“Chicano I & II: The Mexican American Heritage Series” aired on KNBC-TV in July of 1971. It examined history from the Chicano perspective, and featured several of California’s first Chicano Studies professors discussing contemporary issues facing the Mexican American community. Its host was Frank Cruz, an associate professor of Chicano history at Cal State Long Beach at the time.
The program reran once in 1972, then the film reels ended up in Cruz’s garage and remained untouched for 50 years.
Then three months ago, Cruz decided to revive them. Thanks to Dino Everett, an archivist at the USC Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive, nine of the 20 episodes are once again available to the public.
“The significant thing of the series was that it really marked the first time ever, in the history of the United States, that a commercial network — in this case, NBC — produced a series on people of color in the United States,” explains Cruz, who now serves on USC’s Board of Trustees and Annenberg Board of Councilors.
This documentary can be used inside and outside of the classroom, to educate people on the past and inform decisions for the future, says Natalia Molina, who teaches American Studies and Ethnicity at USC. Her forthcoming book is “A Place at the Nayarit: How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community.”
“Where were we, and where have we gone to today? How far have we come today in terms of representing Latinos?” Molina asks. “I think that when different media companies … [celebrate] Hispanic Heritage Month and they want to say, ‘Look what we’ve contributed to Latino history,” that they can even use this series as a kind of baseline to say, ‘Are we contributing more than this series has? Have we put out alternate images? Do we have more people represented in our companies?’”
Cruz ended the “Chicano I” series by claiming that the Chicano was no longer a “voiceless, anonymous minority” and was “preparing to write these chapters necessary to the history of the southwest.” Five decades later, Cruz says that work continues.
“I often think of, to use the old African adage, ‘until the lion learns how to write, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.’ History is still being written by non-Hispanics, and I think that we need to write it. I think we were attempting to open the door in those days so that others could follow and see the changes and bring about those changes that were dramatically needed in those days, and still are to this day,” Cruz says.