AQUÍ ESTAMOS Y NO NOS VAMOS
“History is on our side.”—
César E. Chávez (Plan de Delano, 1965)
“This land is your land, and this land is my land too,
from California to the New York islands.”—
Lila Downs (Border: La Línea, 2001)
By Roberto R. Calderón, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of History
University of North Texas
There is a very poignant scene in the Edward James Olmos film, Walkout, which debuted recently on March 18, compliments of HBO. In the scene, the bright and courageous Paula Crisostomo tells Robert, the young Mexican American cop who spied on the organization of the Los Angeles Blowouts in the weeks prior to March 1968, and I’m paraphrasing here, “The schools may not have changed, but we did.”
In other words, thousands of young Chicanas and Chicanos had been irrevocably changed by their political involvement in the organization of the walkouts, which then, as today, sparked hundreds of other walkouts throughout what Raza commonly came to call in those days, Aztlán—the American Southwest.
They had taken on a political consciousness that would last a lifetime. Aztlán was also the land from whence one of our ancestor peoples, the Mexica, had set forth in their odyssey to find the vaunted symbol of the Mexican flag, the eagle holding a serpent in its beak and claws amid a cactus in the middle of a lake (the Valley of Anáhuac). Indeed, the particular symbol on the Mexican flag is an ancient myth embedded deep within our psyche. It is part of our peoplehood, our herencia.
This is why we are Mexican and American—Mexican Americans. Of course, the same may be said of all other Latino groups from Central and South America. Better still, it may be said of any U.S. immigrant peoples from anywhere else on the globe. This does not throw our allegiance to being integral members of U.S. society into question, except in the anxious minds of the most corrupted right-wing xenophobes.
Influenced by the concept of Aztlán, the message of hope and commitment to the cause for social justice for all social classes of our heterogeneous community became clear then to the Chicana/o youth activists of the late 1960s, and early- to mid-1970s, “We were home, and this had always been our home.” We didn’t have to snap our heels three times like Dorothy had to in the Wizard of Oz to go home again. Thus, today we say as our activist elders once did, “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos.”
Add to that a phrase that dates from the same period: “Somos un pueblo sin fronteras.” As did the ancients, the Mexican peoples of today, descended from wandering warriors and settlers, as well as farmers, traders, artists, craftspeople, judges, dancers, students, teachers, scholars, and many others, have come full circle, and have returned from whence we came. The Maya had a circular concept to express this reality, inlakech—yo soy tu otro tú (I am your other you). Currently, José Angel Gutiérrez recently stated, we are experiencing the start of the first substantive Chicano/Latino social movement of the twenty-first century.
In the post-March 1968 period, the walkouts spread from Los Angeles and moved farther afield, happening wherever the Mexican migration streams and settlement patterns of yesterday had taken our peoples to work in the U.S., to the Northwest, the Midwest, and all places in between. The youth of that era who are today’s middle-aged parents and grandparents remember these heady days.
They called themselves figuratively “children of the sun,” after a popular movimiento song popularized by Daniel Váldez, Luis Váldez’s brother who founded El Teatro Campesino. The soul-stirring song was rooted in Mexican indigenous mythology and one facet of Chicano reality derived from working in the nation’s agricultural fields.
Texas alone had somewhere between 70 and 80 different walkouts that we know about, but barely. Today we do not have a documentary, a book, or more published about this important civil rights chapter in our community’s history here in Tejas. There are scattered accounts published about one or two of these walkouts, but the larger story remains to be told. Most of these walkouts happened in South Texas. To paraphrase Sal Castro at the opening of Walkout: “I want us to make history. Hell, I want us to write our own history.”
Which brings us full circle to Sunday’s March for Liberty and Justice in Dallas, Texas. The marcha will arguably be the single largest civil rights march ever seen on the streets of Dallas, and by extension the entirety of North Texas. If you and your loved ones, neighbors, friends, co-workers, everyone, decide to make a difference, take a stand, speak truth to power, walk with history, you too will contribute to the making of this historic event. Your community needs you and history is calling your name, answer its call.
Truth be told, our youth have already made history for us in North Texas and across the nation. Last week’s walkouts when more than 10,000 North Texas y0uth walked out was without precedent. They with their hearts in their hands, and the voice of liberty and justice on their lips, called to all of us to stand up and answer their call. Their innate sense of this nationally historic moment with momentous consequences riding on the line for our own and other immigrant communities nationally, a movement led by Mexican and Latino immigrants and their children and grandchildren, all of it, was elucidated with actions and words that money just can’t buy—priceless.
The call for unity is ours to answer. The call to action is ours to manifest. Do it, organize, organize yourselves and your neighborhoods, organize your churches, your union halls, your places of labor, wherever it is that people commune in their daily lives, their daily realities, organize.
Let’s send the loudest and strongest, never-to-be-forgotten, message to the U.S. Congress, the American people, and the world that is watching: We want liberty and justice for immigrant communities in the United States. We want fair and equitable comprehensive immigration legislation with a sure and well-defined meaningful path toward first-class citizenship. We oppose massive deportations and incarceration. The U.S. Mexican (and Latino) communities have been there too many times before in our nation’s history. We refuse to be isolated and used for our labor but not for our humanity, for the massive profits we contribute to the U.S. economy but not for our political democratic incorporation into U.S. society. We loudly repudiate second- and third-class citizenship which H.R. 4437 and the partisan political right would have us assume as we live and work here at home, in the United States of America. A version of this essay was published (in Spanish translation) on Saturday, April 8, 2006, in the largest-circulating Spanish-language daily newspaper in North Texas, Al Día. (Reprinted with permission of author.)