For months, social justice activists and leaders of community organizations met to plan a grand 50th anniversary commemoration of the Chicano Moratorium march of August 29, 1970 – a huge protest against the Vietnam War that became a seminal moment in the Chicano Movement for civil rights.
The plan was to recreate the three-mile march from what is now the East Los Angeles Civic Center, near East Third Street and Fetterly Ave, to what was then known as Laguna Park, near Whittier and Indiana. At the end, a big rally with speakers –including some of the surviving leaders of the Moratorium, who are now in their 60’s and ‘70s.
And then the pandemic hit.
“We decided to do a caravan instead,” said Lupe Carrasco Cardona, a veteran teacher and activist who co-chairs the 50th Chicano Moratorium commemoration committee.
The three-mile march became an almost eight-mile caravan, starting Saturday morning on the Eastern edge of Pico Rivera and continuing West on Whittier Blvd. through Montebello and East LA, to what is now known as Salazar Park.
“I’ve had either elders themselves or their children, adult children of some of the elders from the original 1970 Moratorium, that have reached out and said, ‘thank you for doing this,’ because we really want to participate. But we wouldn’t have participated if it would have been a march.’”
Not everyone in the group agreed. Several members of the committee pushed for a march as a necessary way of commemorating the 1970 event. A deal was reached, and a shortened but still historically accurate march will still take place Saturday morning, taking off from Atlantic Park south on Atlantic, and meeting the caravan at Whittier. (A second march is being held later in the day, organized by the youth-centered Brown Berets organization).
From Whittier and Atlantic, the caravan and march will finish the Westbound route together. Along the way they will pass in front of the former site of the Silver Dollar Bar and Cafe, where members of the Teatro Urbano theater company will recreate scenes of a play that bears the bar’s name, and which recreates the death of journalist Rubén Salazar.
The Los Angeles Times columnist and news director at KMEX Channel 34 was covering the march and rally when Sheriff’s deputies in riot gear came in to break up the public event.
“They came into the park shooting tear gas and hitting people,” recalls Jorge H. Rodríguez, a participant in the 1970 march who co-chairs the commemoration committee. “At first, people were stunned. I remember Rosalío [Muñoz, Chicano Moratorium chair] standing up speaking and saying, ‘What’s going on?’ What’s going on?’”
According to news reports, the Sheriff’s deputies had responded to a report of looting at a nearby liquor store. Protesters clashed with the armed deputies, and the peaceful event turned violent, with buildings burning on Whittier Boulevard, hundreds arrested and four people dead.
Salazar had walked away from the melee at the park and headed West on Whittier with a KMEX reporter; when the two reached the Silver Dollar, they decided to stop in for a beer.
According to news accounts, Sheriff’s deputies shot several tear gas projectiles into the Silver Dollar; one of them hit Salazar in the head while he was at the bar.
The shooting was photographed from the outside by Raúl Ruíz, a young journalist who covered the Chicano Moratorium for La Raza, an important journal of the Chicano Movement.
“I was with Raúl at the corner of Laverne and Whittier when he was shooting the photos with the sheriffs and the people,” recalls Rodríguez. “The sheriffs were pushing people out of the silver dollar through the back door.”
Ruiz’s photograph was on the front page of the Los Angeles Times the next day and eventually became a historic document of Salazar’s killing, which many activists believe was orchestrated by the Sheriff’s Department.
A large reproduction of Ruíz’s camera roll –showing a sequence of the Sheriff’s shooting– and many other pictures of the Chicano Moratorium were featured in La Raza, a 2017-2019 exhibit at the Autry Museum dedicated to the important journal.
Ruíz did not live to see the 50th anniversary –he was 78 when he died in June of 2019.
Rodríguez, who was 17 and had just graduated from Salesian High School in Boyle Heights when he joined the 1970 march, says the Moratorium commemoration should remind younger generations of how –despite some gains in education and political empowerment– many of the conditions for which Chicano activists fought 50 years ago are still affecting poor black and brown communities today.
“More important [than commemorating the Moratorium] are the fights that are taking place right now against police killing of black and brown men, and women throughout the country,” says Rodríguez.
Participants in the Chicano Moratorium 50th anniversary caravan will begin gathering at 9 a.m. Saturday at Gregg Road and Whittier Blvd. in Pico Rivera. Participants in the march will gather at 10:00 am at Atlantic Park, 570 S Atlantic Blvd.