ricardochavezortiz February 05

Ricardo Chavez-Ortiz, Chicano Nation Freedom Fighter


A comrade directed me to a new blog, Notes From Aztlán, a blog dedicated to Chicano national liberation.  I would recommend checking it out.  Among its posts is one about the story of Ricardo Chavez-Ortiz.  The short history of Chavez-Ortiz is this:  An unemployed Chicano restaurant worker hijacked a plane in 1972, with his only demand to get media time to speak on the plight of the Chicano people.  After he gave many statements over the media, he peacefully surrendered, and subsequently served time in prison.

The year this took place, 1972, was a time of increased awareness and action by the Chicano people.  Awareness collectively of Chicanos as an oppressed nation, and action that at times expressed sentiment for national liberation.  Actions like Chavez-Ortiz’ happened at a greater capacity in the land that was increasingly being called Aztlan. Not all of it was organized, and though they attempted to link Chavez-Ortiz to a well-known militant Chicano organization of the time, it appears he did this action by his own volition.  As there was increased organizing by the Chicano people, there was increased repression.  With increased repression there was an upsurge in militant actions.  Chavez-Ortiz is a hero for bringing attention to our people.  He would be labeled a terrorist today, as the U.$. does with other liberation fighters conducting militant actions.

As many people do not know this history, it should be spread farther.  We repost this excerpt from a recent post dealing with Ricardo Chavez-Ortiz.  It is reposted to further debate and dialogue on these issues.  Would also recommend checking out the book Somos Chicanos by David F. Gomez, which has a chapter that discusses Chavez-Ortiz hijacking, including excerpt of his entire speech.

From “I’m Ricardo. Fly Me to Freedom”:

Between 1965-1975, a new style of Chicano politics emerged that saw many of the changes most people take for granted today. These changes are now being revoked through congressional laws and/or supreme court decisions along with the idea that racism, discrimination, and segregation are a thing of the past.

During the Chicano Movement, it was understood that direct militant organizing in education, politics, health, and other areas was brought about by the idea that people were willing to die for La Causa.

The idea that we have nothing to lose is a very powerful one indeed. Of course, this post is not advocating that we risk our lives simply for the sake of risking it, but it is calling attention to the fact that unless people are willing to go beyond the safe confines of cyber activism and online petitions nothing will change.

This reminded me of an incident that took place at the height of the Chicano Movement in April of 1972. It is a very little known event now. But if you take a Chicana/o Studies class you’re more likely to learn about y(our) history.  At the time that it took place it reverberated throughout Aztlán.

This incident wasn’t a survey distributed in some barrio. It wasn’t a fancy speech by an intellectual. Rather, it was direct action taken by a simple man who grew tired of the injustices taking place. It was a call to action then and it is a call to action now. It is important to know y(our) history.

What follows, then, is a brief history of the events of April 1972.

On the morning of April 13, 1972, rumors began circulating in Albuquerque, New Mexico that a member of the Black Berets, a Chicano militant group similar to the Brown Berets, had hijacked an airplane to demand the release of Chicano political prisoners.

Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz live on Spanish language media on April 13, 1972.

Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz live on Spanish language media on April 13, 1972

The hijacked Frontier Airlines Boeing 737 jetliner from Albuquerque, New Mexico was ordered flown to Los Angeles, California. As the jetliner descended on the runaway of the Los Angeles International Airport, the hijacker demanded to speak to the local Spanish language media.

Immediately on the scene was KMEX TV cameraman Octavio Gómez. Since 1969, Gómez had covered the Chicano Movement, and was with Ruben Salazar on the fateful afternoon in August 1970 when the L.A. Sheriffs shot a tear-gas canister into the Silver Dollar Bar killing Salazar at the Chicano Moratorium.

As luck would have it, Gómez knew the hijacker, a Mexican national named Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz, 36. As Chávez-Ortiz began speaking on the live broadcast of the Spanish language media, it became quite evident that he did not belong to the Black Berets nor any organized organization.

Although he had .22 caliber pistol with him, Chávez-Ortiz repeatedly remarked that he did not have any criminal intentions. In fact, at the end of his remarks it was revealed that the pistol was empty.

But what did Chávez-Ortiz want? Why take such a monumental risk to his personal safety and family?

All Chávez-Ortiz wanted to do was to tell the world about the plight of the Chicana/o community. He wanted to air a century of grievances on behalf of all Chicanas/os. He spoke in general about the political, economic, and social oppression subjugating all Chicanas/os.

He spoke about the need to save the “younger generation” and the “family” from a life of rampant poverty, racism, and discrimination. He spoke about the monster that was the “Anglo society,” which needlessly destroyed the dignity and self-respect of the Chicana/o community.

Chávez-Ortiz used personal testimony to share the grievances of not only his family, but of an entire Chicana/o community.

Chávez-Ortiz had lost his job six-months earlier and moved to Albuquerque, where he found employment in a restaurant but that didn’t last long either. Eventually, his family was forced to live off welfare.

Chávez-Ortiz did not ask for monetary ransom nor for the release of political prisoners. Instead, Chávez-Ortiz used his on-air time to eloquently state the following (partial transcripts follow):

…I have felt an obligation to do this bad deed but not only for the situation of my family but the thing is that it is much more delicate and dangerous for the new generation than you can imagine. You can see things are all screwed up. Nevertheless you don’t stop to think about what it is we can do. All you do is let the days go by and maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, there’ll be a chance there will be a new governor or a new President, yakkity, yakkity…

…And so, finally what I wanted was, after having made this flight, I wanted to attract the attention of everyone in the nation and say to everyone once and for all, what type of human beings we are. The destruction amongst our children is fantastic. The children that I have, go and ask yourselves, they have attended school for many years and they know absolutely nothing. And so, this act that I have just committed I did it knowing that I would probably die because of it and that I would probably go to hell. However, my life does not have as much worth as the lives of so many children. However, the thing is very simple, we do not ask for anything for free. This land we are walking on is Mexican land and so, for this simple reason, we do not come to beg for anything or that anything be given to us or anything else…

…This land is Mexican land and the conquerors horde it all based on massacres and bad tricks. Certainly this that I am doing is criminal. It is against the law of these persons, these conquerors, because I don’t have the right to arrive at a hospital and be attended to as a human being. So I don’t have that right…

…We are Mexicans; we live with the cockroaches and in the most unworthy conditions one could have in this land. The Americans go and send rockets to the moon. Yes, go ahead and do whatever you want to do while we become rebellious because now we can’t endure anymore. We cannot tolerate more; we cannot endure more…

…If that is what the laws are like, then the laws are for the protection of the capitalists or, in other words, to protect the government…

At this point, there was an apparent interruption in the broadcast. He was still broadcasting, but it was not picked up by the station:

…These wars [Vietnam War] that have been fought have been a crime. They have been a crime because these people have gone to join and fight with others and for what reason? For myself, if someone, I have to fight and kill, let it be for maintaining justice for my home or for my children or for their future…

…They say the police have written on their cars “to protect and to serve.” To protect and serve whom, only themselves. The police are the only ones who have authority to carry a pistol and the license to kill. Very simply, I have a great fear of going out on the street because I am afraid that at any moment a policeman will take out his pistol and shoot me, or someone else might kill me…

…All I want is for Mexicans to know that this is Mexican land and always will be. There does not exist in the whole world a nation that is for sale…

…I could very easily force this plane to go to México and I could have demanded three or four million dollars. I could have done this, and I assure you that I would have been able to avoid capture there because I know my country very well. I am a pretty smart person. And I know how to use my intelligence so that I can get along well with my friends and family…

Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz appearing in court

Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz appearing in court

After nearly thirty-five minutes of airtime, Chávez-Ortiz surrendered without incident.

The live broadcast tapes along with taped interviews with newsmen were immediately confiscated by the FBI.

His bail was initially set at $500,000 later reduced to $350,000 and finally to $35,000 thanks to community pressure.

At the time, Celia Chávez-Ortiz, wife of Ricardo, indicated that her husband was innocent and that the real crime being perpetuated was the subjugation her family and other Chicanas/os were forced to endure because of racist practices by a capitalist system whose only concern was profit over people. Unemployment, for example, was almost 20% in East Los Angeles.

In an April 17, 1972 report that appeared in the Miami News, Celia remarked that Ricardo “got paid for eight hours of work, but was expected to work 15 or 16 hours.”

The Nashua Telegraph, on July 24, 1972, reported that Chávez Ortiz was charged with one count of air piracy. The jury included two Blacks but no Chicanas/os.

Free Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz button

Free Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz button

Tragically, the defense attorneys for Chávez-Ortiz argued that he had diminished mental capacities.

The clash between reason (on the side of the dominant power) and insanity (on the side of those who are subjugated) is still reflected in the current struggle to create, maintain, and preserve Chicana/o Studies.

The State of Arizona sees itself as the guardian of reason, while those supporting Chicana/o Studies are seen as irrational for not subscribing to Western concepts of knowledge and practice.

Furthermore, Chicana/o Studies is not seen as a viable academic discipline. Is this perhaps the reason why those in LATISM refuse to defend and support Chicana/o Studies? Has LATISM bought into the falsehood that Chicana/o Studies is a victimization course? Has LATISM bought into the “rationality” of the State of Arizona which falsely accuses Chicana/o Studies of being anti-American?

I don’t know, but the failure of LATISM to respond, support and defend Chicana/o Studies is questionable. Historically, anyone who does not the support the status quo has been marginalized as a non-team player.

In reading the brief transcript, you can easily observe how Chávez-Ortiz, despite telling the truth of the lived experiences of Chicanas/os, was forced to plead insanity in order to invalidate Chicana/o ownership to the land, identity, and culture.

Chávez-Ortiz spoke about the inferior schooling received by young Chicanas/os. He spoke about the constant police-brutality experienced by Chicanas/os. Yet, he was forced to plead insanity by the State.

In July of 1972, Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz was found guilty by a federal grand jury and sentence to life in prison. His case was later appealed. On November 7, 1973, the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit ruled on the case.

The Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz direct action for self-determination will not be forgotten by Chicana/o history. It is also a reminder that his words were about direct action.

I’m certain that in today’s political climate, AmeriKKKan society and even LATISM would see a new Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz as a crazed “terrorist” complaining about things that have no merit because, such things as racism are remnants from the past.

Justice for Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz poster

Justice for Ricardo Chávez-Ortiz poster

I’m Ricardo. Fly Me to Freedom” was a sign seen at a Chicano rally in the 1970s.

When will our next leader emerge to fly us to freedom?


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