September 1, 1993
By Yolanda Reynolds
Recently Black Berets Por La Justicia, la Confederación de La Raza Unida, along with El Teatro de los Pobres, celebraIed the 25th anniversary of the Chicano movement in Santa Clara County. The celebration was well attended with each event bringing a different group from the community to the celebration.
Felix Alvarez explained that it was twenty ﬁve years ago that the community proudly recognized its indigenous roots at the time when the Mexican American/Latino community rose to oppose the Fiestas de las Rosas. The Fiesta was sponsored by the power brokers of the city of those days, the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, elected City ofﬁcials and a few other individuals.
The furor against the Fiestas involved more than just bruised egos or the reaction against the distortion of history, it involved many other social and economic issues in the community.
Ernestina Garcia, a spokesperson of La Confederación, explained that the community was especially incensed at the “commercial exploitation of the cultura of La Raza.” Garcia added that the Fiestas did have one positive effect in that it resulted in the creation of La Confederación de la Raza.
La Confederación has since been involved in many issues that impact the community, either as the leader of a protest (often where others had feared to tread) or in support of others struggles.
The celebration brought into sharp focus similarities to many issues that cause protest front Chicano activists today.
Then, in 1969 there were daily pickets and protests over the construction of a performing arts hall (the Performing Arts Center). The protesters at that time asked that 50% of the jobs and contracts be awarded to minorities. The community was successful in forcing the City to hire more minorities in the construction of the Center for Performing Arts. Blanca Alvarado (now on the City Council) was one of those who marched along with La Confederación in protest of the City’s lack of fairness.
The new concert hall was built by Redevelopment (with public funds) after the voters twice turned down bond measures to build it. Janet Gray Hayes was then the Mayor of San Jose.
Councilpersons Alvarado and Shirakawa have asked that the City review more thoroughly its track record regarding the awarding of contracts. At a recent Redevelopment Finance Committee meeting the issue of standards in the award of contracts was set aside for further discussion and review.
Over the years there has been more contracts awarded to minority contractors, but there has been much outrage over the award of some of the largest contracts to outside companies with poor labor-practice and worse performance as evidenced with the Weisral contract in reference to local and/or minority companies
Stereotyping existed then and it exists now. Just last Tuesday a crowd gathered at the Alfred Alquist building to protest the attempts of a number of high level elected officials to blame California’s economic woes on the immigrants. To do so is irresponsible, since it has been well documented by both liberal and conservative economists that the thousands of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, have sustained California’s economy. This, they say is true not only for Agri-Business, but also for manufacturing businesses including the high-tech industry.
Beside racism, Redevelopment was also an issue then, as it is now. There are many other similarities. There are many old photos in which the police are seen arresting Chicano activists and there were also protests of police brutality. The community organized the Community Alert Patrol to protect itself from police abuses.
Jim McEntee, today the executive director of the County’s Human Relations office, was among those arrested in the protest against the Fiesta de las Rosas. He was a priest then.
Today the Direct Action Alliance, a San Jose State student and community based organization, is leading the fight to force greater oversight of the police in order to curb abusive conduct.
University students Juan Haro and Alberto Verdusco, two of the leading spokes persons of the group, have been successful in focusing attention on the problem by the City to try to pacify the protests of police abuse by hiring an “independent auditor” on a one year trial base.
The DAA, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the American Bar Association, Santa Clara County Chapter, feel that what is needed, instead, is a Civilian Review Board.
Even so, it is clear that there have been many successes and progress been made. John Morales, a San Jose State University graduate student, detailed major policy issues that have impacted on the community. Besides the most obvious issues, Morales spoke of the need to be aware of and alert of other issues such as regional government, gambling, lack of support for education, the implementation of the Community Reinvestment Act that was designed to end red lining of poor and ethnic communities, transportation and land use planning (in particular high density housing) among a host of other subjects.
It has been the example and hard work of the membership of La Confederación de la Raza, El Teatro de los Pobres and many, many individuals from high school students to the seniors in the community that community members now hold elected positions from government to school boards.
There are far more Raza professors, lawyers, doctors, nurses, contractors, builders, scientists and business persons now than there were. However, many in the Chicano/Latino community, not unlike those in the African American community still face some major problems.
These problems are plaguing all of today’s society but the impact on many Raza, especially the poor, is devastating.
Daniel Armendarez, the executive director of Barrios Unidos: the California Coalition to end Barrio Warfare, spoke to the group gathered at the last event of the three-day celebration as part of a round-table discussion of issues of concern to the community. One of the top concerns was the increasing youth violence.
Hollywood has focused on the movies. He says that after most of these movies, beginning with “West Side Story” in which graffiti and gang symbols were first shown in film, resulted in a surge and spread of tagging and gang activity.
Armendarez explained that the rise of youth violence in this country can and has been traced to particular to the most negative aspects of community behavior and glamorized it on ﬁlm to make money. Armendarez pointed to other films that have also had a very negative impact, such as American Me, Boulevard Nights etc.
Armendarez characterizes what is happening among the youth themselves and also between them and their families as “madness.” He, and others who are working closely in the community say that what is needed is a total community commitment to change what is happening. They say that the family is the key towards ending the madness and self-destruction.
Among the young there are many outstanding girls and boys but the dramatization and glamorization of violence in the media and especially television must end. Many concerned parents and community advocates are now taking action to try to end the waste of young talent to drugs violence and ignorance.
The Saint Maria Goretti PACT recently held a celebration to kick off the establishment of a Community Homework Center at S.W. Fair Middle School in San Jose. The Center is the result of patents getting together to provide a suitable learning space for their children, including tutors and others who can help the students understand and do their school, homework.
The Centro Cultural sponsored by El Teatro de los Pobres also provides after school tutoring and study space for the neighborhood youngsters.
The drop-out rate in all schools has been increasing but it is especially serious in certain areas of the city where the children live in crowded conditions with little, if any, space for quiet study.
Parent involvement is being strongly encouraged with the setting up of parent/community support committees and new help with ESL instruction will be added soon at the Fair Community Homework Center.
In working for the betterment of the community, longtime community advocate, Felix Alvarez, says that it does not matter how one gets involved. It is all to the good. He says that people can become involved and committed to the “movimiento” at all levels. Alvarez and others say that there is much that needs attention, beginning with the immediate family extending to issues far away as Washington D.C. and Mexico City.
The three-day celebration ended with one last look in the interesting photographic history of twenty ﬁve years of the movimiento in Santa Clara Valley. The photos and news clippings will now go back into personal files, scattered throughout the State.
There were many notable discussions and evens including the performance of the play, “Por el Amor de tu Madre,” by the Teatro Barrios Unidos de San Jose.
One of the other special treats besides the exceptional food, were the storming oil paintings by the artist Xochitl Nevel Guerrero and her father Raymond Saltiel Nevel (now deceased), the noted artist known by the name of “ZaIa”.
For more information on other work and activities of La Confederación de la Raza Unida, contacts can be made at 262-6803.
Barrios Unidos may be contacted at 457-8208, El Teatro de los Pobres at 254-3878 and PACT at 998-8001. © La Oferta Newspaper.