As a Chicano intellectual and supporter of Chicana/o art and film, I fully support the work-in-progress Chicana/o movie, The Last Brown Beret — produced, directed and co-starred by Del Zamora. As a fictional movie, it’s based on the award-winning play, The Last Angry Brown Hat. The movie (and play) centers on four former Brown Berets — Chicana/o activists of the late 1960s to the present — who gather in a house garage after the passing of one of their former comrades. In the film, their reunion results in humor, joy and drama, as the older Chicanas/os grapple with their past and present like many of the issues impacting our communities.
This is a unique, feature length movie since it’s produced, directed and majority casted by Chicanas/os. While it’s mostly completed in terms of filming, the Chicana/o filmmakers need to raise more money for editing and purchasing the rights to the music, among other costs.
The respect that this film gives to the Brown Berets is noteworthy. While not as famous today as the United Farm Workers (UFW), the Brown Berets — past and present — represent militant Chicana and Chicano activists who dedicate their lives to defend their barrios. In his classic 1972 book, Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle Toward Liberation, Dr. Rodolfo “Rudy” Francisco Acuña writes: “The Brown Berets were founded in 1967 in East Los Angeles… In time, the group’s defense posture crystalized with the organization evolving from a community service club into a quasi “alert patrol.”
In 1968, they played a key role in the East Los Angeles walkouts or blowouts, where thousands of Chicana/o youth walked out of their high school classes and protested the system racism of the public school district. Additionally, as I wrote in an essay in 2020, in 1969 and 1970, the Brown Berets spearheaded the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, resulting in a series of rallies against oppressive living conditions of our people in this racist country, including the imperialist war in Vietnam. These protests culminated in the historic National Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War—also known as the Chicano Moratorium of August 29, 1970. In this massive protest, over 20,000 Chicanas/os joined forces to peacefully exercise their rights to demonstrate against injustice, when the violent capitalist state intervened with their oppressive police/sheriff forces, resulting in many injuries, arrests and four deaths, including the famed reporter Ruben Salazar, as the late historian Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones documented in a 2017 essay.
On a more personal note, when I was a kid—after spending my first four years in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico—I lived with my immediate and extended familia in a two-story, Craftsman home in Hollywood, California. Without hyperbole, at any given time, there were about 20 to 30 members of our large Mexican familia living there. There was also an attic where the Argentineans lived—my late brother Noel’s padrinas/os. In my Spanish-speaking household, I loved watching television programs and going to the movies. In fact, I learned how to speak English by watching reruns of classic sitcoms, like I Love Lucy, and Bruce Lee movies, like Enter the Dragon (1973).
As a Chicano kid living in a racist country, given that I rarely saw Brown role models on television or the movies, I viewed Bruce Lee—as a non-European—as a positive role model to emulate. Many moons later, I still yearn to see positive, Brown role models on the small screen and big screen. While there’s been some progress over the years, it’s not enough.
Let’s not forget that Latinas/os represent the largest racialized group in the nation. According to the U.S. Census (as of July 1, 2021), of the total population of 332,031,554, Latinas/os consist of 62,753,964 (or 18.9%). Given that the latter number doesn’t include undocumented immigrants, this number is higher by the millions. In the case of people of Mexican origin, according to the Pew Research Center, they/we make up 60% (or 37.2 million) of the Latina/o population, making them/us as the largest Latina/o subgroup.
In the case of Hollywood movies, for too long—past and present—Latinas/os (in general) and Chicanas/os or Mexican Americans (in particular) have been mostly invisible and marginalized. When visible, they/we are portrayed as drug dealers, criminals and rapists, as uttered by the hustler Donald Trump. We are also erased.
For instance, in the Academy award-winning movie Argo (2012)—directed, produced and starred by Ben Affleck—Affleck plays the protagonist, Tony Mendez. Based on a true story, Mendez was a Mexican American CIA agent who rescued the American hostages in Iran (1979-1981). While I’m against all aspects of the military industrial complex, I’m not surprised that a Mexican American actor wasn’t selected for this heroic movie, where Mendez risked his life to rescue the white American hostages in a dramatic fashion.
Moreover, there’s also the case of the white savior syndrome in Hollywood. This is the case when white people enter Brown, Black and Indigenous spaces to “save” them/us from their/our bleak plights. For example, in the Disney movie McFarland, USA (2015)—starring Kevin Costner—Costner plays the white cross-country coach, Jim White. Also based on a true story, Costner’s character “discovers” a group of Mexican American high school youth with athletic potential in a small agricultural city, McFarland, California, making them state champions in cross-country. It’s amazing to me that Hollywood can’t find uplifting movies based on true stories where the protagonists are Raza.
In short, if you, like me, are tired of others making movies of our people, it’s time to support Raza movies, like The Last Brown Beret. This is about self-determination. It’s about solidarity. It’s about Brown people.
Del Zamora established a GoFundMe initiative. My brother Salomón Huerta—the critically acclaimed artist—also created two brilliant, limited-edition lithographs of Chicana/o Brown Berets, where the proceeds go towards the film.
¡ Sí, se puede!
¡Viva la Raza!
¡Viva the Brown Berets!