“To die for the people is weightier than Mount Tai…
Wherever there is struggle there is sacrifice, and death is a common occurrence. But we have the interests of the people and the sufferings of the great majority at heart, and when we die for the people it is a worthy death.”
This March 17th is the commemoration of the death of Luis Jr Martinez. On March 17 1973, the Crusade for Justice, a Chicano civil rights organization in Denver, was attacked in a police raid. In the ensuing attack Luis Jr Martinez was assassinated by a cop from the Denver police. Luis was a Chicano revolutionary who exemplified the spirit of resistance and struggle for Mexicano people in occupied land. He gave his life defending his people, and for this we observe his life.
As a youth Martinez grew up in the barrios of Denver. He put his energies into serving the community as he became more politically active and aware. Martinez eventually joined the Crusade for Justice, founded in 1966 and led by Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzalez. The Crusade for Justice was a leading Chicano nationalist organization and the Crusade and Corky became influential nationwide. With the Crusade Martinez attended the Poor Peoples Campaign in 1968 in DC.
Martinez was also a founder of a local chapter of the Black Berets, a national radical Chicano organization. They operated out of the Crusade building and assisted with security at community events. The Berets played an important role in the West High School blowouts in 1968, high school uprisings that happened all throughout Aztlan/Occupied Mexico. Junior was active in serving, educating and organizing the Chicano community in many different ways.
Martinez was also an accomplished dancer. After traveling to Mexico Martinez founded the Baile de Chicano de Aztlan, a dance troupe within the Crusade. Using culture as a tool, he helped in bringing back culture from Mexico to teach to the people to help regain their cultural knowledge. The enthusiasm Martinez brought to his dance influenced others around him.
Luis became an outspoken and increasingly militant activist. Subsequently he was constantly targeted by the police. Like many debates among the Movement in this time, an issue at hand was armed self defense, with Martinez being an advocate that oppressed people have a right to defend themselves.
On February 27 1973 the American Indian Movement took over and occupied Wounded Knee, South Dakota in response to the long injustices and oppression faced by First Nation peoples. In Denver the Crusade helped organize protests in solidarity, showing unity and cooperation among oppressed nations within Amerika. Both AIM and Chicano organizations were targets of federal counterinsurgency under COINTELPRO, and the prospects of Chicano and Native unity was something they couldn’t tolerate. The Wounded Knee incident lasted 71 days, and the activity around it was a pretext to lead to a confrontation on March 17 of that year.
The police raided the Crusade headquarters at Colfax and Downing this day. A shootout happened between police and Chicanos, including Martinez. Luis was shot and killed, and another Crusade member was wounded. A subsequent explosion destroyed a Crusade apartment building. The reason for this explosion remains unknown, but was in the context of the Wounded Knee struggle, and this repressive act marked a turning point for movement activities in Denver.
The Founding of El Centro L.U.I.S., Continuing Internationalism
After Luis Jr Martinez was killed, movement activism took different directions. His brothers Joe and Mark Martinez founded in the mid-1970’s El Centro L.U.I.S. (Latinos United in International Solidarity) in his memory. It offered a more internationalist alternative to the then dominant and narrow cultural nationalism of the Crusade for Justice. Also as the Crusade slid into reformism, El Centro LUIS attempted to keep a revolutionary project going. At the time there was increased internationalist solidarity among Chicanos, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Native Peoples. El Centro provided serve the people programs as well as advanced an anti-imperialist political program. Much of their work continues from their formed participants, including the Mexican National Liberation Movement founded in Colorado.
Along with Martinez, others from Colorado, as well as nationally, lost their lives for the movement also. They include Ricardo Falcon and Los Seis de Boulder. The Mexican National Liberation Movement recognizes these fallen comrades as Symbols of Resistance. As they describe it in a pamphlet they distribute commemorating the martyrs of the Chicano Movement from Colorado:
“Clarity of vision. Strength of spirit. Firmness of action. These are the gifts the Symbols of Resistance have given to the Mexicano community, gifts made all the more precious because they were given with the fullness and eternity of their lives. For these reasons the Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional Mexicano (M.L.N.M.) has the responsibility to honor its fallen heroes and martyrs. Any revolutionary movement must honor their martyrs who have attained the highest level of love that a human being can attain – the love for their people and the simple conviction that their people have a right to live their lives in dignity.”
With MLNM, RAIM also salutes Luis Jr Martinez this day, a Symbol of Resistance for all oppressed peoples and those who stand with them.
“A Tribute to Luis ‘Jr.’ Martinez: A Call to Remember – A Commitment to Continue.” Pamphlet, distributed by Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional Mexicano. Date unknown.
“Disarm the Police, or Arm the People.” Pamphlet, Colorado Committee Against Repression (El Comite). 1979.
Vialpando, Angelo. “Luis Jr. Martinez.” The Symbols of Resistance: A Beyond Chicanismo Experience. Los Herederos of Change and Esperanza. Metro State College of Denver. 2002.
Photos from 500 Years of Chicano History. Edited by Elizabeth Martinez. Published by Southwest Organizing Project, Albuquerque.