Orange County championed Chicano culture Sunday as thousands gathered at the 2nd annual Chicano Heritage Festival at Santa Ana’s El Salvador Park.
Families visited the lowrider car show display, while others set up canopies and grills to feed their children while waiting for the late evening entertainment while soft soul melodies filled El Salvador Park.
Muralist Marina Aguilera, 63, also unveiled her new mural to an eager crowd.
“This is the people’s mural, this took a village to create, my daughter and I created this in almost a year,” said Aguilera.
“This is part of the present, the future, and the past.”
The community festival is expected to bring in 8,000 attendees, more than last year’s attendance numbers of 6,000, according to Santa Ana Park and Recreation officials.
The city of Santa Ana has been at the forefront of the declarations, being the first major city to declare August Chicano Heritage Month in 2021.
Santa Ana’s leadership this year also prompted the city of Anaheim and the County of Orange to make it official this month.
The city of Anaheim also recognized August as Chicano Heritage Month.
“Anaheim‘s strength is its diversity. Officially recognizing Chicano History Month is only one way Anaheim acknowledges the contributions of our immigrant community,” said Mayor Ashleigh Aitken in a text message to Voice of OC. Aikten’s father, Wylie, serves as board chair for Voice of OC
The City of Anaheim held a variety of events throughout the month celebrating Chicano Heritage Month, including movie screenings, and cultural storytime. A new mural at Little Peoples Park is expected to be painted starting Wednesday, according to Mayor Aitken.
“Orange County is the first in the nation to declare August as Chicano Heritage Month,” said County Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento, a former Santa Ana city council member, to a loud audience applause.
“I was pretty surprised that, you know, our neighbors to the north in LA hadn’t done that or in the Bay Area in other parts of Texas because we know there is a strong Chicano population there,” Sarmiento said.
“But it’s always a nice step for us in Orange County to celebrate the roots that we have and I know that this was started in the city of Santa Ana in 2021.”
The Chicano Heritage Festival is celebrated on the last Sunday in August.
For a very particular reason.
“The festival is hosted on the last on the last Sunday, the month of August, to commemorate the Chicano Moratorium and to pay homage to the lives that were lost. In standing up for our freedom, you know, in the loss of Ruben Salazar on August 29, 1970, that was a loss that affected a lot of Chicanos nationally, and this was somebody who called Santa Ana home,” said Johnathan Hernandez, himself a current city council member from Santa Ana who represents the city ward hosting the festival.
Salazar was a pioneering reporter who opened doors for journalists of color as a columnist at the LA Times in the 1960s. He was killed after being struck in the head while sitting at a local bar by a tear gas canister fired by Sheriff deputies in the midst of dispersing the Chicano Moratorium Marches.
“There’s no better or more fitting time for us to celebrate Mexican-American history than the last Sunday of August, where we can commemorate Chicano history and the Chicano moratorium because the injustices that people were speaking about and fighting against in the 60s are still very much an issue that we deal with, in the present day” added Hernandez.
Hernandez says you can’t examine Chicano history without overlooking oppression.
Note that during the Vietnam War, Mexican-American anti-war efforts included over 20,000-30,000 demonstrators – protesting the disproportionate amount of Mexican-American youth being drafted and killed in the Vietnam War.
In World War II, 400,000 Mexican Americans served on the frontlines of combat, the most of any other ethnic group.
Alongside that kind of heroism and patriotism, Mexican Americans also confronted a staggering wall of limited opportunities in housing, recreation along with access to business and personal credit and education.
All those challenges were met with a wave of community activism, Chicanismo.
Mexican-American activists like Gonzalo and Jovita Valles fought for their children to use recreational facilities and won one of the earliest desegregation cases, Lopez v. Seccombe.
Over in Westminster, because of “a matter of district policy,” Sylvia Mendez and other children could not enroll in a Westminster School and alternatively would have to attend a segregated school in Santa Ana.
Sylivias’ parents, Gonzalo and Felicita Mendez and a host of local families like Lorenzo Ramirez led the desegregation efforts, eventually winning the case filed in court under the name, Mendez Vs. Westminster.
Or the Labor strikes led by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, both civil rights activists who founded the United Farm Workers Union and fought for farm laborers.
“We are men and women who have suffered and endured much and not only because of our abject poverty but because we have been kept poor,” said Chavez in his 1969 ‘Letter from Delano.’
“The color of our skins, the languages of our cultural and native origins, the lack of formal education, the exclusion from the democratic process, the numbers of our slain in recent wars, all these burdens generation after generation have sought to demoralize us.”
Discrimination against Mexican Americans in the U.S. West and South West, goes back as far as the birth of California, just after the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe of Hidalgo, which ended the US-Mexican War.
Despite promises that land rights would be respected. For many Mexican Americans the bargain wasn’t kept, with many lands taken with residents displaced.
In the 1940’s, the term Chicano was used to describe working-class Mexicans belonging to Spanish-speaking neighborhoods.
Then, during the 1960s, the pejorative term was embraced by Mexican-American activists for the social-political advancement of their cause: The Chicano Movement.
That movement has focused on ending housing discrimination, access to credit, and education.
Or historic fights in Santa Ana from the working class neighborhood, Logan Barrio, against toxic land use planning that zoned industrialized businesses alongside neighborhood homes.
Chicanismo defends barrios and the rights of Latinos, and is always evolving.
Even with its own name.
As much debate as there is among activists and academics about where the term, Chicano, came from, today there’s as much discussion about where it’s going.
Is it Chicano or Chicana?
In 2022, Lou Corea, a Chicano, who represents Anaheim, Santa Ana, Stanton, Fullerton, and Orange, introduced into the house a resolution declaring the month of August as Chicano Heritage Month.
This year, he submitted a similar resolution.
But this Correa titled it, Chicano-Chicana Heritage Month.
“We have to make sure our sisters are recognized for their tremendous contribution. I want to make sure it doesn’t say just Chicano, that people don’t think they’re being overlooked,” said Correa, “Our mothers, our daughters, our sisters are definitely part of our heritage.”
Some attendees at the festival agreed.
“Every time you do a first, there is always room for improvement, I think that it shows that we are open to change and we are not just going to continue with the static interpretation,” said Jeanette Rodriguez, who considers herself a Chicana, “ reintroducing it [the resolution] in an inclusive way– I am all for that.”
“Chicanos have been around since the beginning of California, a Chicano is an American of Mexican descent,” said Abram Moya, 74, art curator, activist, and artist.
“Of course, in Mexico, we have used masculine terms to define a whole community, however, I think it is more inclusive that we use Chicana and Chicano, because, after the Chicana feminist movement in the 1970s, which was somewhat suppressed, it [the resolution name change] also describes how Chicanas have moved up to positions of power,” said Michelle Sanchez, 21, Co-Chair for MEChA at UC Irvine.
The support for the name change was supported by many residents.
Santa Ana is looking to change August to Chicano/Chicano Heritage Month as well, according to Councilmember Hernandez.
“The farm labor movement, the labor movement, we built this country, we’re part of it,” Correa said.
“And that’s what Chicano-Chicana Heritage Month is all about,” Correa said. “It’s not about breaking off and creating our own country, it’s celebrating that we are Americans, in every sense of the word. This is our country.”
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