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Chicano/a Movement in Washington

Civil rights activism by people of Latin American descent dates back to United States conquest and annexation of northern Mexico in 1848. In response to severe racism and forms of segregation that rivaled the Jim Crow South, Mexican Americans in what is now the American southwest used the courts, labor unions, and defense organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens to fight for basic rights. In the late 1960s, these struggles took new forms as young activists organized themselves into a movement that asserted new “Chicano” and “Chicana” identities, that united Mexican Americans and Mexicans, Indian and Hispanic heritages into a common, transnational culture and community, or “Raza.” Taking inspiration from Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement, but linking farmworker struggles with movements for justice in cities and schools, the Chicano/a movement developed strong and uncompromising tactics that brought it visibility and important victories.

The Chicano/a Movement made an important impact on Washington state. Hispanic Americans had migrated through the Pacific Northwest since before statehood. Following an influx of “bracero” farm workers in Eastern Washington during World War II, their numbers grew steadily and had become significant in Washington State by the 1960s. The movement in Washington emerged in two locales: in the Yakima Valley, which was home to most of the state’s Latinos, and in Seattle and especially the University of Washington, where Chicano students launched many new initiatives. Reflecting the split geography, the movement linked together campaigns to organize and support farmworkers with projects that served urban communities and educational agendas. Key organizations included the United Mexican American Students (UMAS), the Brown Berets, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA), United Farmworker Cooperative, El Teatro del Piojo, El Centro de la Raza, the Concilio for Spanish Speaking, SEAMAR Community Health Centers, and radio station KDNA.

This page introduces the Chicano Movement in Washington State History Project. This multi-media special section details and documents a generation of activism by Chicano students and community activists from the mid 1960s to the 1980s. It comprises the most comprehensive online resource for exploring this vital history. Links above and below lead to oral histories, several photographic collections, rare documents, important essays, and an archive of digitized newspaper articles, nearly 300 in number. These materials have been created and assembled with the cooperation of MEChA de UW. Oscar Rosales Castañeda, Michael Shulze-Oechtering Castañeda, Angelita Chavez, Edgar Flores, Chris Paredes, Cristal Barragan, Francesca Barajas, and Roberto Alvizo initiated this project and are responsible for much of this special section.