September 30, 2013

Things I learned from Director John J. Valadez’ about The Latino Civil Rights Movement



Director John Valadez is touring the Rio Grande Valley this coming month to host discussions and film screenings of his documentary “Prejudice and Pride” to be featured on PBS’s Latino Americans series currently being broadcasted.

“I want to foster a dialogue about how we helped shape America,” said a passionate Valadez during his presentation.



Today, Monday September 30,th I had the opportunity of interviewing him during his visit to the University of Texas at Brownsville. His documentary will air tomorrow evening through our local KMBH stations, and some excerpts can be found online like the links I have included below. I highly recommend  attending his upcoming presentations at UTPA and STC, for you will have plenty of time for questions and a chance to meet this charismatic director. I do want to say that by the end of the screening most of us were in tears – it was a very moving experience that leads me to wonder; do we still have it in us?

These are some interesting facts that I learned today:

Director John J. Valadez


1-     Latinos have our own Rosa Parks in Cesar Chavez who defied the segregation practiced at his local movie house in Delano, California, by sitting in the middle and not the sides where everyone who was not white sat. This happened in 1946; 9 years before Rosa Parks’ historic protest.

2-     Mexican Americans penned the term “Chicano” inspired on the name the Indian tribe living in what was to be the country of Mexico were called: Mexicas with a “sh” sounding x

3-     “Mexican Americans were written out – we were not worthy to be included in the historic records of this country. We were only by standards of the Civil Rights Movement according to history books,”  Valadez stated.

4-     Latino voter registration rights movements preceded the black movements

5-     The Virgin of Guadalupe was present engraved on a banner during the “La Causa” (the cause led by Cesar Chavez) march that culminated at the State Capital in Sacramento, California, on Easter Sunday 1966.

6-     After the “walkouts” of the late 1960s, and a revitalized Latino pride, Mexican American’s college enrollment increased to a historical high. From 40 to 1,200 at UCLA only.

7-     There are no Mexican Americans included in the Civil Rights Movement historical timeline even though they also contributed to the cause.

8-     Dolores Huerta – a mother of seven – joined Chavez to champion the human rights of America’s poorest workers.

9-     Sal Castro, a teacher, gave Mexican American students a chance to a quality education when most were pursued towards technical degrees or predestined to drop out of high school.  Castro was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez’ leadership.

10-  Speaking Spanish was prohibited and a beating was the punishment.

11-  A “Charming Passivity” was how Mexican American students were described as having by non- Hispanic teachers of the time (late 1960s) and were not considered able to work with their minds but only with their hands so teachers did not push nor inspire them to pursue a higher education.     

12-  There was a bounty on Castro’s head, and his name was on a list called the Yankee Crier. He eventually lost his teaching job after an arrest for organizing the walkouts. After many student protests, Castro was reinstated.

13-  The high school walkouts involved 20 thousand students in 5 East LA high schools. It was the first major mass protest against racism by Mexican Americans in the history of the United States.

14-  To Sal Castro these kids were the “Niños Heroes” because of their endurance to beatings, harassment and incarcerations – the FBI and the police were involved. They faced 66 years in prison. They were exonerated after 2 years.

15-  The most heartbreaking thing of all was to learn that Sal Castro passed away earlier this year, and I had never paid attention to his tremendous passion for Latino pride.

I knew very little about this for I do not recall studying about it – I did know about Cesar Chavez, but most Latinos do – but not about the Latino involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. But it is never too late to learn something new.

The list could be much longer, but I would like to recommend attending Valadez’ presentations this coming Wednesday and Thursday at UTPA, and next week’s Monday and Tuesday at STC. Valadez could not provide me with exact times so please call or Google.  He will also be presenting his second documentary War and Peace: WWII and the Post War Years.

Watch the trailer for Pride and Prejudice  and  more on Sal Castro’s incredible journey

The photo of student protesters come from this website.

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About the Author

Nydia O
A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.-Maya Angelou. La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" my life in the Rio Grande Valley. From this bi-cultural corner on the tip of Texas, I share my poems and spiritual and travel experiences. I also blog about the arts, nature and my passion for historic preservation and architecture. But most importantly, let's talk about "la vida" - living our lives - in a vacation state of mind. Contributions and comments are always welcome .


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