The site where journalist Rubén Salazar was killed by Sheriff’s deputies on Aug. 29, 1970 –the former Silver Dollar Bar and Cafe in East Los Angeles– will be the beginning point of a commemoration march taking place this Saturday, organized by the Los Angeles chapter of the Brown Berets.
An important community-based organization founded in Los Angeles’ Eastside in the 1960s, the Brown Beret National Party (or BBNP) played a leading role in the Chicano Movement through the 1970s. According to the organizers of Saturday’s march, today’s Brown Berets are still focused on fighting for the rights of the Chicano-Mexicano community.
“Our main thing right now is protesting against police brutality,” says Christopher Morales, and active member of the L.A. chapter. “And of course, we want to improve our school funding. And get the community organized to consolidate our political power.”
Morales says that many young Chicanos today are unaware of the history of the civil rights movement and that Saturday’s march may be a way of breaching that lack of information.
“There needs to be understanding of our political and civil rights history,” the 25-year-old says. “I feel that it’s been hidden from us, it took me many years to even understand [it]. A lot of people in my community don’t know that we had a civil rights movement after the 60’s.”
“Education is very important, and I think [so is] getting the community together to understand there is organizations fighting for our rights,” he stresses.
While some have criticized the Brown Berets for distinguishing themselves from more inclusive organizations that have joined the Black Lives Matter movement, Morales says it is important for their group to keep its historic focus.
“Because we are a Chicano organization, we are a brown lives matter organization that stands in solidarity with many of these other organizations,” he says. “Because our community is not as active as the black community, that is stopping us from gaining that political power in our community, because we are not united. That’s why it’s important to distinguish ourselves ad get our people out in the street.”
Morales also rejected accusations made by some, about the Brown Berets being a sexist and homophobic organization.
“I am sure there were incidents [in the past] that should have never happened,” he says. “But I think the organization as a whole was never sexist or homophobic. That is not a fair accusation of the organization.”
In fact, Morales said today’s Brown Berets is a “female dominated” organization and that women are strongly represented in the LA chapter, which has about 100 members. “[They] hold a lot of positions and have a lot of power”, he says. “The women are the future of our organization.”
Morales is a scheduled speaker at a rally following Saturday’s march, as is one of the BBNP’s founders, David Sánchez. After that, local members of the Brown Berets will distribute free food in the community.
The march will take off at 4 pm from the former Silver Dollar site at 4945 Whittier Blvd. From there they will march to the East Los Angeles Civic Center at 4837 East Third, near Third and Fetterly Ave. That site is significant, because it was from where the Chicano Moratorium march took off on August 29 1970 – exactly 50 years ago on Saturday.
A larger commemoration of the Chicano Moratorium is scheduled to take place on Saturday morning with two events planned jointly – a march and a car caravan, both meeting at Salazar Park in East Los Angeles.
Morales said that holding its own event does not mean that the Brown Berets do not support the Chicano Moratorium commemoration. In fact, the time of the group’s event was chosen so that it wouldn’t conflict with the others.
“We are also attending the Chicano Moratorium and hosting our own,” he says. “We are supporting those other marches and also inviting them to come to ours.”