Symbols of Resistance looks at the history of the Chican@ Movement as it emerges in the 1970s, with a focus on events in Colorado and Northern New Mexico. The documentary explores the struggle for land, the student movement, and community struggles against police repression. If you are interested in planning an event or showing the documentary near you, please contact us. You can find out more information about the film below.
In 2014, activists in Colorado organized a major 40th anniversary program in Denver to honor the martyrs of the 1970s, including six student activists who were killed in two car bombings in Boulder (los seis de Boulder). We were asked to document the 2014 events, and interview participants, and we were encouraged to create a far more in-depth film – Symbols of Resistance. Production of this new documentary is nearing completion—a preview sold-out showing was held, to much acclaim, in the Chican@ community of Denver in November 2016.
The framework of the documentary challenges the criminalization of immigration by emphasizing the history of the U.S. expansion and occupation of northern Mexico during the Mexican-American War (1846–48) – when “the border crossed people.” The film explains that, in the same era that saw the growth and development of the civil rights movement for African Americans, reassertion of Native American land rights, and demands for an end to U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico, the Chican@ movement rose up to challenge racial discrimination and exploitation, and to strongly oppose the war in Viet Nam and the disproportionate assignment of people of color to the front lines while not accepting them as full citizens once they returned.
The film represents an important component of the Chican@ struggle that is often not well understood—that the movement was not limited to organizing agricultural workers. It shows how conflicts with government included resisting unprovoked police violence in urban areas, and many protests against systemic language discrimination, judicial discrimination, disproportionate imprisonment, and the lack of educational and employment opportunities. These rising community and student movements were targeted by the infamous COINTELPRO (Counter intelligence program) of the FBI, working in tandem with other local, state, and federal agencies.
Rather than limiting the distribution of Symbols of Resistance solely to the normal documentary festival circuit, we will use it to stimulate learning about the Chican@ movement and its roots in human rights history. It recognizes young people who organized for the first time, and who, in some cases, sacrificed their lives for their commitment to liberation. As an organizing tool, the documentary will deepen people’s understanding of the roots of struggle and highlight how this history can inform and strengthen current organizing efforts and movement building. We will also create a curriculum to accompany and extend the impact of the film. The curriculum will highlight the relevance of the history documented in the film to present-day struggles for justice – for immigrant rights, and against the ongoing repression of ICE raids, detention, and mass deportations.
- Priscilla Falcon – a Professor in the Department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley. As a prominent Chicana leader, she began her career as an activist beginning in the Chican@ Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Her social justice activism led her to travel to Nicaragua after the overthrow of Somoza 1979-1980. During the 1990s she traveled as an observer to the EZLN Zapatista National Liberation Army liberated zones in southern Mexico. Priscilla Falcon has lectured on “The Chican@ Movement in Colorado” and the ongoing struggle for social justice.
- Francisco ‘Kiko’ Martínez is a 70-year-old veteran of the Chican@ Movement. Educated as an attorney, Martínez uses his legal skills to defend activists and their civil and human rights. In retaliation, the U.S. government mounted an attack against Martínez, forcing him into exile. The repression included criminal charges and placing him on a terrorist watch list. After a decades-long cause célèbre, Martínez was absolved of charges arising from a bombing campaign against government and corporate targets in the early 1970s. He continues his activism and lawyering.
- Ricardo Romero was born into a poor Mexican family that labored in the beet fields of Northern Colorado. In 1966 he was one of the founders of the Crusade for Justice in Denver, Colorado. He also coordinated the southwestern leg of the Poor People’s Campaign to Washington, DC, and in 1970 was one of twenty-three activists from Colorado arrested at the Los Angeles Chican@ Moratorium. In 1977, Ricardo Romero was subpoenaed to appear before a US Federal Grand Jury in Chicago, investigating the Puerto Rican Independence movement and was imprisoned for refusing to testify. He also founded the Mexican National Liberation Movement earlier that same year. In 1980, Ricardo was indicted for Criminal Contempt for refusing to testify to a Grand Jury in NY, was found guilty in 1984, and was sentenced to 3 years in federal prison.
- Deborah Espinosa was the director of El Pueblo History Museum for 25 years. She’s a champion of Chicano(a) history and was an activist in the Chican@ movement. She also produced and wrote the narration for an educational musical production, “Song of Pueblo,” which has been performed for many years.
- Juan Espinosa was a photographer, reporter and editor for The Pueblo Chieftain for 22 years. He joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War which led to his involvement in the Chican@ movement. He worked as a stringer for Colorado University’s campus newspaper, and was a photographer for United Mexican Student Association (UMAS) publications. He started the El Diario student newspaper in the summer of 1972, and a year later joined the staff of El Malcriado, the United Farm Workers Union newspaper, and went to California to cover the grape strike. He also met and interviewed the “jefes” of the Chican@ movement, including Cesar Chavez, Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales, Reies Tijerina, Lalo Delgado, and Dolores Huerta. He covered events that included the first national convention of El Partido La Raza Unida in El Paso, Texas.