Renowned Chicano activist Carlos Montes’ collection donated to Cal State L.A.’s East L.A. Archive

Carlos Montes—a nationally respected leader in the Chicano, immigrant rights, and anti-war movements—donated his archive collection on Jan. 16 to California State University, Los Angeles.

The Montes Collection will be added to the East Los Angeles Archive, which is housed in the University’s John F. Kennedy Memorial Library.

“I selected Cal State L.A. Library’s East L.A. Archive to donate my personal political files from the Chicano movement because Cal State L.A. is a local and respected educational institution that will make them available to the community, students, professors and the general public,” said Montes.

Montes was a co-founder of the Brown Berets, a Chicano working class youth organization in the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s. He was also one of the leaders of the Chicano Blowouts, a series of walkouts of East Los Angeles high schools to protest against racism and inequality in Los Angeles-area high schools. He is portrayed by Fidel Gomez in the 2006 HBO movie, Walkout. (See below for Montes’ complete biography.)

His first submissions to the archive included issues of La Causa Brown Beret newspaper, flyers of the political trial for the Biltmore case, legal transcripts of the court proceedings from the East L.A high school walkouts prosecution, the Los Angeles Magazine with article featuring Carlos Montes, and the Biltmore case grand jury indictment.

“Both of the cases addressed political repression against the Chicano movement, specifically the Brown Berets and myself,” Montes explained.

The East L.A. Archive at Cal State L.A. documents the lives and events of a historical community central to the social, political, and cultural history of the Chicano/Latino community in the United States. It collects, preserves, displays, and disseminates documents, artifacts and other materials related to the social and political life of the East Los Angeles region.

“The Montes Collection is an important addition to our East L.A. Archive, which supports the University’s commitment to civic and community engagement and learning,” said University Librarian Alice Kawakami. “Azalea Camacho, archivist, and Romelia Salinas, librarian liaison to the University’s Department of Chicano Studies, were actively involved in helping to bring this collection to our campus.”

The archive currently consists of The Gloria Arellanes Papers, The East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU) collection, the “Mexican-American Baseball in Los Angeles” Exhibit Collection, the Jose R. Figueroa Collection, and the Claudia Baltazar Poster Collection.

For more information about the archive or for how to donate collections or funding to the East Los Angeles Archive, please contact Archivist Camacho, John F. Kennedy Memorial Library, Special Collections, at (323) 343-3997.

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Carlos Montes’ biography

Carlos Montes was born December 28, 1947 in El Paso, Texas, while his family lived in Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico.  He lived his early childhood in the border town of Juarez in 1956, and his family moved to South Los Angeles the Florencia area, and later to Boyle Heights and East L.A.

Montes’ father worked in a factory assembly line manufacturing coffee tables as a member of the Carpenters union industrial section, while his grandfather, Alejandro Alvarado, was a member of Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army. His family was raised with stories told by his mother of the Mexican revolution.

Montes graduated from Miramonte Elementary School, Hollenbeck Junior High School and Garfield High School (GHS). At GHS, he was a member of the marching band and several student clubs. He was also a member of the cross country team.

At East Los Angeles College (ELAC), Montes joined the Mexican American Student Association in 1967, after participating in student government. He founded the La Vida Nueva Chicano student group at ELAC—organizing and fighting to get one of first Chicano Studies departments at ELAC. He also took part in the founding of the Movimiento Estudiantil de Aztlan (MECHA).

While attending ELAC, Montes worked as a teen post director in Lincoln Heights on Broadway, where he met Father John Luce of the Church of the Epiphany and Eliazar Risco, editor of La Raza newspaper. There, he got introduced to the Young Chicanos for Community Action and La Pyrana Coffee House in East L.A., where the Brown Berets, a Chicano revolutionary group fighting for self-determination, were started. He was a leader and one of the founders of the original Brown Berets and became the minister of information, the spokesperson for the group.

As a leader in the Brown Berets, he organized the first protest at the East L.A. Sheriff’s station against police brutality in the winter of 1967. He helped to lead the Brown Berets into a national organization with chapters in the Southwest.

Additionally, he was a leader and organizer in the historic East L.A. Walkouts in March of 1968, which led to major reforms and changes in the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was indicted by a secret L.A. County Grand Jury and arrested for conspiracy to disrupt the school system with many other charges in what became known as the East L.A. 13 case; charges later dropped.

In 1968, Montes participated in the first National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver Colorado, where the Plan Espiritual de Aztlan was formulated and the demand for self-determination for the Chicano Nation was popularized. He worked to forge alliances with the Black Panther Party and supported the Free Huey Newton political prisoner’s campaign. 

He participated in organizing the first Chicano Moratorium in December 1969 against the war in Vietnam. This led to the historic August 29, 1970, National Chicano Moratorium when more than 20,000 Chicanos protested the high casualty of Chicanos in the Vietnam War, and the killing of Ruben Salazar.

Montes was married to Olivia Velasquez in January 1970. Due to the heavy repression and threats, they went underground and lived in Mexico in 1970. Later they settled in the Juarez El Paso area. Montes worked in El Paso as a carpenter with the International Brotherhood of Carpenters, building public housing. He also worked as a maintenance mechanic at Farah textile plant, as a steel worker at Phelps Dodge copper refinery, and Thomson General Hospital as a maintenance mechanic. Montes and Olivia raised two children—Felicia, who is a cultural activist with Mujeres de Maiz in Lak Ech, a teacher and union organizer, and Reies, who is a local fire fighter and active in his union.

Montes later became a member of the L.A. Chapter of the Community Service Organization (CSO) and also on the Board of the CSO Credit Union. As part of the CS0 in the early 1990s, Montes was involved with several campaigns against police killings by the L.A. County Sheriff’s office. He was also part of the reform campaign of the L.A. Sheriff’s during the Koltz Commission.

He was a leader in the reorganizing as well as the 20th commemoration of the National Chicano Moratorium in 1990, where more than 5,000 people marched and rallied the historic route to Salazar Park and opposed the first war on Iraq.

Under the leadership of Montes in the late 1990s, the Centro CSO along with local parents formed the city of Boyle Heights, and led a Clean Schools Campaign. He helped to initiate the Schools Not War campaign, demanding a new high school in Boyle Heights to relieve the overcrowding at Roosevelt H.S., and an end to military recruitment on the campus. He was instrumental in winning a new school, Mendez Learning Complex, now built in Boyle Heights. He helped to found the Latinos Against War group in 2003, which led marches and teach-ins in East Los Angeles and supported the citywide opposition to the war in Iraq.

In May 2004, he joined Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 660 as a field representative organizer and was assigned to the L.A. County Health Department, where he fought for workers’ rights and helped found the SEIU International Latino Caucus.  He was later assigned to the LAC+USC Medical Center, where he organized Black, Latino and Asian members to unite and work together to improve working conditions.

In 2004, he helped organize and initiate a large march and rally demanding legalization and end to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids at the 10-year anniversary of the mass protest against the racist 187 State initiative. He pushed SEIU 660 and other locals to support the March 25 and May 1 mega marches for immigrant rights and against the Sensenbrenner bill that attacked immigrants. In 2007, he was arrested for civil disobedience protesting the ICE raids and supporting Elvira Arellano, an immigrant rights leader, who was deported August 18, 2007.

Montes also worked on the campaign to defeat McCain and the fight for immigration reform and the end the racist ICE raids. He participated in the major protest march against the Republican National Committee on September 1, 2008. The FBI began to infiltrate the March on the RNC Committee and the local Anti-War Committee, which Carlos endorsed and helped mobilize.

Currently, he is on the steering committee of the Southern California Immigration Coalition and a volunteer organizer with Centro CSO, organizing parents to promote public education and to resist the privatization attack by charter schools in East L.A.  In October 2012, he was elected to the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council and chairs the Transportation Environment Committee. This committee has initiated several pro-immigrants’ rights resolutions in support of driver’s licenses for the undocumented and end to the police car impounds of unlicensed drivers.