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These Pictures Capture The Raw Energy Behind The Chicano Movement

"Anyone can build a wall between the US and Mexico — the truth is that we’re always going to be on both sides."

Posted on October 9, 2018, at 5:56 p.m. ET

Chicano Moratorium, Boyle Heights, 1970. "I went up into a hotel and shot Whittier Boulevard looking down from the roof."
George Rodriguez

Chicano Moratorium, Boyle Heights, 1970. "I went up into a hotel and shot Whittier Boulevard looking down from the roof."

For photographer George Rodriguez, Los Angeles is more than the place he was born and raised — LA is a cultural mecca where Chicanos, or Mexican Americans, have mobilized their community to effect change and preserve their cultural heritage.

While known for his iconic images of Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe, the photographer has a new book, Double Vision: The Photography of George Rodriguez, that revisits his pictures of the Chicano movement of the 1960s and '70s, which sought rights for migrant farm workers, voter and education reforms, and the restoration of land grants.

Here, Rodriguez shares with BuzzFeed News a selection of images and captions from the book, as well as his reflections on personal experiences in the Chicano movement.

In my eyes, the Chicano movement in Los Angles was triggered by the 1970 Moratorium march against the Vietnam War. That was really the event that brought together and mobilized a lot of young Mexican Americans in Los Angeles.

For me personally, I gravitated towards this movement because I was a big fan of the Life magazine photographers. I would cut out photographs that I admired from their magazines and, coincidently, most of those images were depicting the African American experience. Unconsciously, that’s what I wanted to do with the Chicano movement because I knew there was so much going on. I saw that there was an opportunity for challenging photographs to be made, and I wanted to document what was going on for people who weren’t there — the marches, the walkouts, the farmers, the energy.

LAPD arresting a Chicano student protester, Boyle Heights, 1970.
George Rodriguez

LAPD arresting a Chicano student protester, Boyle Heights, 1970.

Left: Lincoln Heights, 1969. "This was at Fiesta de los Barrios. The women of the Brown Berets called themselves Las Adelitas." Right: Cesar Chavez, Delano, 1969. "This I have been told is the iconic photo of Cesar. [...] He was very humble and so soft spoken. he reminded me a lot of my own family, of my uncles, very serious and very quiet."
George Rodriguez

Left: Lincoln Heights, 1969. "This was at Fiesta de los Barrios. The women of the Brown Berets called themselves Las Adelitas." Right: Cesar Chavez, Delano, 1969. "This I have been told is the iconic photo of Cesar. [...] He was very humble and so soft spoken. he reminded me a lot of my own family, of my uncles, very serious and very quiet."

Delano, 1969.
George Rodriguez

Delano, 1969.

When I first started covering the Chicano movement, I had no credentials, no press pass, nothing. So I’d get pushback from both sides — the authorities don’t want you around and the Latinos were all wondering who you were and why you were there. But I kept on because I knew that this was a movement that deserved exposure.

From those early political images, I had realized that I was omitting regular people — people like the schoolchildren, the elderly, and the communities that they live in. For me, I wanted to show in my pictures that we were just like everyone else. We want the same things that everyone else wants — an education, a safe place to raise our families, and the opportunity play a part in the future of this country. Our people live and die for this country.

We’re not criminals. It’s just too bad that I even have to say that, but we’ve always been here. Anyone can build a wall between the US and Mexico — the truth is that we’re always going to be on both sides.

Boyle Heights, 1968. "Some kid got hit on the head by the cops during the Walkouts. I called these images 'a field day for the head.' They were just kids."
George Rodriguez

Boyle Heights, 1968. "Some kid got hit on the head by the cops during the Walkouts. I called these images 'a field day for the head.' They were just kids."

Delano, 1969. "This is a great example of what a mixture the protesters were. This was at Filipino Hall. One of the hot days out there and they were resting on the porch, taking a break from the strike."
George Rodriguez

Delano, 1969. "This is a great example of what a mixture the protesters were. This was at Filipino Hall. One of the hot days out there and they were resting on the porch, taking a break from the strike."

There’s been some progress made since my pictures were first made — Latinos have grasped that in order to enact change in our society, one has to stay in school and get an education. But the reality is that race is still an issue today.

For many Americans, it’s a negative thing to be painted as Latino. That’s so ridiculous to me. If anybody wants to learn the truth about Latinos, they should come to Los Angeles and experience the culture and vibrant lives that live within and alongside Mexican American communities.

Spread from Double Vision: The Photography of George Rodriguez.
George Rodriguez

Spread from Double Vision: The Photography of George Rodriguez.

City Terrace, 1970s. "These are clean cut kids living in a really awful environment. The daycare center wanted me to not shoot the graffiti but I thought it was the most interesting part."
George Rodriguez

City Terrace, 1970s. "These are clean cut kids living in a really awful environment. The daycare center wanted me to not shoot the graffiti but I thought it was the most interesting part."

When I was shooting in those early days, I had no set goal or plan to document a revolution. I was managing the photo lab at Columbia Studios at the time and on my lunch hour I would head down to whatever was happening in downtown LA — that’s how I found myself in the middle of whatever was going on. When I started to witness the action, I just went along. It was later that I realized that I had captured some pretty serious stuff.

The guys who I labeled as “real” photographers were the ones who worked staff jobs at networks. For me, I just freelanced and hustled. I was coming from a vocational course on photography at Fremont High School in South Central. I just wanted to make a living.

When I was coming up, it was pretty tough for Latinos. My point is that if someone like me can have a book like this, with photographs of Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Jim Morrison, and Michael Jackson — well, then they can do it also.

You have to have a dream and just do it. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t. When I encountered racism and people trying to push me back, I would just tell myself that they don’t know me and what I'm capable of.

Left: N.W.A, Keen, and Larie Ruelas, Burbank, 1990. "For a magazine photo shoot, Larie and Keen designed the graffiti. He was part of the ITS crew and did the murals of the Salesian Boy and Girls Club." Right: Los Angeles, 1992.
George Rodriguez

Left: N.W.A, Keen, and Larie Ruelas, Burbank, 1990. "For a magazine photo shoot, Larie and Keen designed the graffiti. He was part of the ITS crew and did the murals of the Salesian Boy and Girls Club." Right: Los Angeles, 1992.

Dozier Street, 1970. "A dog, graffiti, and a lowrider. That's East LA."
George Rodriguez

Dozier Street, 1970. "A dog, graffiti, and a lowrider. That's East LA."

Left: Fernando Valenzuela, Dodger Stadium, 1981. Right: Rubén Navarro, "The Maravilla Kid," The Forum, 1968.
George Rodriguez

Left: Fernando Valenzuela, Dodger Stadium, 1981. Right: Rubén Navarro, "The Maravilla Kid," The Forum, 1968.

Boyle Heights, 1996. "These two were just shining shoes."
George Rodriguez

Boyle Heights, 1996. "These two were just shining shoes."

East Los Angeles, 1960s. "The was when I was really out there actively looking for stuff. I was shooting the movement and I really wanted neighborhood scenes as context. White Fence is a gang in East LA. Usually when I cruise around looking for subjects, you know that in some barrios you gotta shoot right then because you can't come back — this wall was whitewashed right after."
George Rodriguez

East Los Angeles, 1960s. "The was when I was really out there actively looking for stuff. I was shooting the movement and I really wanted neighborhood scenes as context. White Fence is a gang in East LA. Usually when I cruise around looking for subjects, you know that in some barrios you gotta shoot right then because you can't come back — this wall was whitewashed right after."

To learn more about George Rodriguez and pick up your copy of Double Vision: The Photography of George Rodriguez, visit hatandbeard.com.

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