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- For the Belgian military formation known as the "Brown Berets", see Belgian United Nations Command
The Brown Berets are a Chicano/Mexican American community organization that emerged during the Chicano Movement in the late 1960s and remains active to the present day.1 The group was seen as part of the Third Movement for Liberation. The Brown Berets focus on community organizing against police brutality and advocate for educational equality. Several groups have been quite active since the passage of California Proposition 187. Units exist in most sections of California and a few in other southwestern states. Brown Beret member and former Watsonville Mayor Oscar Rios was quoted in an interview as saying,"It (California) belonged to us, Mexico, 1848. It was taken away okay, so it's no surprise we're taking it back slowly but surely."2
In 1966, as part of the Annual Chicano Student Conference in Los Angeles County, a team of high school students discussed different issues affecting Mexican Americans in their barrios and schools. Among the students at the conference were Vickie Castro, Jorge Licón, John Ortiz, David Sanchez, Rachel Ochoa, and Moctesuma Esparza.3 These high school students formed the Young Citizens for Community Action the same year, and worked together to support Dr. Julian Nava's campaign as a Los Angeles school board member candidate in 1967.3 Sanchez and Esparza had trained with Father John B. Luce's Social Action Training center at the Church of the Epiphany (Episcopal) in Lincoln Heights and with the Community Service Organization.4
The organization's name was then changed to Young Chicanos For Community Action or "YCCA".5 In 1967, the YCCA founded the Piranya Coffee House. In September 1967, Sal Castro, a Korean War veteran and teacher at Lincoln High School, met with the YCCA at the Piranya Coffee House. The group decided to wear brown berets as a symbol of unity and resistance against discrimination. As a result, the organization gained the name "Brown Berets". Their agenda was to fight police harassment, inadequate public schools, inadequate health care, inadequate job opportunities, minority education issues, the lack of political representation, and the Vietnam War. It set up branches in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, New York, Florida, Chicago, St. Louis and other metropolitan areas with large "RAZA" populations.citation needed
|“||We were a group of young Chicano revolutionaries from the barrios of the Southwest fighting for the self-determination of our people. We organized in our barrios, published the newspaper La Causa, ran a free clinic and fought against police brutality as well as against the U.S. war in Vietnam.5||”|
By September 1968, the Brown Berets became a national organization having opened chapters California, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, and Indiana.6
In 1969, Brown Berets Cristo Cebada produced and distributed a newspaper called "La Causa."3 They also participated in organizing the first free medical clinics and free breakfast programs. Women held an important role in the writing and distribution of "La Causa", but even though this was so, the Brown Berets, as the rest of the Chicano Movement, did not fully take women into strong leadership positions. The jobs assigned to women in the Brown Berets consisted of office type jobs and clerical/secretarial jobs.citation needed Sexism within the Brown Berets was evident. Brown Berets saw themselves as liberated men and ignored the women's struggle because they, male Brown Berets, believed that the feminist movement was a white women's movement and that above all, first came the liberation of the La Raza.citation needed One female Brown Beret, Grace Reyes, in charge of writing for La Causa, constantly wrote articles about women within the Brown Berets/the Chicano Movement and the sexist attitudes towards them but they were not published and ignored.citation needed Most Brown Beret women believed and insisted that a successful revolution "must have full involvement from both Chicanas and Chicanos". Carlos Montes, one of the co-founders, in an interview talks about the lessons learned from the Brown Berets, "Building a mass militant movement to the stop the US war drive, for social change and for revolution is key. Also rebuilding grassroots militant organizations in the community that fight for self-determination, social justice and liberation - not just for reforms. We need an organization that includes the participation of the entire family and that values and promotes the leadership of women."5
The Brown Berets also came to be known for their direct action against police brutality.7 They protested killings and abuses perpetrated by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department at the station in the barrio. They supported the United Farm Workers movement7 and the Land Grant Movement in New Mexico. In 1969, they participated in the first Rainbow Coalition (Fred Hampton) which originally included the Young Patriots and the Young Lords under the leadership of Jose Cha Cha Jimenez and in the Poor Peoples Campaign. In 1969, they were invited to be part of the first Chicano Youth Liberation Movement organized by Corky Gonzales in Denver, Colorado.citation needed
The Brown Berets organized the first Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War in 1970,7 and a few months later the National Chicano Moratorium7 in which close to 20,000 Chicanos marched and protested the high casualty rate of Chicanos in Vietnam and the military draft. This peaceful protest became chaotic when the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department decided to end the event by attacking attendees.8 Three Chicano activists were killed (two of them Brown Berets), including journalist Rubén Salazar.8
Also in 1970, The Brown Berets de Aztlan and other community activist organizations took over a piece of land in Logan Heights (a community of San Diego) because the city of San Diego wanted to build a California Highway Patrol Substation and the community didn't want that. That little piece of land just under the Coronado Bridge, marked by Chicano graffiti-art on the first bridge pillars, is now called Chicano Park.9
In 1972, twenty-six Brown Berets occupied the Santa Catalina Island and claimed it for Mexico. However, by this time, the organization had been weakened by internal conflicts and police and FBI infiltration.10
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The Brown Berets set up the Benito Juarez Health Clinic (BJHC) in Chicago in 1972. This was a health clinic that provided free medical care to everyone in the Chicago area. Working in conjunction with Cook County Hospital and other major hospitals in the Chicago area, BJHC served the needs of the uninsured and those with no ability to pay for health care services. It was located at 1831 S. Racine, in the Casa Aztlán Center, the community building located on the south side of Chicago, just outside downtown Chicago. The Center Director was Ms. Dorthy Cutler.
The Brown Berets also fought on public education issues. The organization occupied a middle high school called Frobel Middle 9th Grade School. The Brown Berets, alongside families, community members and students, took over the school for a full day. At the end of the day, the Chicago Police arrived to remove people from the occupied school. That evening, a riot broke out, in which many rioters and one policeman were injured as the police were trying to disperse the crowd. Six police cars were also destroyed. The community wanted a school built in their community, and in 1979 a school was built in the Pilsen community, now called the Benito Juarez High School.
In El Monte, California, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Brown Berets often supported each other in marches against the Vietnam War and jail conditions at the Bexar County Jail. SNCC ran African American candidates for State offices under the La Raza Unida Party and often supported Mexican American activists.
In Washington State, the Brown Berets originated in Granger, Washington. The group was then transplanted to Seattle as students from the Yakima Valley were recruited to the University of Washington in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Seattle Chapter worked with the chapter in Yakima, Washington in attempting to organize various projects including the formation of a 'La Raza Unida Party' in Washington. It is believed that the group was initiated first in 1968, with the Seattle chapter emerging in 1969. The organization would attract over 200 members throughout the state.
Although having a short-lived presence (approximately from 1968 to 1984), the Brown Berets would be instrumental in organizing youth and college students. Of note was the organization's partaking in the occupation of the old Beacon Hill School in Seattle, which led to the founding of El Centro de la Raza, now one of Seattle's most prominent civil rights organizations. Activism also transcended the organization's early phase, with many former member establishing various community institutions to meet the needs of the local community.
The San Diego Brown Berets (now known as National Brown Berets de Aztlan) took over a piece of land in Logan Heights that was supposed to be a highway patrol sub-station. That piece of land under the Coronado bridge is now known as Chicano Park.
Brown Berets were infiltrated by government employees and subversives working for outside organizations including but not limited to the FBI, LAPD, CWP, ATF, and other law enforcement agencies and organizations working to co-opt the Movimiento Chicano to ensure protection of the United States. The then Prime Minister David Sanchez tried to disband the organization After a National meeting held in Albuquerque, NM at the Alianza Head Quarters where thousands of Brown Beret Members voted Sanchez out. Then to save face he called for a Press Conference to dis-ban the organization. The only chapter who continued organizing was the San Diego Chapter, later becoming the National Brown Berets de Aztlan. Also changing the patch from "La Causa" to "Aztlan".
During a session discussing the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act at California State University, Fresno on January 6, 2011, a Brown Beret member spoke out of turn and was taken out of the building by the police officers and detectives. In agreement, others in the audience argued that California lands that had previously belonged to Mexico were acquired by the United States in an unlawful manner.11
See main article Brown Berets (Watsonville) of a 1994 autonomous group.
- Who We Are
- The Brown Berets: Young Chicano Revolutionaries
- The history of the Brown Berets
- Philosophy and Influences, Development, Young Citizens for Community Action, La Causa, La Conciencia, Regeneración II
- Remembering the Chicano Moratorium
- "The Battle of Chicano Park: A Brief History of the Takeover". Chicano Park Steering Committee. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
- Shino, Enrijeta (2011). "Brown Berets: A Story of Continuous Surveillance". European Journal of Social Sciences 19 (3): 454. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
- Thompson, Michael J. (January 6, 2011). "Brown Berets Verbally Attack U.S. and Tea Party at Fresno State Student Government Debate on DREAM Act". Campus Reform!. Leadership Institute. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
- NATIONAL BROWN BERETS DE AZTLAN WEBSITE
- NATIONAL BROWN BERETS WEBSITE
- Watsonville Brown Berets website
- Brown Berets of Salt Lake website
- Carnalismo Brown Berets of New Mexico
- Los Brown Berets de Nuevo Mexico (BBNO)
- Interview with Jesus Rodriguez (Seattle Brown Berets)
- Interview with Rogelio Riojas (Seattle Brown Berets)