George Gurrola considers himself a proud “Chicano,” and is worried that identification is being lost in today’s changing Latino demographics in the United States.
“We need to bring more awareness to the Chicano community,” Gurrola said. “It seems like the term is a dinosaur, but we’re still here. Chicano identity is being lost; now it’s Hispanic, Latino, and the label is getting lost. It’s important to keep the Chicano identity alive.”
Sustaining the Chicano identity was one of several community issues pushed during an Aug. 30 march in Pacoima commemorating the 44th Anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium.
Gurrola was one of about 100 people who walked from Paxton Park to the David Gonzales Park under the oppressive heat.
“There’s a lot of community issues and the Chicano identity is only one of them,” said Gurrola, who traveled here from East Los Angeles to take part in the demonstration.
With chants of “Raza si, Guerra no” and “Chicano Power,” the marchers were led by Aztec Dancers and, in a throwback to the 60s, flanked by members of the “Brown Berets.”
This was the first time a commemoration was held in the Northeast Valley for the Chicano Moratorium, an anti-Vietnam war and civil rights protest in East Los Angeles in 1970 that culminated in a battle between the demonstrators and the Sheriff deputies present there.
Los Angeles Times and KMEX reporter Ruben Salazar was killed while he was in the Silver Dollar Café covering the demonstration, after he was struck in the head by a tear gas projectile fired by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy.
Genaro Ayala, then a student at Los Angeles Valley College, was present that day at the East Los Angeles Park that later was named after Salazar.
“The moratorium was organized against the Vietnam War because 20 percent of those killed were Chicanos, 22,000 in all,” said Ayala, a member of the Partido de la Raza Unida (Raza Unida Party). “The conditions in the barrio were very bad, work was very bad, education was bad.”
“We still have a war and still have Chicanos coming back hurt,” he added. “The conditions in the barrio are still bad, education and work is in shambles. The system was to understand we won’t sit and just stand for this.”
Nelli Temachtiani, a Pacoima march organizer, concurred with Ayala’s assessment.
“We’re trying to inspire people to learn more about their history, but we still have issues of police brutality,” Temachtiani said. “We’re asking for better education, jobs. We’re really inspired with what happened in the 60s, and we’re hoping to inspire the people again to come out and demand better treatment.”
There were also hints in the march of the current issues affecting Latinos, particularly immigration.
Jesus Garcia, a Pacoima resident who’s been a fixture in pro immigrant marches in Los Angeles since 2006, took part in the demonstration. He missed work to represent the millions of undocumented who are eagerly awaiting the much talked about changes President Obama could announce before the November elections.
“I love to support the cause,” said Garcia, a Michoacan, Mexico native with three children born in the United States. He’s been living in the United States for nearly three decades and missed the opportunity to apply for legalization during the last major immigration reform of 1986.
He said he applied at the time, but he was so fearful of immigration agents when he took his papers to the federal building, that he never went back. He’s been hoping for a second chance ever since.
“The fight keeps on because I’m hoping this will get resolved as soon as possible,” Garcia said.