By Jessica Ramos
The political climate of the United States has always been complex, and Hispanic and Latinx Americans are among some of the groups who have had to fight for their rights. For Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond, it’s important to remember those who fought for change. “Write what should not be forgotten,” is a quote from famous Latin-American author Isabel Allende, and in the spirit of paying tribute to the Latinx Americans who fought and continue to fight for equality, here are five Latinx political organizations that have made an impact throughout history.
LULAC, or The League of United Latin American Citizens, was established in February 1929 in Corpus Christi, Texas. The organization is considered the oldest and one of the most widely respected organizations and was formed following the Mexican-American War, where the U.S annexed a third of Mexico’s territory and nearly 77,000 Mexicans became U.S. citizens. At the time, segregation was legal, and Latin Americans were subjected to racism and anti-Hispanic sentiment. In response, LULAC formed, creating a philosophy that Mexican-Americans could improve their socio-economic place through hard work and assimilation. LULAC achieved a pivotal milestone with the “Mendez vs. Westminster” case that ended 100 years of segregation in California schools and preceded the infamous “Brown vs. Board of Education” case. As of today, LULAC is still operating but has had some challenges integrating their original philosophy with the ideas of a newer generation.
UFW or, the United Farm Workers of America is a labor union for farmworkers, established in 1962. It was formed by prolific members like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who is credited with the now-famous quote, “sí se puede.” Originally called NFWA, or National Farm Workers Association, they joined with the AWOC, Agricultural Workers Organizing Community, during the five-year Delano grape strike. The NFWA was 1,200 members strong due to Chavez’s door-to-door recruitment efforts and the newly formed UFW signed contracts with 10 different grape growers during the strike. This gave laborers an increase in wages and better working conditions. The UFW continued to form boycotts and strikes throughout its time, continuing today, with its recent strike in 2018 against Darigold Milk Farmers. As of 2013, the UFW is now over 10,00 members.
The Brown Berets established in the late 1960s by Chicano students, one of whom is David Sanchez, still a pivotal member today. In the 1960s, Sanchez and the Brown Berets organized the Chicano Moratorium, one of the biggest Latinx-led demonstrations against the Vietnam War, during which police attacked peaceful protestors, killing three, and as a result, the group’s efforts shifted towards police brutality and issues at-home versus abroad. The 100th anniversary recently passed on August 29th, 2020, and hundreds gathered in East L.A. to celebrate the moment’s impact. In contrast to LULAC, the Brown Berets were considered pro-Chicano and aimed to preserve their Chicano heritage. They modeled themselves after the Black Panthers, with the berets representing solidarity as well as a tribute to the Black Panther uniforms. The Brown Berets are still active via their California and Texas chapters.
The Comisión Feminil Mexicana Nacional (CFMN), America’s first national Chicana political organization, was established in October of 1970 to address gender-specific issues in the Chicano movement. Lack of leadership roles available for Chicana women in established pro-Chicano organizations like the Brown Berets, as well as gender-specific issues being dismissed at the National Chicano Issues Conference, urged women to establish their organization. It was formally established during a conference in Goleta, California, where they completed their first constitution with around 800 women in attendance. In 1975, they filed a class-action lawsuit, Madrigal V. Quilligan, in response to a rally in opposition to involuntary sterilization, an issue still happening today. Though the lawsuit was unsuccessful, it resulted in public outcry, which led to the creation of bilingual consent forms. The CFMN’s official organization is defunct now, but its California chapter is still active.
M.E.Ch.A or, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlàn, is another U.S-based political organization focused mainly on educational reform. Established in the 1960s and inspired by the Chicano Movement and civil rights, the group began in California before extending its reach and reputation and becoming a fundamental reason behind the adoption of Chicano studies in academia. M.E.Ch.A is pro-Chicano, supporting land reform and the preservation of Hispanic culture, and is sometimes accused of leaning towards ethnocentric and separatist ideals by critics who used M.E.Ch.A’s phrase, “la unión hace la fuerza” to further argue their point. M.E.Ch.A still operates today, providing Latinx youth with the community in higher education and promoting heritage and culture.