“Children are indeed our future…” stated an automated telephone voice as I was put on hold for the Chicano Federation’s head office. In a span of 30 seconds I came to the realization the roots of the Chicano Federation had been replanted by receptionists that could not speak on the incredible community leader efforts it took to make this organization tangible or on behalf of the organizations’ establishment date. I was transferred to a person I presumed was an expert and landed at an answering machine. It was in this instant that I began to critically rethink my approach on the uncovering of the Chicano Federation’s history. Recalling my professor Dr. Pulido’s advice about the newsletter archives found on the Chicano Federation website I decided to start there. I began to compile and put together a grassroots depiction of what once was the Chicano Federation, searching newsletters dating back to Vol. 2 No. 1 on January 1972. The Newsletters would operate as my best critical lens on understanding how the Chicano community collectively thrived to create an organization that would serve as a tool to provide justice and quality lives to those within the Chicano Community.
Throughout the mid seventies of the creation of the Chicano Federation there was a grassroots central message and an essence of community interrelation strengthening. Coupled with this was a sense of cultural affirmation, self-determination, and advocacy for justice within the Chicano community. The newsletters were a voice uplifting collective collaborative community efforts and it was an organization for the people by the people.
The Chicano community utilized this newsletter from the early stages of the organization ensuring that there would be a clear message that put forth trustworthy information. Whether it be celebrating the accomplishments within the community, job openings for (un)documented folk, these services were available in Spanish and English. If people wanted to learn more about organizations doing similar work uplifting the Chicano community, they were provided a chance to get involved. This newsletter had a tone that catered to the adolescents, families, senior citizens or informed allies all in seek of bettering one’s community. There was a sense of family and respect for all within the community regardless of genealogy.
In the 1974 newsletter there was mention of the Chicano student walkout and it was an event that was documented and this served an opportunity to educate people on it and allow for those wanting to support a sense of further insight on the matter. A past program the Chicano Federation would have an opportunity for senior citizens to mingle events and meet one another in order to build strong community bonds. The Chicano Federation used to advertise opportunities for “Fun & Games by the Barrio Recreation” serving as safe space for kids in the neighborhood to play together. The newsletters also was a space for vocalize the rights of Chicano students. In a section explaining the rights of suspended Chicano students, it covers how a student must be allowed to present their case first. This is an example of communicating the right to exist in spite of and resist forms of institutional oppressive racism.
The path the organization originated on was an interpersonal intimate one and currently while their success is to be celebrated as well, it is important to understand the tone has shifted. Speaking with Maria Garcia, an influential community leader that was a part of the Chicano Federation from the beginning, I was able to gather further insight. She echoed that the Chicano Federation was “much different” and she stated with a smile, “I liked the old one better.” My mind keeps coming back to this central questions and we must ask ourselves a very important question, how can one continue to honor the foundations the Chicano Federation was built upon, while simultaneously incorporating the more ‘corporate’ grounds it currently sits on?
Currently Chicano Federation provides early childhood education, a child nutrition program, affordable housing opportunities for seniors, families and people with disabilities that lack economic resources, and a HIV Research and Education Program. The Chicano Federation is a nonprofit that provides vital services to its community members and is funded by USDA’s Child Care Food Program as well as the California Department of Education’s Child Development Division just to name a few and it is with this support, subsequently the foundation can continue a strong message of cultivating a successful future for those seeking out their services.
Below is an interview with Maria Garcia, one of the grassroots voices that documented the establishment of the Chicano Federation in her papers (1968-1997) and she is an inspirational powerful Chicana feminist that continues to advocate for the rights of the Chicanx community.
- What in the biggest shift in the Chicano Federation’s message,
services, and work currently? Is this a negative shift or is it good? Why?
There has been both positive and negative changes in the role in the Chicano Federation plays. The positive is the growth, -rental property, child-care, a certain sophistication on how issues are dealt with. The emphasis on voter registration has certainly made a difference.
The negative is it is not seen as an advocacy group. I wish every-time something happened that effects Chicanos the Federation would be called for an opinion statement. I think we should see the federation make statements about education, jobs, immigration voting, police action and so on.
- If you believe the Chicano Federation has changed what do you think
influenced it to do so?
The change- The times have changed and how things are done have changed. I also think we forget advocacy was one of our mail roles. Board members from 69-80’s were more activist. -grape boycott, legal actions against, the city and county made changes. Today the board is focused in another direction.
- Please share with me what it was like to be working on the grassroots
level in the beginning stages of the Chicano Federation?
I am amazed at how without, social media, I- phones so on we were able to communicate and spread the word about concerns, problems, so quickly. In some ways being naïve about what we could and could not do may have been part of the reason we were able to do so much. I also think the education and age range of those working together made a difference. You had college students, senior citizen, professionals; members of various trade all working together.
- What were some challenges if any the Chicano Federation faced as it was
One of the biggest challenges was financial. Money was scares at various periods. I also think once again we were naïve about how much financial resources were needed. I am also aware that at times loans were taken with board members co signing and even putting their homes as collateral
- Where did the funding first come from and who were the big influences
for making it possible in your opinion?
I don’t remember where funding came from. Some may have been model cities money.
- If you could reshape the Chicano Federation now in a manner that would
be form a community leader lens, how would it you go about doing so and
I think I responded to this in question one. I would like to see X happened in the City/State Nation. the Chicano Federation position is… I think anyone that does not support racism and bigotry should be jumping up and down, screaming and taking a position against Donald Trump. It is not a Republican/Democrat issue. It is about bigotry which we should not condone by remaining silent.
- Any advice for young activists that want to make a positive impact in
their communities/want to create organizations to help honor
and preserve their culture?
My advise is activism is not a fad. Stay with it. ask questions, Do not give up. Preserving culture – I would lean towards preserving history. Understanding why we should be proud. I would like to see more emphasis on how Latinos have contributed to the growth of this country. We fought in wars, build the railroads, labored and a few of us even held positions of power. How did that change the history of U.S. Where I agree it is important to know Mexican History and the proud roots we have, I think knowing what we did for this country is VERY important. I also believe we should talk about the racism pasted generations faced. People say that was so long ago. We can not pretend it didn’t happen. From the current location of the Chicano Federation office you can see where the KKK had there office. (28th and University) The alley where the Plymouth Church is located. I have spoken to Latinos that remember seeing the KKK march down University in the early 1950’s. Everything influenced where we are today.
- What would you say is the most powerful tool for impacting change?
Law suites- I am sorry to say that seems to be what the powers that be understand. Those people working for the County/City of San Diego in part have their jobs because Chicano Federation filed law suites. Yes they are qualified but we were qualified before and the doors were closed to us.
Voting. Everyone is making a big deal about how we are a majority. BIG DEAL. If we don’t get out and vote it does not mean a thing. We have to show our power at the poles. Every issue has an impact on our life pot holes, pot itself, the stadium, elected officials that will all touch our life. In the National election they are talking about the Hispanic vote. ( I hate the term Hispanic, I am not HIS anything) Voting is power and we give our power away by not voting.