Today in labor history: Chicano draft resistance

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On September 16, 1940, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Selective Service & Training Act, requiring men ages 21 to 35 to register for the draft.

On September 16, 1969, on Mexican Independence Day, Rosalio Muñoz refused induction into the army; his action initiated draft resistance and an antiwar movement among Mexican Americans.

Muñoz decided - like thousands of other young people n the US - that if drafted, he would refuse to go fight in Vietnam. When he received his draft notice in the mail, Muñoz, who had been UCLA's first Chicano Student Body President, started organizing in the Chicano community.

Muñoz showed up at the draft board with around 100 supporters and made the statement reproduced below. The draft board postponed his induction for a few months, and Muñoz continued to fight at every point in the induction process. He refused to cooperate with the board, insisting on speaking in Spanish instead of English and eventually undertaking a hunger strike:

"Today, the sixteenth of September, the day of independence for all Mexican peoples, I declare my independence of the Selective Service System.

"I accuse the government of the United States of America of genocide against the Mexican people. Specifically, I accuse the draft, the entire social, political, and economic system of the United States of America of creating a funnel that shoots Mexican youth into Viet Nam to be killed and to kill innocent men, women and children.

"I accuse the education system of the United States of breaking down the family structure of the Mexican people. Robbing us of our language and culture it has torn the youth away from our fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers. Thus it is that I accuse the educational system of uneducating Chicano youth. Generally, we are ineligible for higher education, and thus are ineligible for the draft deferments which other college age youth take for granted, which is genocide.

"I accuse the American welfare system of taking the self-respect from our Mexican families, forcing our youth to see the army as a better alternative to living in our community with their own families, which is genocide.

"I accuse the law enforcement agencies of the United States of instilling greater fear and insecurity in the Mexican youth than the Viet Cong ever could, which is genocide.

"I accuse the United States Congress and the Selective Service System which they have created of recognizing these weaknesses they have imposed on the Chicano community, and of drafting their law so that many more Chicanos are sent to Viet Nam in proportion to the total population than they send any of their own white youth.

"I accuse the entire American social and economic system of taking advantage of the machismo of the Mexican American male, widowing and orphaning the mothers, wives, and children of the Mexican American community, sending the Mexican men on to the front lines where their machismo has given them more congressional medals, purple hearts, and many times more deaths and casualties than any of the other racial or ethnic groups in the nation, which is genocide.

I accuse the legislature of the United States of gerrymandering the Mexican people out of their proper representation in the political system.

"I have my induction papers, but I will not respect them until the government and people of the United States begin to use the machismo of the Mexican male and the passion and suffering of the Mexican female to the benefit of themselves and of their own heritage, deferring all Chicano youth who serve our people, and providing the money and support that would make such work meaningful in social, political, and economic terms.

"I will not respect the papers until the United States government and people can provide the funds and the willingness to improve the educational system so that all Mexican youth, the intelligent, the mediocre and the tapados, just like the white youth, the intelligent, the mediocre and the tapados, have the opportunity to go to college and get deferments.

"I will not respect the papers until the welfare and other community agencies of the United States foster and allow for self-respect so that our youth can stay home and be men amongst our families and friends.

"I will not respect the papers until the systematic harassment of the law enforcement agencies has ended, and these agencies begin truly to protect and serve the Mexican American community as well.

Photo: Rosalio Muñoz, left, with supporters.

The Vietnam war ended in 1975.

[In 1973, the draft ended and the U.S. converted to an All-Volunteer military. The registration requirement was suspended in April 1975. It was resumed again in 1980.]

 

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