Centro de Accion Social Autonomo (Center for Autonomous Social Action)
Backstory and Context
In 1974, Rudy Lozano and others co-founded CASA’s Chicago chapter. They demanded rights for Mexicans regardless of citizenship or immigration status. By stressing a “sin fronteras” [beyond borders] ideology, CASA pushed the terms of belonging in the United States, stressing the connections between the ways in which Mexicans on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border experienced exploitation fueled by American capitalism.1
In the fall of 1974, CASA charged U.S. attorney General William B. Saxbe of trying to make illegal Mexican immigrant workers “scapegoats” for current economic problems. Rudy Lozano, spokesperson for CASA, said at a news conference that Saxbe statement calling for mass deportation of illegal Mexican workers was an attempt to return to the repatriation policies of the 1930s when he said many legals and illegals were returned to Mexico.2 Lozano said that the Saxbe statement will lead to the indiscriminate rounding up of both legal and illegal Mexicans. Lozano stated, “We also deny that the undocumented workers do not pay taxes [one of Saxbe’s charges]. Most workers’ taxes are deducted at his place of employment directly from his gross earnings.” Lozano continued, “On the contrary, the undocumented worker contributes millions of dollars in Social Security which he can never receive as benefits due to his illegal status.”3
In 1968, Centro de Accion Social Autonomo (CASA) emerged as a mutual aid and social service organization for Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles, California. By 1975, it had become the self-proclaimed vanguard of an ethnic Mexican class-based revolution. CASA emerged out of the Hermandad Mexicana Nacional (National Mexican Brotherhood) founded in L.A. in 1968 by local politician and educator Bert Corona and labor organizers Soledad Alatorre, Francisco Amaro, Maria Cedillos, Juan, Mariscal, and Rafael Zacarias. As the popularity of Hermandad grew, its founders established CASA to provide expanded services from processing residency paper and teaching English classes.4 As they grew organizationally, CASA branched into different parts of the country establishing separate centers that would provide day-to-day legal and social services provided to immigrants. The centers would also concentrate on affecting immigration policies. The centers became known as CASAs.5
By 1978, the CASAs had ceased to function. According to Mario T. Garcia, the CASA movement fell apart because it did not continue to organize families as they came for services. It failed to build that base of support. And not having that base, what could the CASAs depend upon to exist? They had only the good will of the few professionals or semi professionals who were willing to stay and provide services. It became very difficult for a few attorneys, social workers, and students to support the service centers.6 According to Vicki Ruiz, because of dissatisfaction with leadership, financial difficulties, infighting, family obligations, and the stress of constant surveillance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, CASA folded as an organization.7
In the end, CASA’s sin fronteras politics offered possibilities for a language inclusive of citizens and non-citizens during a time of intense anti-Mexican sentiment and disdain for the undocumented trabajador. It also provided a new vision for claiming rights that moved beyond national borders and legal divisions; it also demanded attention to the increasingly globalized system of structural forces and economic systems that has propelled generations of documented and undocumented trabajadores to the United States. Though CASA folded at the national level, CASA Chicago continued albeit it morphed to incorporate electoral politics.8 Different conflicts led CASA‘s base to decline from 1976 through 1978, until its formal demise in 1979. At the local level, CASA Chicago continued to exist until its strength waned when it became more and more involved in electoral politics, organizing for local political representation. Some CASA Chicago members mark the end of the organization in 1983, the year when key CASA leader Rudy Lozano was killed.9
1. Garcia, Myrna. Sin Fronteras: Activism, Immigration, and the Politics of Belonging in Mexican Chicago, 1968–1986, University of California, San Diego, Ann Arbor, 2013. Pp. xiii-xiv.
2. Emmett, George. "Mexicans Deny Taking Away Jobs." Chicago Tribune (1963-Current) Nov 11 1974: 4. ProQuest. 1 June 2019.
3. Emmett, George. "Chicanos Contest Illegal Alien Hunt." Chicago Tribune (1963-Current) Dec 01 1974: 36. ProQuest. 1 June 2019.
4. Ruíz Vicki, and Korrol Virginia Sánchez. Latinas in the United States a Historical Encyclopedia. Indiana University Press, 2006. Pp. 137.
5. García, Mario T. Memories of Chicano History : The Life and Narrative of Bert Corona. University of California Press, 1995. EBSCOhost. 297-298.
6. García, Mario T. Memories of Chicano History : The Life and Narrative of Bert Corona. University of California Press, 1995. Pp. 314.
7. Ruíz Vicki, and Korrol Virginia Sánchez. Latinas in the United States a Historical Encyclopedia. Indiana University Press, 2006. Pp. 138.
8. Garcia, Myrna. Sin Fronteras: Activism, Immigration, and the Politics of Belonging in Mexican Chicago, 1968–1986, University of California, San Diego, Ann Arbor, 2013. ProQuest. Pp. 202.
9. Garcia, Myrna. Sin Fronteras: Activism, Immigration, and the Politics of Belonging in Mexican Chicago, 1968–1986, University of California, San Diego, Ann Arbor, 2013. Pp 162.