This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium that took place in East LA. The Chicano Moratorium, formally known as the National Chicano Moratorium Committee Against the Vietnam War, was a movement of Chicano anti-war activists that built a coalition of Mexican-American groups to organize opposition to the Vietnam War.
The 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.
Museum committee member, Ray Vargas recounts:
“When the Moratorium took place, both my parents attended and marched and were tear gassed. I was working in Montreal, Quebec as an organizer of the table grape boycott for the United Farm Workers union.”
Monitors and activists resisted the attack, but eventually people were herded back to the march route of Whittier Boulevard.
Stores went up in smoke, scores were injured, more than 150 arrested and four were killed, including award-winning journalist, Rubén Salazar, news director of the local Spanish television station, and columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
Museum member, Rosemary Fields recounts:
“I was there at the time of the killing and basically it scared me but I was so naive; I really did not know the serious nature of the crime.”
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 Ruben 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.
In 2017 the Museum of Ventura County presented an exhibit on Chicano Art. LA-based artist, David Botello loaned his piece, “Ready For La Marcha,” which speaks to this historic period.
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