Brown Berets: Wikis


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The Brown Berets is a Chicano nationalist activist group of young Mexican Americans that emerged during the Chicano Movement in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s to the present day. The group was modeled on the Black Panther Party[citation needed] and inspired by the Black Panthers, American Indian Movement, Young Lords, anti-war movement(s), Cesar Chavez, the Farm Workers movement, Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, Reies Tijerina and revolutionary movements around the world. The group was seen as part of the Third Movement for Liberation. The Brown Berets focuses on community organizing against police brutality and are in favor of educational equality. As a decentralized movement, several groups have been quite active since the passage of California Proposition 187, carrying on the militant stance and paramilitary garb of the original movement. Units exist in most sections of California and a few in other southwesten states. They primarily serve as a visible symbol of historical Raza resolve at demonstrations and political parades.



In 1966, as part of the Annual Chicano Student Conference in Los Angeles County, a team of high school students discussed different issues affecting Mexican Americans in their barrios and schools. Among the students at the conference were Vickie Castro, Jorge Licón, John Ortiz, David Sanchez, Rachel Ochoa, and Moctesuma Esparza. These high school students formed the Young Citizens for Community Action the same year, and worked together to support Dr. Julian Nava's campaign as a Los Angeles school board member candidate in 1967. Sanchez and Esparza had trained with Father John B. Luce's Social Action Training center at the Church of the Epiphany (Episcopal) in Lincoln Heights and with the Community Service Organization.[1]

The organization's name was then changed to Young Chicanos For Community Action or "YCCA". In 1967, the YCCA founded the Piranya Coffee House. In September 1967, Sal Castro, a Korean War veteran and teacher at Lincoln High School, met with the YCCA at the Piranya Coffee House. The group decided to wear brown berets as a symbol of unity and resistance against discrimination. As a result, the organization gained the name "Brown Berets". Their agenda was to fight police harassment, inadequate public schools, inadequate health care, inadequate job opportunities, minority education issues, the lack of political representation, and the Vietnam War. It set up branches in Texas, New Mexico, New York, Florida, Chicago, St. Louis and other metropolitan areas with Chicano populations.


On March 1, 1968, the Brown Berets planned and participated in the East LA walkouts or "blowouts", the largest and lengthiest in the history of California, in which thousands of students left their classrooms to join the protest for quality education. The Brown Berets were able to unite college and high school students and begin the urban stage of the Chicano Movement. Shortly afterwards, other Chicano students led walkouts all over the Southwestern United States, and the Brown Berets became a national organization.

The Brown Berets also were involved in community issues such as unemployment and housing, which became important elements in their agenda. The publication of La Causa by Eleazar Risco and the Brown Berets helped bring awareness of the problems faced every day in the barrios of East Los Angeles.[citation needed]

In 1969, Brown Berets Gloria Arellanes and Andrea Sánchez produced and distributed a newspaper called "La Causa." They also participated in organizing the first free medical clinics and free breakfast programs. Women held an important role in the writing and distribution of "La Causa", but even though this was so, the Brown Berets, as the rest of the Chicano Movement, did not fully take women into strong leadership positions. The jobs assigned to women in the Brown Berets consisted of office type jobs and clerical/secretarial jobs. Sexism within the Brown Berets was evident. Brown Berets saw themselves as liberated men and ignored the women's struggle because they, male Brown Berets, believed that the feminist movement was a white women's movement and that above all, first came the liberation of the La Raza. One female Brown Beret, Grace Reyes, in charge of writing for La Causa, constantly wrote articles about women within the Brown Berets/the Chicano Movement and the sexist attitudes towards them but they were not published and ignored. Most Brown Beret women believed and insisted that a successful revolution "must have full involvement from both Chicanas and Chicanos". Carlos Montes, one of the co-founders, in an interview talks about the lessons learned from the Brown Berets, "Building a mass militant movement to the stop the US war drive, for social change and for revolution is key. Also rebuilding grassroots militant organizations in the community that fight for self-determination, social justice and liberation - not just for reforms. We need an organization that includes the participation of the entire family and that values and promotes the leadership of women."

The Brown Berets also came to be known for their direct action against police brutality. They protested killings and abuses perpetrated by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department at the station in the barrio. They supported the United Farm Workers movement and the Land Grant Movement in New Mexico. In the summer of 1968, they participated in the first Rainbow Coalition (Fred Hampton) in the Poor Peoples Campaign. In 1969, they were invited to be part of the first Chicano Youth Liberation Movement organized by Corky Gonzales in Denver, Colorado.

The Brown Berets organized the first Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War in 1970, and a few months later the National Chicano Moratorium in which close to 20,000 Chicanos marched and protested the high casualty rate of Chicanos in Vietnam and the military draft. This peaceful protest became chaotic when the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department decided to end the event by attacking attendees. Three Chicano activists were killed (two of them Brown Berets), including journalist Rubén Salazar.

In 1972, twenty-six Brown Berets occupied the Santa Catalina Island and claimed it for Mexico. However, by this time, the organization had been weakened by internal conflicts and police and FBI infiltration.

Activity in other regions

The Brown Berets set up Benito Juarez Health Clinic ("BJHC") in Chicago in 1972. This was a health clinic that provided free medical care to everyone in the Chicago area. Working in conjunction with Cook County Hospital and other major hospitals in the Chicago area, BJHC served the needs of the uninsured and those with no ability to pay for health care services. It was located at 1831 S. Racine, in the Casa Aztlán Center, the community building located on the south side of Chicago, just outside downtown Chicago. The Center Director was Ms. Dorthy Cutler. The center was open to the public four days a week from noon until after 11:00pm. Each day it would handle up to 100 medical cases. The only question asked from anyone seeking medical help was their name. It served a great need to many who had nowhere to turn for health care. It worked on its own and no political or institutional hospitals throughout the Chicago area had control of it. The main people who helped organize and were the forefront for the clinic in other community matters were Maurice "Mori" Mendoza, Rudy and Gogi Cabello.[citation needed]

The Brown Berets also fought on public education issues. The organization occupied a middle high school called Frobel Middle 9th Grade School. The Brown Berets, alongside families, community members and students, took over the school for a full day. At the end of the day, the Chicago Police arrived to remove people from the occupied school. That evening, a riot broke out, in which many rioters and one policeman were injured as the police were trying to disperse the crowd. Six police cars were also destroyed. The community wanted a school built in their community, and in 1979 a school was built in the Pilsen community, now called the Benito Juarez High School.

In San Antonio, Texas, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Brown Berets often supported each other in marches against the Vietnam War and jail conditions at the Bexar County Jail. SNCC ran African American candidates for State offices under the La Raza Unida Party and often supported Mexican American activists.

In Washington State, the Brown Berets originated in Granger, Washington. The group was then transplanted to Seattle as students from the Yakima Valley were recruited to the University of Washington in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Seattle Chapter worked with the chapter in Yakima, Washington in attempting to organize various projects including the formation of a 'La Raza Unida Party' in Washington. It is believed that the group was initiated first in 1968, with the Seattle chapter emerging in 1969. The organization would attract over 200 members throughout the state.

Although having a short-lived presence (approximately from 1968 to 1974), the Brown Berets would be instrumental in organizing youth and college students. Of note was the organization's partaking in the occupation of the old Beacon Hill School in Seattle, which led to the founding of 'El Centro de La Raza, now one of Seattle's most prominent Civil Rights organizations. Activism also transcended the organization's early phase, with many former member establishing various community institutions to meet the needs of the local community.

See also


External links



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