The year was 1975. It was a time before Princeton's No-Loan
financial aid program, before the great push for diversity around
America's schools, before cell phones, the Internet and computers.
It was a time that had inherited the great social upheaval, push for
reform, and fight for greater justice, equality, and fairness of the
previous decades. It was also the time in which the class of 1979
had just arrived for its first semester at Princeton.
Within this class were a group of Chicanos that had come mostly from the far off lands
of California and Texas (and Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, etc).
Among them were Ernesto Rivera, Roberto Ayala Garcia, Jorge
Castro, David Ayon, Jorge Alvidrez, and Liz Muñoz. In search of
social, academic, and cultural support and other people who
understood them, these few Chicanos found each other and their
brethren in the classes of 1976, 1977, and 1978, among whom were
Arturo "Turi" Moreno '77, Frank Sanchez Reed '76, and Jose Maria
"Chema" Cavazos '78.
They were indeed
aware of the presence of Accion Puertorriqueña Y Amigos, but these
enterprising, young Chicanos were not content with being "nomas"
Amigos. Although an attempt at forming an organization for Chicanos
had been attempted in prior years, it wasn't until now with the help
of newly hired Assistant Dean of Students Frank Ayala that the group
became a reality. The national group MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil
Chicano de Aztlan) had been formed in 1969 and had been adopted at
many college campuses already. The group at Princeton, like many
Princetonians before them, however, wanted to be different and thus
decided that their group would be called the Chicano Caucus at
Princeton, the CCP for short.
One of the other
reasons that these young Chicanos felt it was necessary to form this
new group was their desire to fill a niche that Accion simply
would not. This niche was political involvement. As a product
of the 1970's these students realized that they could not just sit
back with the knowledge of the existence of various injustices and
inequalities. Some of the causes that they chose to address with
peaceful protest included the nation-wide "table-grapes" boycott and
iceberg lettuce boycott. Another noteworthy cause for the group was
to successfully urge the University to abandon investment in
Kruggerand gold from South Africa in protest of South African
Aside from these
political causes, these original Chicano Caucus members also felt
the responsibility to their fellow enterprising and determined
Chicanos in high schools in their home states. Thus they pressed
the university for funding to be able to return to their communities
and recruit similarly talented and motivated Chicanos for
Princeton. This ambitious project started small with 2 recruiters
that school year. The Chicano Caucus initiated program soon grew to
8 recruiters in the following 2 years and reached such places as El
Paso, Corpus Christi, Albuquerque, Los Angeles and other cities in
TX and CA.
But the Caucus of
course made sure to address the cultural needs of its members. They
did this by just plain "being there" for each other, by throwing
parties and study breaks and by attending the famed "Pachanga" at
Yale. Pachanga originally started in 1972 as a result of the
inability of many Chicanos at East Coast schools to afford to go
home for Thanksgiving. As the weekend get-together grew and became
more organized, Chicanos from various Ivy League and other East
Coast universities, including Princeton, organized a weekend of
speaker events, food, and cultural solidarity for Thanksgiving.
A great help to
their overall efforts was indeed Frank Ayala. He aided not only in
with his knowledge of how to get things done within the
infrastructure of administrative procedures, but also in his
willingness to provide a space (his apartment) for general meetings
and for parties.
continued in much the same fashion as the 70's had left off for
Chicano Caucus. As a result of much activism and action, great
progress was made in the struggle for more representation in
academic classes, in faculty/administration, and in student
government and the group continued to thrive in its social and
Lo Serio: La Politica, el activismo, y los resultados
Caucus's more formal activities during this time included attending
various inter-collegiate conferences. In the early 1980's, one of
the conferences was an October Recruitment Conference. The purpose
of this conference was for Chicano students from the various Ivy
League and East Coast schools to prepare for recruitment trips by
discussing the individual school demographics. Chicano Caucus
members also had the opportunity to travel to National Association
of Chicano Studies conferences at Michigan and Berkeley.
The East Coast Chicano Student's Conferences started in 1984.
These conferences came about as an extended version of the Pachanga
conferences and the recruitment organizational meetings.
Caucus was very prominent in the protests against South Africa's
apartheid on campus during these times. One of their noteworthy
efforts in this regard was a take-over of Nassau Hall. Five
dedicated Chicanos were willing to get arrested for this in order to
show their commitment to their beliefs.
worthwhile venture that the Caucus partook in was a trip to
Washington, D.C. to participate in a protest of American involvement
in the war in El Salvador.
was also able to enjoy great success as a result of their great
efforts. With much Chicano Caucus backing, Manuel Gonzales ’84
became the first Chicano to be elected President of the Student
Government. Chicano Caucus was also successful in bringing
Cesar Chavez to speak at the university 2 times during this decade.
1985 saw the
organization of a large scale Latino Task Force led in part by Joel
Barrera. This task force led to the release of a report on the
status of Latinos at Princeton, written by several Caucus members,
to University President Bowen. It recounted the dearth of Latino
representation on the faculty, administration, and student body and
it demanded rectification of these deficiencies. Although these
efforts were sometimes frustrating, they were aided by the strong
support of Carl Wartenburg, assistant to President Bowen, Dean
Whitcomb, and Modesta Garcia and John Templeton in the admissions
office, and with their help were able to achieve numerous
For example, the
report and the subsequent efforts reaped the temporary establishment
of various student-initiated Chicano studies courses. Among the
courses that were obtained during this time were a Chicano
literature course taught by poet Tino Villaneuva, a linguistics
course, a Chicano sociology course taught by Daniel Solorzano,
and various politics courses taught by David Abalos. Although these
courses were all taught by visiting professors, Chicano Caucus was
instrumental in convincing the university to hire a full-time
professor, George Sanchez, to teach Chicano history. Despite this
initial success, Prof. Sanchez unfortunately turned down the
position. The members of Chicano Caucus never envisioned such an
unlucky ending, but as Martin Gutierrez-Ruiz '87 recalls, "Such
were the trials and tribulations of student activism."
On another front, Chicano Caucus
was crucial in working with the office of the Chaplain to create a
Midnight Mass. Additionally, the spring of 1989 saw the realization
of a conference on Latinos and religiosity here on campus.
1989 also saw
another mass sit-in by several student groups including Chicano
Caucus. Although this sit-in had many goals, one that Chicano
Caucus especially fought for (and won) was financial aid for
students that had taken time away from Princeton or just needed more
time to graduate in general.
La vida buena: Pachangas, Fiestas, y Amistad
Along with the
activism and achievements came the fun, games, and camaraderie that
Chicano Caucus was also known for.
In the very early
1980's, Chicano Caucus was responsible for putting on a very
successful fundraising screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show,
in a time in which the show's popularity was at its peak. Also
during the early 80's, Caucus attended other pre-cursor conferences
to the ECCSF, which started officially in 1984 as the "all-purpose"
conference, including a February Arts/ Cultural Conference and a
Cinco De Mayo conference at Harvard.
inception of the ECCSF, the Thanksgiving Pachangas prevailed.
Chicano Caucus members of course attended every year. Not only
this, but they had the great privilege to hold wild Pachangas here
at Princeton several times, including in 1986 and 1989.
the group motto at the time, "Estoy aqui por ser Chicano y por seres
Chicanos aqui estoy," written by Felipe de la Garza '86, members of
the group made sure to always be there for each other. This, of
course, meant Caucus members provided academic, social, and cultural
support for each other and especially to younger members.
Whether it was
the late-night weekday study sessions or the late-night weekend
parties, Chicano Caucus always made sure to be the home away from
home for its members.
activities were the spring carne asadas and the informal football
games between the Tejanos and the Californianos.
tradition that was begun during these years was the Chicano Caucus
graduation for seniors. Although the early 1980's saw only
small-scale brunches for Chicano Caucus and Accion Puertoriquena at
the Third World Center, 1986 saw the inception of a larger-scale
ceremony that was originally organized in large part by Modesta
Garcia, an employee in the admissions office. This special ceremony
provided an opportunity for the families of Chicano Caucus members
to come together to meet each other and recognize the great
accomplishments of their children.
Perhaps one of
the most important and definitely displays of Mexican heritage that
was initiated during this time was the inception of the Ballet
Folklorico by several members of the Caucus. Originally started on
campus by Frances Carrillo Benavidez '86 in 1984/85, the group
provided other Princeton students with a look into traditional
Mexican dance and definitely livened up the Princeton dance
community. This group is still going strong and now performs dances
from the regions of Jalisco, Veracruz, Baja California Sur and
Another topic of
importance to the Chicano Caucus throughout the 70's and 80's was
the TWC or Third World Center. This center provided an extended
outlet for student leadership, a wonderful facility for all types of
social, political, and organizational purposes, and a place for
Chicanos on Prospect Avenue.
Quienes somos: La lucha con identidad, el reclutamiento, y la retencion
The 80's were
also a time of great difficulty in regards to identity, recruitment
and retention for Chicanos on campus and for Chicano Caucus as a
in general had always been a complex issue, but this issue now
worked itself into Chicano Caucus. During this time, members not
only questioned what it meant to be a Chicano, but also what it
meant to be part of Chicano Caucus. One of the biggest issues was
the name of the group itself. People questioned whether it was
appropriate considering the diverse membership and the wider
implications of the word "Chicano". Although many Chicanos of
course felt the cultural unity, they did not feel the same accord
with the political and activist nature of the group. Despite
several attempts at figuring out a less contentious name, the group
proudly remained Chicano Caucus.
topics of discussion for the group were the merits of ideas put
forth in literature such as Richard Rodriguez's "Hunger of Memory"
and Roberto Barragan's "Chicano Manifesto."
did much to unify the group was its recruitment initiative. Members
of the Chicano Caucus continued in the tradition of returning,
during breaks, to their hometowns and surrounding areas, especially
inner cities and rural areas in California, Texas, and New Mexico,
to recruit more well-deserving and high-achieving Chicanos to come
to Princeton. In addition to this, they organized phone campaigns
to try to convince admitted students to matriculate into Princeton
and to make this their home for the next 4 years. All these efforts
also contributed to the trend of recent Chicano graduates working in
the Admissions office.
problem within the ranks of Chicano Caucus, however, was the
tendency for Chicano students to take time off. Because of the
striking challenges of Princeton, both cultural and academic, many
students chose to take time off. It was largely with the help and
support of Chicano Caucus and its members that many of these
students were able to return, thrive, and graduate.