The Beginnings

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 apartheid.

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.

The 1980's 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 cultural activities.

Lo Serio: La Politica, el activismo, y los resultados

The Chicano 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.

The Chicano 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.

Another 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.

Chicano Caucus 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 successes.

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.

Despite the 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.

Truly embodying 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.

Other noteworthy activities were the spring carne asadas and the informal football games between the Tejanos and the Californianos.

Another lasting 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 Guerrero.

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 group.

Chicano identity 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.

Other notable 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."

Something that 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.

A persistent 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.