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Protests, Yesterday and Today

ANDREA GUTIERREZ, BYLINE: That's my sister Monica (ph). And she's right - my dad was a storyteller, usually stories from his life. He had a whole repertoire, and we kids asked for his greatest hits a lot. Dad, tell us the one about Grandpa and the Reo truck. Dad, what about the time Father Guisel (ph) told you to get a haircut? But there was one thing he never really talked about much - his involvement in the Chicano Moratorium. Monica and I met up recently to go over these memories of Dad and to get to the bottom of them all.

But before we get to that, I wanted to know - can you tell me what you know about it and how you know about it?

MONICA: I know it's part of the Chicano movement, '60s, '70s. But it was a protest against the high number, the disproportionate number, of Chicano youth being sent to Vietnam and dying.

GUTIERREZ: Lots of people were protesting the Vietnam War.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stop the war now. Stop the war now.

GUTIERREZ: But like my sister said, Mexican Americans were dying in large numbers - about twice their proportion of the population. That's why the movement was called a moratorium. Protesters and organizers wanted to end this loss of life.

LORENA OROPEZA: So this was the Chicano movement's main argument that, as the slogan said at the time - (speaking Spanish) - our struggle is here, our war is here, and we should be addressing inequities on the homefront, not dying in Vietnam.

GUTIERREZ: That's Lorena Oropeza. She's a professor of history at the University of California, Davis. And as my sister and I started to piece together the events of August 29, 1970, I called up Lorena to learn more. Lorena says Chicanos weren't just protesting the war; they were marching for other issues affecting their community.

OROPEZA: Broader to the Chicano movement and looking at Los Angeles, there were the high school blowouts from 1968, where you're looking at a long tradition of educational inequity in terms of funding, in terms of school resources. They also tapped in to the reality of poverty. This is a long-time struggle for Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants - is, like, even today, they're the essential workers, but those aren't necessarily the best-paying jobs. So the way the Chicano Moratorium tied with long-standing issues of injustice in its struggle for equality among Mexican Americans was really part of their brilliance.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Chicanos are marching to protest the high casualty rate of our people in Vietnam.

GUTIERREZ: Lorena says at least 20,000 marched that day on Whittier Boulevard, the main thoroughfare through East LA. People ended up at Laguna Park filled with hope.

Read entire article at NPR