January 22, 1999

Nuestra gente ~~ Our People


We Have Leaders in Our Raza!


"Most people hear my name and think I am
Mexican or a Mexican American, or a Hispanic,
Chicano or dozen more names I'd rather not
mention. I call myself an American. But like
every other American, I am an American with
Heritage. My heritage is Mexican and Yaqui-Indian."

M. Sgt Roy P. Benavidez, USA SF


By Daniel L. Muñoz

Julio Calderon, parent, husband, government employee, journalist and Chicano politico has a long history of working with the national, state and local political systems to improve the standing of the Mexican-American-Latino communities of the State and Nation.

A resident of Sacramento, over the years he has gained considerable political knowledge and understanding of the political system and its relationship to his community and all other minorities. As a Chicano in the 50's and 60's, Calderon struggled alongside other activists to bring change to a society that systematically had excluded Latinos and Mexicans from the social, economic and political arenas and relegated them to second-class status.


Who is Julio Calderon?

"I was born in Los Angeles," noted Calderon. "When I was two I was taken to Arizona where I was raised and lived until I joined the Navy. In the bloodlines within me runs the spirit of the Valle del Yaqui from the great Sonoran desert of the state of Sonora. My family lines go back to the coastal town of Hermosillo, Sonora. My Great, Great, Grandfather, had a hauling company of wagons that hauled materials and passengers. Unfortunately, he was killed while transporting the Governor of Sonora. An assailant lay in ambush and took a shot at the governor. He wasn't a very good shot and the bullets hit my Grandfather and killed him. In a way, you can say that politics in our family goes back to those days.

I didn't come back to California until 1960 when I joined the U.S. Navy. I was mustered out of the Navy in 1964 just before the Gulf of Tokin incident. I served after the Korean War and left just before Vietnam. After my discharge, I moved back to Arizona. Two years later I returned to California. Like everyone else once you live here you can't stay away. I moved to San Jose for a while before settling down in the Sacramento area. Julio worked and became acclimated to living California style."


The Chicano Era

Calderon was 25 years old and had arrived just before the beginning of the biggest social-political upheaval in the Mexican American communities of the state. "Around 1967-68, my brother-in-law was very much involved with Luis Cortez who was with the American G.I. Forum. As a veteran I became involved with the Forum doing social type work and dealing with social issues. This was my introduction to working with the Mexican American Community of San Jose. In 1968, there was a Judge in San Jose whose name was Gerald…… He was a Superior Court Judge. During a trial of a Chicanito the Judge uttered a statement that was to galvanize San Jose and eventually the whole State. During the trial the Judge stated in court: "The Mexican people were lower than animals." He branded and stereotyped the whole Mexican race from the Bench. A Chicano Attorney brought it to the attention of the media, community groups and local Chicanos. It got my attention and that's when I made my first move to get involved.

I helped organize and carried out marches in protest over the racist judge. From emotional marches, we moved political actions. We wanted that Judge removed from the Bench. We came within two percentage points of getting him off the Superior Court Bench. It was at that moment that I recognized that this was the arena I had to be involved: The Political Arena!" stated Calderon.


M.A.P.A. Became Calderon's First Political Vehicle

Julio Calderon joined with the Mexican American Political Association in 1968 and as time went on he became more and more involved with politics and less and less with the G.I. Forum. MAPA was where I cut my teeth politically", he said...

"Mapa was founded by Bert Corona, Congressman Roybal, and others in 1960. The group was to become one of the most powerful Mexican American/Chicano political groups in the State and eventually nationwide. They started organizing MAPA after the only Latino on the Democratic ticket on the 1958 elections was ignored by the Party which led to his defeat. That was the year that the Mexican American community found out that there were as many racist Democrats as there were Republicans. They decided to organize themselves into a statewide political entity that would work within both the Democratic and Republican ranks. The idea was that MAPA would work to influence the body political with whatever power they had and try to influence both parties on our behalf.

After the Chicano movement got started in Crystal City, Texas, Jose Angel Guiterrez founded the "La Raza Unida Party" and published a set of principles and ideology that caught on in Texas and nationwide. Gutierrez came to California with his manifesto and La Raza Unida and help establish the Chicano Movement which embraced the ideology of La Raza Unida. I registered as a member and became part of the political movement. For a while it generated a lot of interest and generated political heat that threatened the established political structure. Its failure to maintain momentum was the basic flaw in the organization: Its insistence to think of La Raza as all one united Community. Unity, unfortunately, has always eluded us. I felt over the years as my horizons broaden that there was a lot of Raza involved. But, we never could get the message (of unity) over to the rank and file. The message was wrong. I felt that we were basing our political message only on the basis of our nationality when it should have been on or "Americanism." I still believe to this day that the most patriotic Americans in this nation and state are the Mexican American and Latino communities. When the White boys were lining up on the Canadian borders we were lining up at the induction centers to go fight for our country," stated Julio.

"There is more unity now than back in the 60's," continued Calderon, "but the unity that we are seeing is not based on the concepts enumerated by La Raza Unida... Frequently, I am asked: "Why is it that you don't have one leader to speak for your community? My response to that question is the same response I have on questions of unity: "The Mexican, Latino, Hispanic American community is too diverse. We are the most independent people in the world. The concept of having only one leader would seem to indicate that the opinion is out there that we don't have leaders. We have leaders! Some of us lead small groups or community organizations, some lead county and state wide groups. And some are national leaders of national organizations," noted Calderon.

Perhaps the real question that should be asked is "Why does the entrenched Anglo-Euro based society fear our participation in the social, economic, political and civic life in our country?"

(Continued next week)

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