Labor Day weekend 1972, La Raza Unida Party (LRUP) was holding its inaugural national convention in El Paso, Texas. The purpose of the convention was to discuss the priories and strategies for the Chican@/Mexican@ community in relation to the upcoming national elections. Following the opening address there was a moment of silence for “el soldado de Colorado” Ricardo Falcon.
Ricardo Falcon was an engaging Chicano student activist and organizer in the late 1960s and 70s. His activism included student organizing with the United Mexican American Student organization (UMAS), recruiting ex-prisoners for college programs, as well as advocacy for the agricultural Mexican community of Northern Colorado. On August 30, 1972, on his way to the LRUP convention, Falcon stopped at a gas station in Orogrande, New Mexico. There, Ricardo Falcon was murdered by a white right-wing vigilante member of the American Independent Party, Perry Brunson, over a “dispute” about water used to cool off their car. Falcon bled to death at the scene and Brunson was charged only with manslaughter, but was soon acquitted by an all-white jury. LRUP decried the “unjustifiable, racist-fueled” murder, and Falcon’s death left a profound impression on the convention and the subsequent development of the Chicano liberation struggle.
Until entering college, I had been deprived of much of the history of Chican@ struggles. Even as a Xicana involved in student organizing, I did not know about Falcon until I watched COINTELPRO 101 at an organizational meeting at school. Falcon is not a well known leader of the Chicano movement and a simple Google search renders little information about him. However, as an intern at the Archives, I got the chance to listen to segments of the inaugural LRUP national convention as well as a media press conference the day after Falcon’s death interviewing Kiko Martinez, Falcon’s lawyer, and Priscilla Falcon, Chicana activist and Falcon’s widow. Although the film is powerful, the raw emotion of hearing Priscilla Falcon’s interview hours after the murder stays with me: “How do I tell my two year old son that my husband was murdered over water and no help was given to him? … Murdered by a racist man from the American Independent Party.”
For Falcon and his peers, Chicano struggles were rooted in a legacy and culture of resistance to US imperialism, which included the conquest of much of the American Southwest, formerly part of Mexico. Rather than assimilation, the necessity of Chican@ political independence and Chican@ nationalism was at the forefront of their organizing.
In terms of the Chican@ movement, the real tragedy of Ricardo Falcon’s murder was the loss of potential leadership. Ricardo Romero, a fellow Colorado Chicano organizer said that Falcon had the power to move the people of “the barrios, the prisons, and the students.” Other victims of state sponsored violence in the Chican@ movement in Colorado include six young Chican@ activists, who were killed in two car bombings and are known as “Los Seis de Boulder.” These murdered activists were targets of COINTELPRO actions, and like Falcon, were targeted in an attempt to neutralize their political activities.
Sadly, many of the government’s attempts were successful as beyond the individuals who died for la causa, “the spirit of the movements died as well”, says “Kiko” Martinez. As with other movements of the era, the Chican@ movement’s decline is portrayed in imagination of the American public as a result of internal conflict, extreme militancy, and individual shortcomings and doesn’t factor in COINTELPRO or other counter-insurgency efforts utilized by the state.
Approaching the 40th anniversary of Ricardo Falcon’s death, I take a moment to reflect. How does Chican@ political radicalism, which includes leaders such as Falcon, inform and contextualize the work and the struggles I take part in? Falcon’s death was not an accident; as Priscilla Falcon herself said, “anyone who is an active organizer in the community who’s making social change would quickly become a target of the US government.” Chican@ resistance was, and is, threatening to the power structure that the US government continues to uphold. Being immersed in the Archives has reminded me that current struggles cannot be disconnected from the work and the lives of those who came before us.
Sources: La Raza Unida Convention Documentary, Reports on the murder of Ricardo Falcon of the Crusade for Justice in New Mexico, COINTELPRO 101