LA RAZA at the Autry Museum showcases not only the Mexican American civil rights movement, but conveys American history, photojournalism history and Chicano history that is often overlooked. The exhibit was inspired by the La Raza newspaper publication.
After careful deliberation, co-curators Amy Scott and Luis Garza were able to encapsulate the significance of La Raza by separating the exhibit into five distinct themes.
“The archives and the photographs collectively make an argument for social equality for Mexican Americans on their own terms. And it does this through a variety of ways, and that’s what the themes are designed to do,” Scott said.
Photographs in ‘Action, Agency, and Movement’ were chosen to depict large protests and emphasize crowds. The section highlights how protestors occupied public space in large numbers and sought to belong in a areas that they felt unwelcome in.
“The occupation of public space is important in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially when a lot of Mexican Americans living in Los Angeles thought that they had been denied access to these places,” Scott said. “They were denied an equal seating within the judicial court system or the education system or the public high schools that their children are attending.”
The back of the exhibit titled ‘Signs of the Times’ illustrates the historic iconography that characterized the different protests Mexican Americans participated in. From labor to immigration to anti war protests, the photographs of protest signs symbolized the many different markers of activism.
“If you think about what protest signage does, it is a way of broadcasting your concerns. It’s like a visual mouthpiece, and it lets the archive speak for itself,” Scott said.
In ‘The Other and the State’, La Raza photographers pointed their cameras up, toward the often menacing police surveillance that hovered over protests and rallies. The display simply scratches the surface of the immense police presence and how La Raza staff used their cameras as weapons of truth.
“There is a real power here in the ways in which the camera is used to speak back to authority,” Scott said.
In the section ‘The Body,’ injuries to protestors are documented which vary from broken bones, bandages, heal wounds stitches, hospitalized people or even dead bodies in a morgue. Chicanos knew the system would be against them so they photographed evidence of physical violence.
“We wanted to show the nature of the yanking and the violent confrontations,” Scott said.
‘Portraits of a Community’ went beyond the drama, violence, and traumatic events and instead showcased the beauty of people in the community. The portraits illustrated a more compassionate side to the protests and showed the humanity of those fighting for equality.
LA RAZA made a huge impact on Chicano history. The Autry chose to highlight these systematic events and share nearly 25,000 pictures in their gallery. The composition of the exhibit paired with photos, videos and murals effectively share the intricate story of the Mexican American plight for civil rights. LA RAZA at the Autry Museum will be open until February 2019.