The chicano movement. Muralismo chicano

The chicano movement. Muralismo chicano

The Chicano Movement was part of the social uprisings of the 60s. It was a movement among Mexican minority in the United States, especially among intellectual elite and students society. The Chicano student Movement started in the fall of the 1968 and began to spread all over the country. Due to the social uprisings of the Mexican-American, students in 1969 in the Yakima Valley College, Mexican-American Students Association (MASA) was created. Also in the 1969 at The Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver, Colorado, so called Crusade for Justice, which was hosted by Corky Gonzales in Denver, took place. During the conference Gonzales presented the document, called „El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán”. The plan presented for the first time a clear statement of the growing nationalist consciousness of the Chicano people and presented the vision of the “Aztlán”, which originally due to the legend was a mythological land from which Aztecs came. The plan called for creating such a place to live for the Mexican-Americans in The United States, it also contained an idea of the Chicano as the one nation – La Raza Unida, and the strong need for them to take control over their own community. (Mendoza 2011) The Chicano Movement also adopted the second document, which was „El Plan de Santa Barbara”, created during the conference at the University of California at Santa Barbara in April 1969. At the meeting participants presented Chicano Plan for Higher Education which was a manifesto for the implementation of Chicano Studies educational programs throughout the state of California, emphasizing Chicano control over these studies. The document outlines proposals for a curriculum in Chicano Studies. Going along with the plans the Chicano activists focused on educational issues, especially on access to the higher education, land and mexican heritage. The plan also formed – Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), the biggest Chicano student organization. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán 2011)

However not only students took part in the chicano activity. The other important organization was United Farm Workers which was created in 1962 as a labour union aimed at organizing migrant farm workers. It supposed to be the answer for the leeching of the Mexican workers who took part in the Bracero Program. The most famous action which was organized by the leaders of the network – César Chávez and Dolores Huerta was a Delano Grape Strike which was held from 1965 till 1970. During this action, Mexican Americans didn’t buy table grapes ( many participants of the Bracero Program worked in horrible

conditions collecting grapes), which led main producers to big losses and brightened a liitle the situation of the workers from grape farms. As César Chávez encapsulated it: „The consumer boycott is the only open door in the dark corridor of nothingness down which farm workers have had to walk for many years. It is a gate of hope through which they expect to find the sunlight of a better life for themselves and their families.” (Castañeda 2011)

During the activity of the Chicano Movement the militant university students and youths from Seattle’s Chicano Community created the Brown Berets ( originally created in California and later on transformed to the Seattle). They were working mostly at the community level in so called “barrios” (districts inhabited mostly by Mexican-Americans) fighting with social injustice, violence and drugs addictions as well as bringing attention to fight to the war at home in the barrios against racial discrimination, poverty and police brutality. They were wearing headgears and military fatigues as symbolic statements that they’re willing to fight for their communities. (National Brown Berets 2011)

Many political and social activists like – Reies Lopez Tijerina who struggle to restore the land grants, César Estrada Chávez – United Farm Workers, Mexican–American icon, Dolores Huerta from United Farm Workers and poet – Rodolfo Corky Gonzales and many others led to creation the term – Chicanismo. Chicanismo was used in the opposition towards Mexicans and meant:

 self-worth, pride, uniqueness,

 Rebirth of pre-columbian origins

 La Raza Movement – Chavez and Huerta, overturning of racial

discrimination towards Hispanics Americans in California,

 Emphasized Mexican cultural consciousness and social and linguistic

tradition as well as economic and occupational opportunities for the Mexican Americans. (Castañeda 2011)

“Cultural awakening” of the Chicanos

The Chicano Movement didn’t contain only political activity. It also led to the so called “cultural awakening” of the Chicanos in which the most important role played Muralismo Chicano. The awakening started with the dance group – Los Bailadores de Bronce and El Teatro del Piojo – 1970, so called guerilla theater, later transformed into El Teatro Quetzalcoatl. The poetry of La Raza with the important role of Corky Gonzales and the journal “Metamorfosis” (1977-1984) were also significant. However, it was the whole idea of muralismo which was leading-edge for the awareness of the Chicano people. The explosion of the muralismo took place in the 1960s and 1970s. At first they were sponsored by government and companies. Later on they became a link between young Chicanos and their cultural and political heritage. On 22 nd April, 1970 due to the agreements with the city officials first Chicano Park was created in Barrio Logan in San Diego. Mural subjects usually were:

 Indigenous Motivs,

 Historical Events (Pre-Columbian, Mexican Revolution, Mexican and Chicano history),

 Modern Portraits (Reies Lopez Tijerina, César Estrada Chávez , Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa),

 Political and Social (police brutality, gangs, portraits of community members, drug abuse),

 Religion (Pre-Columbian – Olmec, Toltec, Aztec and Maya as well as Christian Motives),

 Non-religion symbols like flags,

 Landscapes, flora, fauna,

 Urban Culture,

 Legendary or Mythical Culture,

 Texts – manifestos, titles, explanations, like: „Viva La Raza” or

„ End Barrio Warfare”. (Goldman 1999)


“Someday The Sun Will Shine and Tell a Different Story” by Ricardo J. Compean which was created in 1996 is a desire for creating a new “Aztlán” for Chicanos, creating a better tomorrow, better future. It is a combination of Pre-Columbian and flora motives. (Compean 2011)

As claims Oscar Rosales Castañeda – an expert from on chicano murals – „Aztlán” which was created by Emilio Aguayo is: “This mural embodies the dawning of a new era for all the Spanish speaking people known as „LA RAZA.” It is a cultural blend of past and present, of Indian heritage, of man struggling alongside women in the human conflict which is our drive for self-identity and self-determination. This painting is visual testimony that as part of this society, we are part of its past, its present and its future, something which as a people we will not be denied.” (Castañeda 2011)

Another mural is Viva La Raza,” which was created by Univeristy of Washington students in a class led by Marylou Gomez and supervised by Prof. Luis Ramirez. It took over a year (1997-98) was spent in planning and painting this mural at the Ethnic Cultural Center, University of Washington. It presents: Different Mexican heroes and icons fighting together as one for new – LA RAZA. We can see: César Estrada Chávez , Emiliano Zapata, Frida Kahlo , urban motives and representatives of farm workers and political elite. (Castañeda 2011)

Daniel Desiga created also probably one of the most mysterious and free for many interpretations – “Explosion of Chicano Creativity” which was created in 1972 and nowadays is presented in Centro de La Raza in Seattle. It is a mix of pre-columbian symbols and the vision of Aztlán which isn’t exactly clear. The woman (who can also be interpreted as one of the Aztecs goddesses in the centre of the picture is blind, which means that she is waiting for the future of the La Raza, the future which might be brighter and better one or can take another turn into exploitation by American capitalism. It is up to Chicanos to take their future into their own hands and fight for a better tomorrow, the mythical Aztlán. (Desiga 2011)

My favourite one is “Untitled” in Centro El Centro de La Raza in Seattle. The subject of the mural -fighting for freedom and equality in the American society together with other

minorities. It is a tribute towards other social groups which were fighting with the social injustice for their civil rights. ( Untitled 2011)

One of the most spectacular murals is „Division of the Barrios and Chavez Ravine” situated on segment of the Great Wall of Los Angeles and painted by Judith Baca in 1983. It symbolizes struggle against the land use in poor neighborhoods. It tells the story from the 1950s when the Dodger Stadium was built and many inhabitants were pushed to move from Mexican American Chavez Ravine Area with a promise of moving to new low costs houses, which were never built. (Baca 2011)

Why did it all end up?

What happened to the whole idea of the Chicano Movement? It ended up when main activists and participants of the movement grew up and found themselves living and struggling in the capitalistic system. However, the idea of the muralismo is still going on. It embodies the will of freedom and social equality in the American society. New murals are still being created and the Chicano Park in San Diego is not only alive but is also one of the main tourists attraction in the city. (Virtual Tour 2011)


1. Baca J., Division of the Barrios and Chavez Ravine, (02.11.2012)

2. Castañeda O.R., The Chicano Movement in Washington State 1967-2006. Part 1- Political Activism, Oscar Rosales Castañeda’s McNair Scholarship Project 2005- 06,  (02.11.2012).

3. Castañeda O.R., The Chicano Movement in Washington State 1967-2006. Part 2- Chicano Cultural Awakening , Oscar Rosales Castañeda’s McNair Scholarship Project 2005-06, (02.11.2012).

4. Compean R. J., Someday The Sun Will Shine and Tell a Different Story, (02.11.2012).

5. Desiga D., Explosion of Chicano creativity, (02.11.2012).

6. Goldman S.M. (1999) How, Why, Where, and Where It All Happened: Chicano Murals of California, in: Barnet-Sánchez K., Sperling Cockcroft E., (eds) Signs from the Heart, Albuquerque.

7. Mendoza V. (2000) Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Video, „The Journal for MultiMedia History”,, (02.11.2012).

8. Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, Official Site, About Us,, (02.11.2012).

9. National Brown Berets, Mexican Americans: Politics and Community (1970s- present),, (02.11.2012).

10. “Untitled”,, (02.11.2012).

11. Virtual Tour,, (02.11.2012).