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- For the Belgian military formation known as the "Brown Berets", see Belgian United Nations Command
The Brown Berets (Los Boinas Cafes) are a pro-Chicano organization that emerged during the Chicano Movement in the late 1960s founded by David Sanchez and remains active to the present day. The group was seen as part of the Third Movement for Liberation. The Brown Berets' movements largely revolved around farm worker's struggles, educational reform, and anti-war activism; they have also organized against police brutality. Several groups have been quite active since the passage of California Proposition 187.
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In 1966, as part of the Annual Chicano Student Conference in Los Angeles County, a team of high school students discussed different issues affecting Mexican Americans in their barrios and schools. Among the students at the conference were Vickie Castro, Jorge Licón, David Sanchez, Rachel Ochoa, and Moctesuma Esparza. These high school students formed the Young Citizens for Community Action the same year, and worked together to support Dr. Julian Nava's campaign as a Los Angeles school board member candidate in 1967. Sanchez and Esparza had trained with Father John B. Luce's Social Action Training center at the Church of the Epiphany (Episcopal) in Lincoln Heights and with the Community Service Organization.
The organization's name was then changed to Young Chicanos For Community Action or "YCCA". In 1967, the YCCA founded the Piranya Coffee House. In September 1967, Sal Castro, a Korean War veteran and teacher at Lincoln High School, met with the YCCA at the Piranya Coffee House. The group decided to wear brown berets as a symbol of unity and resistance against discrimination. As a result, the organization gained the name "Brown Berets". Their agenda was to fight police harassment, inadequate public schools, inadequate health care, inadequate job opportunities, minority education issues, the lack of political representation, and the Vietnam War. It set up branches in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, New York, Florida, Chicago, St. Louis and other metropolitan areas with large "raza" populations.
The ideology of the Brown Berets was primarily represented by Chicanismo, for example with them having communication with the Black Panther Party in L.A. and having the Black Panther Party promoted, they were mainly aiming for a third world position.
We were a group of young Chicano revolutionaries from the barrios of the Southwest fighting for the self-determination of our people. We organized in our barrios, published the newspaper La Causa, ran a free clinic and fought against police brutality as well as against the U.S. war in Vietnam.
By September 1968, the Brown Berets became a national organization having opened chapters California, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, and Indiana.
The Brown Berets also came to be known for their direct action against police brutality. They protested killings and abuses perpetrated by the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department at the station in the barrio. They supported the United Farm Workers movement and the Land Grant Movement in New Mexico. In 1969, they participated in the first Rainbow Coalition (Fred Hampton) which originally included the Young Patriots with William (Preacherman) Fesperman and the Young Lords under the leadership of Jose Cha Cha Jimenez and the Lincoln Park Poor People's Coalition. In 1969, the Young Lords were invited to be part of the first Chicano Youth Liberation Movement organized by Corky Gonzales in Denver, Colorado.
The Brown Berets organized the first Chicano Moratorium against the Vietnam War in 1970, and a few months later the National Chicano Moratorium in which close to 20,000 Chicanos marched and protested the high casualty rate of Chicanos in Vietnam and the military draft. This peaceful protest became chaotic when the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department decided to end the event by attacking attendees. Three Chicano activists were killed (two of them Brown Berets), including journalist Rubén Salazar.
Also in 1970, The Brown Berets de Aztlan and other community activist organizations took over a piece of land in Logan Heights (a community of San Diego) because the city of San Diego wanted to build a California Highway Patrol Substation and the community didn't want that. That little piece of land just under the Coronado Bridge, marked by Chicano graffiti-art on the first bridge pillars, is now called Chicano Park.
In 1972, twenty-six Brown Berets occupied the Santa Catalina Island and claimed it for Mexico. However, by this time, the organization had been weakened by internal conflicts and police and FBI infiltration.
By 1969, 28 cities had Brown Beret chapters and established mostly in California but units were also established in El Paso, Albuquerque, Denver, Detroit, San Antonio, St. Paul, and Seattle. The Brown Berets were involved in marches, anti-war protests, student-walkouts, and gained significant national media attention when they staged an invasion of the Catalina Islands near Los Angeles in August 1972. Another important direct action was their mobilization of the East Los Angeles blowouts in 1968 where they acted as the security force for the thousands of protesting youth.
The Brown Berets high visibility and paramilitary stance made them a key target for infiltration, attacks, and harassment by local police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. When the Brown Berets were disbanded by Prime Minister David Sanchez in 1972, a total of 36 chapters had been established primarily near college and university campuses.
Now on many Brown Berets chapters have been formed and reactivated. David Sanchez leading the Brown Berets National Party and forming associates with many chapters. Then have the Brown Beret National Organization led by Jeronimo Blanco. National Brown Berets led by Juan Guzman. Brown Beret La Hermandad led by Juanito Burns, Carnalismo National Brown Berets led by Victor San Miguel. Los Brown Berets led by Sergio Lujan. Brown Berets de Aztlan led by David Rico, Brown Berets of Cemanahuac led by Debra Mendoza, and there are also a variety of Autonomous Brown Berets.
The Brown Berets did not have any restrictions or requirements that were specifically listed to join. It was known but not specifically stated that you had to be a Chicano man or woman, but there was no age restrictions. The Brown Berets was mainly made up of teens and early twenties people.
Women and Machismo in the Movement
There is a misconception about the role of women in the Brown Berets, (similar to the Black Panthers), in which most believe was an entirely male organization. Women in the Brown Berets established important community institutions such as the Barrio Free Clinic, which TELACU later institutionalized. One of the biggest issues that occurred within the Brown Berets was sexism towards the women of the movement.
This sexism has been known to stem from the concept of Machismo within Latino communities. Machismo is passed down through one's family experience, it is learned in the home that a woman's purpose is a domestic life taking care of children and cleaning. Machismo posits a patriarch heading a family and does not allow for female- headed families or other variations in family structure. Machismo does not allow for varieties of manhood or masculinity among la Raza or allow for the variables of class, education, or sexuality. The men of the movement had a tendency to view the women of the Brown Berets as subservient and unequal. The women of the party felt as if the men did not trust them, and yet they were stuck doing somewhat clerical work and reverted to domestic jobs and tasks. Gloria Arellanes recalls an incident where a top leader physically assaulted one of the women members by slapping her, word traveled fast among the organization. Arellanes also emphasizes how she used her power within the party to create support and solidarity between the women of the movement, and she believes that women leaving the movement contributed to the Brown Berets downfall.
This was an issue throughout many Chicano Movement organizations, such as La Raza Unida Party. In this case, women ended up doing all of the logistical work and became the backbone of organizing the party while men stuck to other tasks like holding discussions and taking action. The women of La Raza Unida Party wanted to focus on issues such as domestic violence and rape, as well as reproductive uses. These women wanted to support the pro-choice movement because many of them grew up near the border where abortions were common, and they saw this as their contribution to the legalization of abortions. However, the men of the organization did not see these issues as important enough to focus on because they primarily impacted women.
Despite the large extent of sexism, the Chicana movement in the brown berets did empower women in the beginning. It allowed for the anger issued to the U.S government to be expressed in a way that could make a positive change. For example, many Mexican female activists took pride in their political agender and felt it linked each organization together because of their shared common history of the working class and activism.
The movement brought out people such as Viola Correa, who was a poet/activist during the time. Her bilingual poem titled “La Nueva Chicana” had such a grand impact on the movement. She recites: “¡Hey! / See that lady protesting against injustice, / es mi mama / That girl in the brown beret, / the one teaching the children / she’s my hermana / Over there fasting with the migrants / es mi tía”. The poem allowed for activist to prioritize their cultural revolution and empowered the women of the movement. Although the role of women played a vital role in illustrating the success of the brown beret’s, in the end the demise of the movement can be contribute to the oppression of racism, sexism and classism that was highly prevalent during the 70’s.
Activity in other regions
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The Brown Berets set up the Benito Juarez Health Clinic (BJHC) in Chicago in 1972. This was a health clinic that provided free medical care to everyone in the Chicago area. Working in conjunction with Cook County Hospital and other major hospitals in the Chicago area, BJHC served the needs of the uninsured and those with no ability to pay for health care services. It was located at 1831 S. Racine, in the Casa Aztlán Center, the community building located on the south side of Chicago, just outside downtown Chicago. The Center Director was Ms. Dorthy Cutler.
The Brown Berets also fought on public education issues. The organization occupied a middle high school called Frobel Middle 9th Grade School. The Brown Berets, alongside families, community members and students, took over the school for a full day. At the end of the day, the Chicago Police arrived to remove people from the occupied school. That evening, a riot broke out, in which many rioters and one policeman were injured as the police were trying to disperse the crowd. Six police cars were also destroyed. The community wanted a school built in their community, and in 1979 a school was built in the Pilsen community, now called the Benito Juarez High School.
In El Monte, California, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Brown Berets often supported each other in marches against the Vietnam War and jail conditions at the Bexar County Jail. SNCC ran African American candidates for State offices under the La Raza Unida Party and often supported Mexican American activists.
In Washington State, the Brown Berets originated in Granger, Washington. The group was then transplanted to Seattle as students from the Yakima Valley were recruited to the University of Washington in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Seattle Chapter worked with the chapter in Yakima, Washington in attempting to organize various projects including the formation of a 'La Raza Unida Party' in Washington. It is believed that the group was initiated first in 1968, with the Seattle chapter emerging in 1969. The organization would attract over 200 members throughout the state.
Although having a short-lived presence (approximately from 1968 to 1984), the Brown Berets would be instrumental in organizing youth and college students. Of note was the organization's partaking in the occupation of the old Beacon Hill School in Seattle, which led to the founding of El Centro de la Raza, now one of Seattle's most prominent civil rights organizations. Activism also transcended the organization's early phase, with many former member establishing various community institutions to meet the needs of the local community.
April 22, 1970
The San Diego Brown Berets (now known as National Brown Berets de Aztlan) took over a piece of land in Logan Heights that was supposed to be a highway patrol sub-station. That piece of land under the Coronado bridge is now known as Chicano Park.
November 1, 1972
Brown Berets were infiltrated by government employees and subversives working for outside organizations including but not limited to the FBI, LAPD, CWP, ATF, and other law enforcement agencies and organizations working to co-opt the Movimiento Chicano to ensure protection of the United States. The then Prime Minister David Sanchez tried to disband the organization After a National meeting held in Albuquerque, NM at the Alianza Headquarters where thousands of Brown Beret Members. He resigned his post as Prime Minister of the Brown Beret National Organization.
During a session discussing the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act at California State University, Fresno on January 6, 2011, a Brown Beret member spoke out of turn and was taken out of the building by the police officers and detectives. In agreement, others in the audience argued that California lands that had previously belonged to Mexico were acquired by the United States in an unlawful manner.
August 26, 2018
On this date markes the march for the 48th Chicano Moratorium held in East Los Angeles. Were Brown Berets made history. In a call for unity to the cause of the raza. Were many Brown Berets came together. Many of the formation who made there presence know were the National Brown Berets, Brown Berets de Aztlan, Los Brown Berets, Brown Berets of Cemanahuac, Brown Berets National Organization and Autonomous Brown Berets.
Brown Berets Watsonville, California
See main article Brown Berets (Watsonville) of a 1994 autonomous group.
Brown Berets Austin, Texas
See main article Brown Berets (Austin).
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- Brown Beret Chapters 1969-1972 Maps showing locations and date ranges of Brown Beret chapters between 1969 and 1972.
- Interview with Jesus Rodriguez (Seattle Brown Berets)
- Interview with Rogelio Riojas (Seattle Brown Berets)
- Young lords in Lincoln Park