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A Redemonstration of the Chicano Moratorium

Protests: The marches against the Vietnam War will be marked with photos, films and a panel of participants.

August 23, 2002|JOSE CARDENAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a young amateur photographer, Kathy Gallegos trekked 32 years ago to the Eastside of Los Angeles, where thousands were gathering for a series of anti-Vietnam War protests. Fearing one event would turn violent, she left early, missing history in the making.

Now, the 53-year-old owner of Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park is hosting an exhibit, including photos and newspaper articles, that captures much of the history she missed. "We are all getting older, and I think the young people need to hear what happened," Gallegos said.

The exhibit is one in a flurry of activities--art, films, a peace rally, a panel discussion and a prayer service--being held today through Aug. 30 to commemorate the anniversary of demonstrations in 1969 and 1970 known as the Chicano Moratorium. (Information regarding schedule of events is at www.aztlannet.com.)

The original Moratorium aimed to protest the fact that Mexican American soldiers were dying in the Vietnam War in higher proportion than their numbers in the general population.

Although there were several demonstrations on the Eastside months apart, to some, the Chicano Moratorium is synonymous with the Aug. 29, 1970, protest at Laguna Park, the gathering of 20,000 people that resulted in violent confrontations with police.

When the dust settled, three people were dead: Angel Diaz, Lyn Ward and Ruben Salazar--a Times columnist and news director of KMEX-TV.

Although activists through the years have marked the Moratorium with marches and other events, this year's anniversary has a larger number of activities. The members of the committee that organized the original Moratorium are chiming in.

At one event, special guests will include Rosalio Munoz, Ramses Noriega and David Sanchez, all members of the original committee.

But Chicano Moratorium 2002 isn't meant only as a nostalgic exercise, according to members of the original committee, whose protests drew thousands from throughout the Southwest and from as far as Puerto Rico.

There's a current relevancy, organizers say, given the possible war against Iraq.

"We are also again at a time of military escalation, as the Bush administration is calling for a prolonged war on terrorism," said Munoz, 56, the chairman of the original committee.

"That has many of us worried ... about the denial of rights in our Constitution."

Munoz, who works in advertising but through the years has protested things such as Proposition 187--which would have denied public services to illegal immigrants--was a key character in the original Moratorium.

A former UCLA student body president, Munoz helped spark the Moratorium in 1969 when he refused to be inducted into the military.

The Moratorium is perhaps the best remembered of what was a series of protests reflecting social unrest nationwide.

There were about 30 protests in Latino communities all over the Southwest, from Fresno and Stockton to Albuquerque and San Antonio, to parts of the East, including and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

"There is so much history that it's incredible that it was crammed into such a short period of time," said Nancy Tovar, 66, a retired graphic designer who is contributing memorabilia, items such as pictures of marches, to the Avenue 50 Studio exhibit.

The commemoration presents a perfect occasion for art expression, organizers say.

Many of those involved in the original events have matured to produce such things as books and memoirs.

But the event also presents a chance to pick up the protest against some of the same issues that, organizers say, have not changed.

Regarding the possible war against Iraq, "I believe that the same thing will happen that happened during the Vietnam action, that Chicanos in disproportionate numbers will be going into the military," said Rudy Tovar, 80, Nancy Tovar's husband, who recalls police hurling tear gas at him and others at one protest.

Besides the military issues, other bad conditions for Mexican Americans persist, said Carlos Montes, 54, a member of the Brown Berets who said he fled the country in 1970 to avoid police and prosecutors who were hounding him over his involvement in protests.

"The same conditions that we marched against are still here today: the attacks against the health system, overcrowded schools and the threat of war," said Montes.

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