What lead up to the GI FORUM?


El Movimiento (the Chicano movement) was not a sudden action of Mexican Americans that exploded
along with the civil rights movement., nor was the emergence of Chicano leaders such as Rodolfo
“Corky” Gonzales, a former Democratic district captain who founded the Crusade for Justice “Chicano
Militancy and the Government's War on Dissent” Corky as he would be known to the fishermen who
gathered at his weekly Wednesday meetings would evolve from a loyal Democrat to one the leaders of
the political party called La Raza Unida (Ernesto B. Vigil 10). Gonzalez also would unite with Jose
Angel Gutierrez from Crystal City, Texas an early leader in the youth organization known as MAYO -
the Mexican American Youth Organization, and founder of La Raza Unida.

Other prominent leaders were César Chávez and Dolores Huerta farm labors that would establish what
would become the United Farm Workers of America (UFWA) in the state of Colorado in 1964. These
two Chicano leaders although they preferred to be identified as Mexicano and not Chicano would unite
migrant farm workers throughout the United States (La Raza De Colorado El Movimiento, chap 4). Far
more militant in his desires to secure the rights for Hispano’s/Indio’s or Mestizos under the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo was a former Pentecostal preacher name Reies Lopez Tijerina.            
                                                                                                              
Tijerina was dubbed by many as “King Tiger” and probably the earliest leader of The Movement and the
only Chicano "to serve time in prison for his actions" in this 1970’s revolution in the American
Southwest, (Christina Gonzalez July 4, 2009).

Without a leader, other than the inspiration of those mentioned, were a group of Spanish and Mexican
American activists who had followed in the tradition of their fathers, uncles, and in some cases aunts,
who had either joined or been drafted in the US armed forces: the Chicano Vietnam veterans. The vast
majority of these men and women were raised American and bled red, white, and blue. Like many of the
Vietnam vets, they came home not to be unwelcomed by Americans as a whole but to be seen as traitors
to their own race for serving in the Vietnam War. Lost in every aspect of their place in American history
they became members of the Vietnam Veterans against the War and walked in protest with their
Chicano brothers and sisters as this had now become their identity. Chicano Vietnam Vets were not
alone in being classed as outsiders in the Anglo American society; they just had the initial stigma of
being a Vietnam vet and brown. A Spanish or Mexican American classed as the lowest of the low, but
they were not the first Hispanic to experience this dilemma.

Spanish Americans as the majority of Mexican Americans identified themselves within the boundaries
of the Southwest and well documented”(Laura Gomes, Manifest Destiny), saw service to the United
States Armed forces as the nation was thrust into World War II as the avenue out of their dead end
existence. Many could make claims to achieving a high school diploma, but this only meant they would
continue as migrant workers in the fields of America. Few would find meaningful employment in the
era after the Great Depression many survived on small farms growing enough to feed their families and
if more fortunate to own some chickens, a pig or two and a few head of cattle.         
                                                                                                            
The Unites States entered a period of uneasy peace starting with what was known as Armistice Day on
November 11th, 1918 until the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would declare December 7th,
1941 “A day that will live in infamy” and the beginning of World War II. For a period, of ten years or
one decade would pretty much remain as it had, prior to World War I. The population in the Southwest
identified themselves as Spanish Americans, and the handful who identified themselves as Mexicano or
people of mixed blood. The next decade between 1929 and 1939 would affect the entire nation with the
economic devastation known as the Great Depression. The Hispanic people who had filtered into cities
around the nation felt the impact as did the Anglo community, however those Hispanics with small
parcels of land would live on what crops they raised, and the animals they owned, but like all of
America December 7th would change this situation for them as well.

The United States was halfway through the Great Depression, soup and bread lines were the answers for
many but those more fortunate filtered into the work force via the Works Project Administration or
WPA under the umbrella of the New Deal. Again small numbers of Hispanics in the Southwestern
portion of the country found a place in solution to getting out of the depression. The greater number of
Spanish Americans stayed close to their tiny farms or worked on farms as migrant workers living in dirt
floor shacks if provided by the landowners but as migrants in tents or the back of pickups covered with a
tarp.         
                                                                                              
The rest of the world was gripped in military conflicts that would merge into an international campaign
or World War II. In the mid-1930, Italy under the leadership of Prime Minister Benito Mussolini
invaded the nation of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) in an attempt to establish his Roman empire. Mussolini
also supported Gen. Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War with his military. Mussolini also would
establish a pact with Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany in an effort to, perhaps increase his power
(Martin Gilbert).  

In the Asian nations of Japan and China, a full gage war would breakout between these countries that
had been at odds with each other for centuries. Japan in 1937 would invade China and the beginning of
a war that would end in the deaths of millions in these two countries (Spartacus Educational Publishers
Ltd-website).  Although news of these events would reach the news outlets on American shores much of
this news did not reach the Spanish American or Mexicano citizens of the American Southwest.t  
(In his book The Twisted Cross the author Joseph Carr) provided this candid remark, “Nazism was not
merely political movement of racist gangsters and misfits, as is commonly believed, but rather, it was an
occultist religion in which Adolph Hitler was the Messiah, Heinrich Himmler the High Priest and the
blood drenched men of the SS Death’s Head Formation the Clergy”. With the mindset, of his word in
Mein Kampf or My Struggles as his scriptures to the masses Adolph Hitler would conduct his efforts that
in some respect would affect the future of individuals he perhaps had no knowledge of, those who would
eventually be referred to as Mexican Americans.       
                                                                                                     
In a matter of a few short years, Americans of all races would be enlisting to assist in the struggle of
many wars for example, Normandy Beach, Dunkirk. In the South Pacific, we aided Iwo Jima, Okinawa,
and the Philippines. Both men and women (Hispanics) who were listed as Whites who would at the end
of World War II return home with tales of their service in strange, faraway places. Getting discharged
from the service for many Americans was different then after World War I, thought of heading back to
the farm was now not thinking of these veterans. On the minds of these veterans would be the effect of
the Servicemen's Readjustment Act or more commonly referred to as the GI Bill enacted in 1944. Now
GI’s returning home were entitled to one year of unemployment insurance, or the ability to complete
their high school education, attend a vocational school or go to college (Martin Gilbert).

The challenge for returning Hispanic veterans was gaining admission to college and even with access to
a college or university great numbers would be channeled towards a teaching career as oppose to
engineering, law or a career in medicine. One Hispano who manages to obtain a medical degree would
be Doctor Hector Garcia. He began his journey advancing civil rights began as a Mexican immigrant
along with his parents to flee the chaos of the Mexican Revolution in 1917. The family settled in the Rio
Grande Valley of Texas which was described as a war zone where it has been   stated by some historians
as seeing Texas Rangers driving around town with dead Mexicans draped on their vehicles (Jeff Felt,
producer/writer of KEDT-TV public television).         
                                                                                                            
The Garcia family lived on the wrong side of the tracks when Jose Garcia a prominent Mexican could
not get his academic credentials recognized in the United States. He would run a general or dry goods
store with other family members to support his family. In order to make ends meet the Garcia family
would pick cotton or pick discarded fruits and vegetable at local packing company. Despite being placed
in the same conditions of other Mexican families, Professor Jose Garcia was determined to have his
children make a place in American culture and would teach his children mathematics, literature,
history and all of the subject matter he had learned in Mexico (Jeff Felt, producer/writer of KEDT-TV
public television).

With the support of his parents who like others devastated by the depression, Hector began his formal
education by obtaining a degree from Edinburgh Junior College and would eventually apply at the
University of Texas medical school which at the time accepted only one Mexican American a year.
[After graduation Dr. Hector Garcia would receive an officer’s commission as a result of training in the
Civilian Military Training Corp, he would also be investigated by the FBI when Anglos saw him a
Mexican wearing an American officer’s uniform (Jeff Felt, producer/writer of KEDT-TV public
television)].               
                                                                                                          
World War II Texas Mexicano joined up with patriotic zeal. This was not only true in Texas but in every
state in the Southwest with members of the Spanish/Mexican American community. Dr. Hector Garcia
served as an infantry officer and would receive the Bronze Star with six battle stars and the rank of a
Major. However, when he the hope of Dr. Garcia and that of other Hispanics was that their service to
their nation in defeating Germany, Italy and Japan would benefit them very little and between the end
of the war and the late 1950 did not see many gains in the arena of their civil rights.

In 1949, , the wife of World War II hero Felix Longoria was refused burial of her husband by a local
funeral home in Three Rivers, Texas because the whites would not like it. According to Jeff Felt,
producer/writer of KEDT-TV public television out of Corpus Christi, “Dr. Hector Garcia with the aide
of Senator Lyndon Johnson laid Longoria to rest in Arlington National Cemetery”. This action leads
Dr. Garcia to establish the American GI Forum to serve the needs of Mexican American veterans as
none of the existing veteran organization desired to serve Mexican American veterans.

Discrimination continued into the 1950s, even after another call for Americans to serve in the Korean
War. Many of these men and women had also served their country during World War II, once again
Hispanics showed their patriotism by volunteering to serve their country. In June of 1950 the
Democratic People's Republic of Korea Army, North Korea open fire on the Republic of Korea Army or
South Korea positions south of the 38th Parallel. Within a few months General Douglas McArthur had
received permission to cross into North Korea in pursuit of factions of the North Korean army,          
                                                                                                               
shortly afterward General McArthur called for the surrender of North Korea with this China began to
threaten to start the conflict with the further invasion by the United Nations force. China and later
Russia would ally themselves with North Korea and early in 1951 General McArthur would be
dismissed by President Harry Truman over the thoughts of how to carry out further military action in
North Korea (Max Hastings).

By July of 1953, the Korean would come to an end with the division of North and South Korea and an
unsettling truce which continues to this date. Once again American GI’s would return home, this time,
not to a hero’s welcome to this what would be called the forgotten war, however, forgotten was the
sacrifice made by veterans and in particular veterans from the Mexican American community. Hispanics
arrived to see signs in the windows of businesses which declared “No dogs or Mexicans allowed”. In
many educations institutes, Spanish speaking students were punished for speaking Spanish on the
playground or in the class. At times when this was reported to a parent who desired that their children
learn English the child would also be punished by their parents.

As more and more Spanish American/Mexican American made their way from the family farm or from
working the fields, orchards and ranches and into urban communities the desire to obtain employment
came into direct competition with the Anglo citizens. Hispanics were gratified to find work in the meat
slaughter and packing houses, steel mills, construction jobs and any job that was considered manual
labor (http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/5views/5views5b.htm).          
                                                                                                                
While attempts were being made to move up the economic ladder Hispanics were still kept from
achieving a position in management, education, the legal community, and this would also include
efforts to become a participant in the political and government community. The exercise of reaching for
the rights guaranteed by the constitution \of the United States or Civil Rights was still a far reach for
Latino’s in the 1950 and into the early and mid-1960s(http://www.cr.nps.
gov/history/online_books/5views/5views5b.htm).

The dynamic Dr. Martin Luther King stood in front of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial in
Washington DC in August of 1963 and delivered his speech which began, “I have a dream" that one day
on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to
sit together at the table of brotherhood.” Lost in the moment of Dr. King’s words and the emergence of
the Civil Rights movement captured by the heart and soul of the African American or Black community
was a sub minority also experiencing the same fight for their Civil Rights were great numbers of the
Chicano movement. No longer did they want to identify themselves as Spanish American, but as
Mexicanos or Mexican Americans, they were not Hispanic but Mestizos, people of the mixed race,
Spanish, and Indian and proud to call themselves Chicanos.

The term Chicano is said to have come about sometime in the 1930’s or 40’s which described migrant
workers from Mexico or Native American workers. This segment of the society were considered the
poorest of the poor by the affluent Spanish American people and identified Chicanos as a lower class
citizen, yet perhaps a little higher than the African American’s. To refer to anyone in that day and time
was also considered to have a vulgar connotation and was used to humiliate the individual when
addressed as a Chicano. Perhaps to throw this back into the faces of the elite Spanish American
community rogue Mexican Americans choose to wear this title as a badge of both pride and courage
against the dominant Euro-American society.         
                                                                                                           
With the advent, of the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s and witnessing that small gains were being
made by the Hispanic community with organizations such as the American GI Forum and League of
United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) a stronger voice was needed in the fight against bigotry,
discrimination and attacks against Mexican Americans across the nation. Student groups such as
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan."(MECHA) founded in the spring of 1969 in conjunction
with the Crusade for Justice headed by “Corky” Gonzalez in Denver gave identity to Hispanic college
students in California and throughout the Southwestern United States. Jose Angel Gutierrez had
earlier in 1967 founded in Texas the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO). This
organization was also focused on the student population in colleges and university however; it also
reached out to students in High Schools. It was through the efforts of MAYO and their attempts to
register Mexican American voters that would eventually lead to the development of La Raza Unida
Party, who would become a greater threat to Democrats than Republicans since it would draw from
Hispanics who had a loyalty to Democrats because of effort for Hispanics under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s
New Deal.             
                                                                                                           
The Sleeping Giant was awakened Chicanos would declare Ya Basta or No More, the demand of being a
second class citizen in the land of the free and the home of the brave would no longer be tolerated. What
exactly was it, which woke the Sleeping Giant? In 1962, the United Farm Workers Organizing
Committee as an independent organization led by Cesar Chaves, the message was shared in every
location Mexican American migrant work the fields. In 1963 in the town of Crystal City, Texas, a group
known as PASO or Political Association of Spanish Speaking Organizations started to develop a slate
of Mexican Americans to seek positions on the City Council. In the same year, Reies Lopez Tijerina and
La Alianza Federal de Mercedes started asking questions about federal land grants.

In the year 1965 Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, a Democratic precinct captain was appointed director of
Denver’s War on Poverty while in a place far removed from the Mexican American people the War in
Vietnam had begun states (Ernesto B. vigil). By 1965, the Farm Workers Association still in the hands
of Cesar Chavez and joined by Dolores Huerta met to join the Agricultural Workers and began the strike
of the grape pickers. On the campus, of San Fernando Valley State College in Los Angeles Rodolfo
Acuna started teaching a history class on Mexican Americans in 1966.

The Giant had opened his sleepy eyes in 1966 with the founding of the Crusade for Justice by Corky
Gonzales to protest the administration of the city and county of Denver, Colorado, and in Albuquerque,
New Mexico, Chicanos the title that left a bad taste in the mount of many in the Spanish American
people participated in a workshop,    in the office of the "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission".
A year later Corky Gonzales would publish his works “I am Joaquin” and the spirit of El Moviemento
would ignite the Chicano community. A year later Tijerina and the Aliaza would raid the Rio Arriba
County Court house in Northern New Mexico. Later in the year the Alianza Federal de Pueblos Libres
national convention would be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico and the concept of La Raza Unida was
shared with the attendees, it would later be organized in El Paso, Texas (Lorena Oropeza).                
                                                                                                 
In the office of Mayor Sam Yorty, the foundation for the Brown Berets would be conceived. Further
author Ernesto B. Vigil notes that a young sixteen year old David John Sanchez would be called up to
become a member of “The Young Chicanos for Community Action.” Sanchez along with Ralph Ramirez
and Carlos Montes would be called to serve as advisers for the Mexican American on the strained
relationship between the community members and the police department. By the fall of 1967 in part due
to aggressive actions towards Chicanos in East Los Angeles, the YCCA would take on a more militant
role and change their name to the Brown Berets. The newly name organization would not take on the
role of uniting La Raza under the flag of independence, which was the right to self-determination, self-
government and freedom from an oppressive white dominated society.

While the Brown Beret were charged with the security for Chicano organizations, and a verity of other
activities, such as free clinics, monitoring instances and recording the cases of police brutality,
education, and reporting stories of El Moviemiento in their paper La Causa, they would also be involved
in a lesser published action. The Brown Beret would also serve as the basis for Chicano who had served
their country in Vietnam and then return to the stigma of all Vietnam veterans of pot smokers and baby
killers but as Mexican Americans would be discriminated in their attempts to enter colleges and
universities because of their race via the GI Bill of Rights. These same Chicano veterans would also be
hindered in obtaining meaningful employment or jobs in the workforce. Not willing to join the Vietnam
Veterans against the War many of the Chicano opted to become part of the Brown Beret which not only
promoted Chicanismo but also a stand against the Vietnam War.                
                                                                                                  
By 1968 Chicano students, what few there were, walkout of colleges campuses, these student were soon
joined by high school students in Los Angeles, then Texas many of these students would take part in the
poor people’s march. Chicanos were now sitting-in at school board meetings. Walkout continued in
California, Texas, Colorado, but 1969 a call was made and the First National Chicano Youth
Liberation Conference was held in the headquarters of the Crusade for Justice in Denver, Colorado
with over 1500 in attendance and the birth of the Plan Espiritual de Aztlan the manifesto that would
declare Chicano nationalism and self-determination for Mexican Americans. In a short time, Chicano
leader and activist Corky Gonzales was arrested, his arrest would be followed by the jailing of Reies
Lopez Tijerina.

The Giant was now awake and walking across the entire nation, not only were Chicanos in California
in action in the streets and mainstream organization and                      
                                                                                                  
including the Catholic Church throughout the Southwest. Texas, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico,
Nevada but now the east coast felt the impact of the Chicano movement. A protest by Catolicos por la
Raza at St. Basil’s Catholic Cathedral against the racist, unresponsive Catholic Church system took
place in December of  1969(http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/5views/5views5b.htm).
In March of 1970 the [second “National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference” took place in Denver,
Colorado again sponsored by the Crusade for Justice with some “2500 in attendance”. The second
national conference would set the stage for Chicano action for the first five years of the 1970’s. Events
and actions over the next five years would begin with a Chicano civil rights rally in Los Angeles,
“Chicano moratorium” marches and demonstrations with thousands of Chicanos participating.
Continued walkout in high schools across the southwest, anti-war conferences, the first Raza Unida
Party nominating convention and the first Colorado La Raza Unida meeting, Corky Gonzales was
elected state chair. Confrontations with police began to feel more violent two Chicano brothers were
shot and killed by the Las Angeles Police Department (Navarro 89).

Mexican Independence Day is celebrated across the Southwest with marches in every major city, shouts
of “Viva La Raza” and “Chicano Power” [words commonly used by the MAPA leaders] (Navarro’s 122).
Student walkout were now being held in Chicago and Indiana. More violent attacks against Chicano
during demonstrations some resulting in the deaths of protestors, however, with the end of the Vietnam
War in 1974 the moviemento was also slowing down. Student were no longer protesting but enrolling in
large numbers across the nation. The rights of the Mexican American were being addressed in the
employment ranks and colleges, and universities were making available more opening for Chicanos to
enroll and graduate with meaningful digress many in the legal community. Government positions
opened up for Mexican Americans, teaching positions, and the public sector was advancing the ranks of
Chicanos in the workplace. Churches were identifying with the needs of the Latino community and
Unions open their ranks for Mexican Americans to achieve leadership in the bargain for
community.            
                                                                                               
In an interview with Mr. Larry Quintana, He has stated in 44 years to the date that he began my efforts
as a community activist and an organization in the Chicano community.  The differences today then
from back in the Chicano movement, he is now battling efforts which not only include the Mexican
American but now include the Latino or immigrant community.  His Journey began1968, with the
advent of a community organization called the Mexican American League of Organizations or MALO.  
MALO would not only assist Chicanos in the Commerce City but would work with other Chicano
groups from Denver, Brighton, Ft. Lupton, Wattenberg and reach to the northern community of
Greeley.  

Mr. Larry Quintana founded MALO and would go on to meet and work with the leaders of both the
Chicano Movement, the American Indian Movement and in a small part with the leaders of the Denver
Black Panther organization. While doing so his next 8 or 9 years, he met every major Chicano Leader
such as  Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, founder of the Crusade for Justice, Cesar Chavez and Dolores
Huerta with the United Farm Workers, Reies Tijerna from the New Mexico based La Alienza, Jose
Angel Guitierrez found of La Raza Unida Party to name but a few.  He has now embarked on a new
journey, which still includes the fight for the rights of people of color, and now serving on the Adams 14
Board of Education which is one of the few BOE’s with a majority make up of Hispanic members to
include his wife Connie making them the only husband and wife to serve at the same time in an elected
office in Colorado.
                                                                                                                    
(This paper was prepared by Lavinia Quintana for a college writing assignment)