LOS ANGELES — Fifty years ago, the Mexican American community in East Los Angeles had seen frustration fester over police brutality, underfunded schools, biased media coverage, and the high toll the war was taking on Mexican American soldiers. 

What You Need To Know

  • On August 29, 1970 20,000 plus people gathered in East Los Angeles for the National Chicano Moratorium march to protest the Vietnam War

  • Demonstrators raised awareness to the fact that there was a disproportionate number of poor and working class Latinos killed in the war

  • The peaceful rally was disrupted when police officers fired tear gas canisters into the Silver Dollar Bar and Cafe

  • Three Mexican Americans were killed, including LA Times reporter Ruben Salazar

On August 29, 1970, activists took to the streets to fight against the Vietnam War, but what started out as a rally, ended in chaos, and the death of LA Times columnist Ruben Salazar.

LA Times staff writers Carolina Miranda and Daniel Hernandez look back at the Chicano moratorium, 50 years later.

“From the beginning of the year, there were discussions in the newsroom among other journalists from design, from video, who were looking forward into the year and saying this is the 50th anniversary of the death of Ruben Salazar, and of course the 50th anniversary of the Chicano moratorium. We felt that it would be a good moment to reexamine this legacy that a lot of people probably don’t know about,” said LA Times staff writer Daniel Hernandez.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a lot of change going on in Los Angeles for Latinos. It was the first time there were Chicano studies departments at places like Cal State Los Angeles, East LA College, Cal State Northridge, and shortly after at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Issues of Mexican and Chicano history were top of mind. On the cultural and artistic side, the farmworker and Chicano movements played an important role that sprung a wave of new graphic art, poster designs, paintings, and muralism. At the center were images of Mexican labor, rural activism, and Mexican revolutionary images of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.

The word Chicano was meant to articulate that this was an American experience because Chicanos are born in the United States. 

“It was also a way of embracing a term that has historically been used negatively. Chicano for a long time was an insult that was lobbed at Mexican Americans. This was the moment they took this word and it’s going to be a word of empowerment. It is going to speak to a very specific experience here in the United States,” said LA Times staff writer Carolina Miranda.

On August 29, 1970, 20,000 people gathered in East Los Angeles to rally for peace and to draw attention to the fact that Mexican American people, people with Spanish surnames, were dying at double their ratio to their population.

The events turned violent when there was a ruckus at a nearby business, and halfway through the peaceful rally the Sheriff’s department was called.

“This turned into an extremely chaotic scene. Everyone I spoke to so far just described the brutality of the way in which deputies came in. There’s obviously a lot of footage that reflects that. Within all that chaos and confusion, a Sheriff’s deputy heard that people were armed in the Silver Dollar Bar and Cafe on Whittier Boulevard and decided to shoot a tear gas projectile into the bar. LA Times journalist Ruben Salazar, one of the trailblazing Mexican-American journalist at the LA Times, was inside the bar and died,” said Hernandez. 

The moratorium changed the legacy of art in the Southland, but art has also kept the memory of the moratorium alive in the decades since.

In the 1970s the mural movement had started to take off, but then, the moratorium happened and that really kicked things off.

Artists like Judy Baca, who had been at the moratorium was inspired to do hundreds of murals all over Los Angeles – changing the landscape of the city.

She would add Mexican symbols and images from Indigenous art.

“It really just kind of put a little lighter fluid on this simmering fire that had already been happening,” Miranda added.