Latino filmmaker: ‘It is our country, too’

Valadez details rise
of Chicano activism

Raul AlonzoWeb editor

Documentary filmmaker John J. Valadez introduces his movie "Prejudice and Pride" during a screening in the White Library.
Documentary filmmaker John J. Valadez introduces his movie “Prejudice and Pride” during a screening in the White Library.

Del Mar College on Nov. 18 hosted a screening of one episode of the three-part, six-hour PBS documentary “Latino Americans,” which premiered in September. Titled “Prejudice and Pride,” the episode detailed the rise in Chicano activism in the 1960s and the mass entry of Latino Americans into the U.S. political process.

John J. Valadez, producer, filmmaker, writer and director of the episode, was present at the screening to provide an introduction and take questions afterward. Valadez sat down with the Del Mar College Foghorn to discuss his film, his motivation for undertaking the project and what he hopes audiences take away from the episode.

“You know, American broadcast television started back in 1939, so we’ve had 74 years of TV. Now, during all of that time, there has never, in the history of American television, been a nationally-broadcasted series which has attempted to tell the stories of Latinos and their participation in the building of America. That’s never happened before in American television,” Valadez said. “So I think a lot of us who are Latino filmmakers have wanted to produce a series that told that story for a long time, and it’s taken until now to do that.”

Originally premiering with the first episode on Sept. 17, “Latino Americans” chronicled the story of the Latin American community throughout U.S. history and the contributions, some renowned and some more obscure. For Valadez, through the rediscovery of such history, the hope is that it may help newer generations of Latino Americans develop a sense of cultural identity.

“I think it’s both really sad that it’s taken 74 years but, on the other hand, it’s also wonderful because I think it, hopefully, is a milestone that signals a turning point in American consciousness,” Valadez said. “What I mean by that is so often Latinos, and Mexican-Americans in particular, have been seen as foreigners. You know, ‘citizens in name only.’ There’s an expectation that we need to assimilate, that we need to change who we are in order to be American. And I think what this series says, in part, is that no — we reject that. We don’t need to change who we are. We’re fine just the way we are. We can be American in our own way and we’re not going to alter one but who are to fit into somebody else’s definition of what they think Americans should be.”

Valadez’s particular episode, “Prejudice and Pride,” focuses the time period of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, beginning with the movement of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta to organize impoverished farmworkers into a union and following through to such events as the 1968 East Los Angeles high school walkouts led by Sal Castro as well as other student strikes. The entry of Latin Americans in mass numbers is detailed along with the founding of the La Raza Unidad party in Texas, led by Jose Angel Gutierrez.

“I think when most Americans think of the Civil Rights Movement, they think of the South,” Valadez said. “They think of Martin Luther King, they think of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, they think of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, they think of the Birmingham Bombings … they think of the march from Selma to Montgomery. But they rarely, if ever, think of Mexican-Americans as being crucial to the Civil Rights era in this country.”

“Mexican-Americans, in our own way, at the vanguard of the Civil Rights struggle: not in the South, but in the Southwest, and that’s important for Mexican-Americans and for all Americans to know,” Valadez continued. “That Chicanos fought and struggled and sacrificed and, in some cases, died so that this country could be a little closer to being true to its highest ideals and most noble aspirations. Mexican-Americans moved this country closer to equality and freedom.”

The learning of such a history is a necessity both for contemporary Latin Americans as well as the future generations. According to, by 2050 white, non-Hispanic people will make up 47 percent of the U.S. population, compared with 67 percent in 2005. This signals a shift in the prevailing demographic makeup of the U.S., and for Valadez, this only necessitates the preserving of such a cultural identity for future Latinos.

“As we move into the 21st century, by 2045 this country will be a majority-minority country and, by the end of this century, if demographers are correct, we will be, in some sense, a Latino country,” Valadez said. So it is very important that we find ways, especially in this era of anti-Latino sentiment, that we find ways to span divides of difference and find new connections for positive change and understanding and that our Anglo and African-American colleagues understand that, we too, have, in fundamental ways, shaped the destiny of this country and that it is our country, too.”

A sense of optimism in the future is shared by Valadez, provided that the lessons of the past make their way to the minds of the next generation.

“Part of the way we do that is to understand the role played in the nation’s history and, if we’re very clear on that, then the 21st century may be a very productive one for everybody. And, if we’re not, then it could be a very bumpy ride.”

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