San Jose commemorates 53rd anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium
San Jose, CA – On August 29, the San Jose Freedom Road Socialist Organization and other groups held a commemoration for the 53rd anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium, with veteran activist Carlos Montes as a guest speaker.
The commemoration was held at the San Jose Peace and Justice Center, a hub for activism in San Jose since 1957. Other organizations in attendance included Students for a Democratic Society, the Brown Berets and the Silicon Valley Immigration Committee.
The Chicano Moratorium was a mass protest of Chicanos who organized against the Vietnam War. Their largest march was on August 29, 1970 in East Los Angeles. 30,000 Chicanos rallied against imperialism, oppression caused by the United States, and in support of national liberation for Vietnam. The Chicano Moratorium was not only an anti-Vietnam War march but an expression of national identity.
With around 70 people in attendance, the commemoration began with a statement from Sabrina del Ponte of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Del Ponte spoke of self-determination for the Chicano Nation and the local work that FRSO takes part in San Jose such as organizing with Teamsters during their practice pickets before their contract win, participating in the San Jose May Day Coalition to organize San Jose’s 2023 May Day march, leading protests against attacks on abortion rights, and their ongoing work with the Silicon Valley Immigration Committee in promoting California SB 22, which would start an unemployment benefits program for undocumented workers. Del Ponte ended with a call to resist monopoly capitalism, imperialism and national oppression, and encouraged attendees to join FRSO.
The next speaker was Dr. Arturo Villarreal, Evergreen Community College professor. Villarreal connected the Chicano Moratorium to San Jose in his speech by speaking about the San Jose Black Berets who attended the Chicano Moratorium. Inspired by revolutionary Che Guevara, Chicanos organized themselves in San Jose while wearing black berets. They resisted systemic racism in educational institutions and offered assistance to their communities.
The final speaker was Carlos M. Montes, nationally respected leader in the Chicano, immigrant rights and anti-war movements. Montes was a co-founder of the Brown Berets, a Chicano working-class organization. Montes would go on to help organize the Chicano Moratorium and the Chicano Blowouts, a series of high school walkouts in East Los Angeles against racism and inequality. Montes has been organizing with Centro CSO (Community Service Organization) with the Chicano community in Boyle Heights to resist privatization in education by charter schools and with the Freedom Road Socialist Organization as a Central Committee member and co-chair of the Chicano, Latino, and Other Oppressed Nationalities Commission.
Montes recalled being politically repressed as a Chicano youth activist and how the Chicano Moratorium “radicalized a generation of Chicanos to open [their] hearts and eyes to socialism.” On the Vietnam War, Montes recounted his initial reaction to the disproportionate casualty rates of Chicanos in combat compared to the population of Chicanos in the United States “We read that, as Brown Berets like, what the f***?” Montes called upon the audience to give a standing ovation to writer Charley Trujillo, present at the commemoration, whose works focus on the injustices towards Chicanos during the Vietnam War. Facing discrimination at home and overseas in war, “the Vietnam War, to us young Chicanos, radicalized us. To say, look. Who are the Vietnamese, who is Ho Chi Minh and what are they fighting for? Self-determination, socialism. Then we say, well it can’t be that bad. Especially after they kicked ass on the U.S., right?” recalled Montes.
Speaking about his youth, Carlos Montes also recalled when his activism in the Chicano movement crossed paths with the Black liberation movement and related it to FRSO’s “strategic alliance of the African American, Chicano Nation movement with the multinational working class.” As organizations became more revolutionary in the 60s, Montes recalled reading Foundations of Leninism by Joseph Stalin and how “all the questions and thoughts I had are more clear. Chicanos are oppressed as a nation and we have a right to self-determination. That U.S. imperialism is the enemy of the people of the world and we gotta defeat U.S. imperialism.” In closing, Montes stated, “The Chicano nation of Aztlan is not a mystic, romantic idea. There’s actual territory in the Southwest, we have a common culture, economy – so we have a right to self determination as Chicanos. Do you agree with me?” As community members cheered, Montes concluded, “Hell yeah, we’re gonna fight for it.”
The commemoration ended with a question and answers portion with Carlos Montes where community members got to ask questions regarding the Chicano Moratorium and the Chicano movement. Community members asked about the Chicano movement’s effect on education and systemic racism before and after and the improvements due to the efforts of the Chicano organizers. The commemoration brought together diverse members of the San Jose community to remember the historic successes of the Chicano movement and to carry that spirit forward as today’s generation of Chicano activists.