Chicano movement leaves lasting effects on Kern County

Story and photos by Anthony Hazelwood Public Affairs Intern

It has been over 40 years since the Chicano movement led by students, professors, and the community, helped reshape the academic landscape we see in Kern county today. Some of its participants shared their experiences with students at September’s Brown Bag Luncheon, “The Chicano Movement Era: the Case of Artemio Cruz at Bakersfield College.”

Dr. Oliver Rosales, a current BC history professor, opened the discussion by briefly explaining the importance of the Chicano Movement and his research into its impact on Kern County. He then handed the floor to the Gilbert Gia, a local historian and participant of the Chicano movement. Gia discussed a controversy that started in the early 1970’s surrounding the book titled The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes. Because of its use of profanity, the book stirred debate when it was made required reading in a Hispanic Culture class at BC. Gia, present at the controversial BC board of trustees meetings about the fate of this book, outlined the public outcry towards the book and the subsequent proceedings trying to ban it. After several weeks of deliberation and a huge push from the Chicano population to allow students to have access to the book, the BC board of trustees agreed unanimously to not impose a ban. Gia noted that the board did this in an effort to preserve academic freedom and maintain the right of Hispanic students to learn about their heritage.

Gilbert Gia

Dr. Raymond Gonzales, who taught at BC prior to the events of the book controversy and also a prolific Hispanic activist in Bakersfield, was the main speaker of the discussion. He contributed several inspiring experiences of the Chicano movement he was involved with. He shared how he fought for the rights of any minority that was treated unfairly, saying it best himself “I never wanted to be the leader of the Mexican community, I was just trying to bring people together.”

Dr. Raymond Gonzales

Gonzales ended the discussion by recalling an experience in his youth. He was getting off a train to go to the bathroom and rushed to the nearest one only to find signs that read “white or colored.” Raymond in tears said, “But which bathroom is for me?” alluding to his confusion as to where Hispanics who were neither white or colored belonged. The impact of his story was evident as many in attendance rushed over to thank him for all he had done for the community.