The Portland State chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, a national student group representing Latinos in the Chicano movement, wrapped up its yearly Chicano Week on Friday, May 23 in a week of events organized to raise awareness about the movement and the resources that are provided for Latino students at PSU. Many of the events were cosponsored by and took place at the PSU Multicultural Center.
Chicano Week began on Monday, May 19 with a presentation by Chimali Cuetlachtli, National Commander of the National Brown Berets, a Chicano activist organization based in California.
Tuesday’s featured event, Chicanos in the Political Arena, was a presentation by Ernesto Ayala of the National La Raza Unida Party, a California based Chicano political party active in the 1970s that continues its community work today.
The following night was Noche de Familia at the Multicultural Center, where MEChA students came together with their families for dinner and a presentation by Octaviano Merecias-Cuevas about the problems facing Latino families regarding access to education and support for first generation college students.
Thursday night’s Cafe Cultura event featured student spoken word, poems, singing and Aztec folk dancing by Portland’s Mexica Tiahui dance group.
Chicano Week wrapped up on Friday with MEChA appreciation, where over 100 high school MEChA students were able to meet MEChA alumni, discuss the challenges they will face in college and network with other members.
Monica Reyna, treasurer at PSU’s MEChA chapter, talked about the role of MEChA on campus and the work that they do with students in Portland’s larger Latino community. Reyna said the group helps students work through the challenges that people of Latino descent in the United States often face, especially in regard to education.
“A lot of us are first generation students, so our parents didn’t graduate high school and it’s sometimes hard for them to know how to support us,” Reyna said.
The Chicano movement began as a U.S. political movement in the 1960s, advocating for political rights and empowerment for people of Latino descent. The term Chicano originally referred to Latin American migrant workers in the American Southwest, but eventually became adopted as a term expressing political unity and the struggle of Latinos for rights and representation in the United States.
“It’s a broad term. Anybody can be Chicano or Chicana. It’s not based on a nationality. When you call yourself Chicano it means that you work for the betterment of our community.”
Michele Leon, secretary at MEChA, elaborated saying that the term is “more of a political identity we’ve given ourselves.”
Chicano groups such as the National Brown Berets and the National La Raza Unida Party, who were active and successful in many of their political goals during the 1960s and ’70s, continue their political activism today with chapters spread across the United States, based largely in California and the west. These groups largely focus on education, the struggle against discrimination, and the promotion of political and economic rights of Latinos.
When asked about the larger goals of events such as Chicano week and how they help MEChA in their goal of spreading Chicano awareness, Leon said that “having this kind of thing is really necessary because you don’t really learn about these kind of things in your classroom, especially in high school.”
MEChA has hosted numerous events in the past year, including educational and cultural workshops with high school students and events with PSU’s La Casa Latina, a resource center for Latin American students located in the Multicultural Center. The group plans on continuing and expanding its work with Portland high school students in the summer and the coming school year.
According to Reyna, the group is guided by an active commitment to education and community activism.
“We’re not exclusionary, we welcome everybody [and] that’s why we want to educate others.”