SMC Hosts Chicano Studies Panel

A sea of faces stared at the older men sitting at the front of the conference room. People sat crowded into corners and huddled against the walls. Tables had to be removed to make room for extra chairs that were brought in. Others even stood outside, listening at the door.

In that small conference room sat some of the founders of Chicano Studies, gathered under one roof to share their experiences.

On Wednesday, April 3, Santa Monica College (SMC) hosted a panel dialogue titled "From the Chicana/o Movement to Trump's Wall: Anti-Mexicanism in the US." Panel speakers were activists and scholars of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and '70s, including Juan Gómez-Quiñones, José Angel Gutiérrez, and Ernesto Vigil.

SMC history professor Jaime Cruz, who organized the event, introduced the panelists. "These are intellectual towers that set the foundations for us [Chicano-Studies scholars]," Cruz said. "Oftentimes, we don't necessarily acknowledge them because we don't really read about them in primary or secondary textbooks. We have to be in a privileged position like in a college or university in order to be exposed to our histories."

Alvaro Huerta, who teaches Urban and Regional Planning and Ethnic and Women's Studies at Cal Poly Pomona, moderated the event. "Today's more of a conversation...more of an oral history," he said. He asked panel members to share some of the key lessons they had learned during their years as activists and scholars.

Gómez-Quiñones, who has been a professor at UCLA for 50 years and is considered to be a pioneer in the development of Chicano Studies, was treated with near reverence. When asked what lessons he would share, he stated, "Well one, to be positive. Because if you're not positive, don't expect a movement to grow and prosper. What is there to be prosperous about? Well one is the fact that we can look at the world and say it can be a better world. And a further question with an answer follows: maybe I can do something to bring about that better world."

Gómez-Quiñones stressed that if a person chooses to take action to better the world, it must be action with consciousness and analysis. "I would urge you, remind you," he said, "that it has to be concerted, conscientious, targeted action…There has to be a sense of humanitarian bonding in order for you to effectuate the audience."

Gutiérrez, who is an attorney and professor, said, "Goddammit, don't complain. Don't whine. You don't like [the world], change it. If you see a problem, begin a solution…You got an idea, go with it. That's part of the Chicano Ten Commandments: act on your instinct."

Vigil, the only panel member who stood for his comments, paced back and forth as he spoke, passion agitating his voice. He spoke at length about the U.S. government's attempts to undermine Chicano civil rights organizations.

According to the National Public Radio (NPR), the second half of the twentieth century saw the rise of federal surveillance programs that attempted to discredit and dismantle civil rights organizations, including the Chicano movement.

Vigil also spoke about the National Chicano Moratorium on the Vietnam War, which took place on Aug. 29, 1970. The Los Angeles Times described that what began as a peaceful march of about 30,000 people, "ended in a flurry of beatings and flying objects when law enforcement officials clashed with marchers."

Among the event's audience members was Rosalio Muñoz, one of the key organizers of the Moratorium. Other activists and scholars were also in attendance.

Cruz, Huerta, and the panelists all stressed the importance of knowing and understanding our histories, regardless of whether a person is Mexican-American, Central-American, or of any other ethnicity.

"At the end of the day, we are who we are. It's like Lady Gaga says, 'I was born this way,'" Huerta said, drawing laughter from the room. "We always have to appreciate and accept who we are, and if people don't like it, you know, that's their problem."