Mechistas see need to press ahead

Generations gather to review keys to successful activism

By Khalid Cannon -12/97

Staff Writer

MECHA members rally around the flag at the recent celebration.

Three generations of Mechistas came together to tell the community this month that MEChA, the national Chicano student organization, is here to stay, and will continue to fight for their community.

The organization got its start on the University of Arizona campus 30 years ago and celebrated its anniversary Nov. 7. MEChA, or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, has since grown - it is one of the largest Chicano student organizations in the country with 700 chapters around the country.

"You have many children so you can be taken care of when you get older. We are the older Mechistas' children. We want to take care of them when they need us. They are our mentors," said Maria Rodriguez, a UA sociology sophomore and current MEChA member.

Rodriguez, the UA chapter's fundraising chairwoman, said there is a bridge between the generations of Mechistas that is similar to an old Mexican tradition.

Older members reminisced about their time in the organization.

"It's an amazing thing to look back on it. Not to be conceited, but we did a lot in the 60s," said Solomon Baldenegro, assistant dean for Hispanic student affairs at the University of Arizona.

"There were only 85 Mexican-American students at the UA, yet we were able to move," he said.

Baldenegro recalled some of MEChA's, victories, including protesting racist exclusion of blacks at Utah's Brigham Young University.

"We were a coalition, a family. We organized with the Black Student Union to protest the UA basketball game against BYU. We wanted to get them removed from the sports schedule," Baldenegro said.

"We planned a sit-in on the basketball floor at Bear Down Gym. We organized it for a week, but you can't keep something like that a secret ," Baldenegro said.

"Even though we all had access to the game, plainclothes police officers wouldn't let us in. We got into a shoving match, and we tried to go around the building, but police in riot gear were there, and we were arrested," Baldenegro said.

"We had the support of the student government. The president, vice president, and three senators got arrested. Everybody was involved because the spirit of social change was contagious," Baldenegro said.

"The reunion of past MEChA members isn't just to reminisce about the glory days, but to show our support and recognition for the youth, and their efforts toward advocacy," said Raul Grijalva, chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors.

Baldenegro said that current members need to keep the fight alive.

The organization needs to keep in mind that confrontations with authorities are still an important weapon in the fight for Chicano rights.

The reunion festivities, which included food, art and an open microphone session for celebrants to remember their experiences will benefit today's generation of Chicano students, Grijalva said.

Tucson City Councilman Jose Ibarra, Ward 1, said the reunion is special to him because of the connection with his heritage and culture and those who fought for him.

"It's a rekindling for the youth who are the community leaders of tomorrow. We need to build on what was given to us," Ibarra said.

"It really is a continuum, or journey, that ties the youth with the Mechistas of yesterday," Ibarra said.

JosuéLimon, president of the UA chapter, said it has been a successful year for his organization, and worked hard to make the reunion a success.

"We fought for the masters in Mexican-American Studies, and we will continue to fight for important issues that affect our knowledge of our heritage," Limon said.

Gabriel "Gabe" Moroyoqui, president of the Pima Community College West Campus chapter, said his chapter is working closely with high schools and started a book scholarship to help college students who can't afford to pay for textbooks.

Patrick McKenna, president of the Tucson High School chapter said he has had a real problem getting the administration to listen.

"We want to educate our fellow students and promote pride in our heritage," McKenna said.

Lorraine Lee, vice president of Chicanos Por La Causa, said it is important to remember that the future for MEChA is hopeful, and that the struggles of yesterday don't end.

"We need to show our support for the next generation," Lee said. MEChA, which began in 1967, takes pride in the number of professionals who have emerged from its ranks, Baldenegro said.

"Whether it is one of our country's leading neurosurgeons, congressmen, or successful business leaders, yesterday's Mechistas are today's professionals," Baldenegro said.

"We have chapters at some of the most prestigious universities in the country: Princeton, Yale and Cornell," he said.