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A Brief Guide to Chicano/Mexican American History

Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed.  You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read.  You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.     Cesar Chavez.  Nov.9, 1984. 

A Brief Guide to Mexican American (Chicano) History


200–800 A.D.: Mayan civilization flourishes with advanced agriculture and cities.

1400: Aztec civilization conquers the several major civilizations of what is now Mexico, and forces them all to pay tribute.

1521: Hernán Cortés, leading the Spaniards with thousands of Indian allies, defeats the Aztecs.

1598: Juan de Onante establishes a Spanish city near present-day Santa Fe, New Mexico. First European settlement of the area.

1610: First Catholic church in what is now the United States is established at Santa Fe.

1630: Some 30 small settlements and missions are established along the trail to Santa Fe.

1680: Poet Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz becomes the Americas’ first published feminist writer in Mexico City. Pueblo Indians revolt against brutality and slavery imposed by the Spanish, and drive the Spanish from the Southwest. Pueblos maintain their cultures and societies. Some of the Isleta Pueblo forced to retreat and serve the Spanish. 

1692:The Spanish return with superior military power and occupy Santa Fe. Resistance continues to Spanish conquest. The Spanish control the cities and a few missions. They survive, at times, by raiding and stealing from pueblos. 

1718: Missions and presidios are established in San Antonio, Texas. 

1769: Fray Junipero Serra and the Franciscans establish the San Diego Mission and Presidio and, later, 21 California missions. 

1810: Father Miguel Hidalgo is a major leader of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. 

1821: Mexico bans slavery in Mexican territory, including present-day Texas and the Southwest. 

1836: Anglo Texas settlers, seeking to maintain and extend slavery, rebel against Mexican rule. Anglo-Texans win the rebellion and declare Texas an independent republic. Eight Mexicans die in the Alamo on the side of the Texans.

1845: The United States annexes Texas.

1846: The United States invades Mexican territory and begins the Mexican American War. Mexico is deeply divided by internal strife. The United States seizes California with the assistance of Californio leaders.

1848: The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the war. Mexico is forced to give up one third of its territory. The Southwest becomes a part of the United States by conquest. The treaty promises that Mexican culture, language, and property rights will be respected.

1850: California becomes a state. The first constitution promises a bilingual California. Eight leading Californios, descendants of Spanish settlers, sign the constitution.

1850–1880: Mexican citizens in the Southwest are systematically deprived of property and political participation by terrorism and court decisions.

1853: The United States purchases 45,532 square miles of Mexican land in the Gadsden Purchase.

1859:Juan N. Cortina leads a rebellion against Anglo domination in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. 

1862: Battle of Puebla. Mexican forces defeat the French. Independence regained on Cinco de Mayo.

1870–1920: Texas Rangers control and harass Mexicans and keep them from civic participation. Poll taxes, etc., exclude Mexicans from voting.

1877  Mexicans rebel against Anglo privatization of the salt beds in the El Paso Salt War.</P></ITEM> 

1886–1889: Armed resistance efforts against Anglo land seizures occur in northern New Mexico.</P></ITEM> 

1910:  Revolution in Mexico causes extreme hardship. More than 1 million people migrate to the Southwest. Revolutionary leadership surfaces in the Southwest, particularly the brothers Ricardo and Enrique Flores-Magon.</P></ITEM> 

1912: New Mexico is granted statehood. Status is delayed by Congress in objection to New Mexico’s official bilingualism and large Spanish-speaking population.

1916: The United States invades Mexico at Vera Cruz. U.S. policy helps determine the winning side of the Mexican Revolution. 

1924 The U.S. Border Patrol is established along the Mexican border to control immigration.

1929: League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is formed to defend civil rights of Mexican Americans.

1929–1935: Thousands of Mexican immigrants and U.S. citizens of Mexican descent are deported to Mexico during the Great Depression.

1930:Mexicans are forced to attend segregated schools in Texas and California. Emma Tenayuca Brooks leads pecan shellers’ strike in Texas.

1932 Extensive Mexican labor union activity occurs in agriculture and mining. 

1938: El Congreso de Pueblos de Habla Español organized. Luisa Morena, leader of the California Congress of Industrial Organization (UCAPAWA), is elected as chair. 

1942:The United States and Mexico sign an agreement to import temporary workers for wartime labor—Braceros. 

1943: The “Sleepy Lagoon Case” leads to anti-Mexican attacks in Los Angeles (Zoot Suit riots). Sailors and others attack Mexican American residents of Los Angeles area

1946–1950: Luisa Morena and hundreds of Mexican labor leaders are purged and deported, often accused of being communists. 

1950–1960:Numerous attempts are made to organize farmworkers.

1954: Immigration Service begins “Operation Wetback,” a massive program to deport Mexican laborers. 

1965: Grape strike initiated by Filipinos, combines with Mexican union to create the United Farmworkers Union (AFL-CIO). Multiracial organizing is critical for success. Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales forms the Crusade for Justice in Denver. Change in U.S. immigration law sets the stage for dramatic increases in future immigration.

1966: Reies Tijerina and others are arrested for seeking to reclaim land in New Mexico taken from their ancestors at Tierra Amarilla. Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) is founded to contend for respect within the Democratic Party. 

1966–1972: United Farmworkers Union uses consumer boycott to win contracts. UFW trains generations of union organizers. César Chávez and Dolores Huerta are leaders of UFW.

1968: More than 1,000 high school students walk out of classes in Los Angeles protesting inadequate educational opportunities. Protests spread to other cities in the Southwest. 

1969: El Plan de Santa Barbara sets out a program to develop Chicano self-determination in education. Chicanos participate in Third World Strike in San Francisco. Mecha is founded Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Atzlan.   


1970: Aug. 29. 
More than 20,000 Chicanos march in Los Angeles to protest Chicano deaths in the Vietnam War. Police attack the march, resulting in a three-day battle between police and the community; three are killed.Ruben Salazar killed by a sheriff projectile.  La Raza Unida Party organized in Crystal City, Texas, by Jose Angel Gutierrez and others. Chicano nationalism becomes prominent. U.S. Census begins using the term  Hispanic origin. Chicano studies programs are established on university campuses. Chicana feminist movement is organized.


1971–1972: Community organizations seize buildings and public property to establish Chicano community organizations in Seattle and Santa Barbara.

1972: Vilma Martinez becomes director of Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund—a major civil rights organization. 

1976: After years of boycott pressure, a farm labor law is signed in California, providing free, supervised elections in the fields. This is the first legal protection of farmworkers’ rights. Jerry Apodaca and Raul Castro are elected as governors of New Mexico and Arizona. Meaningful bilingual education law passed in California. Mexican immigrants and Chicanos work together to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants. 

1980: After Republican electoral victories, Mexican and Chicano programs are assaulted. Previous legislative gains are reversed (e.g., farmworkers’ rights, bilingual education). A Decade of the Hispanic is declared. Henry Cisneros is elected mayor of San Antonio. 

1982: Severe economic recession particularly impacts Latino families. Texas authorities try to deny admission to school for children of some immigrant parents. The U.S. Supreme Court decides in <ITAL>Plyler v Doe</ITAL> that Texas must allow all children to attend school. 

1984: Latino votes are critical to the election of Harold Washington in Chicago. Enrollment in Chicano studies declines. Albar Pena is elected mayor of Denver, Colorado. Latino organizations participate in the Rainbow Coalition. Major growth occurs in new organizations, National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) and CABE (California Association for Bilingual Education), to extend and protect bilingual education.

1987:Growth of Hispanic conservative forces with Richard Rodriguez and Linda Chavez as prominent spokespersons.

1988: Several states with large Latino populations pass English-as-official-language statutes. Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) serves as a major litigant.

>1989: Latino votes are critical to the election of Mayor David Dinkins of New York. Federal courts overturn prejudicial voting districts in Texas and Watsonville, California.

1990: A federal judge rules that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has deliberately drawn electoral districts to discriminate against Latinos. The decision affects 8.5 million residents, and Los Angeles is forced to redistrict.

1991: Gloria Molina becomes the first Mexican elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. A major shift of political power. 

Poverty increases and society becomes increasingly divided by class and race. Neighborhood violence, lack of hope, economic decline, and police brutality toward an African American ignite an urban insurrection and riot in Los Angeles. Twenty of the 51 killed and more than 50 percent of those arrested were Latinos—mostly from immigrant neighborhoods. Government response is minimal. Latino participation in the rebellion is ignored by policymakers. Hispanic Congressional Caucus grows to 16. The Mexican Government (PRI) and the Bush administration propose a free trade agreement among the United States, Mexico, and Canada. NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) accelerates the integration of United States, Mexican, and Canadian economics. Lucille Roybal-Allard, a Chicana, is elected vice chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

1993: César Chávez, president of the United Farmworkers of America (AFL-CIO), dies in May. California Governor Pete Wilson, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, and others declare a crisis of immigration. More than 1 million immigrants arrive. Major concerns are raised about “illegal” immigration. More than 40 people are killed along the U.S./Mexican border. Proposals are made to amend the U.S. Constitution to restrict rights of immigrant children.

1994: California Governor Pete Wilson leads an anti-immigrant initiative (Prop. 187) seeking to deny education to children without legal documents. Anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican campaign reaches intense animosity—the worst since the 1950s. By a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent, California voters support Proposition 187, a measure to restrict and punish illegal immigration. Governor Wilson focuses his re-election efforts on this anti-immigrant campaign. Anti-immigrant campaigns spread from California to other states.

All but one provision of Proposition 187 are blocked from enforcement by the federal courts, citing U.S. constitutional protections. Court decisions forcing equalization of school funding in Texas promise increased funding for the Mexican American areas in the Rio Grande Valley

1995: Mexico’s economy suffers a major financial crisis, which produces increased immigration into the United States. In public schools, high rates of failure and dropouts/pushouts continue for Latino students. In Texas, the Industrial Areas Foundation, led by Ernesto Cortes, organizes parents into a potent political force demanding school improvement. 

1996: Immigration Reform Act passed by U.S. Congress provides for immigration limits and increased border enforcement. Welfare Reform Act passed by Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton cuts many social services to immigrant communities. These two acts impact both Latino and Asian communities. October 12: More than 100,000 Latinos march in Washington, D.C., protesting increasingly anti-immigrant politics. November: California passes Proposition 209 to eliminate affirmative action in education and in state contracting, a major loss of opportunities to women as well as people of color. Democrat Lorretta Sanchez defeats Bob Dorman to become the first Latina Congresswoman from conservative Orange County, California. Hispanic Caucus in the U.S. House reaches 16 Democrats and 3 Republicans. In December, Cruz Bustamante becomes Speaker of the California Assembly. More than 14 Latinos elected to California Legislature.

1997: The United Farmworkers Union launches its Strawberry Workers campaign with a march of more than 30,000 supporters in Watsonville, California. Efforts are made to abolish bilingual education programs in Denver, Chicago, and Albuquerque. Linda Chavez is a key advocate of abolition. Nadine and Patsy Cordova are dismissed from teaching positions in Vaughn, New Mexico, by a Hispanic majority school board, for teaching Chicano history to students.

1998: California voters pass Proposition 227 by 61 percent to 39 percent to eliminate bilingual education in California schools. Jaime Escalante is the Yes Campaign co-chair. Latinos make up 14 percent of the total state electorate. Latinos vote 2 to 1 against Proposition 227. Latino enrollment at University of California declines by 18 percent as a result of the end of affirmative action (Prop. 209).

2001: Latino immigration continues to grow. Latinos become the nation’s largest minority group. Working people suffer wage declines on both sides of the border as a result of NAFTA. Linda Chavez-Thompson elected to lead the Inter-american Organization of Workers. (ORIT)

2002: Bill Richardson is elected governor of New Mexico 

2003: Conflict and controversy over immigration policy again becomes a national issue. More than 400 deaths along the border by persons trying to enter the United States. Latinos become increasingly segregated in U.S. schools

  Chicano-led labor unions and community organizations developed organizing strategies to empower Mexican American communities. The most famous of these efforts was the United Farm Workers Union, mentioned previously. Although there have been many victories in labor organizing, the low-wage economy of the Southwest constantly re-creates conditions of worker oppression. In the 1990s, campaigns to organize strawberry workers in California, apple workers in Washington, tomato workers in Ohio, and garment workers and janitors in major cities helped labor organizing evolve to become a major source of community power among Mexican Americans.

 Civil rights struggles changed in the 1980s when a new middle class of Latino professionals and merchants emerged and advocated a less confrontative style of leadership. Many adopted the term  Hispanic  as a description of their identity. Often beneficiaries of admission to college education through affirmative action programs, a similar layer of middle-class government employees and elected officials developed within the African American community. In both cases, members of this new middle class politically engaged more cautiously and with more focus on individual advancement and electing candidates to office and evidenced less interest in building community organizations and challenging an unequal political and economic structure.

As the pace of world economic change directed by NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and economic treaties has impoverished millions, women’s workers organizations such as the Fuerze Unida and La Mujer Obrera, as well as unions such as SEIU’s (Service Employees International) Justice for Janitors, have become important immigrants’ rights advocates and important political training grounds for women workers (Yoon Louie, 2001)

In the new century, Chicano and Mexicano students in universities have inherited the benefits produced by the Chicano Civil Rights Movement: a great lessening of discrimination, except in the quality of public schools, access to higher education, and access to careers and professions. Meanwhile the majority of Chicano youth have been left behind in barrios with low-income jobs or no jobs at all. The identities of this new generation have emerged from diverse sources, including Chicano Studies courses. The future directions they will take depend in part on the perspectives they will develop through their careers, participation in community service agencies, and political struggles such as defense of bilingual education (Yoon Louie, 2001).

   In response to globalization and immigration, the Latino population grew rapidly, reaching 35 million people in 2000. Continued massive immigration into the Mexican and Mexican American communities has produced significant internal diversity (Rodriguez & Trueba, 1998). In response to anti-immigrant campaigns, more than 1 million Latinos registered to vote for the first time, fundamentally reshaping elections in several key states, including California, Texas, Florida, and New York. For example, there were 23 members of the Latino Caucus of California out of a total of 80 assemblypersons and 40 Senators.

        The U.S. economy has increasingly come to rely upon immigrants as a workforce.  On May 1, 2005 over 1 million immigrants and their supporters marched in cities around the country against a proposed repressive immigration bill. This was one of the largest political demonstrations in U.S. history.

     In spite of new political power, and electing Hispanic officials in key states, the Latino dropout rate from high school remains the highest in the nation (NCES, the Condition of Education, 2004). Poorly funded and inadequate schools contribute to the high poverty levels in the Mexican American and Puerto Rican communities. Gangs and youth crime, along with low wages and unemployment, contribute to urban decay.

 Most urban schools contribute to inequality in our society by failing to serve Chicano/Mexicano students and African American students, particularly those from families living in poverty. The stark inequality of school opportunity reproduces inequality. One group of students gets well-funded schools with credentialed teachers and textbooks that reflect their reality. African American, Chicano, immigrant, and poor working-class kids in urban areas are consigned to schools that are often starkly unequal ( Kozol, 2005, Oaks and Rogers, 2007).

   The curriculum is outside of the students’ experiences, and often remedial, actually slowing the students down in the name of helping them . In primary grades reductionist curriculum focuses only on reading and math, not providing enrichment, interest, science, and the arts. These schools become boring, drudgery. One group of students has computers and Internet connections, the other students have few computers and spend too much time on drills and worksheets. Students in rundown schools, with boring, often unprepared teachers or overwhelmingly new, inexperienced teachers, are encouraged to find school irrelevant. They leave school and find jobs, and the low end of the economy. And thus the cycle of poverty repeats itself.</P>

   Although children are presented with distinctly unequal schools, teachers, and opportunities, states then give them all the same test and publish the scores in the newspaper. The Euro American students have their culture validated and supported by the currently popular testing movement, whereas students from immigrant cultures are disempowered and driven from school success.

 In 2006 there were 23 Hispanic members of Congress—20  Democrats and three Republicans, and three Hispanic  U.S. Senators.  The major increase in Latino teachers and Hispanic elected officials has impacted immigration policy but has not significantly improved schools, employment, or health conditions for the growing Mexican American and Latino population.  In 2006 there were over 1170 immigration restriction bills introduced in state and local political contests and  citizenship application among Latinos increased by 65%. In 2006 a comprehensive reform of immigration law was proposed and failed  in Congress.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center summarizes the rapidly changing demographics,

             “ Nearly one in five Americans will be an immigrant by 2050…

             The major role of immigration in national growth builds upon the pattern of recent decades, during which immigrants and their U.S. born children and grandchildren accounted for most population increase…

            The Latino population, already the nation’s largest minority group, will triple in size and will account for most of the nation’s population growth from 2005 through 2050.  Hispanics will make up 29 % of the U.S. population in 2050, compared with 14% in 2005.”  ( Passel and Cohn, U.S. Population Projections, 2005-2050.  2008)

        From: Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education. Duane Campbell   3rd. 2004. Merrill/Prentice Hall. 

    Progressive forces in the U.S. have won a major victory with the defeat of the Bush/McCain administration and the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency.  Victory was created by an unprecedented mobilization of Black, Latino, White, Asian , union members, youth and other progressive forces- some  of whom participated in elections for the first time.  Latino votes were critical to this victory.  Latinos voted over 64% for Barack Obama. They aided the victory in large states such as New York and California.  They were critical to the victory in several swing states including Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.  See link on growing Latino vote. 

And, from Rudy Acuña-


Every time I come out with a new edition of Occupied America, I feel guilty. The cost of books has gone through the roof. For this edition I wanted to say thank you so I am posting online a 194 page Student/Teacher Manual—or, as I call it, the “Mini-book”—that is over 194 pages. It is designed to accompany Occupied America, it is also meant to guide the students through Chicana/o history as well as periodically refresh their knowledge of the field. The manual also makes Occupied America and the field of Chicana/o history more online friendly for teachers and students. It makes heavy use of the internet. If the hyperlink is down, please email me to Rudy.Acuna@csun.edu. It is available free of charge athttp://forchicanachicanostudies.wikispaces.com/Acu%C3%B1a%2C+Occupied+America+Student+Teacher+Guide    It is also available on the link for Center for the Study of the Peoples of the Americas (CESPA;http://www.csun.edu/cespa/Acuna%20Manual%20Binder.pdf . It is not much but perhaps it will facilitate more Chicana/o History courses and your learning.


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