by Amanda Wang
(PASADENA) — It’s a little after 7PM on August 4th, a Tuesday. In the second story of the Vroman’s Bookstore, overlooking Colorado Boulevard, the murmur of a crowd would distract from the selection of gifts and stationary, and the children’s classics and colorful toys.
Before a curtain in Vroman’s signature green is Professor Mario T. Garcia, praised as the “premier historian of the Chicano movement,” here to sign his latest book, and the turn-out is such that more chairs would be a legal fire hazard. Amongst the community are elders with heads of hair long turned white, and spirited little ones, giddy and restless throughout the proceedings. Latecomers lean against the shelves and the stairwell. A member of the crowd cries, “Viva Pachuco!”
In Professor Garcia’s company are Chicano activists, Raul Ruiz, Gloria Arellanes, and Rosalio Muñoz, veterans of the movement whose narratives make up The Chicano Generation: Testimonios of the Movement. The professor would speak to enthusiastic applause every few sentences as he explained the purpose of his project: he wanted to put human faces to a movement often described in the abstract.
Each of the veteran activists would have a turn telling their stories in their own words. Ruiz shares some advice his family got when they were ready to uproot and move to the United States: “Don’t move to East LA. That’s where all the gangs are.”
“So we moved to South Central.” A punchline for a laughing, knowing crowd. As a child, Ruiz would have to fight for his right to be amongst a predominantly African-American community before he was accepted.
Arellanes, in a voice potent with emotion, would tell of growing up in an El Monte where all the neighbors were white and their intolerance was visceral. There was no walking on the sidewalks without fear of slurs being hurled at you from a passing car. When she went to high school, there were police raids that targeted only the Chicano youth.
Muñoz concludes by saying that, to keep a culture alive, “you have to tell your stories.” He remarks that, in the “Ethnic” section of Vroman’s, there are a mere 23 titles–“We have to change that.”