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Exhibitions: How La Raza Chronicled Chicano stories in LA

By David Schonauer   Friday October 27, 2017


La Raza published for just a decade, from 1967 to 1977.

But during that time the newspaper became the vital chronicler of the Mexican-American struggle for equality and justice in Los Angeles. As The New York Times  noted recently, La Raza “provided a vital and dynamic forum for Chicano political and cultural expression.”

On the 50th anniversary of its founding, the publication is celebrated in “La Raza,” an exhibition at the Autry Museum of the American West that documents what The Times calls the relatively unknown story of photography’s important role in the Chicano movement. The exhibition, which  draws from the archive of more than 25,000 images donated by La Raza’s photographers to U.C.L.A.’s Chicano Studies Research Center, runs through Feb. 10. 2019.

The exhibition is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an ambitious exploration of Latin American and Latino art taking place at more than 70 cultural institutions across Southern California. Pacific Standard Time is an initiative of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

The Autry Museum calls the La Rasa exhibition “the most sustained examination to date of both the photography and the alternative press of the Chicano Movement, positioning photography not only as an artistic medium but also as a powerful tool of social activism.”

United Farm Workers rally, 1970, Coachella, CA, by Manuel G. Barrera, Jr


“Chicanita.” Circa 1971

Hollenbeck Police Station protesters, Circa 1971

“Homeboys.” East Los Angeles. 1972, by Luis C. Garza

“The publication’s title, La Raza, was originally used by the Mexican philosopher and presidential candidate José Vasconcelos in a 1925 essay, ‘La Raza Cósmica’ (‘The Cosmic Race’),” notes The Times. “In it, he argued that the uniquely interconnected identities of the Mexican people, which included European, indigenous, and African roots, presaged a ‘fifth’ race of the future, an agglomeration of all races. While its literal translation is ‘the race,’ the term is typically used to connote the more expansive idea of ‘the people.’”

Luis C. Garza, a La Raza photographer and one of the organizers of the exhibition, tells The Times that La Raza’s activist writers and photojournalists helped give “newfound voice to political, cultural, and artistic expressions.”

“The success and achievement of goals, however ambitious or limited, were tied to organizing and solidifying gains while bringing attention to the grievances and demands of a systematically excluded populace,” Garza writes in the exhibition’s catalog.

The Columbia Journalism Review  tells the story of particularly important La Raza photo, taken by the newspaper’s editor in chief, Raul Ruiz (above).

The photo, notes CJR, captured “the pivotal moment when a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy stood on an East Los Angeles sidewalk and aimed his tear-gas launcher into the Silver Dollar Café on August 29, 1970. A tear gas missile from the launcher would fatally strike Ruben Salazar, a Los Angeles Times columnist and KMEX News Director who had become one of the few mainstream voices to tackle issues that mattered to Mexicans and Mexican Americans in a city and era when people of color were often absent from media coverage.”

Ruiz understood the importance of the image, but the mainstream media refused to publish it.

La Raza editors decided “we were going to report the news that nobody ever reported, and if you want to call it a biased report, fine, we don’t care. The measure of our objectivity was not going to be the critics,” says Ruiz, who is now a professor of Chicano and Chicana Studies at Cal State Northridge.

If La Raza were still around, Ruiz tells CJR, it would be covering deportations and the threats to DACA recipients, as well as President Donald Trump’s calls to build a wall along the Mexican-American border.

“The racial resentment that helped elect and continues to define Donald Trump’s presidency once thrived openly in Southern California, where for the first time since Eisenhower, even conservative bastions like Orange County voted Democrat in the last presidential race,” notes CJR.
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At top:  La Marcha por la Justicia, a rally protesting police brutality, Belvedere Park, East Los Angeles. Jan. 31, 1971, by Luis C. Garza

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