Making History: The Meaning of the Movement


Lorena Oropeza

Document Id: OC-17

As "Juncture in the Road" makes clear, Chicano movement debates that arose a generation ago continue today. Engaged in a widespread and multifaceted struggle for social justice, many Chicano movement participants were inspired by the belief that cultural pride and ethnic unity were together the raw stuff of political mobilization and empowerment. In striving toward ethnic and political solidarity, however, movement participants constantly grappled with a series of difficult problems: cementing a movement marked by considerable regional and ideological differences, gaining recruits among non-movement Mexican-Americans; and recasting the ethnic minority's relationship with majority U.S. society. Inclined to dismiss the preceding generation's civil rights efforts as the "politics of accommodation," activists sought nothing less than, in the words of one key movement proclamation, "total liberation from oppression, exploitation and racism."4 Certainly members of the Chicano Moratorium Committee were eager to build a broad-based ethnic campaign not just against the war in Vietnam, but against a host of social injustices that Mexican-Americans faced on the home front. For their part, the drafters of el Plan de Santa Bárbara, the founding document of Chicano Studies, chose higher education as their arena of operation. As originally conceived, Chicano Studies was going to politicize Mexican-Americans - students and non-students alike - as well as dismantle the marginalization of the ethnic group through illuminating research. Unfortunately, the determined quest for social justice that was an integral part of the moratorium campaign and which helped inspire the formation of Chicano Studies was only partially rewarded. The decades since the Chicano movement have brought political and educational progress for some people of Mexican descent, and continual economic inequality for many more.5 Not surprisingly, within the field of Chicana/o Studies, one of the most concrete legacies of the movement, many of the same questions over which activists pondered a quarter-century ago - questions of unity, diversity, and political purpose - remain. Indeed, these questions may be more pressing than ever.

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