A review of Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space, a digital history project exploring the development of the Chicana/o Movement, directed by Joel Zapata
Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space
Joel Zapata, University of Texas at El Paso
Lorena Gauthereau, University of Houston
Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space is a digital history project that features an interactive map and timeline along with a collection of materials that detail the emergence of the Chicana/o Movement in the Southern Great Plains. The earliest events that are clearly part of the movement were student-led and aimed at attaining educational equity. However, the project reveals that instances of police brutality were the principal events that spurred the Plains Chicana/o Movement. Overall, the project shows that the Southern Plains were home to a burgeoning wing of the Chicana/o Movement. Moreover, the region’s portion of the Chicana/o Movement elucidates how it emerged across the country, forming a national social justice movement.
Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space 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 project takes scholarly research to the wider public. In other words, it is a public-facing project. Constructed through Omeka and Neatline, the project allows both scholars and the wider public to find an interactive timeline and map, 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 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 Southern Plains museums and related institutions. Within the interactive timeline and map, visitors can explore the seminal events that together led to the Southern Plains portion of the Chicana/o Movement. 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 Resources page that leads to encyclopedia essays for various groups covered in the project. The Resources page also connects visitors to external oral history, archival, and multimedia projects, such as the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral 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.
Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains Through Time and Space is a digital history project focused on the U.S. geographical region that includes parts of New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma. Through an interactive component, the project pinpoints specific events important to the development of the Chicana/o Movement in the U.S. Southern Plains on a map and timeline. Some of these points correspond to related archival documents, such as images of ephemera, photographs, art, and static map visualizations. Other points describe incidents of police brutality and events that occurred in response to civil rights violations. Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains is built in Omeka and employs Neatline for the map and timeline feature. This project emerges from Joel Zapata’s archival research, the oral history work of the Black and Brown Oral History Project, and newspaper mining. In addition to the items included in Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains, the project provides links to further bibliographic and digital history resources.
Far from a singular, united organization, the Chicana/o Movement was made up of regional activism that responded in part to localized struggles, as well as to larger nationwide violations of civil rights. However, research and pedagogy in the field of Chicana/o studies has tended to focus on larger urban centers, such as Los Angeles, Houston, or Denver. Some of the more well-known events in Chicana/o civil rights history include the 1965 Delano, California grape strike, the Texas La Marcha in 1966, the 1968 East LA Blowouts, the 1969 Denver Youth Conference, and the 1970 National Chicano Moratorium. The focus on such events narratively locate the Movement in urban California, Colorado, and South Central Texas and thus tend to obfuscate the roles of activists in rural areas.
While large cities inevitably became sites of large-scale protests, the much smaller Mexican American population of the Southern Plains attracted less national attention. Furthermore, considering the conservative leanings of much of the Southern Plains demographics, scholars and students may be too quick to dismiss the region as a hotbed of Chicana/o activism. Zapata’s project, therefore, calls attention to a regional gap in the scholarship and is helpful for researchers interested in exploring the civil rights history of the Southern Plains and the rural U.S.
Although it is not evident whether Zapata plans to continue adding to the project, Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains could eventually grow to include different types of interactive exhibits or multilingual entry points to enhance searchability. Currently, the items that make up this digital project’s collection are all images, described with English language metadata. Adding Spanish descriptions, translations, and tags to the items would increase searchability and attract a wider audience. Considering the lack of awareness and resources related to Chicana/o activist history in this area, scholars and students alike would benefit from expanded collections, such as documents, newspapers, personal diaries, correspondence, and interviews. In its present form, however, Chicana/o Activism in the Southern Plains inspires scholarly interest in regional activism and highlights how we should not overlook “sleepy towns” and rural areas when studying social justice.