Juan Jose Bocanegra was born in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico and grew up in Corpus Chisti, Texas. While he was in school in the 1950s and 1960s, Corpus Christi’s public school system was being desegregated— “it was like a big war between Mexicanos and Anglos in that part of the country,” he recalled.
After attending Texas A&I University in Kingsville, TX from 1967-71, Bocanegra moved to Seattle to get a graduate degree in social work from the University of Washington. He has been a prominent Seattle-based activist ever since. During the 1970s, he played an active role in the Chicano movement and broader Third World Peoples’ movements. He helped lead a successful campaign to diversify the UW School of Social work and create its multi-ethnic practice program. He was active with the group that occupied the Beacon Hill School and founded El Centro de la Raza in 1972.
In 1973, Bocanegra moved to Brownsville, Texas for six months to run for City Council for the La Raza Unida Party—but was disqualified because he had not established legal residence there. After returning to Seattle, he assumed leadership over the South Seattle Community College Chicano English as a Second Language (ESL) Program after Roberto Maestas left that position to lead El Centro de la Raza. He was also active in the American Friends Service Committee’s Third World Coalition. During the early to mid-1970s, Bocanegra became involved in solidarity work with local American Indian struggles—including the American Indian Movement (AIM), Frank’s Landing demonstrations with the Nisqually tribe, the Puyallup tribe’s takeover of the Cascadia Center in 1976, and the 1976 Trail of Self-Determination.
More recently, Juan Jose Bocanegra has been active with the Downtown Human Services Council, the YMCA, and his own consulting business, the Northwest Empowerment Institute.
In a video-taped interviews conducted by Chris Paredes, Cristal Barragan, and Trevor Griffey on February 2, 2006, in the Chicano Room of the UW’s Ethnic Cultural Center, Bocanegra shared his memories of growing up, of the Chicano movement, and of the various campaigns he was involved with in the 1970s. Video editing by Cristal Barragan.
Work on this interview was made possible by a grant from 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax.