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Latinos Recall Chicano Moratorium : Politics: Commemoration of the protest 25 years ago, in which three died, turns into anti-Wilson rally.


SANTA ANA — Almost a quarter-century has passed since Ricardo Gonzalves of Fullerton went to East Los Angeles to join 20,000 Chicanos protesting the Vietnam War and the lack of opportunities for Latinos in education, politics and business.

The protest march, which Latino activists say was the largest political gathering of people of Mexican descent in U. S. history, turned violent when police clashed with activists.

Three people, including Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar, were killed in the rioting that followed.

On Sunday, Gonzalves and about 100 Latino activists and their families gathered at Memorial Park here to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the march, known as the Chicano Moratorium.

But the event in Santa Ana soon turned into an anti-Pete Wilson rally, with speaker after speaker blasting the Republican governor for his advocacy of Proposition 187 and his campaign for the dismantling of affirmative action programs.

At one point in the four-hour-long commemoration, small children and grandmothers lined up to take swings at a green pinata in the shape of a pig, with a cutout of Wilson stuck to its snout.

"We're showing our anger at the system," said Albert Martinez, an organizer of the event. "We have a responsibility to show who the enemy is. This pig is a symbol."

Martinez and others said the commemoration provided an opportunity to show that little has changed for the Latino community in the past 25 years.

When the Chicano Moratorium was held Aug. 29, 1970, activists denounced the disproportionate numbers of Latino casualties in Vietnam and the poor opportunities they were afforded in this country.

There are conflicting versions of what provoked the violence, but Salazar and two others were killed, while 60 people were injured, and $1 million worth of property was damaged in looting and rioting along Whittier Boulevard.

Pancho Aguilar, 40, of Los Alamitos, said he still remembers that historic day. Then 16, Aguilar had gone to the march with his parents but was separated from them after baton-wielding police clashed with marchers. "Seeing little kids being trampled brought more tears to my eyes than the tear gas itself," Aguilar said.

Gonzalves, an artist and university lecturer, also recalled the scene for the small gathering, calling it "a police riot."

Gonzalves said Wilson's support of Proposition 187, which would deny prenatal care to pregnant women who are illegal immigrants, was "a genocidal act like the ethnic cleansing going on in Bosnia."

Ruth Chaidez, an activist from Buena Park, said the governor was attempting to divide people "by picking on their legal status. We are all one people with or without papers," she said.

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