Kansas activists participated in national Chicano events. For example, Kansans attended the National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver, Colorado, in March 1969, organized by the activist and poet Rodolfo Corky Gonzales.40 From the conference came the important Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, which presented a plan of action for the Chicano community. Surprised by the attendance of Chicanos from Kansas, the poet Alurista is reported to have said, I didn’t know there were any Mexicans in Kansas!41
The ideas that emerged from national events such as the National Youth Conference and the writings of Chicano intellectuals found fertile soil in Kansas’s Latino neighborhoods. There, local intellectuals and activists put together national thinking and local concerns and issues by writing in local daily and weekly publications. These newspapers and newsletters spread a national Chicano consciousness in Kansas that was connected with local concerns.
In 1971 Latino students at the University of Kansas formed the Association of Mexican American Students. In 1974 that association was renamed Movimiento
Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (MEChA).42 By this change, members signaled a connection with Chicano consciousness and political action. MEChA is a national organization that developed out of preexisting California and Texas student organizations.
Ideas of Aztlan and Chicanismo took root in another Kansas institution a bit earlier. The Federal Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, had an important group of Latino prisoners. Like Latino prisoners, known as pintos, in other penitentiaries, many Latino prisoners at Leavenworth developed a political and literary consciousness, thus becoming important Chicano intellectuals while behind bars. Their physical imprisonment became a metaphor for the social confinement they felt as Chicanos. At Leavenworth, a group of prisoners influenced by a range of Third-World and other radical thinkers such as Frantz Fanon and Che Guevara explored issues of racism, colonialism, class analysis, and national liberation as a basis for activism. This group included Raul R. Salinas, Ramon Chacon, Standing Deer, and Rafael Cancel Miranda.43
The broad ethnic, racial, and national interests and backgrounds of these prisoners built a critical context, both national and international, for thought. The inmates also organized themselves to fight for prisoners’ rights, and they took control of their education. At their request a course was taught at the prison by Francisco Ruiz, of Penn Valley Community College, in Kansas City. This course was called Cultural History of the Southwest. From this class came the newspaper Aztlan de Leavenworth, in which Salinas’s important poem Un Trip through the Mind Jail was first published. The group that created Aztlan de Leavenworth also organized the Chicanos Organizados de Rebeldes de Aztlan (C.O.R.A.), an association that worked to ensure prisoners’ rights. Like in other states, the penitentiary became a breeding ground for Chicano activists and intellectuals. The publications by the prisoners were distributed widely in the community outside the prison’s walls.44
The 1960s and 1970s brought not only activism connected with the Chicano movement but also attempts at community organization and social justice, as well as efforts by the Latino elite to claim a place in society. In 1963 Kansas veterans began chapters of the GI Forum, a national Chicano service and advocacy organization.45 The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) started its roots in Kansas around World War II, and it became a force in the state.46 Local organizations, such as El Centro of Kansas City, were founded as nongovernmental entities, and they began seeking federal and state funding to provide social services.
Latino-owned businesses also felt the need to have a voice in Kansas’s society. As a result the Latino business owners organized Hispanic chambers of commerce. The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1977, and it was located in Kansas City, from where it later moved to Washington, DC.47