A New Militancy
Digital History ID 611
Henry B. Gonzalez
The statistics were bleak. In the mid-1960s, half of all Mexican Americans had less than eight years of education. A third lived in poverty. Only four Mexican Americans had ever served in Congress. The average life expectancy of a Mexican American farm worker was just forty-nine years. Mexican Americans made up twelve percent of the U.S. population and suffered twenty percent of the Vietnam War's casualties. In Los Angeles, just one out of four Mexican American schoolchildren graduated from high school.
The civil rights struggle does not belong to a single group. It has been a quest made by every ethnic minority group that has suffered prejudice, institutionalized discrimination, and persistent poverty. During the 1960s, Mexican Americans waged a struggle not for cultural assimilation, but for economic justice, political power, and equal opportunity under the law. A new generation of activists felt that they could no longer rely on an old guard to defend and promote their special concerns. Banners proclaimed "Brown is beautiful."
It has been argued that the Chicano movement was partly a generational response to the cultural, social, and political alienation many Mexican Americans felt in the 1960s and early 1970s. Their parents, who had experienced periodic waves of anti-Mexican prejudice, had been reluctant to teach them Spanish or publicly express pride in their ethnicity. The goal of the parents' generation had been assimilation. Ties to Mexico were weak. Chicano activism was among the movements of the 1960s that looked to cultural nationalism. Chicano students sought to learn the history and the language they had never been taught--and reaffirm an identity that had been withheld from them. Strengthened by the newfound cultural identity, the Chicano movement brought dramatic and radical tactics to the struggle for political and social change. In urban areas, more radical Chicano groups, such as the Brown Berets in Los Angeles, stressed militant self-defense and also sponsored health clinics and breakfast programs for schoolchildren.
All of these efforts placed Chicano concerns on the national agenda for the first time. Here, Representative Henry B. Gonzalez expresses doubts about the vocabulary and passions that attend political militancy.
I, and many other residents of my part of Texas and other Southwestern States--happen to be what is commonly referred to as a Mexican American.... What is he to be? Mexican? American? Both? How can he choose? Should he have pride and joy in his heritage, or bear it as a shame and sorrow? Should he live in one world or another, or attempt to bridge them both?
There is comfort in remaining in the closed walls of a minority society, but this means making certain sacrifices; but it sometimes seems disloyal to abandon old ideas and old friends; you never know whether you will be accepted or rejected in the larger world, or whether your old friends will despise you for making a wrong choice. For a member of this minority, like any other, life begins with making hard choices about personal identity. These lonely conflicts are magnified in the social crises so clearly evident all over the Southwest today. There are some groups who demand brown power, some who display a curious chauvinism, and some who affect the other extreme. There is furious debate about what one should be and what one should do.... I understand all this, but I am profoundly distressed by what I see happening today.... Mr. Speaker, the issue at hand in this minority group today is hate, and my purpose in addressing the House is to state where I stand: I am against hate and against the spreaders of hate; I am for justice, and for honest tactics in obtaining justice.
The question facing the Mexican-American people today is what do we want, and how do we get it?
What I want is justice. By justice I mean decent work at decent wages for all who want work; decent support for those who cannot support themselves; full and equal opportunity in employment, in education, in schools; I mean by justice the full, fair, and impartial protection of the law for every man; I mean by justice decent homes; adequate streets and public services....
I do not believe that justice comes only to those who want it; I am not so foolish as to believe that good will alone achieves good works. I believe that justice requires work and vigilance, and I am willing to do that work and maintain that vigilance....
It may well be that I agree with the goals stated by militants; but whether I agree or disagree, I do not now, nor have I ever believed that the end justifies the means, and I condemn those who do. I cannot accept the belief that racism in reverse is the answer for racism and discrimination; I cannot accept the belief that simple, blind, and stupid hatred is an adequate response to simple, blind, and stupid hatred; I cannot accept the belief that playing at revolution produces anything beyond an excited imagination; and I cannot accept the belief that imitation leadership is a substitute for the real thing. Developments over the past few months indicate that there are those who believe that the best answer for hate is hate in reverse, and that the best leadership is that which is loudest and most arrogant; but my observation is that arrogance is no cure for emptiness.
All over the Southwest new organizations are springing up; some promote pride in heritage, which is good, but others promote chauvinism, which is not; some promote community organization, which is good, but some promote race tension and hatred, which is not good; some seek redress of just grievances, which is good, but others seek only opportunities for self aggrandizement, which is not good....
Unfortunately it seems that in the face of rising hopes and expectations among Mexican Americans there are more leaders with political ambitions at heart than there are with the interests of the poor at heart; they do not care what is accomplished in fact, as long as they can create and ride the winds of protest as far as possible. Thus we have those who play at revolution, those who make speeches but do not work, and those who imitate what they have seen others do, but lack the initiative and imagination to set forth actual programs for progress....
Not long after the Southwest Council of La Raza opened for business, it gave $110,000 to the Mexican-American Unity Council of San Antonio; this group was apparently invented for the purpose of receiving the grant. Whatever the purposes of this group may be, thus far it has not given any assistance that I know of to bring anybody together; rather it has freely dispensed funds to people who promote the rather odd and I might say generally unaccepted and unpopular views of its directors. The Mexican-American Unity Council appears to specialize in creating still other organizations and equipping them with quarters, mimeograph machines and other essentials of life. Thus, the "unity council" has created a parents' association in a poor school district, a neighborhood council, a group known as the barrios unidos--or roughly, united neighborhoods--a committee on voter registration and has given funds to the militant Mexican-American Youth Organization-MAYO; it has also created a vague entity known as the "Universidad de los Barrios" which is a local gang operation. Now assuredly all these efforts may be well intended; however it is questionable to my mind that a very young and inexperienced man can prescribe the social and political organizations of a complex and troubled community; there is no reason whatever to believe that for all the money this group has spent, there is any understanding of what it is actually being spent for, except to employ friends of the director and advance his preconceived notions. The people who are to be united apparently don't get much say in what the "unity council" is up to....
Militant groups like MAYO regularly distribute literature that I can only describe as hate sheets, designed to inflame passions and reinforce old wounds or open new ones; these sheets spew forth racism and hatred designed to do no man good. The practice is defended as one that will build race pride, but I never heard of pride being built on spleen....
Source: Source: Henry B. Gonzalez, April 22, 1969, Congressional Record, 91 Congress, 1st Session. April 22, 1969.
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