Christmas season tamaladas have a way of drawing out sentimental reminiscences. So there I was, standing near the cast iron stove, trading military stories with a fellow veteran. I'd shipped out to Korea, doing commo on a cold mountaintop, my friend had travelled all over the globe installing commo sites. We laughed at the outlandish stunts pulled off by young men we'd known, and recounted our own hairy near-misses with death in silly accidents. Gad, those were good times. But we grew somber and morose remembering guys who got themselves killed in Vietnam, and tipped our hats to the men and women serving today in Iraq and Afghanistan. May they all come home to share stories at some tamalada forty years from now.
How cheering it was when a younger fellow started talking about the earliest days of the movimiento in LA. This was going down while I was still in uniform. The man, an artist today, had enrolled at LA's Wilson High School after being tossed out of Roosevelt. Attending a school assembly, he couldn't believe his ears. The vice principal said how Wilson was such a better place for the assembled raza because, not being Roosevelt, and not having a strong UMAS element--United Mexican American Students and precursor to MEChA--Wilson's student body was a lot closer to Anglo culture than neighboring schools.
The artist recalled going home outraged at the thought that being closer to Anglo culture was somehow desirable and "better" than being raza. He'd been attending classes at UCLA as part of Upward Bound, and had a keen understanding of cultural issues. Better, he had contacts with activist gente. He placed a few phone calls. The next day, he was summonsed to the Office. The vice principal sat trembling at his desk, his office filled with numerous suits--activist lawyers. The veep explained "the young man was obviously mistaken". This offended the artist, telling the vice how the suits were important, busy professionals. For the administrator to say the boy had been "mistaken" was to say the artist was wasting the expensive time of these caring professionals.
Thus began the man's political involvement that grew from Wilson High's parochial boundaries to the committee that planned the Chicano Moratorium of August 29, 1970, then subsequent notable causes celebres that kept Los Angeles in the spotlight of Chicano activism throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
He admits, fortunately for historians, to being a pack rat, so he has voluminous original documents. "I still have all my position papers, the posters, the correspondence" and planning documents from that time, he told me. I asked a question that has a disheartening answer: "Have you preserved these papers?" No. No, he hasn't preserved them. The materials are rolled up, or bundled in old manila folders, boxed up and making the move with him every time he relocates. "I need to downsize," the artist said, "I want to give you these papers."
I refused. Papers of this uniqueness belong in a research library. Maybe at UCLA's Chicano Studies collection, perhaps at UCSB's more impressive collection. Somewhere other than in private hands, que no?
The value of these materials is beyond the merely academic. "It's not about money," the artist replied when I advocated he not offer the material to my private hands. But it is about money. If not cash, an annuity program that would pay the artist over N years, or that would allow him a tax deduction in those years when his work sells. I read about these deals all the time in the newspapers. Some rich family donates something to an institution in exchange for income or tax benefits. Why shouldn't this activist-artist be advantaged in the same way?
All that's required is some leadership by a scholar or administrator with connections to recruit the support possible only from an institution or its benefactors. If UCLA, UCSB, or another committed institution wants these materials, a leader needs to step up with money, or an annuity deal to compensate the holder of this history.
Ideas, gente? Can we get this collection into a place where this history can be investigated, written down, and explored by succeeding generations? Click here to share your ideas.
So here we are, boxing day. Whatever that is. What it is is the last week of 2006. Tempus fugit, carpe diem. See you next year.