The Brown Struggle: Brown Berets (by Maria Arciniega)

Overview

The goal of this lesson is to introduce students to the Brown Berets pro-Chicano organization and their involvement in the Chicano movement. More specifically, this lesson will focus on the objective, incentive, and evolution of the Brown Beret organization during the 1960s.

Framework

With this lesson students will be able to learn, analyze, and interpret the significance of the Brown Berets within the larger Chicano Movement. More specifically, students will follow the evolution of the Brown Berets through the East Los Angeles Walkout of 1968 and foster discussion on the motivation behind this pro-Chicano organization. With a series of lectures and discussions, students will be able to develop their own understanding of the Brown Berets and provide a critical analysis of a primary source. This three-part lesson will begin with an introduction of the Brown Berets in the larger context of the Chicano Movement and transition to the analysis of two primary sources developed by the Brown Berets. The planned activities are intended to expose students to extracurricular history of the Chicano Movement, particularly focusing on the Brown Berets.

Essential Understanding

The Brown Berets were essential in the continuation and evolution of the Chicano Movement and served as a significant militant force for young Chicanos; contributing to the Chicano empowerment with leadership and courage.

Essential Questions

1) Who were the Brown Berets and what how did they enhance the Chicano Movement?
2) What were East Los Angeles Walkouts of 1968 and Chicano Movement, as a whole?
3) How did the Brown Berets contribute to the East Los Angeles Walkouts?
4) What were the main goals of the Brown Berets and how did they meet these goals? (Consider the acclaimed Chicano identity and militaristic nature of the organization).
5) Under what platform did the Brown Berets established themselves? (Primary source provided)
6) How did the Brown Berets help propagate the Chicano identity?
7) What led to the downfall of the Brown Beret organization?

Introduction

The Brown Berets were instrumental in establishing the Chicano identity in the 1960s, as the Chicano Movement began and developed. The origins of the Brown Beret organization can be traced back to the Young Chicanos for Community Action (YCCA) a group of Mexican high school students who started to unite in the 1966. At the start, this group was characterized for its civil character, as it sought to provide community service and become involved in the local elections, but overtime transformed into the militant nature of the Brown Berets.

Consistent police brutality and sabotage encouraged YCCA members to adopt a militaristic style, starting with leader David Sanchez who encouraged the use of “brown berets and field jackets” to signal alliance with radical groups such as the Black Panthers and Puerto Rican Young Lords.1 One of the goals of the Brown Berets was to promote the Chicano identity by encouraging members of the Mexican-American community to join in the preaching of this identity. Moreover, the Brown Berets promoted an organization in which members would respect their leaders and were self-disciplined, including an appropriate dress code and conduct.1 The organization targeted racism as the indicator of the long-term oppression these young, Chicano students experienced as members of the American society; indirectly promoting the Chicano movement by making Chicanos conscious of their disadvantaged background.

The Chicano movement was highly characterized by its working-class youth membership that began to thrive on an academic setting with organizations like United Mexican American Students (UMAS), Brown Berets, and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MECHA). Carlos Muñoz Jr., author and Chicano movement leader, proclaims that the Chicano movement was about establishing an identity for Mexican Americans and was a long-term aftermath to colonialism and multicultural, multiracial, and generational character of this community.2 To a certain extent, the Chicano movement was the coming together of the Mexican-American working class to establish and unify their political, social, educational, and economic views based on their own cultural beliefs; disconnecting themselves from the white identity.

Moreover, the East Los Angeles high school walkouts of 1968 were a pivotal moment in the shift of momentum in the Chicano movement. During the walkouts, thousands of Chicano students refused to attend the segregated and poorly maintained schools that they had been relegated to by the United States local government. These walkouts stemmed from the growing resentment of a new generation of Chicano youths fueled by the backwardness of their education in the United States. Elements of Mexican-American education during this time included: segregated facilities that were not maintained nearly as well as their whites-only counterparts, substandard learning equipment, and inexperienced teachers. The greatest difference between the two educational systems, however, was the curricula; Mexican-American schools focused on the teaching of industrial and domestic skills instilling the prospect of a labor-driven future for their students. Vocational education almost guaranteed the Mexican-American niche in labor positions and immensely hindered the opportunity for Mexican-American social mobility. The Walkouts of 1968 were a physical manifestation of the frustrations felt by young Mexican students in America at this time, and further highlight the obstacles Chicanos faced in their struggle for equality and recognition American citizens.

The involvement of the Brown Berets in the East L.A. Walkouts was beneficial to the organization since it increased its membership and allowed them to gain recognition among the American society. During the East L.A. Walkouts, the Brown Berets encouraged the students to walkout and join the protest. As expressed by Haney Lopez, the Brown Berets were there directing students to protest and sit outside of the high schools. The Brown Berets further increased their heroic image at the time of the walkouts by publishing articles in the Chicano Student News where they highlighted their involvement in the walkouts, encouraging young students to join the organization.1

While many would simply label the Brown Berets as the militaristic and opportunistic group of the Chicano Movement, their role throughout the East L.A. Walkouts of 1968 was exceptional and key to the rest of the movement. As members of the East Los Angeles community the Brown Berets were able to increase their exposure, due to their involvement in community protests, speeches, and newspapers. Such exposure allowed them increase their visibility, credibility, and membership, which proved to be essential in the early years of the movement.

Materials

The Brown Berets

Timeline: Movimiento from 1960-1985

Chicano! PBS Documentary – Taking Back The Schools‬

Brown Beret Ten-Point Program (1968)

Brown Beret Pamphlet

The Chicano Movement: Brown and Proud

Activities

This lesson plan will be broken down into three days where students in the 11th grade level will participate, interact, and discuss material centered on the Brown Beret organization. In Day 1, the students will be introduced to the Brown Berets, Chicano Movement, and East Los Angeles Walkouts of 1968 through a series of videos and discussion. By Day 2, students will be asked to analyze and discuss a primary source; a homework assignment will be issued. There will be a weekend gap between Day 2 and 3 to allow for an extensive homework. On Day 3, the students will present their homework from Day 2 and will take part in-class debate/discussion.

Day 1

Class begins asking the students to define and discuss “what a Chicano is?” or if they had ever came across that term. Allow for the students to say their ideas out loud and define the implications of Chicanismo.

Present a short lecture with a brief timeline of the Chicano Movement (Timeline: Movimiento from 1960-1985) and motivation behind the movement. From the timeline, focus primarily on the national events from 1962-1972; emphasizing the 1968 events. This lecture will provide background on the Chicano Movement and relevant events in relation to the Brown Berets. Moreover, it will be serve as revelation and new experience for the students since previous curriculum has not shined a light on civil rights movement like the Chicano Movement. By participating in lecture and discussion students will gain confidence in the subject and provide diverse insight.

Emphasize the following events and concepts:

1. Motivation behind the Chicano Movement (frustration of Mexican American community)

2. East Los Angeles Walkouts of 1968 (list of student demands)

3. Brown Berets (start of the organization and involvement in the East L.A. Walkouts of 1968)

To end the lecture, present The Brown Berets student-made video as a way to summarize the relevance of the Brown Berets in the Chicano Movement. Form 3 discussion groups and present the following questions:

1. What did the Chicano Movement constitute? (In terms of social, political, economic, and cultural aspects)
2. Who were the Brown Berets? How did they began and what were their main goals as an organization?
3. How were the Brown Berets implicated in the East L.A. Walkouts of 1968 and Chicano Movement as a whole?

Each group is assigned to a question and will present on their collective answer at the end of a 10 minute period.

Close the class period with an emphasis on the historical background of the Brown Berets and Chicano Movement via a short PowerPoint Presentation. To develop this short presentation use information provided on Timeline: Movimiento from 1960-1985, The Chicano Movement: Brown and Proud, and Introduction above.

Homework: Students will watch Chicano! PBS Documentary – Taking Back The Schools and write a one-page response to the documentary. This response should not focus on summarizing the documentary, but rather developing an understanding on a key aspect presented in the film.

Note: Considering that students are getting most of their background information on the movement and Brown Berets, this class period may be a bit boring for the students, try to engage students throughout the lecture and discussion as much as possible.

Day 2

Divide the students into three groups and allow them to share the response on the Chicano! PBS Documentary – Taking Back The Schools among themselves. Select a representative from each group to share the main ideas discussed with the rest of the class. These small and large group discussions will enable students to all contribute to the learning of the Brown Berets and Chicano Movement. As the teacher, make sure you facilitate the discussion of the representatives but also anyone else in the class that is willing to share their opinions/ideas.

As a class, read the Brown Beret Ten-Point Program (1968). Go around the classroom asking students to read a point from the program to engage students in the reading.

Split the students into three groups again (make sure they are not the same groups) and give them the following questions to analyze this primary source:

1. Considering these points, what do you think were the primary goals of the Brown Berets?
2. Who was the targeted audience and tone of this document?
3. How might this Ten-Point Program contribute to the evolution of the Brown Beret organization?
4. What does this document tell us about the Brown Beret political, social, and economic standpoint?
5. Making connections to other civil rights movements, how is the cyclic frustration of oppressed groups foreseen in this document?
6. How does this document manifest the struggle of Chicanos and contribute to the Chicano Movement as a whole?

Allow the small groups to discuss these questions for 10 minutes and bring back the discussion in a larger context, going question by question. Provide personal analysis to the discussion, as the students provide their own analysis of individual questions and points in the Brown Beret Ten-Point Program (1968).

Personal Analysis of Ten-Point Program (use as guide)

To defend themselves from the injustices of the judicial and local government the Brown Berets established a ten-point program. The program sought to advocated for reforms to improve the educational system, urban renewal programs, voting rights, and judicial system for Chicanos. In analyzing these ten demands there is an evident counterrevolution by the Chicano students against the cultural and racial imperialism that the American society had casted upon them. For the most part, the demands were a representation of the injustices and mistreatment that the Mexican Americans tolerated within their communities. The actions called upon in the demands may appear extreme, but their nature revealed that Chicanos were receiving much less resources or attention compared to white privileged communities of the time. A general trend of the demands is the need to be culturally recognized as Mexican-American and the necessity to eliminate discrimination across their community.

Several prominent points found in the ten-point program made by the Brown Berets centered around the recognition of Mexican-American identity and culture. First off, the Brown Berets demanded that “that the true history of the Mexican-American be taught in all schools in the five Southwestern States”.3 This demand is indicative of their education being one in which their culture is ignored and it reflects their desire to maintain a cultural identity. To a certain extent, the Brown Berets were publicly expressing their opposition to the Americanized curricula and also making a point that they have the right to improved resources and treatment.

Another demand illustrates the need for bilingualism among the officers in the area: “that all officers in Mexican-American communities must live in the community and speak Spanish”.3 Such inclination demonstrates the Beret’s desires to have environment where Mexican Americans can speak in their native language and be understood. By having officers that spoke Spanish to these citizens then they would also be protecting their community to a greater degree since it would prevent the officers from using language as verbal weapon in either the courthouse or in public spaces. In the same regard, the Berets asked that Mexican-American citizens be tried by juries that were solely Mexican Americans. As a whole, these demands demonstrate the compromise of the Brown Berets ‘to serve, observe, and protect’ the Mexican American community.

Homework: Students will be given copy of Brown Beret pamphlet, a primary source, and asked to analyze it. The students can expand their analysis of the pamphlet from a structural, literary, and historical aspect. The students are expected to use the background information provided in Day 1 to make an appropriate analysis of the text. The analysis of this primary source should be approached as done so in class, answering primarily what does this text tell us about the Brown Berets and Chicano Movement? A two-page, double space analysis must be turned in at the beginning of Day 3.

Day 3

Divide the students into 2 groups and give them 20 minutes to discuss key ideas of their analysis and develop a platform to defend in a in-class debate. The platforms should analyze the evolution, impact, and purpose of the Brown Beret within the Chicano Movement. One group will defend this platform, while the other will oppose the intentionality of the Brown Beret organization. This is meant to be a healthy debate that will allow students to make arguments and claims based on the primary sources read and background information provided in previous lectures. Encourage that all claims and opinions are made with supporting evidence from either the documentaries, lectures, or sources read.

Class will end with the teacher wrapping up the importance of the Brown Berets in the Chicano Movement and brief explanation of the downfall of the group as a result of FBI involvement (refer to “The targeting of the East Los Angeles Brown Berets by a racial patriarchal capitalist state: Merging intersectionality and social movement research”). As well, this final analysis should be developed by referring to the Essential Questions posed above.

Glossary

Chicano: widely used during the Chicano Movement to identify Mexican-Americans who wanted to express an identity, of cultural, ethnic and community pride.

Cultural Identity: the identity or feeling of belonging to, as part of the self-conception and self-perception to nationality, ethnicity, religion, social class, generation, locality and any kind of social group that have its own distinct culture.

Imperialism: a policy of extending a country’s power and influence through diplomacy or military force

California Common Core Standards

Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 11-12

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
4. Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
5. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
6. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 11-12

1. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
2. Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
3. Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.

 

Additional Sources

Brown Berets, “Ten Point Program,” 1968. Reprinted in “Brown Berets: Serve, Observe, and Protect,” La Raza (newspaper), June 7, 1968, 13.

Correa, Jennifer G. “The targeting of the East Los Angeles Brown Berets by a racial patriarchal capitalist state: Merging intersectionality and social movement research.” Critical Sociology 37, no. 1 (2011): 83-101.

“Finding Aid for the Collection of Underground, Alternative and Extremist Literature, 1900-1990,”1998, http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb800010vw/?order=2

“LATINOPIA DOCUMENT – 1968 E.L.A HIGH SCHOOL WALK-OUT DEMANDS.” Latinopia. Last modified March 6, 2010.

Munoz Jr., Carlos. Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement. London: Verso, 1989. 162-167.

Simpson, Kelly. “East L.A. Blowouts: Walking Out for Justice in the Classrooms.” Last modified March 7, 2012.

“The Black Berets’ twelve-point program.” 162-167. n.p.: 1973. Chicano Database, EBSCOhost

“Young Chicano Revolutionaries.” Fight Back! News. Last Modified February 1, 2003.


1Haney Lopez, Ian. Racism on Trial the Chicano Fight for Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003. 178-181.
2Munoz Jr., Carlos. Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement. London: Verso, 1989. 10.
3Brown Berets, “Ten Point Program,” 1968. Reprinted in “Brown Berets: Serve, Observe, and Protect,” La Raza (newspaper), June 7, 1968, 13.

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