Digitizing and Uncovering the West Texas Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement




Zapata, Joel

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Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space, a digital history project displayed at PlainsMovement.com. Constructed using Omeka and Neatline, this project operates as a platform through which both scholars and the wider public can find an interactive map and timeline along with an online collection of materials regarding the Texas plains (or West Texas) Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Importantly, the project’s timeline reveals how and why the Chicana/o Movement emerged in West Texas. The earliest events that are clearly part of the movement were student led and aimed at attaining educational equity. The time frame of the West Texas Chicana/o student movement coincided with global student uprisings that spanned Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Moreover, the first national meeting of El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (The Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán) was hosted by Texas Tech University atavists in the middle of the plains in 1971. The meeting indicates that the plains’ students were leaders within the larger Chicana/o Movement. They were active in bringing together the far-flung, localized student wing of the Chicana/o Movement. However, the digital history project reveals that instances of police brutality were the principal events that spurred the plains’ Chicana/o Movement. The most active years in regards to protests by a wide range of the region’s Mexican population were precisely the years when the most cases of police killings of ethnic Mexican men occurred. Instances of police brutality united the region’s Mexican population across political ideology. More mainstream social justice organizations like the American G.I. Forum, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the League of United Latin American Citizens joined Chicana/o activists, especially the Brown Berets, in protests across the Southern Plains. On the plains, Nick Hernández, a leader of the Odessa, Texas Brown Berets that participated in Chicana/o Movement throughout the Southern Plains, noted that his hometown’s anti-police brutality wave of activism “turned this city around, I mean it just went from A to Z…you know…everything....Hispanics started getting some respect, harassment slowed down. There is still a lot of it out there, but it’s not like it used to be.” The project centers around an approachable interactive map and timeline along with a curated collection of materials. Therefore, the project provides a digital museum experience that has not emerged within the region’s museums. The project adds to both scholarly and socially significant conversations, showing that the region was home to a burgeoning wing of the Chicana/o Movement and that instances of police brutality largely spurred this wing of the social justice movement. Moreover, the curated collection of materials demonstrates that police brutality united the plains’ Mexican population across political ideology, a largely overlooked aspect within the study of Mexican American civil rights movements. Such a finding can be of use today since contemporary Latina/o social justice organizations generally ignore policing issues even amid a rise in the national awareness regarding police abuse.


Digital Frontiers Session: Data Mediation


Chicana/o activism, Texas Plains, Omeka, Neatline, digital exhibits


Zapata, J. (2019). Digitizing and uncovering the West Texas Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement. [Conference presentation]. Digital Frontiers Annual Conference, Austin, TX, United States.


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