Inside a dimly-lit exhibition room at The Autry Museum of The American West, hundreds of photographs are arranged thematically to tell the story of a newspaper that was once the voice for many.
“You start off with a vision and you become a vision, and you become a voice. Understand that because that is what you’re about to see,” explained Luis Garza to a group of young reporters from Boyle Heights Beat at the start of their recent visit to the exhibition “La Raza,” about that publication.
Garza, a former photographer for La Raza, is a co-curator of the exhibition on view through February of 2019.
He explained that La Raza was a bilingual, eight-to-12-page newspaper, originally printed from a hand-cranked mimeograph machine, used to communicate with the Eastside community about events related to the Chicano civil rights movement, or “El Movimiento,” as it was known. This publication started in the basement of an Episcopalian church in Lincoln Heights. The newspaper ran from 1967 through 1977, although its primary time was from 1968 to 1974/75 . Students, parents and people of different skills (photographers, artists, poets) were part of this newspaper.
The exhibition begins with a display of practically all of the editions of La Raza, but the main focus of the show are the photographs. Garza explained to the youth journalists how La Raza photographers used their cameras to capture the energy of El Movimiento and how crowds organized.
“I was a photographer primarily. I spoke through my photographs, I wrote through my photographs, that was my role,” said Garza, who went on to become a media producer.
“I entered as a photographer who was just beginning to learn the craft of photography and La Raza gave me the home to experiment, explore, refine and polish my skill as a photographer and it all opened up a pathway, a doorway to the media world.”
Garza reminded his young audience how photographs shot in black and white film were developed and printed in dark rooms. Before the advent of cell phones with cameras, La Raza photographers covered events like the East Los Angeles School walkouts of March, 1968, where thousands of students from Eastside high schools –including Wilson, Garfield, Roosevelt and Lincoln– walked out in protest of an educational system that prepared Chicana/os for labor instead of college.
Among the images, there are pictures of people protesting with signs reading “Justicia y Dignidad para la Comunidad Chicana” or “Roses are red, Lemons are Sour, Tortillas and Frijoles make Chicano Power.”
Co-curator Garza explained the long process of bringing this project together. “My function was to reach out and to go back in time and to reconnect with my fellow colleagues and others from that period of time. And so you begin stitching together that history and that past, all with the goal of presenting what you see here now at this exhibition.”
The idea of the exhibition came to be when he and his colleagues recovered over 25,000 images that were under the care of Raúl Ruíz, one of the La Raza editors. “He presented us with this vast collection [of negatives] that were contained in about 17 or 18 binders, and that’s how we began the process of going through the photographic work and then we had to take the next step of ‘okay, what do we do with it.’”
Eventually the photographs were given to the archives of the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA. Along with Amy Scott, chief curator at the Autry Museum, Garza and his colleagues pieced the pictures together to form the exhibition.
“Fifty years have gone by and nobody has ever done this story about this newspaper and magazine,” Garza added. “There’s very little information about that history, So we had to put together and carve that history together.”
An important part of the show is an interactive screen display containing many of the 25,000 photographs, with informative descriptions of what occurred during the time the pictures were taken. The advanced brain-like network displays allow viewers to look into the information and look up people who took part in El Movimiento. It allows visitors to search photos by dates, places and names.
When asked what he expected people to get out of the exhibition, Garza turned the question around to a Boyle Heights Beat reporter.
“What did you get out of this?” he asked. “Only you can answer that and the people who come to see this exhibition. And judging from the reactions, I think people are getting quite a bit out of it.”
Presented as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, “La Raza” is a great learning experience for people of all ages.
Photo above: La Raza staff, Young marchers firing up the crowd at the Mexican Independence Day parade, East Los Angeles, September 19, 1970. Courtesy of the photographers and the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. © La Raza staff photographers.