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Article The Chicano Civil Rights Movement

Agustin Lira
Agustín Lira performing songs from the Chicano Civil Rights Movment at the Library of Congress, September 14, 2011. Select the link to view the webcast.

The African American Civil Rights Movement was intened by many of its leaders to include all Americans of color struggling for equality, regardless of their origins. In response to the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, among others, Hispanic Americans of various backgrounds began organizing their own struggle for civil equality and fairness. In Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York, Puerto Ricans held marches to protest unequal treatment. Among Mexican Americans in the Southwest, this struggle came to be known as the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. While each of these groups had similar goals, some of the particular issues they faced were different. Puerto Ricans could only be regarded as Americans, at least officially, while Mexican Americans faced suspicion that they were not, regardless how many generations of their families had lived in the United States. Many Puerto Ricans had moved to the cities, and faced problems of urban slums, while this was true for only part of the Mexican American population, many of whom were rural farmers and migrant workers. Many of the issues of Hispanic American rights are as familiar to us today as they were in the 1960s.

In this presentation are songs sung by Puerto Ricans, recorded by Sidney Robertson Cowell in 1939. These recordings pre-date the activist period, but included is a patriotic song of Puerto Rico, "La Tierruca," sung by Aurora Calderon (select the link for the version illustrated with Library of Congress photographs. For the field recording without illustrations see this version of "La Tierruca").

People who had become Americans when western territories were made part of the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War in 1848 felt that the promise of that treaty, to treat colonial Mexican settlers of that territory who chose to remain as U.S. citizens with full civil rights, had never been fulfilled. Discrimination, educational segregation, voting rights, and ethnic stereotyping were principle issues of the activists, as well as the need for a minimum wage for migrant agricultural workers and citizenship for the children of Mexican-born parents. The emerging Chicano Civil Rights Movement included strikes and demonstrations with issues expressed through songs in both English and Spanish. This presentation includes a performance by Agustín Lira, who composed and sang activist songs during of the 1960s and 70s along with Quetzal, a group that composes and performs Chicano music related to activism of the 1990s through the present. Select this link to view the webcast of Augustín Lira and Alma with Quetzal performing songs in Spanish and English, September 14, 2011.

In addition to the songs of the Chicano Civil Rights Movment, there are many recordings of Mexican Americans in this presentation, recorded in the 1930s and 1940s. Some of these illustrate the hardships faced by migrant workers of the Dust Bowl era, such as "Yo Cuando era Niño - Mi Padre Querido..." sung by José Suarez. There are also recordings of the descendants of Spanish settlers in Colorado and New Mexico as well as Cuban Americans in Florida, among other Spanish-speaking groups.


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  • The Chicano Civil Rights Movement


  • -  Social Change
  • -  Songs and Music
  • -  Traditional and Ethnic Songs and Music
  • -  Articles

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