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United Farm Workers and Mexican Americans Essay

The 1960s was a turbulent decade in the American history, filled with conflict over issues brought up by many different minority groups to form the various Civil Rights Movements. In this decade, the Chicano Movement started to gain a mass following and became a dynamic force of social change. Similar to blacks, Mexican Americans were plagued by police brutality, poverty, and inequality.

In the pursuit of tackling these problems, the history of Chicanos in California consisted of the convergence of multiple movements: A youth movement represented in the struggle against discrimination in schools; the farm workers movement; and the movement for political empowerment, most notably in the formation of La Raza Unida Party1. The organizing efforts and achievements in California had major impact on the fate of Mexican Americans. Improvements in barrios, farm-labor camps, school districts and politic representation, led other states to sought reform.

Education has long been a primary target of Mexican American activists and reformers. The Mexican American community had the highest high school dropout rate and lowest college attendance amongst all ethnic groups. As a result of the constant underestimation of students as well as the failure to upkeep facilities, a hostile learning environment was manifested. Their goals included bilingual, bicultural education, Latino teachers and administrators, smaller class sizes, better facilities and the revision of the text books to incorporate Mexican American history.

In turn, Chicano students and activists decided to make their struggle public in order to pressure school boards into compliance of their demands for education reforms. In March of 1968, thousands of students walked out of their high school in L. A. protesting racial inequality among their school district. Their effects were not wasted, as the school board recognized their efforts by recruiting and hiring more Chicano teachers and administrators2. Ultimately, this inspired high school protest across the nation.

College campuses also formed groups, like the United Mexican American Students, with the purposes to enforce for more Chicano study programs, financial aid, and Mexican faculty. Activists fought for bilingual educational programs and in schools and won in 1976, their hard work created more than 50 Chicano studies program in colleges. 3 Changes were not immediately apparent in high schools; however a significant change occurred in the college recruitment of Latinos and educational programs. Though most of the demands were not met, the walkouts unified and empowered the Chicano community, which in the process became a political force.

Another focus of the Chicanos had been politics. Their goals encompassed the increase of Chicano candidates in the political arena, convincing non-Chicano candidates to commit themselves to the need of Mexican American community, conducting broad-scale voter registration and community organization drives, and for more Chicanos in government offices. 4 Rather than representation within the two major political parties—democrat and republic—activists established an organization dedicated to their empowerment, the El Partido de la Raza Unida.

Found in 1970 by Jose Angel Gutierrez and Mario Compean, the party became active in community organizing and electoral politics statewide, campaigned for better housing, work, and educational opportunities5. The changes they fought for was made possible by combining mass action: firing of racist teachers, protecting high school student rights, and taking advantage of federal government monies they were entitled to, but was not utilized by the previous city government. Police polices were modified as well to benefit Chicano communities.

The La Raza Unida Party leaders also worked to raise the wages of school and city workers to encourage unionization6. Though La Raza Unida is no longer a registered political party in the United States, its legacy is still very much alive, affecting the lives of Mexican Americans today. One aspect of the Chicano movement highlighted the rights of the workers in the fields of California. In order to fight against harsh working conditions, low wages and discrimination of Mexican farm workers, the United Farmworkers Union Organizing Committee was established.

Led by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, the UFWOC accomplished its greatest victory when their strikes, boycotts, convinced the largest table grape grower, John Guimara Sr. , to only hire workers represented by the union. Despite their victory, union leaders struggled to create a union to represent all agricultural workers; As a result a three-month strike by grape workers in California began. Due to the efforts of Chavez and his union in 1975, California passed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act; which guaranteed farm workers’ rights to organize.

71 Although seen as an accomplishment, more restrictions were placed on the actions of unions. Today, agricultural workers in California are still being exploited, working in poor conditions with little pay and limited representation. Chicanos in California have played no small role in the social, economic, and political development of California. Not only is California home to majority of the Mexican Americans population in the United States, but also it is the scene of Chicano cultural Renaissance and has contributed to Hispanic cultural renaissance in the United States.

California has also been the home of Chicano publication—including magazines, newspapers, and scholarly journals. 7 Although much of the problems faced by Chicanos in the 20th century had been resolved through reforms during the Civil Rights Era, many Mexican Americans are still being marked by oppression and exploitation. Not only in the field, but industries as well. They are often found working at wage jobs and poor conditions. Over the next few decades, other social reforms for Mexican Americans can be expected.

Almost six decades after it began, the Chicano Movement still holds a visible impact on California. As a result of activism in politics, education, and farm work, much of the hardship faced by Chicanos in the early history of California have been resolved. The most prominent outcome of the Chicano Movement are still within academia, with the formation of numerous student centers at college campuses across the nation that aims to students of color as well as the establishment of Chicano Studies Departments and so on.

The Literary and art movements of the 1970s also left an enduring mark on the Chicano community. The impact of Chicanos in California gave rise to countless Chicano communities where none existed before. Although activists today are still working on the struggles faced by Chicanos today in various fields, such as farm work, their movement in the 1960s has surely impacted California social, economic and political standing.


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