La Raza, originally a tabloid newspaper founded in 1967 in the basement of a Lincoln Heights Episcopalian Church by Cuban-born Eliezer Risco and Ruth Robinson, then later published as a magazine, was the best known and most influential of Chicano activist publications during the late 1960s and into the 1970s. Although the bilingual publication focused primarily on the Los Angeles Chicano community, it came to be circulated nationally.
La Raza treated the Chicano community with seriousness and covered Chicano activism that, unlike the “Black Power” movement, was mostly overlooked by mainstream media. It gave voice to “El Movimiento,” the rising Chicano civil rights movement in Los Angeles and other U.S. cities. It covered both massive demonstrations and daily life in Chicano communities. It merged photojournalism, art, satire and political commentary with social activism. It opened a window to police abuses. It countered misrepresentations and stereotypes of Chicanos and Chicano communities then prevalent in mainstream media. It served as an organizing tool. “This was our Facebook,” said former La Raza photographer Maria Varela in a 2017 interview with National Public Radio. “This was our communication network. It was a little clunky, but it got the word out about what was going on in these individual communities."
By 1968, Joe Razo became co-editor of La Raza with founder Risco and, the following year, when Risco left to open Chicano Studies at Fresno State College, Razo was joined by Raul Ruiz as co-editor. The publication was converted to magazine format in 1970. By 1972, Ruiz was left as sole editor until La Raza ceased publication in 1977.
However disregarded or ignored La Raza was by mainstream media and by Los Angeles outside the Chicano community, it did not escape the attention of police. Editors Eliezer Risco and Joe Razo were arrested among the “East L.A. 13” on charges of conspiracy to disrupt public schools and disturb the peace related to the 1968 walkouts from East Los Angeles schools. La Raza offices were often under surveillance and, not infrequently, raided by police. Staffers had to resort to ways to keep photographic materials from being seized and never seen again.
Over the ten years of publication, a collection of nearly 25,000 images were captured by La Raza’s volunteer photographers, typically working without the protection of press credentials, denied to them by a hostile law enforcement establishment. Most of these photographs were never published due to limited publication space.
Among significant events covered by the publication was the anti-Vietnam War Chicano Moratorium in August 1970. A throng of about 30,000 demonstrators marched and rallied in East Los Angeles, only to be tear-gassed by police. The event ended in violent clashes with Los Angeles police and Sheriff’s deputies. La Raza Editor Raul Ruiz captured the now iconic image of a Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy aiming his tear-gas launcher into doorway of the Silver Dollar Bar where Los Angeles Times journalist and TV newsman Ruben Salazar had taken refuge to escape from the gas. Salazar, a vocal critic of police abuses in the Chicano community, was killed by the deputy’s gas projectile. Even after an inquest, authorities took no responsibility. Ruiz, knowing La Raza’s audience was limited to the Chicano community, sought to get the photograph in front of the larger public and tried to convince mainstream media to carry the photo. Only after Ruiz announced a press conference with blowups of the photo did the Los Angeles Times, Salazar’s own employer, agree to publish it.
La Raza ceased publication in 1977. Its archives were gifted to the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA in 2013. In 2017, as part of the Getty Foundation-sponsored initiative "Pacific Standard Time LA/LA," the Center formed a partnership with the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles to present La Raza, an 18-month exhibition from 2017-2019 featuring a selection of more than 200 of the photographs from the La Raza archives.