From the Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter | what we can learn about movement building.


The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was held 53 years ago on August 28, 1963. It was on that Wednesday, 100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, that nearly 250,000 people converged on the National Mall in Washington D.C. to demand civil and economic rights for African-Americans in the United States. The March on Washington, as it came to be known, marked an important turn in the fight for Civil Rights because of the enormous impact it had on national legislation and public opinion. Simply put, it proved the power of mass organizing.

The March on Washington eventually resulted in the signing of Civil Rights Act, which was built off of a continuous momentum that allowed for the formation of broad coalitions between labor, civil rights, faith-based and student groups.  The accomplishments of the 1950s and 1960s cannot be forgotten or lessened — they are cornerstone victories in American history. The wave of sit-ins in the 1960s brought the formation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The founding of the SNCC propelled the civil rights movement into a new era that drew, fostered and trained a generation of radicals who led the dismantling of racist Jim Crow laws. Without the organized direct action of the SNCC, the world wouldn’t have witnessed the violent and ugly face of voter repression, segregation and overall disregard for Black lives in this country that was demonstrated by the Freedom Rides and the Lunch Counter Sit-Ins. It was this type of direct action that has informed the current resistance movements’ occurring across the country today.


From Ferguson to Baltimore, it is clear that the intensifying repression being directed first at Black communities and then at working-class communities is a direct result of the conscious policy decisions made by powerful interests. The reality is that many urban Black communities are experiencing severe economic and social deprivation that cannot be understood without looking at the cause-and-effect relationship between these conditions – the Capitalist system and processes like “free trade.”

Many of the gains made during the Civil Rights Era were diminished as a result of neoliberal economic policies. The ruling class’ response to the last major crisis in Capitalism was to slash social welfare, privatize and eliminate public services, rewrite legislation to favor corporations, and attack unions – thus, further cementing the need for coalitions between racial and economic justice movements.


The visible proof of these claims can be seen with the deindustrialization and the flight of capital in urban cores. Cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Oakland, and affiliated cities like Flint, Michigan, South Bend and Gary, Indiana, and East St. Louis, Illinois – where Black communities are concentrated – these cities tell the story of the failure of neoliberal capitalism to provide long-term quality employment for workers which has increased the gap between the rich and poor. After the 2008 economic crisis, the economic challenges that faced black people in this country became even more devastating.

The irony here is that neoliberalism was started under the banner of “small government” yet, while the state made slashes to social programs it massively expanded its policing and prison system – a system that has disproportionately ensnared people of color and poor whites. Not only were economic opportunities limited with the exportation of jobs under NAFTA and other neoliberal policies but Black people began to be incarcerated at alarming rates.


Black Lives Matter Leaders: Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi

The Black Lives Matter organizers, whom are mostly young Black queer women, have intentionally unraveled the notion of a post-racial America and exposed the pervasive patterns of racism in the U.S. They have also revealed the limitations of the Democratic Party while highlighting the traditional liberal establishment’s inability to respond to the economic and social crises that we are currently experiencing. And although there can be no denial that the Black Lives Matter movement is propelled by the history of the civil rights movement they have their own distinct style that is explicitly more progressive than the non-violent civil rights movements of the past.

The most recent demonstration of this was at the Netroots Nation convening this past July, where Black Lives Matter protestors directly confronted progressive Presidential candidates about what they will do to address the needs of Black people in this country. Specifically, these protestors pushed Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to think about what they will do to not just reform the criminal justice system, but to also dismantle racial injustice in the United States. Shortly after the confrontation at Netroots, both the Sanders and O’Malley campaigns had responses to the protestors that included the acknowledgement that Black Lives, in fact, Matter. That is the power of direct action.

What we can learn from both the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Civil Rights Movement is first, that the what ever movement you are trying to built, it must be situated in the broader struggle for social justice. Without building coalitions and partnerships with other struggles we will get nowhere. As we, continue with any type of movement building with our communities, we will also need to maintain a deeper analysis of how your movement can partner with Black Lives Matter. Worldwide those with darker skin tones have bared the burden of oppression for far to long to not build solidarity to try to advance racial justice in the U.S. In building a larger organized movement,the next step is to move forward a broader agenda of economic, racial, and social justice. By doing this, we further our understanding of how each struggle and movement is linked. We become better advocates for our communities and stronger coalition partners – more equipped to fight for our cause.

Second is the importance of direct action. Speaking truth to power can be difficult but it is necessary. We have a responsibility to keep those that create these policies accountable for the decisions that they make on behalf of our communities. We need to be asking questions of our elected leaders even if it makes them uncomfortable.

Learning from justice movements of the past will help us shape our future and continue to be politically engaged moving forward. If we are able to situate each current struggle in the broad historical context we will be able to create strategy that is building off momentum of the past.  We have the power to change this and move forward an agenda of true equality and justice for all by building coalitions and confronting power head on.



Music Mondays| Las Cafeteras “Mujer Soy”

In honor of Womyn’s HerStory Month, today’s music Monday features the East LA band Las Cafeteras. Las Cafeteras formed in 2008 with the purpose of documenting the histories of their neighborhoods through music. They understood the importance of oral history and wanted to continue the historic culture of storytelling. They started as students of the Eastside Café, a Zapatista inspired community space in East LA where they brought the influences of culture, storytelling and poetic music of Son Jarocho, a traditional music style from Veracruz, Mexico. Their progressive mission translates into their music and they seek to honor women and challenge masculine language, by feminizing the name of their group name by calling themselves, Las Cafeteras, rather than Los Cafeteros.In that same vein, Mujer Soy is a song that honors the life and struggles of everyday womyn.

This video captures the everyday life of Maryann Aguirre, a fierce woman of color from the Eastside of Los Angeles. The video follows her as she faces the daily challenges of work, single motherhood, & the pressure of being a leader in her community. However, she faces those obstacles with hope, patience & dignity.

Also, featured in this video is the organizing power of the Ovarian Psycho-Cycles an all womyn’s bicycle collective from the Eastside of LA.

You can download this song by clicking here.

Many times we laugh at things because we’ve become socially conditioned to minimize their importance. Laughter can then become highly political- the reason *why we laugh at things is political in itself- we just need to ask the right questions to question the source of that laughter. Similarly, anti-black, anti-Asian, anti-gay, “crack whore” “jokes” still participate in putting these people down through ridicule of people’s race, gender, class, and sexuality.

– Professor Georgina Guzman

Music Diaries with Gael Garcia Bernal

Gael Garcia Bernal in Motorcycle Diaries

Can Gael Garcia Bernal get any hotter? I didn’t think so. Until today.

Its not just his chiseled features, full lips, and mysterious eyes that has me so fascinated with this Mexican celebrity. It’s the way he carries himself and his consciousness.

He has an eye for art and a way of politicizing films by sneaking a message in them. From movies like, the obvious, Motorcycle Diaries to Amores Perros, Even the Rain and Babel. He always has something deep and meaningful to say. He pushes the envelope. Like the gay sex scene he filmed with his best friend Diego Luna in Y Tu Mama Tambien?

Tonite, NPR featured Gael Garcia as their Guest DJ on the show ALT. Latino. He was great and can I just say he is effortlessly cool! Check out this show here in english or en español! And note that sexy laugh….Guau! To top if off he ended the segment with a song by Gilberto Gil !

Thank you to my friend Sufia for sharing! These mellow sounds completed my night.

Bring Street Vending Back to Boyle Heights!

ELACC is raising money to help 8 street vendors set up shop at our Farmers Market in Boyle Heights but we can’t launch the market unless these vendors get the proper permits and equipment and that won’t be a reality without money!



Celebrating Día de los Muertos in ELA, Sugar Skull Face Paint, Recipes and Amazing Women

On November 2nd, I skipped work and went over to my friends house to get ready and have some girl time before indulging in the Día de Los Muertos events at Self Help Graphics located on the Eastside.

More pictures here.

I also wanted to share these recipes and description of Day of the Dead via Gastronomista, one of my favorite blogs…

[Last] week was the celebration of the Day of the Dead, a Mexican tradition where one’s family comes together to celebrate those who have passed on.  Traditionally altars are made in honor of lost loved ones, as well as offerings of their favorite dishes, and iconic sugar skulls are made for each relative.  November 1st is the Día de los Inocentes (The Day of the Innocents), and November 2nd is the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).  People encourage visits from their lost loved ones by visiting cemeteries, decorating graves with offerings, orange marigolds – Flor de Muerto.  Traditions vary from town to town, but the celebrations are always in respect for life.

The holiday is thought to be traced to an Aztec Festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, and fell in the ninth month of the Aztec Calendar.  This ancient festival was believed to be celebrated for an entire month, starting at the beginning of August.  It is believed that traditions in celebrating the deaths of family members and ancestors has continued for 2,500-3,000 years.

Sugar Skulls are given to the living and to the dead, made of chocolate or of sugar, and are inscribed with the name of the recipient.  These skulls are the icon of the of The Day of the Dead, and they are thought to have good luck.  Traditional Sugar Skulls are decorated with feathers, glitter, foil, icing, and are not meant to be eaten, but are a sweet offering none the less.

Calavera Panna Cotta

4 cups (1l) heavy cream (or half-and-half)
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 1/2 teaspoons)
6 tablespoons (90ml) cold water

Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan or microwave. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

(If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and add the bean pod. Cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the bean then rewarm the mixture before continuing.)

Lightly oil our large sugar skull molds with a neutral-tasting oil.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

Pour the very warm Panna Cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Divide the Panna Cotta mixture into the prepared sugar skull molds, then chill them until firm, which will take at least two hours but I let them stand at least four hours. (Judy told me American refrigerators are colder than European ones. )

Run a sharp knife around the edge of each Panna Cotta and unmold each onto a serving plate, and garnish as desired.  

And, of course, a cocktail to go with your Day of the Dead festivities:

La Picosita 

3 strips of fresh red bell pepper (1-1/2 inch X 1-1/2 inch, skins on)
3/4 ounce honey syrup
3/4 ounce lemon juice
1-1/2 ounce Milagro Silver Tequila
Pinch cayenne pepper/cumin spice mix
1 slice charred red bell pepper

To make the honey syrup, combine 2 parts honey with 1 part warm water. Stir thoroughly until combined. Measure out 3/4 ounce. Store unused portion in refrigerator.

To make the spice mix, combine equal parts ground cayenne pepper and ground cumin.

To char the red bell pepper, grill a halved red bell pepper on a lightly-greased grill top until the skin begins to turn black in spots. Allow to cool, slice pepper lengthwise, removing seeds and cut into long strips, approximately 1 inch wide.

Crush the fresh red bell pepper with honey syrup and lemon juice, preferably in a mortar and pestle. Transfer to a cocktail shaker. Add tequila and ice, and shake vigorously.

Strain over fresh ice into a rocks glass. Garnish with a pinch of spice mix and a slice of charred red bell pepper, and serve.

Recipe modifies from a Rosa Mexicano Recipe

yo soy pocha y que?

My skin is brown

just like theirs,

but now I’m unworthy of the color

’cause I don’t speak Spanish

the way I should.

– Michelle Serros

As a fourth generation Chicana, this poem has always resonated with me.  When I first read these words it was as a junior at UCLA in my first ever Chican@ Studies class. A classmate and now close friend had quoted Michelle Serros in her paper. I saw the quote in her paper and later found out it was a poem. We, as later generation Chicana’s, bonded over the pain of the distance and closeness that we craved for our cultures. We talked about the looks we received from other Latin@s that didn’t understand how our Spanish was so broken.

My first memory of this was when I was in seventh grade. I had a Spanish teacher, her name was Señora Soria. She would speak to me in Spanish because she thought I was fluent. Ironically, my Chinese-Vietnamese bestie would translate and let me copy her tests. Luckily, my jr. high bestie had been privileged enough to grow up with a nanny that spoke to her in Spanish.

One day after class Sra. Soria offered me a ride home and asked me all kinds of questions in Spanish. I remember being mortified because I didn’t want her to find out I wasn’t a REAL Latina. I was trapped I had to confessed that I didn’t know Spanish.

Fast forward to college, I went through the Slater figures out he is a Chicano moment when I transferred to UCLA.

Then I learned what it meant to be fourth-generation Mexican American and why I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish.

It was because my great grand parents, grandparents, and parents were born in the U.S. and the tradition of speaking Spanish stopped with my parents. After all, it was their first language but in the 1950s they were taught that it was a dirty language. My mom remembers being pulled out of class to correct her “accent”. This sort of racialized psychological and cultural violence was what forced our “proper assimilation” into the U.S. We wiped away our culture and whitened our accents and cultural language markers. No longer did we speak Spanish.

So when I first learned what a Pocha was I thought, “yep, that’s exactly what other brown people see me as”. But, once I learned that it really wasn’t my fault. I sought out to reclaim my cultura and really embrace what it meant to me to be a fourth generation Chicana – a descendent of Mexico, a mestisa, a pocha, a mujer mezclada, a woman of color, latina, and in some places a gringa (like Brazil). What it really means to be me and to not speak Spanish…

Now, that I work with a community in Boyle Heights that solely speak Spanish and is sometimes illiterate. I have been forced to once again face my identity, the assumptions made about my brown skin and my generational status. Two weeks ago, I had an awkward car ride in which thoughts about what to say, how to say it raced through my mind. I sat in my black honda civic with three monolingual Spanish speakers.

I didn’t say much and half the time I was too nervous to really know if I understood what they were saying. Mostly, I just responded with the occasional “” or “mande” – my go to words when I have to fake Spanish – I learned these tricks early on.  Again, I was forced to confess, “Tengo vergüenza cuando hablo español porque tengo un accento de una pocha” (I am embarrassed to speak Spanish because I have the accent of a Pocha). I explained that my family has been in the states for about a century and that because of racism I don’t speak Spanish well. They understood and wanted to know more about what school I went to, what I studied and why.

When I got back to the office I breathed a sigh of relief and I felt accomplished. Being me actually worked.

This made me say, “Yo soy pocha ¿y que?”.

There is nothing I can do about the disconnect to the Spanish language that has happened as a result of the past but I CAN try my best to be patient and learn as I go. I am open and I figure if I can learn Portuguese I can learn Spanish.