Digitally Mapping and Exhibiting the Plains’ Chicana/o Movement

Joel Zapata is a PhD Candidate in SMU’s William P. Clements Department of History

The Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement, or simply the Chicana/o Movement, has traditionally been documented as a regional liberation movement centered in South Texas, Northern New Mexico, the Denver metro area, and Southern California. Moreover, scholars have tended to focus their work on the Chicana/o Movement within major cities like Los Angeles and San Antonio. [1]  This is partly because the Chicana/o Movement was a decentralized patchwork of local movements, and partly because the history profession relies on archives and other source materials that institutions outside of progressive, urban areas do not often preserve. As Michel-Rolph Trouillot declared, “the production of historical narratives involves the uneven contribution of competing groups and individuals who have unequal access to the means of such production.”[2]

Thus, Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space, a digital history project, is meant as a step in revealing an understudied portion of the Chicana/o Movement: the way it unfolded on the Southern Plains. Ethnic Mexicans (people of Mexican descent regardless of nationality) in the largely rural region worked towards achieving social justice in their own communities through the Chicana/o Movement and larger Mexican American Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s and 1970s. Through their activism, they made the plains a more hospitable home for Mexican people.

This digital history project takes scholarly research to the wider public. In other words, it is also a public history project. Keeping in mind the community origins and future of Chicana/o history, I initiated the project with the awareness “that Chicana/o history is for everyone (not just historians) and that the investigation of the past can be the engine driving today’s activist passions.”[3]  In my work outside the university setting, my aim is to make history accessible to Mexican origin and Latina/o communities, who may in-turn use knowledge gained from historical research towards the betterment of their social positions—the foundational goal of Chicana/o history and the related field of Chicana/o Studies.[4]

Figure 1. “Interactive Timeline,” Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space

Constructed through Omeka and Neatline, this project is a platform through which both scholars and the wider public can find an Interactive Timeline and Map (Figure 1) along with a curated online collection of materials regarding the Southern Plains’ Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement. A home page introducing the Chicana/o Movement along with a page describing the Southern Plains function in a similar way, as the introductory panels of a museum exhibition, gradually moving visitors into the Interactive Timeline and Map—the heart of this digital history project—and the online collection. Therefore, the project provides an accessible, digital museum experience that has not emerged within the walls of the Southern Plains’ museums and related institutions.

Within the Interactive Timeline and Map, visitors can explore the seminal events that together make the Southern Plains’ portion of the Chicana/o Movement. Visitors can study the events by pointing and clicking on them within the digital map, clicking through the chronological list of the events on the right side of the page, or going through the timeline on the bottom of the page (Figure 2).

Figure 2. “Interactive Timeline and Map,” Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space

The timeline and map provide visitors several avenues of exploration. Ideally a visitor to the project will fully read through each event of the plains’ Chicana/o Movement, but the timeline and map also allow a person interested in a certain city, event, or a type of event (such as police shootings signified through red points), to concentrate on the items that concern her or him.

Figure 3. “Interactive Timeline,” Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space

One can even go down to city level or even neighborhood level geography (Figure 3). Moreover, when possible, event descriptions include images beneath the text.

Moving beyond the timeline and map, items featured throughout the website are available to view with individual item descriptions in the online collection. The final portion of the project is a Resourses page that leads to encyclopedia essays for various groups covered in the project. The Resources page also connects visitors to outside oral history, archival, and multimedia projects, such as the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral Horal History Project. Ultimately, this digital history project is intended to draw visitors to further explore the Chicana/o Civil Rights Movement within and beyond the plains.

[1] Ernesto Chávez, My People First! “Mi Raza Primero!”: Nationalism, Identity, and Insurgency in the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles, 1966-1978 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002); David Montejano, Quixote’s Soldiers: A Local History of the Chicano Movement, 1966-1981 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010); David Montejano, Sancho’s Journal: Exploring the Political Edge with the Brown Berets (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012); Armando Navarro, The Cristal Experiment: A Chicano Struggle for Community Control (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998); Armando Navarro, Mexican American Youth Organization: Avant-Garde of the Chicano Movement in Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995); Armando Navarro, La Raza Unida Party: A Chicano Challenge to the U.S. Two-Party Dictatorship (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000).

[2] Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1995), xix.

[3] Carlos Kevin Blanton, “Preface,” in A Promising Problem: The New Chicana/o History, ed. Carlos Kevin Blanton, vii-ix (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016), ix.

[4] See Rodolfo F. Acuña, The Making of Chicana/o Studies: In the Trenches of Academy (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011); José Cuello, “Chicana/o History as a Social Movement,” in Voices of a New Chicana/o History, ed. by Refugio I. Rochín and Dennis N. Valdés (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2000), 1-22.

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1 Response to Digitally Mapping and Exhibiting the Plains’ Chicana/o Movement

  1. Elias Serna says:

    Very impressive format and interface for presenting this history. Reminds me of Miguel Chavez’ history of Chicana/o movement in our neighborhood Santa Monica West LA … a hidden history . This looks fascinating at a glance can’t wait to explore . Just in time for my online course at CSU Dominguez Hills on Mexican and Latino identities in the US. Thank you very much for sharing Joel. Write on with the doctoral studies!

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