Chapter 10: "Si Se Puede!"1Chicana/o Activism in San Diego 1965-2000
3. How did San Diego Chicanos participate in the national Chicano movement?
In March 1969 over fifty San Diego Chicana and Chicano activists took another step against cultural imperialism, when they traveled to Denver to attend the first Chicano Youth Liberation Conference, sponsored by the Crusade for Justice. At the conference, Olivia Puentes-Reynolds voiced the internalized oppression under which many had labored, the new spirit of resistance to coercive assimilation, and the cultural nationalist consciousness at which many of her generation had arrived by 1969. The first Chicana to formally speak at the conference, she rose and read a poem. Its stanzas reflected the nationalist spirit of the time among some of the activists, the internalized oppression which she and her counterparts had experienced, and the resistance to continued oppression as this excerpt reveals:
I’ve heard Black is beautiful…but
I WANT BROWN IS BEAUTIFUL
NO MORE, WHITE MAN, NO MORE
I’m brown, I’m beautiful
I’m a Chicana
y sabes que, white man pig educator
no chinges conmigo más!
Alurista and Aztlán
Intellectually, the most significant contribution at the conference was made by her fellow San Diegan, Alurista. He distinguished himself as the intellectual architect of the concept of Aztlán, the Chicano nation, thereby providing a conceptual basis of commonality among the hundreds of activists in attendance. Alurista wrote "
El Plán Espiritual de Aztlán," the conference’s visionary document. He wrote:
Brotherhood unites us, love for our brothers makes us a people whose time has come and who struggles against the foreigner "gabacho" who exploits our riches and destroys our culture. With our heart in our hand, our hands in the soil, we declare the independence of our mestizo nation. We are bronze people with a bronze culture. Before the world, before all of North America, before all of our brothers in the Bronze Continent, we are a Nation. We are a union of free pueblos. We are Aztlán.
Aztlán became "
the most enduring concept of the Chicano movement." As activists did elsewhere in Aztlán, the new movement activists in San Diego also strove to overcome the oppression of powerlessness. Building upon the concept that organization and unity were the keys to power, activists such as Mateo Camarillo, David Rico, Rachel Ortiz, and Roger Cazares formed a plethora of community-based organizations, ranging from the Brown Berets to the Chicano Federation, an advocacy social service organization, to a chapter of the La Raza Unida Party, and the Barrio Station, a youth advocacy and service project.
The Chicana/o activists also contributed to movement organizations beyond the boundaries of San Diego. For example, Rene Nuñez joined with other activists in Southern California to create the Chicano Coordinating Committee on Higher Education. Its purpose was "
to develop a statewide network of community and campus activists who could put effective pressure on [university and college] campus administrators to expand equal educational opportunity programs to give proper attention to the needs of Mexican-American youth," a group which Nuñez and others felt had been ignored in the anti-discrimination initiatives and equal opportunity programs established during this era. Subsequently, Nuñez conceived, and successfully proposed a statewide conference where issues of student recruitment and retention and faculty hiring would be addressed. He also served on the steering committee for the event.
Nuñez’s initiative concluded in a conference in Santa Barbara, California in April 1969. At the three-day gathering Nuñez and other attendees crafted a master plan for Chicano higher education, El Plán de Santa Barbara. Moreover, student attendees created a new organization which encompassed the new identify and mythic concept of Aztlán, the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA). "
The new name reflected the students’ vision of themselves as activists committed to militant struggle against the U.S. institutions that had historically been responsible for the oppression of Mexican Americans."
Sí, se puede" is Spanish for "
Yes, it is possible" or, roughly, "
Yes, it can be done."