Moratorium, moved to hold a National Chicano Moratorium against the war on August 29, 1970. Local moratoriums were planned for cities throughout the Southwest and beyond, to build up for the national event on August 29.
More than 20 local protests were held in cities such as Houston, Albuquerque, Chicago, Denver, Fresno, San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, Oxnard, San Fernando, San Pedro and Douglas, Arizona. Most had 1,000 or more participants.
March in Los Angeles
The NCMC's largest march took place on August 29, 1970 at Laguna Park (now Ruben F. Salazar Park). Between 20,000 and 30,000 participants, drawn from around the nation, marched down Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles. The rally was broken up by local police, who said that they had gotten reports that a nearby liquor store was being robbed. They chased the "suspects" into the park, and declared the gathering of thousands to be an illegal assembly.
Monitors and activists resisted the attack, but eventually people were herded back to the march route of Whittier Boulevard. As protest organizer Rosalinda Montez Palacios recounts,
"I was sitting on the lawn directly in front of the stage resting after a long and peaceful march when out of nowhere appeared a helicopter overhead and started dropping canisters of tear gas on the marchers as we were enjoying the program. We began to run for safety and as we breathed in the teargas, were blinded by it. Some of us made it to nearby homes where people started flushing their faces with water from garden hoses. Our eyes were burning and tearing and we choked as we tried to breath [sic?]. The peaceful marchers could not believe what was happening and once we controlled the burning from our eyes, many decided to fight back."
Stores went up in smoke, scores were injured, more than 150 arrested and four were killed, including Gustav Montag, Lyn Ward, José Diaz, and Rubén Salazar, an award-winning journalist, news director of the local Spanish television station, and columnist for the Los Angeles Times. As the Chicano poet Alurista put it: "The police called it a people's riot; the people called it a police riot."
Some of the deaths seemed accidental but Gustav Montag got into direct confrontation with the police, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. Its front-page article the next day recounted that several protesters faced police officers with drawn rifles at the end of an alley, shouting, and kept their ground, even when ordered to disperse. The article stated that Montag was picking up pieces of broken concrete and throwing them at the officers, who opened fire. Montag died at the scene from gunshot wounds. The police officers later said that they had aimed over his head in order to scare him off. A photo accompanied this article, showing Montag's body being carried away by several brothers. Montag was not a Chicano, but a Sephardic Jew who was supporting the movement.
The continuous clashes with the police made mass mobilizations problematic, but the commitment to social change lasted. Many community leaders, politicians, clergy, businessmen, judges, teachers, and trade unionists participated in the many Chicano Moratoria.
The Moratorium became notable for the death of Salazar, known for his reporting on civil rights and police brutality. Deputy Thomas Wilson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department fired a tear gas canister into the Silver Dollar Café at the conclusion of the August 29 rally, killing Salazar. Wilson was never punished for his actions. His death was viewed as a potential assassination, because Salazar was a very prominent voice calling for police accountability. The Sheriff's Department files about the incident point to Wilson's action being accidental, but later justified and protected by the department.
- Chávez, Ernesto (2002). Mi raza primero!: nationalism, identity, and insurgency in the Chicano movement in Los Angeles, 1966-1978. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520230187.
- George Mariscal, Aztlán and Viet Nam: Chicano and Chicana Experiences of the War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
- Armando Morales, Ando Sangrando (Los Angeles: Perspectiva Publications, 1972).
- Lorena Oropeza, Raza Si! Guerra No!': Chicano Protest and Patriotism during the Viet Nam War Era (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).
- Muñoz, Rosalio (24 February 2010). "Why Commemorate the February 28, 1970 Chicano Moratorium". LatinoLA. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
- Chávez, John R. (1998-01-01). Eastside Landmark: A History of the East Los Angeles Community Union, 1968-1993. Stanford University Press. pp. 71–76. ISBN 9780804733335.
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- Tobar, Hector (5 August 2011). "Finally, transparency in the Ruben Salazar case". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 September 2016.