The "Most Important Event on Campus"
1974 Chicano Conference at BYU
In 1974, the United States was home to over 11 million Spanish-speaking people. The Chicano Conference was organized in order to “understand and confront the challenges facing Spanish-speaking people in their struggle for education and for finding their proper place in American society.” These problems varied, but included an unemployment rate that was two to three times the national level, disease, and cultural barriers.
The basis of the conference included workshops, speakers, and lessons. Leaders of this conference included a wide array of professors and leaders of the Chicano movement, as well as leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Organizers highlighted non-stereotypical problems and people of the Spanish-speaking community in order to bring awareness to the disservice that such stereotypes were causing Spanish-speaking people.
One of these “non-stereotypical” scenarios was originally told by Dr. Clark Knowlton and was included in the opening statement. In a neighborhood in El Paso, Texas, gang members rallied together to raise enough money to give a college scholarship to one of their own. When that member failed his first quarter, fellow gang members woke him up at four in the morning to study, escorted him to and from class, and made sure that he completed his homework. That member passed his second quarter and went on to complete a law degree. Such a story emphasized one of the overarching messages of the conference: Spanish-speaking Americans were fighting battles that were important to the whole country and were not exclusively their own.
The symposium’s keynote speaker, Utah Governor Calvin Rampton, ended the conference by expressing his desire for greater action and initiative on behalf of Spanish-speakers within the state. He mentioned the involvement of the Spanish Speaking Organization for Community, Integrity, and Opportunity in creating government councils, as well as a 20-hour training on the culture of Spanish-speakers for law enforcement.
The Chicano Conference of 1974 was a part of the larger Chicano Movement which began in the 1960s. The movement itself was multifaceted and evolved overtime, but it originated in Mexican Americans rejecting previous efforts to assimilate into white American identity and instead embracing their heritage. The Chicano Conference—the “most important event on campus” at the time—followed previous conferences in Utah, such as the Chicano Conference in 1971 sponsored by Chicanas Unidas and the Chicano Conference in 1973 sponsored by La Raza; both groups were coalitions of Chicanos in the state. The Conference of 1974 joined previous efforts to alleviate pressure of assimilation as well as increase understanding of the needs of Hispanics in Utah.