“As Latinos, we are not islands unto ourselves. Our past and present struggles for social and economic justice have been directly connected with those of all oppressed peoples. We know we are an indigenous people. But we must also know that we are African, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European. We are of all faiths. We are America!”
Carlos Muñoz, Jr., was born in the “segundo barrio” in El Paso, Texas, and raised in the barrios of East Los Angeles, California. He is the son of poor Mexican immigrants. He overcame poverty to earn a Ph.D., and become a prominent scholar and pioneer in establishing Chicano and Ethnic Studies program in higher education. He is professor emeritus in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His best-known work, Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement (1989, revised 2007) has become the classic study of the movement.
Muñoz played a prominent leadership role in the founding of the Chicano civil rights movement. In 1968, he was one of thirteen civil rights activists indicted for conspiracy for organizing non-violent student protests against racial/ethnic educational inequality in the schools of East Los Angeles. Each faced sixty-six years in prison. It took two years for the high courts of California to decide they were protected from prosecution by the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Since then, Muñoz has served as a leading organizer for various multiracial coalitions, including the Faculty for Human Rights in Central America, the Faculty Against Apartheid in South Africa, and the Rainbow Coalition. He co-founded the Institute for Multiracial Justice in San Francisco and Latinos Unidos, a grassroots community organization in Berkeley, California. He also co-founded the Families for Multicultural Education in Albany, California.
Muñoz has strong family values and says that his family has always been his “most cherished blessing.” As the father of five children and grandfather of eight, he has been an outspoken critic of what he calls the “government’s terrorist war” against Latino immigrant families.
“The war is being waged by the Department of Homeland Security that was created after 9/11 by President Bush. Its division of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) regularly conducts nationwide raids in workplaces and homes of immigrant workers to arrest those they suspect are undocumented immigrants. Those with legal status are also often harassed, arrested, and sometimes deported without trial. The raids have resulted in the tragic breakup of many families, leaving their U.S. born children homeless when parents are deported without the knowledge of their children.”
As a Vietnam War veteran and a member of Veterans for Peace, Muñoz has been an outspoken critic of all wars and U.S. intervention throughout the world.” Our government should be a Democracy that declares war on poverty at home and abroad and not on sovereign nations that do not threaten our nation’s freedom.”
Muñoz advocates a new politics for the twenty-first century that is “inclusive of gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, and disability … framed with a vision of an authentic multiracial and multiethnic democracy that will promote social justice, human rights, and peace at home and abroad.” He believes it will take an arduous struggle to realize his vision, but, he says, “The most important lesson I have learned in all the years that I have been marching for social justice, freedom, and peace, is that life is struggle, and struggle is life. What’s most important, however, is to always know that victory is in the struggle.”
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