I mentioned that while I was a freshman at San Fernando Valley State College (which became California State University, Northridge) I attended the first Crusade for Justice Youth conference in Denver, Colorado. I should add that while at that conference I witnessed a true Chicano peace warrior, Corky Gonzales with the poet Alurista at his side read out the El Plan de Aztlan, proclaiming that only through self-determination would our communities know justice. It was also my honor to hear Corky recite his poem, Yo Soy Joaquin. These were epic experiences for a nineteen-year old that had lived most of his entire life under pre-Civil Rights 1964 Act and pre-Voting Rights Act 1965 American apartheid.
I had already been attending San Fernando Valley State College for a year. Students of color were almost non-existent in apartheid-era American higher education. White people, whether faculty or students were not very welcoming. Hence the importance of the summer program I mentioned in the original article (mentioned at the end of Part Four).
It was an intense experience with sixty barrio pre-freshmen thrown in with sixty ghetto pre-freshmen for nine weeks in a dorm building, with the African Americans having a well-known Organization US operative and militant as their dorm counselor. That’s another story I might write about before ancientness completely short circuits my youthful memories, but I’ll mention here that summer program enrolled several young Chicanos who were either notable then or went on to make a name for themselves. There was John Ortiz who had been a student leader in the ELA walkouts. There was Margaret Garcia, now an important Latina artist in the L.A. arts scene and of course Harry Gamboa well known for his photography and conceptual art. By the way, Margaret Garcia painted the original portrait of mois that I’ve been using as my profile picture. That’s another blog!
Rocking Chicano Trailblazers and Counterculture Icons
(Continued from Part Three of original article) In the spring following the Summer of Love, a year before the Denver youth conference, the Brown Berets and East L.A. high school students surged onto the streets in the protests that became known as the East L.A. Walkouts. These were youth-driven, near spontaneous mass demonstrations against inadequate education. The walkouts reverberated throughout California and the Southwest. Brown Beret chapters in Riverside mounted successful boycotts against racist retailers and supermarket chains. El Movimiento was just picking up speed then, not too far behind the larger swell of the American counterculture.
While Chicano and Latino connections to a counterculture event like the Summer of Love and the counterculture in general may not seem evident at first, they are there, if you look for them. Take Chris Montez, a Chicano rocker of the early sixties who followed in Ritche Valens’ footsteps, and who was a trailblazer for other young Chicano musicians and performers. Chris Montez is not always identified with the American counterculture scene and the British Rock n’ Roll Invasion and the counterculture icons that led it, the Beatles — but he was there.
His early 60s hit, Let’s Dance was huge in England. In one of his tours in England, the early Beatles were his opening act. By the time of the Summer of Love in ’67, Chris Montez had left behind a legacy for other young Chicano rock and R&B artists. Thus, the tradition of the Eastside Sound was planted and creative musical talent blossomed and branched out. Chicano rock and R&B groups were all over the charts. By 1967, one of these groups, Cannibal and the Headhunters was already touring with the Beatles.
I did not mention that right before I had embarked on my trip up to San Francisco that summer of ‘69, I had just finished a job as a dorm coordinator. I recall walking away with extra money and time after the program ended, happy I was out of that cramped and smelly dorm room. (to be continued in Part Five of original article)