THE TABLET: The Malibu Roots of Chicano Activism
March 03, 2018, 04:05 PM
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When I was a kid in Los Angeles in late 1960s-early 1970s, there was a lot of Chicano political activism. You don’t hear much about Chicanos, American-born Mexicans, anymore in part because they were demographically inundated by Mexican-born Mexicans. But a few old time Chicanos, like former Los Angeles mayor and candidate for California governor Anthony Villaraigosa, are still around.

That raises the question of why there was once so much Chicano activism in the first place, since Tony Villa, for example, is not exactly a formidable mastermind self-starter.

In The Tablet, Gustavo Arellano (a post-Chicano Mexican) explains the secret behind the brief efflorescence of Chicano Power:


‘The young Mexican American is tired of waiting for the Promised Land’

By Gustavo Arellano, March 2, 2018

On March 1, 1968, about 250 students led by drama kids upset that the principal canceled an upcoming performance of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park

tried to walk out of Wilson High School in Los Angeles. The action sparked what’s now known as the East Los Angeles Blowouts, in which thousands of Chicano students left their classrooms to protest rundown campuses, racist teachers, and apathetic counselors. The marches and rallies brought national attention to the Chicano civil rights movement, created a generation of leaders, and still inspire activists 50 years later.

And this important moment in Chicano history happened in large part because of a rabbi and his Jewish youth camp.

Camp Hess Kramer in wealthy Malibu is about an hour and a half away and a world apart from the working-class, Mexican-American high schools of East L.A. But its oak-filled hills and cozy cabins, site of Reform Jewish teen retreats for more than 65 years, has hosted an annual camp for Chicano students for almost as long. Why a Jewish facility hosted such a uniquely Mexican-American event is all gracias to Rabbi Alfred Wolf, who long administered Hess Kramer for Wilshire Boulevard Temple. The interfaith pioneer was a longtime ally to Los Angeles Chicanos, standing with them on issues of police brutality and even once allowing protestors to use the Wilshire Boulevard Temple parking lot as a base to protest arch-conservative Archdiocese of Los Angeles Cardinal Francis McIntyre, who held services at St. Basil’s Church just a block away. …

And in this safe space, the future of the Chicano movement began to get discussed. Topics at that first conference included “Are Mexican-Americans timid and hesitant in aspiring to advance?” and “Should agencies other than those existing be set up to help these people?” …

The Hess Kramer retreat proved such a success that adults quickly organized their own. That fall, 150 educators, politicians, and businesspeople attended a three-day conference keynoted by L.A. human relations commission member Julius M. Klein. “You must rid yourselves of this sense of defeatism and sense of inferiority,” the Los Angeles Times quoted him as telling his Mexican-American audience.

… “Indeed, one might say that the cradle of the Chicano Movement in L.A. was to be, ironically, found here in the Malibu mountains.”

At a Jewish youth camp.

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