Oral Histories

Interview of Phillip Castruita

Founding member of the United Mexican American Students (UMAS) organization at California State University, Los Angeles. Chicano studies professor, helped implement Chicano studies program in higher education.
"La Batalla Está Aquí": The Chicana/o Movement in Los Angeles
Social Movements
Latina and Latino History
Chicano Movement
Biographical Note:
Founding member of the United Mexican American Students (UMAS) organization at California State University, Los Angeles. Chicano studies professor, helped implement Chicano studies program in higher education.
Espino, Virginia
Castruita, Phillip
Persons Present:
Castruita and Espino.
Place Conducted:
Sessions one and four-eight: Library of California State University in Los Angeles, California; Session two: Espino's home in Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California; Session three: East Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Virginia Espino, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; B.A., University of California, Santa Cruz (Psychology); Ph.D., Arizona State University (History).Espino prepared for the interview by consulting numerous secondary sources on the history of the Chicana and Chicano Movement in Los Angeles, such as Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement by Carlos Muñoz, Chicano Politics Reality and Promise 1940-1990 by Juan Gomez Quinones, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America by Vicki L. Ruiz, and Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice, by Ian F. Lopez Haney. The Historical Los Angeles Times database was consulted along with primary resources from the Chicana/o Movement housed at UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Castruita was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a few corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
9 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The interviews in this series document the ideological transformation of the Chicana and Chicano generation in Los Angeles. Dissatisfied with their position in U.S. society, Chicana and Chicano activists built a civil rights movement from the ground up. Interviewees were selected based on their experience as members or leaders of Chicana and Chicano Movement organizations from 1962 to 1978. Collectively the oral histories document a variety of social justice struggles that include, but are not limited to, educational improvement, union advocacy, voting and political rights, gender equality, and anti-war activism.
Early family history; Family immigrates to Los Angeles from Mexico; Grandfather's role as community leader; Father's educational experience; Black and White social dances; Family life during the Great Depression; Parents' community life; Ethnic diversity in Boyle Heights; Father joins the United States Air Force; Mother's independent personality; Mother's early adulthood recollections; Family affected by tuberculosis; Banking job opens up for mother during World War II; Living in the Eliso Village Housing Project; Need for housing in Los Angeles; Diversity in the housing projects; Strong community/family ties during childhood; Mom's involvement in the Community Service Organization; New identity for Mexican Americans post World War II; Family gatherings and the first family television; Importance of Halloween costumes and family traditions; Language used with adults and peers; Primacy of English during childhood; Mother as central figure during childhood; Parents' political allegiances; Importance of Mt. Sinai Clinic in East Los Angeles; Choosing a Catholic education; Geographical and economic changes resulting from the new freeway system in East Los Angeles; Impact of ethnic stereotypes on TV while growing up; Mother struggles with Catholic school administration; Growing up with shame for dark skin; Belief that White people do not sweat.
Social life during childhood; Childhood heroes; Growing up during the Cold War; Influence of comic books; Image of the "bad guys" in books and movies; Image of the White man on T.V.; High school at the San Gabriel Mission; Lack of diversity at Mission High School; Favorite teacher; Use of corporal punishment during school years; High school friendships; Social life during high school; El Sereno parade; Importance of current events on personal life and belief system; Uncle's experience with prejudice while serving in Korea; Uncle George's World War II experience; Importance of mother's generation as Mexican American; Family members as personal heroes; Uncle Fred passes for white; Experience with the Law Explorers; First day of college at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA); Importance of CSULA for Chicanas/os; Working for a research project on bilingual education; Founding of United Mexican American Students (UMAS); Identity and the use of Mexican American and American of Mexican descent; Job requirements of the Malabar Project; Developing a political consciousness; Issues of importance for UMAS; Witnessing the Southern Civil Rights Struggle; Influence of current events during the 1960s; Anti-war protests at CSULA; Influence of anti-Communist ideas from the John Birch Society; Developing patriotism through films like Victory at Sea; Reconciling patriotism of early childhood with racial discrimination of adulthood.
Breakfast with Robert F. Kennedy; Coining of expression "gentle revolutionaries"; Impact of meeting with Robert F. Kennedy; Experience at the Council of Mexican American Unity Conference; Reactions to older Chicano leadership; Conflict with Richard Karabian; Concern for gerrymandering and political power; Dissatisfaction with Chicano leadership; Reactions of Council of Mexican Unity elders to younger generation Chicanos; Importance of the activism of Ralph Guzman; Chicano identity and ideas of self; The move from Mexican American to Chicano; Chicano as a political viewpoint; United Mexican American Students (UMAS) as forum for political education; Witnessing zero tolerance for those who did not identify as Chicano; Building consciousness through UMAS; The role of UMAS in ensuring California State University of Los Angeles (CSULA) served the needs of the community; UMAS creates a community center in East Los Angeles; Working with ex-prison inmates; Conflict around first attempt to develop Chicano Studies at CSULA; Beginnings of "cannibalization" within Chicano Movement; Leaving CSULA for Northern California; Ralph Guzman forced out of CSULA; Disillusionment with the Chicano Movement.
Relationship with the University of Southern California's Center for Social Action; Developing a community organizing strategy; Impact of Tlatelolco on political development; Call for Chicano Studies courses and Educational Opportunity Programs; Experience with educational justice protest (Campamento); United Mexican American Students (UMAS)Community Relations Building; Impact of Ronald Reagan as governor; United Mexican American Students protest at Reagan's Los Angeles appearance; Silent and radical protests against Ronald Reagan; Generational and ideological differences in the Mexican American and Chicano Movement; Illegal break-in at California State University, Los Angeles' (CSULA) administration building; Ousting of Ralph Guzman from CSULA; Working for the Western Center for Law and Poverty; Experiencing rural Mexican communities for the first time; Experiencing the cultural aspect of the Movement developed by rural Chicanos; Broadening concept of discrimination and oppression through contact with rural Chicanos; Differences between the Northern California Chicano and the Southern California Chicano; Northern California racism against Chicanos; Identity formation while living outside of Los Angeles.
Chicanos for Higher Education (CHE); Developing Chicano Studies; In search of a uniform curriculum in Chicano Studies; Plan de Santa Barbara; Contemporary uses for the Plan de Santa Barbara; Impact of Chicano Studies on other disciplines; Chicano Studies foreshadows later intellectual concepts of deconstruction; Ralph Guzman's contributions to the social and pedagogical life of Chicanos; Explanation of how Ralph Guzman bridged community activism and academics; Diverging ideology of pre-Chicano Movement activists; Finding a balance with nationalism and coalition building; Concept of Chicano Movements, plural; Coalition work with other groups; Developing Chicano Studies at Cabrillo Community College; Important role of students in building Chicano Studies department at Cabrillo College; Experience with the Festival de Teatros; Indigeneity versus bread and butter issues; Role of indigenous thought in the development of Chicano Studies; Role as missionary converting students to Chicanismo; Chicano Moratorium of August 29th.
Position against the Vietnam War; Political climate at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) in 1967; Reflecting on Ralph Guzman's essay "Mexican American Causalities in Vietnam"; Facing the draft board; Mixed feelings about not receiving military induction; Changing attitude about the Vietnam War in 1968; United States' anti-Communist position; Civil rights equated with Communism; Question of what it meant to be an American; Position on violence and non-violence; Politics of armed struggle; La Raza Unida Party; Los Angeles City politics in the early 1970s; Ernest Debs' attempt to "whiten" district: Democratic Party takes notice of Latino community; Moving to Utah in 1973; Male leaders of the Chicano Movement; Qualities of the Northern California Chicano Movement; Devaluing of the arts in Los Angeles during the Chicano Movement; Creating an arts movement; Experience with the United Farm Worker Movement (UFW); Impressions of the Farm Workers; Impact of the Catholic Church and the UFW connection; Differing experiences with the student walkouts and the UFW Huelga (strike); Impact of the student walkouts on ideological formation.
Involvement in the 1968 East Los Angeles Walkouts; Meeting with Sal Castro and Eleazar Risco; Recollections of the Walkouts; Meeting at Ralph Cuaron's house; Different walkout experiences of Garfield, Lincoln and Roosevelt high schools; Impact of Walkouts on community; Opposition to Walkouts from parents; Attempt to keep demonstration peaceful at Garfield; Overall police attitude; Walkout community meeting; Jesus Trevino; The East Los Angeles 13; Educational Issues Coordinating Committee (EICC); Electing Julian Nava to the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education; Sit-in at the Board of Education to reinstate Sal Castro; Civil Rights labor attorney Al Wirin; Importance of United Mexican American Students (UMAS) during walkouts; UMAS moves to a more militant position; Arrest of Moctesuma Esparza; Self-doubt in lieu of potential arrest; Lincoln High Festival of the Arts (Fiesta de los Barrios); Using art as a political tool; Patriotism and the anti-war movement; Personal understanding of patriotism; Symbolic meanings of the United States flag; Personal understanding of change.
Experience at Cabrillo College and the third Annual Festival of the Teatros of Tenaz; Moving to Salt Lake City, Utah; Work as a public defender investigator; Political activism with the American Indian Movement; Moving back to Los Angeles; Working for One Stop Immigration; Working with the Pico Union Neighborhood Council; Influence of Central American immigration on the Chicano perspective; Reconfiguration of our communities through proximity to Latin America; Bert Corona's influence in addressing immigration issues during the Chicano Movement; Reflections on CASA (Centro de Acción Social Autónomo); Origin of One Stop Immigration; The formation of an "anti-defamation group" on behalf of Mexican Americans; Defending Edward Roybal against a 1978 House Ethics Committee censure; The East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU) as a political force; Returning to graduate school in the 1990's; Personal understanding of the term Chicano.