Dozens of vehicles began arriving in Pico Rivera Saturday morning ahead of a caravan to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War.
Councilman Gil Cedillo attended the event, one of many across the Los Angeles area marking the Aug. 29, 1970 rally in which more than 20,000 people marched on the streets of East L.A.
It’s believed to be one of the largest gatherings of Mexican Americans protesting the Vietnam War, and it ended with police clashing with demonstrators and the death of three people, including the journalist Ruben Salazar.
“It was just an extraordinary day. A day of incredible pride, self-definition, self-identity, one that was part of the community,” said Cedillo, who participated in the rally as a 16-year-old student at Boyle Heights’ Roosevelt High School. “And then it was attacked by the police, and it really made true all these things that you had read about and heard about police brutality. The stuff you learned from your family, your parents, etc. And so it was from that experience that I just changed the trajectory of my life.”
Rosalío Muñoz, at the time a 24-year-old activist who had resisted the Vietnam War draft, said he and others wanted to organize protests in their own neighborhoods to get more Latinos politically engaged and heard.
“People thought that peace demonstrations were a white thing… I said no, this is a way Chicanos can organize our peace demonstration,” Muñoz said.
The 1970 protest was documented by La Raza newspaper photographer Luis Garza. He captured L.A. County sheriff’s deputies firing tear gas into what was then the Silver Dollar Bar & Cafe, killing Los Angeles Times journalist Ruben Salazar.
“At first they said he was shot… But it was finally when La Raza, the newspaper’s photojournalist had a picture of [officers] having a tear-gas projectile right in front of the window that they said, ‘Oh, the Sheriff’s [Department] did it.'”
La Raza, which published bilingual stories from 1968 to 1977, started at a time when the media did not cover the Chicano rights movement and the community needed a form of communication, Garza said.
Muñoz said he wants to continue to hear the community’s own voice from the new generation.
Councilman Cedillo sees similarities between the past and the present: “We were the first who were dying from the Vietnam War. Now, we’re the first who are dying from the war against COVID-19, the war against racism, the war against incarceration.”
The “power of Chicano” means gaining more resources to “confront the incredible challenges that still are in front of us,” Cedillo said.