It opened their eyes to injustices. It spurred some of them into public service careers. And it infused them all with cultural pride.
When the Chicano Civil Rights Movement swept across the country in the 1960s and 1970s, Austin’s Mexican-American community united to fight for quality education, political representation and a respect for their rich culture.
It was a time when Austinites like Margaret Gómez, who later became Travis County’s first Latina elected official, questioned, “What’s really going on here?”
The latest installment of KLRU-TV’s Austin Revealed series, an oral history project launched in 2014 that aims to encourage discussion about the city’s future, focuses on the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in Austin and weaves together the compelling stories of trailblazing Austinites, like Gómez, who were part of an era that helped shape today’s Austin.
“Austin Revealed: Chicano Civil Rights” airs on KLRU-TV on March 31 at 7:30 p.m. The PBS affiliate also partnered with the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center to host a special screening and discussion of the documentary on March 31 as part of the center’s César Chávez celebrations. Doors for the screening open at 6:30 p.m. and the film starts at 7 p.m. An RSVP on klru.org is required for the free event, where co-producers Joe Rocha and Eve Tarlo will be present.
During research for a previous “Austin Revealed” installment highlighting notable African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, producers uncovered many rich stories about the Chicano community struggles of that time. “We knew we wanted to come back to the Chicano story,” says Maury Sullivan, KLRU-TV’s senior Vice President for Community Engagement.
The first-person accounts of more than 20 Austinites, including former Brown Beret activist Susana Almanza and former state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, help piece together a holistic history that sheds light on the movement’s sacrifices, failures and achievements.
Austinites recalled being disciplined in schools for speaking Spanish and the struggles of being a Mexican-American local business owner. The documentary highlights Austinites who helped shape politics, art, education and activism. “(During the Chicano Movement) there was a lot of togetherness and a lot of energy to work for that effort,” Gómez says in the film.
From police brutality to education reform, the documentary remains timely, says co-producer Rocha. “There are some laughs, but also some tears and anger,” Tarlo adds.
New Austinites, Rocha says, will also see why we now have parks and streets named after some of these community leaders. “There’s a stamp in Austin left by these folks,” he says. Many of the featured Austinites remain active community leaders. “They’re inspiring and they’re still fighting,” Tarlo says.