2020 LEAD Summit Procession Grand Marshals
Cynthia Barajas has been a Brown Beret Chicana activist for 52 years since 1968 in the Casa Blanca Chapter (#46-Inland Empire). She started under one of the founders of the Brown Berets, David Sanchez. Dating back to 1969 when the walkouts happened, the word got out, and many Chicanos in the schools at the time got the flyers. Cynthia recalls, “We walked out because many of us were experiencing terrible discrimination and prejudice by the Anglo teachers, counselors and administrators. Those that did not speak English well enough where forcibly placed in classes for the mentally challenged.” She goes on, that the students figured out there were educational State laws such as Title I for bilingual students from Raza educators.
Chicanos that spoke English were also routinely placed in remedial classes, and in class levels, that never changed or challenged. Year after year, she states, “we were placed in low-level vocational classes and not the college preparatory ones.” The walkouts were coordinated as peaceful demonstrations (September 16, 1969) to stress the educational needs of our people. Chicanos throughout the U.S. participated in these peaceful walkouts to demonstrate the urgency of this grave national problem.
Cynthia participated in many marches, demonstrations, rallies and blowout confrontations with the police. “We Chicanos stood strong and we took the streets to educate our Raza and all the communities about the injustices, inequalities, racism and widespread discrimination against our people in the Southwest.”
In 1970 Cynthia marched 500 miles from Calexico to Sacramento (CA State capital) alongside David Sanchez who at the time was the prime minister of the Brown Berets. They presented state officials a list of demands about the injustices, discrimination, education levels, police brutality and other concerns the community was experiencing.
A couple years later Cynthia was amongst the group of young men and women during the August 30-September 22, 1972 Brown Beret occupation of Catalina Island who sought to bring attention to the injustices and discrimination Mexican people faced in the U.S. The Brown Berets justified what they called their “invasion” of Catalina on the fact that the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in which Mexico surrendered California (and much of western North America) to the U.S. did not specify that it also gave the islands to the U.S. Cynthia proudly recalls: “we Brown Berets stood strong and united.”
52 years later Cynthia is still an active Beret fighting against children in cages, feeding the homeless, serving the communities in the Inland Empire, and mentoring the youth as well.
Viva La Raza! "We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!"
Dr. Gutiérrez, along with Cesar Chavez, Reies López Tijerina, and Corky Gonzales, stands out as among the most important and influential leaders of the Chicano movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
He was a founding member of the Mexican American Youth Organization (MAYO) in 1967, one of the first student activist groups of the Chicano movement; and founding member and past president of the political third-party La Raza Unida Party, which left its mark on the political scene, challenging Democratic and Republican parties alike to court the ignored Mexican American and Latino voter.
José Angel was one of many activists working to change public education on a local level in the 1960s and 70s. Born in Crystal City, Texas, and educated in local schools, Gutiérrez mobilized the community to demand equal treatment for Chicano students. He was lead organizer of the Winter Garden Project, the project that which led to the now famous walkout of 1969.
Dr. Gutiérrez has been organizer, founder and co-founder of several other organizations such as the Mexican American Unity Council (MAUC), Ciudadanos Unidos, Obreros Unidos Independientes, Becas Para Aztlán, Oregon Council for Hispanic Advancement, Northwest Voter Registration and Education Project, and Grupo de Apoyo para Immigrantes Latin Americanos (GAILA).
He has been the subject of many articles and film documentaries, including the PBS video series, CHICANO! The Mexican American Struggle for Civil Rights, and is mentioned in many Chicano history and political science books. He was also featured as an "Innovator" in the PBS documentary series - School: the Story of American Public Education. More recently Dr. Gutiérrez was featured in a segment of: “Prejudice and Pride: the Chicano Movement”, which was part of the PBS series - "Latino Americans."
José Angel Gutiérrez is the recipient of the prestigious 2019 Hispanic Hero Award. For those not familiar with his contributions, here's the video produced and published by the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute. Watch José Angel Gutiérrez 2019 Hero Award on YouTube.