In January 1970, in protest of the war in Vietnam, students from UCSB burned the Bank of America in Isla Vista. … I discovered a campus rife with anxieties and flush with a kind of symbolic success. All of the radical students wanted to take credit for the burning. It was a badge of honor to have participated in that act of civil disobedience, especially against a corporate giant.
Teatro de la Esperanza production of “Guadalupe”
Also during this period, because of federally-funded affirmative action programs like EOP (Educational Opportunity Program), thousands of underrepresented and low-income students were given scholarships making it possible for low-income (minority) students to enter academia. And due in no small part to the political climate of the time (think the Civil Rights Movement) minority students were admitted to universities across the country.
The shock of this experience was one of the first themes addressed by the student teatros that began to emerge as the cultural and performative arms of the Chicano student organizations.
Chicano high school and university students had formed a national coalition of organizations calling themselves MEChA, acronym for El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán). As a wing of the campus MEChA organization at University of California, Santa Barbara, the students called their teatro Teatro Mecha, a colloquial term for match.
Santa Barbara holds particular significance because a major manifesto was written here, titled El Plan de Santa Barbara, in 1970. Its collective authors wrote: “We take as our credo what José Vasconcelos once said at a time of crisis and hope: ‘At this moment we do not come to work for the university, but to demand that the university work for our people.’” During this moment in time, with protests raging in the streets and on university campuses all over the world, trust was difficult to come by. We knew that there were agents provocateurs in every organization and we certainly did not trust “the Man,” after centuries of official lies and neglect that had decimated barrios, ghettos, reservations, and all poor peoples’ communities.