EL PASO, Texas — The smell of tacos al pastor greeted visitors of the Mercado Mayapán like the warmth of a Mexican grandmother’s bosom. Chicanos gathered here surrounded by the beat of indigenous drums and warm colors for Chicano Power: Legacy of the Chicano movement in El Paso on a Saturday afternoon.
Throughout the month of February, Museo Mayachén and La Mujer Obrera presented to the El Paso community different exhibits all having to do with the struggles of the Chicanos and Chicanas during the 60’s and 70’s. Cultural dances, musical performances, and informatory forums were hosted at the Mercado Mayapán every Saturday in an effort to bring people to the recently opened museum dedicated to the Chicano movement in El Paso.
The forum on February 13th was organized by Salvador Avila who participated as a member of the Brown Berets during the era of the Chicano movement. “Hoy se hace historia en la comunidad de El Paso,” Ávila said.
It has been a dream come true for many of the activists involved in this movement to see a museum erected to honor the struggles of the time. “[Se hace] un sueño realidad al tener un museo que cuente nuestra historia por nuestros historiadores y no gente y escritores que no conozcan nuestra comunidad,” said Ávila, “La historia se está contando del otro lado del punto de vista.”
The four speakers of the forum were all active in the struggle for the Chicano’s equality. Each specialized in a main respective activity: health, housing, politics, and legal matters. Alfonso Frias worked for many years in the area of health. Jesus Quesada has been working since the 60’s with the renters of El Paso’s Segundo Barrio. Carmen Rodriguez has also helped the struggles of the community since the 60’s and is now an established attorney in El Paso. Jesus B. Ochoa is a Navy veteran and a retired trial lawyer who has been involved in everything from denim strikes, to political organizing, and UTEP student walkouts.
“The identity of any group is the first step towards successful action, whether it is in the streets or in the courts,” said Jesus Ochoa. One of the four members in the Chicano Power forum, the stoic Ochoa stood holding his large wooden staff. With a red woven headband on his head of gray hairs, he spoke about the much-debated term that was chosen to embody the new generation of American born youth with Mexican or Latin American roots during the age of civil rights. “Out of those struggles, we became know as Chicanos. We got rid of the Mexican-American label,” Ochoa said.
During the 15 minutes that each of the four panelists held the floor, they discussed four questions designed to inform the audience of their involvement as well as the importance of the movement as a whole. The questions covered their beginnings into their respective fields, events and activities in which they were involved, achievements reached through their efforts, and lessons left behind for the future. “Ahora podemos decir, ‘Aquí está un museo’. Pueden traer a sus estudiantes, y pueden traerlos para que puedan ver un poco de historia,” said Ávila.