Chicana/o Student Organizing
The Chicano/a Student Movements of the 1960's focused considerable attention on educational issues, especially access to higher education. Conscription and the Viet Nam war raised the stakes for young Chicanos. Because of the availability of student deferments, access to higher education often times had literal life or death implications for Chicano/a youth who were at risk of being conscripted.
Chicano/a student organizing began at UCSB, when UMAS [United Mexican American Students] was created by twenty-six Chicano students on the UCSB campus; Castúlo de la Rocha was the organization’s first president. Followed by Joel García in 1968-1969, Ernesto Pérez in 1969-1970–the first local resident elected to an executive position– and Javier Escobar in 1970-1971.
One of the early acts of public protest by the newly formed United Mexican American Students (UMAS) chapter at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), occurred during the annual “Fiesta Days” celebration held Santa Barbara; a citywide street celebration highlighting the Spanish heritage of the local area. Disgusted by the distortion of Santa Barbara’s cultural past and present that negated the Mexican historical presence and contribution to the area’s history, one UMAS member rightly accused the city of constructing a “Spanish Fantasy.” Citing Carey McWilliams’s classic 1949 study of Mexican American history, North from Mexico, as his source of reference, Joseph Navarro told the student newspaper El Gaucho, now renamed the Daily Nexus, that the event was an occasion to attract greater tourism and business to the city “at the expense of the Mexican and Indian contribution to the culture of the Southwest…If Anglo Americans accept their [Mexican Americans’] art and culture, why have they not accepted the people?” UMAS argued that without the acknowledgement of a Mexican past, the Anglo American residents of Santa Barbara found little value and meaningful connection to its contemporary Mexican American residents.
UMAS organized their first college recruitment conferences hosting 100 loval Mexican American high school students at UCSB. The conferences, though educational in nature, served multiple functions for the emergent Chicana/o student movement on campus. Conferences simultaneously stressed higher education as a viable option after high school and served as a vehicle for indoctrination and recruitment into the Chicano Movement by presenting higher education as a way for youth to personally contribute to la Causa (the cause). This early and informal endeavor at university recruitment soon matured into a well-established format for subsequent large-scale youth conferences.
UMAS held their second youth conference entitled, “La Raza and Higher Education,” UMAS organized an expanded program hosting a two-day conference in April 1968 at the privately owned and operated Francisco Torres dormitories near UCSB. In addition to obtaining administrative and fiscal support from the Office of the Dean of Students and EOP, UMAS secured funding from two prominent Mexican American community organizations: the American G.I. Forum and the Association of Mexican American Educators. Approximately thirty UMAS members and twenty university representatives, including Chancellor Vernon I. Cheadle, greeted the 130 to 150 primarily Mexican American high school participants from the Los Angeles and the Tri-County area. The conference organizers hoped to show attendees that “their university experience could be relevant to the communities they live in” by exposing them to different facets of the university including dormitory life, classroom instruction and campus political activity.
The one-day conference entitled “Educación Para Todos” (Education for All) featured university informational workshops as well as discussions and speakers addressing key Chicano Movement themes on identity, educational access, institutional racism, and social activism. Once again, UMAS received assistance from the Office of the Dean of Students and EOP, though it was clear that the student organization set the tone and agenda for the conference. In addition to serving a traditional Mexican dinner, conference organizers used the event as an occasion to celebrate Chicano culture by providing Mariachi music and treating the estimated 100 students to a performance of El Teatro Campesino in Campbell Hall, the campus’s largest venue.
UMAS calls out El Guacho for not adequately covering Chicano/a events in their daily paper after their “Educación Para Todos” (Education for everyone) conference failed to receive any media coverage in El Guacho. In a resolution presented to Associated Students Legislative Council UMAS offered two possible resolutions: the reallocation of a portion of El Gaucho’s budget to fund a separate Chicano newspaper or the requirement of a minimum one half page devoted to minority affairs in every edition of El Gaucho
UMAS created its own publication called La Voz de UMAS (The Voice of UMAS). Notwithstanding its low-budget limitations, the self-identified literary journal and newsletter featured brief reports on UMAS’ activities as well as a student collection of short stories, poems, and drawings focusing on the themes of Chicano identity, racism, and cultural pride. The first edition clearly reflected the context from which the publication originated. Whereas the mainstream student newspaper had overlooked the “Educación Para Todos” conference, La Voz de UMAS staff writer Elisa Aguilar
wrote an account of the day’s events, praising its success and inspirational atmosphere.
The two-day youth conference hosted by UMAS featured motivational speeches by UMAS male leaders and invited guests such as Rene Nuñez of the Los Angeles Educational Clearinghouse and artist/educator José Montoya from the Bay area.
The Role of Women in UMAS
Although, UMAS leadership and decision making was dominated by men, women such as Chris García, Mary Ann Ojeda, Phyllis Ortega, Virginia Cabias, Yolanda López, and Yolanda García played vital roles in the executive committee of UMAS. Women would remain missing from the deliberation table during the subsequent negotiations with university officials for a Chicano Studies Program.
By Fall of 1969, UMAS assisted EOP in bridging the gap between Black and Chicana/o students, while also re- directing the university’s outreach efforts to Mexican American communities in the Tri-County area. Committed to educational equity, UMAS soon envisioned a program in Chicano Studies that would produce valuable research, a relevant curriculum, and an independent Chicano component of EOP
As a result of many of the concerns associated with higher education, the Chicano Council on Higher Education, formed after the Massive East Los Angeles High School Walkouts of 1968, organized a conference at the University of California at Santa Barbara. CCHE, at the University of California held a state wide conference at Santa Barbara’s Francisco Torres; which included various student organizations from northern California under the names of LASO (Latin American Student Organization) and MASC (Mexican American Student Congress) the goal of which was to develop a guiding document and structure to guide the burgeoning Chicano student movement .
During this conference Chicano/a student, faculty, and staff put together a blueprint for the state-wide organization of Chicano students in a new organization to be called MEChA [those in attendance voted to drop their organizational names throughout the state of California and instead the common name of El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Atzlan] and for the development of Chicano Studies programs. El Plan de Santa Barbara is a master plan for the creation of curriculum and structures essential to ensure Chicano/a access to colleges and universities. El Plan is considered a foundational document of the historic Chicano Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the most significant Chicano civil rights movement in U.S. history.
MEChA goes on to become a permanent, well organized bloc for directing university attention and resources to the needs of Chicano students and Chicano communities. UCSB’s El Congreso is the heir to MEChA at this campus.
Fall of 1975
El Congreso evolved as a call for unity among all Chicano/a students at UC Santa Barbara. In that year, 100 Raza students at UC Santa Barbara constitutionalized El Congreso.
Click here to read Mario C. Rodriguez’s [1979 El Congreso Chair] tell the history of El Congreso at UCSB and its roots in 1960′s political activism.
Arnulfo Casillas [1948-1992]
The person whom Building 406 was named after, was a professor-counselor-activist-organizer about as selfless and dedicated as they come. After serving and being wounded in Vietnam, this son of Mexican immigrants returned to the U.S. with a profound desire to change the system that had not only sent him into a senseless war abroad, but that had also waged a war against minorities and the poor on the home front. The incredible number and variety of causes to which he lent his talents is testimony to his tireless energy and idealism. He was director of the Glendale Community College Transfer Center [helping place students in four-year schools]l a part-time professor at California State University Northridge in Chicano Studies; a volunteer for dozens of Latin American solidarity projects [he visited Mexico, El Salvador, and Nicaragua frequently]; and a maverick editor and adviser of alternative Chicano publications throughout the state. [click here to read the full article by Ruben Martinez, LA Weekly, July, 1992]
In recognition of the UFW boycott of grapes, El Congreso de UCSB invited Cesar Chavez, the president of the United Farm Workers to give a public lecture on the what the workers were demanding. The lecture occurred at UC Santa Barbara, Campbell Hall from 3-5pm and was followed by a dinner and fundraiser at La Casa De La Raza the same evening.
In one of the largest gatherings of Chicano's in Santa Barbara, over 2000 Chicanos and Latinos from throughout the Southwest and Central California came to march and show their support for Dr. Rodolfo Acunia, the Chicano activist and founder of the Chicano Studies Department at California State University Northridge, who was denied the position by the UCSB administration to be the first full-time professor in the Department of Chicano/a Studies. The rally was also for the local try-city countries [San Luis Obisbo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura] to commemorate the life long activist of Luis "Indio" Urzua. Urzua focused on issues affecting Chicano/a youth in Santa Barbara and was also one of the founders of the Santa Barbara Brown Beret.
Abagail Salazar and several other UCSB students who want to ensure the safety and usefulness of El Centro's immense historical archive reached out to the A.S. Living History Project to help organize and display their materials. As a group we began to go through boxes and file drawers dating back to 1963, organizing student zines and other amazing documents like this UFW flag signed by Delores Huerta; which reads "To El Congreso. Gracias for your loyalty and work for farm workers! Si Se Puede! Delores Huerta 11/11/97