Educating Change
Chicano Movement
Three Women
Chicano Movement

Protest SignThe "Chicano Movement" has been used by historians to describe a moment of ethnic empowerment and protest among Americans of Mexican descent beginning in the 1960s. "Chicano" had long existed as a pejorative term among young Mexican Americans prior to this period. By the 1960s, however, young Mexican Americans embraced the label, reinscribing it with notions of pride in ones' Mexican heritage and defiance against institutions and individuals who practiced or condoned discrimination against Mexicans.

The "movement" or movimiento was really a convergence of multiple movements that historians have broken down into at least four components: A youth movement represented in the struggle against discrimination in schools and the anti-war movement; the farmworkers movement; the movement for political empowerment, most notably in the formation of La Raza Unida Party; and the struggle for control and ownership over "homelands" in the US Southwest. Educating Change directly engages two of these movements: the struggle against discrimination in K-12 schools, and the farmworkers movement.


Teamster PosterOne aspect of the Chicano movement highlighted the rights of workers. By drawing together the concerns of mostly Filipino and Mexican field laborers in rural California, labor leaders César Chávez, Dolores Huerta and Larry Itliong brought the harsh conditions of farm work to the public stage in thJune 22, 2005 field workers in the 1960s, while Chávez embraced the nonviolent tactics practiced by leaders of previous and current Civil Rights movements, including Mahatma Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the South. In 1962 they established the National Farm Workers Association (renamed the United Farmworkers Union Organizing Committee – UFWOC – in 1972). Given the growing presence of Mexican workers in agricultural labor, the movement became identified with the emerging, "Chicano" movement, though Filipinos and whites remained an important consituency of the union.

On July 29, 1970, the UFWOC scored its greatest victory when their strikes, boycotts, and diplomacy persuaded the largest grower of table grapes, John Guimara Sr., to only hire workers represented by the union. In the wake of this great victory, however, union leaders struggled mightily to create a union to represent all agricultural workers. The Brotherhood of Teamsters Union, a rival to the United Farm Workers (they dropped the "organizing committee" in their title in 1971), offered growers the option to sign "sweetheart" contracts that placed profit over workers' rights. The Teamsters also terrorized UFW labor organizers and members with physical violence throughout the 1970s, including the firebombing of UFW offices and intimidation of UFW workers in the Coachella Valley.

chavezIn 1973, a bitter three-month strike by grape workers in California's Coachella and San Joaquin valleys began. Thousands of strikers were arrested for violating anti-picketing injunctions, hundreds were beaten, dozens were shot, and two were murdered. Due to continued activism by Chávez and his union in 1975, California passed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which guaranteed farm workers' rights to organize. Although seen as a victory at the time, the agreement placed greater restrictions on the actions of unions, and created an Agricultural Labor Relations Board subject to political influence. In the 1983, conservative Republican governor George Deukmajian began appointing pro-grower, anti-union members to the board that allowed growers, in Dolores Huerta's words, "[to] disobey the law and get away with it." Today, agricultural workers in California continue to work under exploitative conditions for little pay with limited union representation.


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John Nicholas Brown Center | The Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America | Brown University
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