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Equality and Empowerment: Understanding The Chicano Movement

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Before the Chicano movement, there was constant discrimination against Mexican-Americans. Much like the segregation that African-Americans faced, there were “No Mexicans Allowed” or “Whites only” signs on business windows and public areas. Those who discriminated against Mexican-Americans used the phrase “chicano” as a racial slur, but activists wore it with pride. “Chicano movement” essay stated that this movement was a way Mexican-Americans could ensure their voices were heard and that changes would be made for the better. The Chicano activists demanded better rights for farm workers, restoration of land, and education reform.

One of the leaders for the Chicano Movement was Dolores Huerta. Huerta created the Agriculture Workers Association which helped many issues such as equal rights for farmers who were underpaid for their hard work. Another leader was Ceaser Chavez, he organized the United Farm Workers Union. He had experienced the poor conditions of farm working first hand and was determined to improve the farm workers’ environment. Another program that Chavez was involved in was the Bracero program. The Bracero program started in 1942 and allowed millions of Mexicans who live in Mexico to work in the United States. While the immigrants were able to stay in the United States to work, they were placed in poorly kept housing areas and were discriminated against, which would lead to violence. When people discovered immigrants were working and living in the United states, they were completely against it. Philip Martin stated in his article ‘The Bracero Program: Was it a Failure?’,“The November 1960 CBS documentary ‘Harvest of Shame’ convinced President John F. Kennedy that Braceros were ‘adversely affecting the wages, working conditions, and employment opportunities of our own agricultural workers.’ Farmers fought to preserve the program in Congress, but lost, and the Bracero program ended December 31, 1964.” This caused many workers to lose their jobs. Philip Martin also stated in his article, “Plant scientists developed a uniformly ripening tomato that was processed into ketchup and other tomato products, and engineers developed a machine to cut the plant and shake off the tomatoes, reducing the number of pickers needed by over 90 percent.” This machine was able to replace the work some farmers were doing. Although many lost their jobs, this machine did not put any workers in danger or force them to deal with extreme weather conditions.

The Chicano movement tried to improve the land that was once theirs due to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Sergio Pena wrote in his 2015 Affinity article ‘The 1960s Chicano Movement’, “The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo originally stated that when Mexican lands were to be ceded, Mexican property owners on the lands that were being ceded would be able to maintain their property rights and would become full United States citizens. Many lost their lands because the treaty failed to recognize the original Mexican land grants, and because of Jim Crow laws and the racism of the time many Mexicans that stayed on the ceded land were regarded as second class citizens and treated unequally.” In 1966 Reies Lopez Tijerina demanded to receive what was taken from them by leading a march from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Santa Fe, New Mexico. This march lasted three days, however their demands were turned down and had failed. In September 1965 Larry Itliong led the Filipino-American grape worker strike in order for farmers to receive healthcare, higher pay and retirement benefits. He then asked Cesar Chavez to direct his Mexican-American workers to strike as well and join forces. In 1969, Cesar Chavez said in his Letter from Delano, “We are men and women who have suffered and endured much and not only because of our abject poverty but because we have been kept poor. The color of our skins, the languages of our cultural and native origins, the lack of formal education, the exclusion from the democratic process, the numbers of our slain in recent wars—all these burdens generation after generation have sought to demoralize us, we are not agricultural implements or rented slaves, we are men.” Mexican-Americans were tired of being underpaid and unappreciated for their hard work. They were being discriminated against based on the color of their skin and background. They were not welcome in businesses or public areas, yet they were expected to put up with unfair conditions to be rewarded with low pay and bad education. In 1970, The Delano grape strike succeeded. The growers signed a contract which included a pay raise, health-care benefits, and safety protections from pesticides.

More than ten thousand Chicano high school students walked out of class in order to fight for a better education on March 1st, 1968. Mario Garcia from Catholic Reporter wrote in his 2018 article called, ‘Chicano Movement Walkouts Remind us: We Must Fight For Issues Like Gun Reform’, “The students presented some 50 demands that included bilingual education, a revised curriculum that included Chicano history and Chicano culture, the ending of physical punishment for speaking Spanish on school grounds, more Mexican-American teachers, counselors, and principals, more high schools in the eastside, and, most importantly, a college prep education. ‘We want to go to college!’ the students said and demanded.” For many years Mexican-American students have been stereotyped as not succeeding in school. Schools within mostly Mexican-American populated neighborhoods were labeled as “Mexican Schools.” In these schools the classes were overcrowded, had limited resources, and teachers expected less of the students. Studies show that when a teacher is enthusiastic or tries to bond with their students, the students are more likely to succeed in the class. Since there were a majority of teachers who expected less of the students, and did not make an effort to teach the students the correct curriculum with the necessary requirement, the students did not reach their full potential. At the time, the Mexican-American dropout rate was 60 percent. Today the Mexican-American dropout rate is about 8.6 percent.

The Chicano movement was significant because they wanted to have the same opportunities as everyone else. They wanted to have the opportunity to be successful. As a Chicano high school student once said, ‘We want to go to college!’ The Chicano movement ensured that those who are working hard in hazardous conditions, such as the farm workers, are being paid reasonable wages. Also the movement helped people realize that we should not have low expectations for students based on their backgrounds. By comparing issues from the 1960s to today, one can see there is a higher number of professions filled by those with latin ansetories now than there were in the past.

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Equality and Empowerment: Understanding the Chicano Movement. (2023, February 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
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