This past May this year a series of events were held in Colorado to commemorate the martyrs of the Chicano Movement that came from this state. It happened this year because 2014 is the 40th anniversary of the deaths of Los Seis De Boulder, six Chicano activists and supporters who were killed in two separate car bombings in May 1974 around the University of Colorado campus at Boulder, Colorado. This commemoration was for these six people, along with three others from Colorado who died as a direct result of their activities in the Chicano movement. Their adherents call them the Symbols of Resistance.This commemoration was a needed reminder of this turbulent history, and one to give direction to the movement now. Here I will briefly examine the importance of the legacy of this time.
These nine people from Colorado were killed between 1972 to 1978 during their activities in the Chicano movement. They include: Ricardo Falcón (1972), Luis “Junior” Martinez (1973), Los Seis de Boulder: Neva Romero, Una Jaakola & Reyes Martinez (May 27, 1974), Florencio Granado, Heriberto Terán & Francisco Dougherty (May 29, 1974), and Carlos Zapata (1978). For many years starting back in 1979, the friends and fellow organizers of these people who died as a result of their movement activities have done commemorations to honor and remember them. The commemorations each time also bring in many younger people who were born after these events and who through their participation keep this history alive.
This years commemoration had its beginning at another commemoration less than a year before in Ft. Lupton, Colorado. This one was for the first martyr from Colorado, Ricardo Falcon, a Chicano activist from this city who was known as an effective and influential organizer as a student and community member. Falcon was murdered in 1972 when he and a caravan of cars were traveling through New Mexico to El Paso, Texas for a convention of La Raza Unida party. The car overheated, they stopped at a gas station in Oro Grande, New Mexico owned by a right wing white vigilante. Falcon and him got in an argument that ended in Falcon shot dead by this man. Falcon is one of the martyrs of the Symbols of Resistance. In 2012, the 40th anniversary of his death, an event was held in Ft. Lupton, where he is buried, where family and supporters marched to his gravesite. Another commemoration was held the next year in 2013. Afterwards at that last gathering, talk began on a commemoration for the 40th anniversary of Los Seis. It was decided to have monthly planning meetings, in different cities in Colorado where participants would come from.
The result of this organizing was a multi-faceted event held in Denver, Colorado on May 31st, held at Su Teatro theater. People from all over the U.S. came for this event. There were items of theater, music, poetry and film shown throughout the day to the audience in the packed theater. A number of Brown Beret chapters from around the country attended and provided security. The response to the program of the event that day was overwhelmingly positive. A feeling of enthusiasm was in the air in the building that day, with both younger and older participants coming away with it positively.
It finished off with a panel discussion featuring speakers that brought a range of discussion from different national liberation and anti-imperialist forces. Speakers included: Kathleen Cleaver, former leader of the Black Panther Party; Rafael Cancel Miranda, member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party who participated with other nationalists in an armed attack on the United States Capitol in 1954 and subsequently imprisoned for this; Michael Deutsch, an white activist lawyer involved with campaigns to free political prisoners such as Miranda; Ray Luc Levasseur, a white Canadian anti-imperialist imprisoned for armed campaigns against U.S. foreign policy in Central America and South Africa. The panel also included Debra Espinosa, who was active in UMAS in Boulder during the time that Los Seis De Boulder were killed and now resides in Pueblo.
Other speakers included: Priscilla Falcon, wife and widow of Ricardo Falcon, and now a professor at University of Northern Colorado and remains a Chicana activist; Ricardo Romero, who went to prison for refusing to testify to a grand jury convened to go after the Puerto Rican independence movement, and now runs the El Frente De Lucha center in Greeley; and Francisco “Kiko” Martinez, who was framed for a series of bombings in Colorado in 1973 and forced to flee the United States, who continues to practice law today, and the brother of Reyes Martinez, one of Los Seis de Boulder.
The next day in Boulder there was a march and rally from the CU campus to Chapultepec Park, the site of the first car bombing that killed the first three of Los Seis. Over 100 participated in this event. Many former activists talked about their experience in struggles at the CU campus, specifically the occupation of Temporary Building 1 (TB1), over plans to cut minority programs there. The bombings occurred at the same time as this occupation.
The website symbolsofresistance.org was set up for this commemoration and will continue to provide information about these historic events.
The Struggle in Colorado
Ever since the United States invaded, occupied and colonized the northern half of Mexico after 1848, the Chicano people have engaged in various forms of resistance since that time. The Chicano Movement, which most scholars date as a period of activity from around 1965 to 1975, was an era in the history of the Chicano/Mexicano people in relation to the United States that was symbolized by more militant and nationalistic activity by its people. At the same time the Chicano Movement took off there was the struggle against the war in Vietnam and the Black/New Afrikan liberation movement often called the Civil Rights movement, as well as many national liberation and anti-colonial movements around the world. Chicanos participated in these struggles as well, and helped influence many activists in the Chicano Movement also.
Much of the activity was of a reformist nature, attempting to allow more Chicanos access to the system, in combating discrimination and gaining access to education and economic opportunity. These struggles resulted in many successes, as much blatant discrimination was eliminated. Yet there was also a striving for national liberation. The realization that we were a nation occupied, that our land to build our future was in possession of a colonial power. This often was expressed in terms of Aztlan, named for the historic northern homeland of the Mexica Aztec peoples, which asserted that the Chicano and Mexicano people were not immigrants but had a right to the land they were on.
Colorado itself was a major focal point of the Chicano Movement. One, a significant portion of the state was part of the land of Mexico annexed through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Colorado itself is a Spanish word, showing its heritage. Many struggles involving Chicanos happened here, most notably the Ludlow Massacre. One of the Four Horsemen of the Chicano Movement was from Colorado, Corky Gonzalez, the head of the Crusade for Justice in Denver. It was in Denver in 1969 that the National Chicano Youth Liberation conference happened in 1969, organized by the Crusade for Justice, and where El Plan Espiritual De Aztlan was put out. Even though Denver and its surrounding areas were never historically never part of Mexico, the fact that it has been populated by Chicanos who inhabited it made it a part of Aztlan.
The movement in Colorado suffered many attacks, and with it came more militant forms of resistance. In 1973 an attack on the Crusade for Justice resulted in the death of Luis Junior Martinez and the bombing of an apartment owned by the Crusade because of the police attack. That same year a series of bombings and attempted bombings happened around Denver blamed on Chicano activists, and lawyer Kiko Martinez was framed up for them. Knowing the repression he faced, Martinez fled the United States for seven years.
There was much struggle in nearby areas around Denver also. Ricardo Falcon, mentioned above, was from Fort Lupton, and organized in the community and nearby prisons along with being a student activist in UMAS up to the time he was killed in 1972. UMAS had a strong chapter with hundreds of members in Boulder. The tensions in Boulder created a tense climate of action and reaction. In Boulder in 1974 there were three bombings before Los Seis. One at an elementary school, another on campus, another at a police station. Many of these armed actions likely were not part of any organized groups but more from spontaneous reactions to injustice, and they remain unclaimed to this day. In the spring of that year UMAS took over TB1 over the university’s plans to cut programs that increased minority enrollment. Chicano enrollment at CU Boulder went from 50 in 1968 to 1500 in 1972, yet the university, influenced by its right wing forces, fought even that. The occupation went on up to the two bombings two days apart that killed those activists who came to be known as Los Seis de Boulder. Most had connections to the university and UMAS, and some were involved in the TB1 takeover. The police blamed the victims saying they were setting up the bombs themselves, and never looked at any other motives. A grand jury was convened, but it was set up solely to go after the Chicano movement, and many activists refused to participate. The movement took off in different directions, but many see these events as a turning point for it.
Along with those killed, many others from this time were jailed and imprisoned, some resisted repressive grand juries. The facts about the deaths of Los Seis are disputed and many remain unknown. But however they died, it was in the process of the struggle for the liberation of their people. For that they should forever be remembered.
Martyrs are those who died fighting for a cause. The Chicano Movement produced many martyrs, not only in Colorado. This fact shows that for us today, we are here because other people struggled. The importance of martyrs in liberation movements is universal.
During the Chinese Revolution in the 1940‘s, led by the Chinese Communist Party and its Chairman Mao Zedong, Mao gave a speech later entitled Serve the People. It would become one of the Three Constantly Read Articles in that country after the revolution. It was given at a memorial meeting for Comrade Chang Szu-teh, who died in a battle during the revolution.
“All men must die, but death can vary in its significance. The ancient Chinese writer Szuma Chien said, “Though death befalls all men alike, it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a feather.” To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai, but to work for the fascists and die for the exploiters and oppressors is lighter than a feather. Comrade Chang Szu-teh died for the people, and his death is indeed weightier than Mount Tai.
…Wherever there is struggle there is sacrifice, and death is a common occurrence. But we have the interests of the people and the sufferings of the great majority at heart, and when we die for the people it is a worthy death. Nevertheless, we should do our best to avoid unnecessary sacrifices. Our cadres must show concern for every soldier, and all people in the revolutionary ranks must care for each other, must love and help each other.
From now on, when anyone in our ranks who has done some useful work dies, be he soldier or cook, we should have a funeral ceremony and a memorial meeting in his honour. This should become the rule. And it should be introduced among the people as well. When someone dies in a village, let a memorial meeting be held. In this way we express our mourning for the dead and unite all the people.”
Other national liberation struggles have also honored their martyrs. The Irish liberation movements have always saluted their comrades who have died in the struggle against British imperialism. The most visible way they have done this is their many murals around Northern Ireland. Other movements remember their martyrs similarly.
The Chicano and Mexicano people should remember their fallen comrades similarly. One speaker at the commemoration rally, Guillermo Suarez of the Mexican National Liberation Movement, stated that these remembrances are not to be separated by each different national state of the U.S. they were in, but more of our own occupied nation. The Chicano Movement was one that encompassed nearly everywhere the people were at and struggled. While we remember our comrades, the best way to honor them is to continue the struggle until we have victory, that of a liberated nation.