By: LaTrice Houston
In this report I will be unrevealing the truths of the Chicano Movement that took place here in Kansas City Missouri. I will also dive into some historical roles that the Chicano Movement played in the Kansas City area and its impact it had in the Latinx community here. I will give brief synopsis about my interviewees and their personal experiences as being Chicanos here in Kansas City, and their stories about the Chicano movement. My goal in this report is to educate my audience about the Chicano movement and to collect, preserve and publicize Latinx oral histories. Also give you some background to the word “Chicano “and the movement itself . My key objective is to shine light on the good and bad of the movement, and the Chicano movement, the word and how it is viewed to different people who are a part of the Latinx community.
Background of the word “Chicano”
The word “Chicano” originated all the way back to 17th and 18th centuries and originated by the Aztec Indians. The word Chicano was derived by the word in which they used “Meshicano”. Spaniard speaking language does not use “sh” in their language but they did use to “icano” part of this word. Because Chicano is another word “Mexican-American” some Mexican-Americans go by “Chicano” or “Mexicano” both having the similar meaning. The word “Chicano” has been under attack since the imperialist’s period. A lot of those who found this word in a negative light were conservatives Mexicanos/ first generation Mexicans; that found this word was demeaning and did not like the term and even today the word to some Mexican- American it is still seen to be offensive and demeaning. But on the other hand this word to other Mexicanos or Chicanos was seen as a word of unity, warmth and something you should be proud in, because it shows the resilience of a people who overcame the rejection and repression of their culture during the Imperialist period. Talking to Dr. Pecina and Mr. Lona these two were very influential people who identify themselves as proud “Chicanos”. A lot of time people have a misconception about this word but it originally was not created two generate harm. It was generated by those Mexican-Americans who referred to each other as Chicanos in showing pride of who they are.
Timeline of the Chicano Movement- who helped the Progression
For many years the culture of the Latinx community has been under wave, meaning that this group of people have been through repression of their culture, and almost forgotten about in terms of history. In past experiences of history we all have heard the stories of Blacks as slaves, a little bit about the history of Black people and our culture. Or you hear about traumatizing history about the Holocaust and Jews. However, the history of the Latinx community goes untouched and unheard. In the early 1960’s is when Mexicanos or Chicanos became more vocal about the unfairness and biases of this country, and how they were being treated collectively as a people. There are famous prominent figures that commence the Chicano movement such as; Caesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
To begin, I first would like to talk about Caesar Chavez. Chavez was a non-violent Mexican who was a prominent leader who also worked alongside Dolores Huerta. Chavez was the founder and president of the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee joined him in his first strike in Delano, California boycotted the grape farm. The strike was a nonviolent approach and to get the attention of Delano grape company to let them know that the workers will not work in underpaid and danger, bias, and discriminatory conditions. This strike caught the attention of many people and thousands of those in the Latinx community went on strike with him, as well as boycotts, marches, and hunger strikes. Caesar was the first in his community to generate such powerful movements in fights for breaks at work, bathroom facility on the fields, clean drinking water, a hand washing station, and also the fight in banning sexual harassment towards women workers, and wanting to ban the chemicals that were used on the produce, and/or making sure workers were equipped when spraying the pesticides so they wouldn’t be endangered and come in contact with the dangerous chemicals. Chavez fought for farm workers’ rights advocacy with a young lady by the name Dolores Huerta.
Dolores was an activist who fought against social and economic discrimination of farm workers, she herself was the co-founder of the National United Farm Worker. She then later in the years began to fight the civil rights of women, workers and immigrants. After many boycotts, strikes, and protest for better working conditions. The UFW signed an agreement with 26 other grape growers that agreed to improve farm laborer conditions and offered them other benefits. Dolores is much known for active writing and generating of contracts in push of her efforts for social justice. Huerta was credited for famous line “Si se puede”, “yes we can”. Though she was a part of nonviolent approach with Caesar she endured an almost life threatening experience when she was at rally and was beaten by a San Francisco police offer , which suffered from a ruptured spleen and six broken ribs. In her efforts of fighting for advocacy of Latina women rights, farmer social and economic rights, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.
To understand the history of the Chicano movement in Kansas City you have to learn first learn the history of the Latinx Community and their history in Kansas City in general. Mexican Americans presence in Kansas became heavy in the 1900s. A lot of Mexicans migrated here after the Mexican Revolution due to issues that was going on in their own country. Railroad, beet farms, mining and agriculture companies hired Mexicans due to their own labor shortage. As time goes on the Mexican American population steadily grows. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad lines used agents to supply laborers. By the 1940’s came Mexicans primarily worked on salt mining, meat-packaging, railroads, and sugar beet processing industries. Mexicans began to settle in small colonies outside the places they work. For example the Santa Fe Trails a lot of working men who worked on the railroads settled outside the railway of the Santa Fe. Which is now the Westside of Argentine. The most growing areas of Mexicans was the West Bottoms, Argentine, Armourdale and Rosedale. Prior to World War II Mexicans lived in isolated communities. Mexican children went to all Mexican schools that were taught by all Mexican teachers. At this time Mexicans were being paid unfairly, worked in horrendous conditions, and no resources to proper education. Mexicans never got their recognition for their hard labor that helped build the U.S economy back up after the Depression , even when they were told to give up their jobs for to unemployed Anglo -Saxons immigrants who were migrating to the U.S. Since the beginning of the time U.S took advantage of the Latinx community only wanting them for free/cheap labor and once the economy gets better they wanted to push them out. From the early 1900s until the 1960’s Mexican a lot of time had to compromise their rights until it was a huge wave here in Kansas City that took place. The most prominent event that happened here in Kansas City was Westside High School walkout that took place September 16, 1969. All students who identified themselves as Chicanos or from Latinx heritage had huge walk out of the school. This walkout was supported and organized by the Brown Berets. The Brown Berets was a pro-Chicano organization who fought for the liberation and self-determination for Chicanos. While Westside was not the only Chicano walk out protest but also students that lived in Los Angeles, San Jose. San Antonio and Denver has an unrestingly tenacity to show and fight for equal and fair rights. The purpose of the Westside walk out was to grab the attention of the School Board and the political parties. Mexican students received very poor education, was not allowed to speak their home language at schools, did not have equal rights to vote, and did not receive equal pay, and also wanted to rid of the job conditions that they worked under especially for farmer workers. The Chicanos in Kansas City had enough of unfair and unjust treatment of their people they left campus and march to the Chicano Cultural Center. One my interviewees who goes by Charles was an activist and also a part of the group of Brown Berets. A lot of time they were seen as the “radicals” or the “rule benders” because of the disturbances they caused with the Westside High School walkout, but I say they were simply practicing their freedom of speech and wanted the world to know that they would not settle to be treated unjust and unfairly, as a people.
Who Did I interview?
Photo by : University of Missouri- Kansas City
The very first person I interviewed on the topic of the Chicano Movement was Dr. Uzziel Pecina. Uzziel was born on August 12, 1968 and grew up on the Westside of Kansas City which now goes by the name of Argentine. His father moved here in the states in 1957 and later his mother moved here nine or ten years later. His mother was a seamstress and father was maintenance worker and also was in the U.S marines. Both parents had primary education and high school diploma but did not go to college. The Westside is home to Uzziel and many other Chicanos / Latinx community; known for many small mom and pops businesses. The railroad is what divides the south side and Northside. Pecina is from the Northside of the tracks which he proclaims, “As the best side”, where there is a heavy population of Mexicanos and on the Southside primarily is where the white folks live. A lot of poor whites stayed on there up on the Hill on Summit and 17thstreet during the “white flight”. Pecina in our interview talks about the white flight.
Uzziel religion growing up then was Baptist, he attended Westside Baptist Church on 23rdstreet and Summit. In his teenage years he attended Westport High School. He was bilingual and proud of being bilingual but in his home they spoke Spanish and outside his home he spoke English. Uzziel was very sheltered growing up and his father did not allow them to go out to fiestas, Quinceañera, or parties. His father did not allow them to go out in fear that they would become to Americanized or lose their culture. So Pecina separated the two worlds for a long time, the first fiesta he went to he was about 18 years old. Though Uzziel was way too young to have been a part of the Chicano moment here in Kansas City he was introduced to word “Chicano” at a very young age. Pecina first encounter of the word “Chicano” it was used in a derogatory way. His parents assumed that Chicanos were thugs, troublemakers, who only wanted to serve themselves in political means, and ultimately thought that they had forgotten about their roots. It wasn’t until Uzziel went to college and understood the actual meaning of a Chicano and that’s when he considered and was proud to identify himself as a Chicano. Though his father was not fawn of the Chicanos nor the movement he knew about the Brown Berets here in Kansas City, and had much respect for them. The Brown Berets a pro-Chicano organization who stood up and protected themselves and their community when needed to do so. Uzziel was close friends with a Chicano who went by the name of Gilbert Guerrero. Guerrero was his mentor, and helped him out a lot in his lifetime.
Now Uzziel is a father and husband also a Teaching Assistant professor here at the University of Missouri- Kansas City, and also Graduate Program Director. Dr. Pecina received his bachelor’s degree in Modern Languages at Kansas State University, his Master’s in education of Curriculum and Instruction (Urban education) at Kanas State University, and received his doctorate degree in Educational Leadership at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Mr. Lona was the second person that I conducted my interview with. Mr. Lona know much about the Chicano movement and was a part of the movement himself. Charles is a retired residence from the Westside and a full-time and part-time activist here in Kanas city. Charles was born at General Hospital what is now called the Truman Medical Center in 1946. His father was born in Vinita, Oklahoma in 1910 and his mother is from Pachuca, Mexico. Charles very first school he attended was First Baptist Church Nursing School. Charles did not like this school and compared to prison “I didn’t want to go but I had to go”. Charles continued to have bad experiences throughout his educational process. Later in years he attended West Junior High School his parents later pulled him out of this school because he began to get in trouble a lot and hanging with the wrong crowd, he then graduated from Westport Central High School in 1964. Charles explains that the biggest issue with Mexican students or students from the Latin x community was fitting in. They were neither full Americans nor full Mexicans, they were both. Therefore he identified himself and other Mexican- Americans as Chicanos. When speaking with him I ask why most people feel as though the word Chicano is bad or demeaning? His responses was “Most people don’t understand or deny their history, emphasis has been put upon Mexicans to assimilate, to become more white”. Charles was not the only activist in his family his grandfather was a well. His grandfather worked great efforts to bring forth the right for election in which where he lived. Those who fought for the rights and to vote and bring forth an election for new presidency hunted a murdered. Because his grandfather was a known leader in his community for bringing forth the election he had to change his name and relocate to the States. Further as religion wise he was younger he would experience prejudice growing up because he was not Catholic. When he began to become an active activist he broke away from the church because he did not believe in the things that they were doing just to profit money from the government. Charles learned in the process of him being active was the leaders before him were not right for the people he calls them Savillas, he worked great efforts to get them out of office because they were encouraging discrimination of Black people. Charles was an activist for Chicanos but he respects all people he knew that Savillas were just puppets getting paid by the government to separate and turn minorities against one another. When asking him about the Chicano movement in general he says that all history matters. Everything from politics, and what happen during the civil rights era all relates and correlates back to the Chicano movement. The Westside walkout was probably the biggest movement Charles was an apart of. He and the other individuals of that were a part of the Brown Berets organized this walkout, he says it was difficult dealing with the students and getting the Chicanos students together. But ultimately but they made it happened. Charles describe the Brown Berets not as radicals and they were given much respect from their neighborhoods and law enforcers. A saying that Charles Lona went by at the time of his activeness in his community was, “Speak nice words, but carry a big stick”.
- “Cesar Chavez.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 28 Apr. 2017, www.biography.com/people/cesar-chavez-9245781.
- Dolores Huerta.” Biography.com. March 05, 2018. Accessed May 08, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/dolores-huerta-188850.
- History of Kansas Hispanic Community, www.khlaac.ks.gov/about-us/history/history-of-kansas-hispanic-community.https://www.khlaac.ks.gov/about-us/history/history-of-kansas-hispanic-community
5.“Mexican Americans in Kansas.” Kansas Historical Society, www.kshs.org/kansapedia/mexican-americans-in-kansas/17874.https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/mexican-americans-in-kansas/17874