For Mexican-Americans like Henry, the issues is not just ethnic conflicts, but actual civil rights abuses, and his trial is not unique in its judicial travesties. The Chicano Movement sought to correct these and other wrongs, as part of the tide of the larger Civil Rights movement taking place in the 1960s. The battle had many fronts: from the courthouse to the schoolhouse, Hispanics, African Americans, and other ethnic groups educated themselves and the public on the daily injustices committed in the United States. For Hispanics, the separate and unequal education system (there were separate, poorly equipped, schools for Mexican children), lasted far beyond the Brown v. Board of Education case that won legal equality in schooling for blacks. Hispanic children did not attend integrated schools until a federal ruling in 1970 forced the Texas school system to eliminate segregation.
Police brutality was another alarming civil rights issue. A group of prominent Mexican-American citizens, who created a forum in 1948 to pursue delays in veterans rights for Mexican-Americans, shifted their focus to actively expose and prosecute police brutality cases. Police raids and wholesale roundups of Mexican-Americans were commonplace at social gatherings, where women and children were beaten along with men; the mass arrests depicted in Zoot Suit were not an exaggeration. In addition, urban renewal programs targeted barrios, which were called “blighted” areas. In these “slum clearance” programs, whole neighborhoods were wiped out to make way for freeways and other works projects that, while beneficial to the dominant culture, did little to improve the lives of the Hispanic community; the uprooted Mexican-American families were often fraudulently displaced and not properly compensated for their losses.
Various groups within the Chicano movement both initiated legal reprisals and attempted to educate the American public about these civil injustices. In a 1969 conference, attendees wrote a manifesto entitled El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, in which they sought restitution for “economic slavery, political exploitation, ethnic and cultural psychological destruction, and denial of civil and human rights.” Valdez was a leading artist who contributed to this effort.
Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)
El Pachuco (pah-CHEW-koh), a mythical figure, the zoot-suited spirit of the Pachucos, alienated gangs of Mexican American youth living in the Los Angeles area. A rebellious, street-smart, young Chicano, El Pachuco is master of ceremonies of this play set in the World War II years, as well as a leading figure, chorus, and the alter ego of Hank Reyna. In his “cool” outfit (long jacket, baggy trousers, and lengthy watch chain), El Pachuco preaches, with bitter humor, fidelity to one’s own culture and language and defiance of the Anglos. It is the Anglos, Americans not of Mexican origin, who seek to control the lives of his people (la Raza), robbing them of ethnic pride and manhood while exploiting them and discriminating against anyone with a brown skin.