In 1968, a fraternity on campus put up a banner explicitly listing those not invited to its “Viva Zapata” party: “no Negros, no Japs, no dogs.”
“Viva Zapata” referred to Emiliano Zapata, the peasant-to-power leader of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, a name intended to mock those whom he stood for. The banner, which excluded all racial minorities hung near the Mexican flag, but in place of the iconic eagle was the equally iconic middle finger.
Carlos Haro, who was then an undergraduate student at UCLA, remembered feeling furious. Haro and 25 other students picketed and petitioned then-Chancellor Franklin Murphy, demanding that the organization be kicked off campus.
“It created a sense that we needed to unify, to defend ourselves,” said Haro, who is a postdoctoral emeritus scholar in the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA.
But in that era, incidents or racial slurs like those displayed on the “Viva Zapata” banner would not have been out of the ordinary and would even have been politically acceptable, Haro said. The next day, 2,000 students rallied on the bottom of Janss Steps in support of the fraternity.
That same year, Haro and other UCLA students united with local high school students from Roosevelt, Garfield, Lincoln and Wilson high schools of East Los Angeles, to protest against the poor quality of public school education.
“It was the high school walkouts of 1968 that gave us a sense of identity and purpose. We were, at that time, labeled outside agitators,” Haro said.
The influence of these students helped spur the creation of a number of ethnic centers at UCLA during this period, according to Haro. Haro’s involvement, particularly in the Chicano civil rights movement, shaped his professional aspirations.
The creation of these ethnic research centers has broadened the old curriculum taught at UCLA, said Reynaldo Macias, a professor of Chicano studies and applied linguistics. Macias participated alongside Haro in protesting against the fraternity in 1968.
“A Eurocentric curriculum meant you didn’t see much of a Chicano presence,” he added.
Despite strong racial tensions, not all white students fought against the Civil Rights Movement.
Paul Von Blum, along with other white students, volunteered with national organizations such as the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality. His college career coincided neatly with the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement.
Although Von Blum was a UCLA lecturer who studied in California, he regularly took trips to the deep South. He was among a small minority of whites who participated in the early sit-ins, he said.
“In Atlanta, I was involved in sit-ins, where the white racists would throw things on us in restaurants.” Von Blum said. “And in New Orleans, while picketing at a department store, I got beaten up by two white thugs and two officers just watched this happen. Later, they asked if the thugs were okay.”
Since then, Von Blum has authored a number of books on the social and political theme in black art.
He is currently teaching a course on protests for civil rights movements and plans to teach another course regarding racism and the law next quarter.
“Civil rights has had a huge impact on my life. It changed the way I view the world and shaped my academic life,” Von Blum said.