For the past few months, I have been participating in advisory committee meetings for the El Movimiento exhibit, opening at the History Colorado Center on February 7. It’s been a little like going back to school for a refresher course—not to learn anything new, but to share stories with some of the old crowd like Manuel Martinez, Carlos Santistevan, Antonio Esquibel and others who were there in the ‘60s at the height of the Movement. We convened as a group to co-create the El Movimiento exhibit in collaboration with History Colorado staff. Our goal is to help newcomers understand our heritage and the history of the past as well as to simply remember and fondly recollect—with much joy—the early days of the Chicano Movement.
Those were happy days in the ‘60s; days full of wonder, adventure and a spiritual awakening that permeated everything I did. Up until then, my life seemed to lack cohesion and purpose. But, from the moment I made my commitment to the Movement, everything changed. The world changed, and suddenly the world and all its wonders became abundantly clear. Things that were a mystery were suddenly revealed to me. Things I took for granted took on new meaning. My awareness of the small things like the smell of fresh tortillas, the aroma of the forest after the spring rain, or the pungent essence of the flowers in my mother’s house, the hiss of the spattering rain on the tin roof, became more acute. The merciful snow that brought in the much needed winter to the Arkansas Valley where the seeds of the Movement were born. Wherever the time or the place, the noble instincts were always correct. The world was young and everything seemed possible. The sweet grass bent in the wind, the trees strong, upright, and firm. The aroma of the pine and the cedar carried in the mountain breeze and reached my hopeful and expectant heart.
Those metaphysical and yet worldly feelings carried me on their shoulders and showed me the way…the Movement provided the rest.
At the risk of sounding melodramatic, The Movement saved my life! Before it I was lost, struggling for an identity, looking for ways to fight back. I was always a smart, clever and resourceful guy but my enthusiasm and energy was being wasted. The Movement liberated my mind and taught me to channel my energy into a source for good. For justice.
I have spent the greater portion of my adult life in pursuit of that goal and I have never regretted one moment. My service in the Chicano Movement has been one of the great joys of my life. I have had victories and defeats but each one has been a lesson, a learning experience, from which I molded yet another way to serve.
There is a great deal of personal reward in working for the people. Looking back now there are moments which stand out and burn brightly in my mind: the March from Pueblo to Denver, tired, hot and dusty but smiling inwardly knowing that I was exactly where I belonged; the intoxicating chants of Huegla! Huelga! Huelga!
As we marched; serving as Cesar Chavez’s bodyguard for a weekend in Miami; attending the National Chicano Youth Conference and the Crusade, plus many other moments too numerous to mention, were experiences I was blessed to enjoy. In each of those moments was the feeling that we were doing God’s will and that one day our meager efforts would result in a just and better society. Lastly, the Movement provided me a forum for sharing the unique features of my culture and the wonderful world of the Chicano Experience with the rest of humanity; something I continue to do in the present day. It’s like a burning fire in my heart that like the mind and soul I was born with will be with me all of my days.