*This is an aerial view of East Los Angeles during the 1960s. Most of the neighborhood desperately required redevelopment. (photo from SoCal Region website)
During the 1960s, Los Angeles experienced a series of economic, political, and social unrest which resembled the overall turmoil in America. Dissent over civil rights, the Vietnam War, and the Watts Riots of 1965 spurred various movements of resistance across the city. Although some Latino activists heeded the example of Malcolm X and utilized militant defense, other residents sought to find a less radical method for inflicting change. Created in 1968, The East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU) was modeled after federal and community programs as a means to solve issues plaguing the East Los Angeles community. By resembling both federal programs and community organizations, TELACU highlighted contrasting “system” reconciliation and self-determination dynamics that continue to constitute the unique structure it is today.
The rise of dire living conditions in cities and rural areas alike required the need for national reform. President Johnson responded to this calling by creating the “War on Poverty” campaign which sought to eliminate poverty through a “hands-up, not a hand-out” method (Gillette, xiii). Through the creation of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), Johnson charted anti-poverty initiatives ranging from minimum wage laws to federal aid for education. Yet, while these OEO programs decreased the national poverty level, “distressed” areas across the country continued to falter. In East Los Angeles, a primarily Latino community, “the total unemployment rate...stood at 30 percent” (Chávez, 16). Over 27 percent of families lived in overcrowded housing and earned an inadequate median income of $4,800 (Chávez, 16). Deprived of a system that ensured economic and social stability, Latinos in East Los Angeles developed organizations like TELACU to combat poverty.
Drawing from the success of precursing organizations, TELACU embraced the principle of self-determination as its primary ideology. Organizations ranging from federal programs such as Committee on Juvenile Delinquency to local unions like Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) influenced TELACU’s evolution. The Committee on Juvenile Delinquency, a program focused on preventing youth misbehavior, enabled teenagers to cultivate leadership experience through public service jobs and service institutions (Chávez, 24). Similarly, WLCAC spearheaded locally designed “youth manpower programs” under a “bottom up, and inside out” organizational structure (Chávez, 29). While attempting to eradicate East Los Angeles’s gang presence, an early version of TELACU mimicked Committee on Juvenile Delinquency’s self-determination approach towards underserved youths. In the process, TELACU ensured summer jobs for 50 teenagers and backpacking opportunities for 600 youths. They also matched teenagers with East LA elders to strengthen relationships among the grassroots community (Chávez, 37). This self-sufficiency approach applied to TELACU’s economic development as well. Local businesses and educational institutions promoted economic independence by aiding more investments and loans into East Los Angeles. Because of such careful deliberation of established programs and emphasis on self-determination, TELACU experienced exponential growth in the following years.
Although self-determination remained its primary ideology during its early foundations, TELACU sought accommodation and integration with the mainstream economic system. In order to obtain system reconciliation, TELACU again drew inspiration from national and local organizations. The Area Redevelopment Act (ARA), a federal program spearheaded by President Kennedy’s administration, targeted underdeveloped areas in the United States by supplementing federal loans to new companies replacing declining industries (Chávez, 21). Likewise, Progress Enterprises of Philadelphia promoted economic power in an integrationist manner. Not only did its members make monthly contributions towards a social service nonprofit trust and a for-profit company, they also engaged in desegregation by purchasing real estate properties in white neighborhoods (Chávez, 19). Using these programs’ system reconciliation success as examples, a new form of organization called Community Development Corporation (CDC) emerged. TELACU adopted this CDC concept, utilizing an integrational approach with economic policies. Just as how ARA encouraged factory construction and loans for nonprofits, TELACU sought federal funds for housing projects. It relied on the Federal Housing Administration to provide $80,000 funding for the Hubbard Street project (Chávez, 62). Yet, it was the adoption of Progress Enterprises’s nonprofit and for-profit combination that became the most important part of TELACU’s evolution as a CDC. By embracing these two CDC internal structures, TELACU enabled East Los Angeles to achieve economic growth and ultimately assimilate into American society.
The development of TELACU emerged in the midst of revolution and dissent. Movements ranging from the Chicano Movement on the Eastside to the Watts Riots in South Central demonstrated the anger and helplessness present in Los Angeles during the 60s. While certain organizations chose a radical and “separatist” (Chávez, 19) approach of protest, TELACU embraced both assimilation and self-sufficiency as organization ideologies. Following Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and WLCAC, TELACU applied the principle of self-determination towards undeserved youths and investments. It heeded ARA’s reconciliation approach for housing developments, and adopted Progress Enterprises’s nonprofit and for-profit structure. Such a balance of self-determination and integration helped TELACU progress into the institution it is today.
Latino students fight for better educational opportunities at UCLA. This student protest was one of the many demonstrations that occurred during the Chicano Movement. (photo from here)