Rosales on Patiño, 'Raza Sí, Migra No: Chicano Movement Struggles for Immigrant Rights in San Diego'

Jimmy Patiño
Oliver Rosales

Jimmy Patiño. Raza Sí, Migra No: Chicano Movement Struggles for Immigrant Rights in San Diego. Justice, Power, and Politics Series. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. 356 pp. $32.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-4696-3556-9.

Reviewed by Oliver Rosales (Bakersfield College) Published on H-California (June, 2018) Commissioned by Khal Schneider

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Since 2012 historian Mario T. García has organized a biannual conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara exploring the “emergent historiography of the Chicano movement.”[1] Having participated in this conference since its inception, historian Jimmy Patiño offers the best of this emergent historiography in Raza Sí, Migra No: Chicano Movement Struggles for Immigrant Rights in San Diego. Part of the University of North Carolina’s Justice, Power, and Politics series, Patiño’s account of how San Diego activists organized across borders and developed a transnational praxis in the struggle for justice expands our collective understanding of Chicano civil rights history. Patiño argues that activists in the San Diego border region produced political imaginaries that are incredibly important for today’s activist generation organizing in the era of Donald Trump.

Divided into three parts, Raza Sí, Migra No is more than the title of the book suggests but represents the ideological glue that held together and prompted Herman Baca and other San Diego activists to fight an unjust US immigration deportation regime. Pro-immigrant sensibilities among San Diego Chicano/a activists did not emerge overnight. Rather, these cross-border embracive political imaginaries were rooted in a longer history of the US Left and the diverse coalitions that formed in the Popular Front and continued through the early Cold War era. This pre-Chicano movement history is foundational for Patiño’s argument. The politics of organizing beyond the confines of the nation-state and narrow nationalism, whether American or Chicano, threads Patiño’s narrative. Legendary Chicano organizer Bert Corona’s roots in this pre-Chicano movement era proved seminal as he mentored generations of activists, including Baca, the most important historical actor in Patiño’s account. Pre-Chicano movement activists’ earlier organizing across both ethno-racial lines and the boundaries of citizenship gave way to a narrow organizing tradition during the Chicano movement era. Such organizations as the United Farm Workers (UFW), League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and other middle-class bourgeois groups emphasized citizenship and sometimes outright hostility toward Mexican immigrants, Patiño suggests. Given the proximity of the Mexican border, Chicano/a activists in San Diego pushed the boundaries of activism to embrace a pro-immigrant sensibility. Other Chicano communities across the American Southwest, by contrast, could not or deliberately chose not to embrace such pro-immigrant views.

The heart of the book is divided into five chapters examining how the Chicano movement confronted the so-called immigrant question from the late 1960s through the 1970s. San Diego Chicano/a activists were especially galvanized by gender and sexual violence on the border endured by Mexican immigrant women. Patiño narrates with horrifying detail some of the sexual violence enacted by border patrol agents against Mexican migrants, both male and female. While they mobilized against the deportation regime, however, Chicano/a activists reinforced heteronormativity and traditional gender stereotypes of Mexican women as mothers and bearers of Mexican culture. Patiño’s effort to include a gender analysis echoes recent Chicana feminist scholarship that has criticized the male-dominated narratives of Chicano movement histories.[2] Most archival evidence and voices in Raza Sí, Migra No, however, reflect male perspectives. Patiño’s focus on Baca’s impressive organizing career, as well as the gendered nature of the archival evidence, rather than a deliberate exclusion, explains this narrative structure.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Raza Sí, Migra No is the deep and careful historical attention Patiño pays to San Diego’s Chicano activist community. The discussion of Chicano/a student activism at Southwestern College and the immigrant rights group Center for Autonomous Social Action (CASA) Justicia, as well as such grassroots leaders as Chole Alatorre and Charlie Vásquez, shows the nuances of San Diego activism and organizing effectively in the shadow of the border, both literally and figuratively. Patiño provides fresh perspectives on more familiar Chicano movement organizations, such as La Raza Unida Party (LRUP) and the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), by exploring how San Diego Chicano/a activists pushed these organizations locally (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) toward pro-immigrant sensibilities. Patiño finds powerful archival evidence from a variety of sources, including Chicano movement newspapers, publications, and oral histories. The evidence shows clear divisions among Chicanos/as over the question of how much the plight of Mexican immigrants should factor into Chicano movement agendas.

Patiño’s coverage of Pete Wilson’s mayoral tenure in San Diego is excellent. Wilson’s contentious relationship with Baca represents the Chicano movement’s intersection with a major figure of California Republican anti-immigrant politics. Patiño’s exploration of the Chicano National Immigration Conference and Tribunal also complicates traditional declension narratives of the Chicano movement, which typically span the years from the launch of the Delano Grape Strike in 1965 through the mid-1970s.[3] In the early 1980s, San Diego’s Chicano/a activists fomented a transnational organizing praxis and realized a clear reimagining of the relationship between mexicanos north and south of an imagined border. Finally, Patiño’s exploration of the ways amnesty during the Ronald Reagan presidential era was connected to border control policies shows a clear path toward contemporary policy discussions. In short, any policy discussion among the major parties over immigration reform is coupled with enhanced border security and enforcement.

Arguably the most controversial aspect of Raza Sí, Migra No is the critique of Chicano/a liberal Democrats. Building on recent scholarship that has criticized the historical legacy of César Chávez and the UFW,[4] Patiño pulls no punches when it comes to Chicano/a liberal Democrats who embraced what he describes as anti-immigrant politics that characterized Mexican immigrants as a social and economic burden to the US economy. These liberal Democrats and the mainstream liberal organizations that supported them, such as the UFW, LULAC, or American GI Forum, reinforced the boundaries of American citizenship and US capitalism’s exploitation of cheap labor. Patiño emphasizes the ways Chicano/a liberal Democrats who had “middle-class concerns with gaining access to mainstream institutions” undermined immigrant struggles (p. 126). At the same time, San Diego Chicano/a activists pushed the boundaries of the movement into more pro-immigrant positions. Patiño’s Chicano/a activists embraced a transnational praxis of community organizing and imagined a world without borders (and state deportation regimes) long before the era of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the post-2006 immigrant rights movement. Chicano/a liberal Democrats, Patiño suggests, ironically had more in common with prominent white supremacists like David Duke in that both espoused the Mexican immigrant as a threat to domestic American workers. Patiño argues that place shaped Chicano movement activism in San Diego; activists who worked close to the border developed pro-immigrant arguments. But he gives less attention to contextualizing the ways place may have shaped the positions of Chicano/a Democrats or such organizations as the UFW regarding immigration.[5] Additional scholarship will certainly emerge to enhance our understanding of the Chicano movement’s relationship to undocumented immigrants, within California and beyond.  

Overall, Raza Sí, Migra No offers a fresh account of the ways the San Diego borderlands shaped the contours of the Chicano movement during its heyday and the transition to an era of pro-immigrant marches we see today.


[1]. For an anthology produced by the first conference, see Mario T. García, ed., The Chicano Movement: Perspectives from the Twenty-First Century (New York: Routledge, 2014).

[2]. Maylei Blackwell, ¡Chicana Power! Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011).

[3]. See, for example, Lorena Oropeza, ¡Raza Si! !Guerra No! Chicano Protest and Patriotism in the Viet Nam War Era (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005); and George Mariscal, Brown-Eyed Children of the Sun: Lessons from the Chicano Movement, 1965-1975 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006).

[4]. Matthew García, From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014); and Miriam Pawel, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014).

[5]. For a narrative focused on the reformist nature of Chicano movement activism, see Marc Rodriguez, Rethinking the Chicano Movement (New York: Routledge, 2015).

Citation: Oliver Rosales. Review of Patiño, Jimmy, Raza Sí, Migra No: Chicano Movement Struggles for Immigrant Rights in San Diego. H-California, H-Net Reviews. June, 2018. URL:

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