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Cinco de Mayo

In the early years of the Chicano Movement proponents of the emergent ethnic identity looked to Mexico, and sometimes Latin America, for heroes, heroines, and historical events to celebrate. One that became popular was the defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 by a ragtag Mexican army under the leadership of Tejano born General Ignacio Zaragoza. The battle temporarily halted the French, who went on to defeat the forces of President Benito Juarez, Mexico’s first indigenous leader to assume the presidency. Napoleon III appointed Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph emperor of Mexico in 1864. That was a short reign, however, as Maximilian’s forces were defeated in 1867 with the support of the United States, and he was executed on June 19. The Battle of Puebla provided heroes and a historic event that symbolized the near impossible defeat of French imperialism. Materializing in the 1960s, the Chicano Movement celebrated el Cinco de Mayo as a centennial celebration of anti-imperialism, and General Zaragoza and President Juarez as heroes of that struggle.

Today, the Chicano Movement is barely perceptible, yet is still persists. The heroes and events, however, are from the Movement itself. César Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Bert Corona, Rubén Salazar, and others are revered as heroes and heroines. August 29th is celebrated as a historical event signifying anti-war and anti-imperialist sentiments, as well as social justice, and the life of Rubén Salazar, one of most well-known martyrs of the Movement. The National Chicano Moratorium Committee organized a national anti-war demonstration on August 29, 1970, with demonstrations held in San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, Houston, Chicago, and many other cities, with the largest one occurring in “East Los.”

The demonstration in East Los was the third in a series that grew in size from one event to the next. On August 29, 1970, an estimated 30,000 protestors marched down Whittier Boulevard as they traveled from Belvedere Park to Laguna Park. With tensions growing over time between Chicano activists and law enforcement units in Los Angeles and Los Angeles County, the event erupted in violence after the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department declared the event an “unlawful assembly”, and deputies began firing tear gas into the crowd. Protestors began to fight back, including burning businesses. Hundreds were arrested. It was here where Rubén Salazar was killed, with some saying he was murdered
Salazar, an award-winning journalist, news director of KMEX-TV and a columnist for the L.A. Times, took refuge in the Silver Dollar Bar. While seated inside, he was hit in the head by a 10-inch tear gas round fired by a deputy sheriff. Salazar had begun exposing police brutality against Mexican Americans and had been visited by LA police and told his work was, in short, not appreciated. His death was declared an accident, but Chicanos view it as a deliberate murder. The murderer was never be brought to justice.

Yes, the heroes of today’s Chicano activists are those of the Chicano Movement. As underdogs, these heroes carried the spirit of el Cinco de Mayo as they faced overwhelming odds in their fight for social justice, anti-imperialism, and cultural nationalism. These values continue to tie the Movement to el Cinco de Mayo in Mexico. ¡Que Viva la Raza!