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Guide to the Centro de Accion Social Autonomo Papers , 1963-1978 M0325
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  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: Department of Special Collections and University Archives
    Title: Centro de Accion Social Autonomo Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: M0325
    Physical Description: 27.5 Linear Feet
    Date (inclusive): 1963-1978


    The records of the Centro de Acción Social Autónomo-Hermandad General de Trabajadores (CASA-HGT) document in large part the organization's ten-year transition from a service center designed to aid its members in obtaining legal aid and social services to a Marxist-Leninist political organization dedicated to organizing working-class people of Mexican origin and publishing its views in the bilingual newspaper, Sin Fronteras. Consisting primarily of the Los Angeles office records, the collection's subject strengths include: policy and decision-making processes within the CASA national leadership, the creation and dissemination of Sin Fronteras, the Federal Bureau of Investigation surveillance of CASA, immigration reform, the immigration case of Mexican attorney Jose Jacques Medina, Chicano activism in East Los Angeles schools, the narcotics case of Los Tres del Barrio, and domestic and international socialist movements. The collection also includes photographs and tape recordings of CASA activities and its members.
    The collection (27.5 linear ft.) is divided into six series: CASA Administrative Records, Federal Bureau of Investigation Reports on CASA, Subject and Organizational Files, Photographs, Ephemera, and Sound Recordings. The series are described below. Types of records include: agendas, articles, correspondence, flyers, legal documents, minutes, newsclippings, newsletters, notes, press releases, reports and statements.


    Founded in Los Angeles in 1968, the Centro de Accion Social Autonomo-Hermandad General de Trabajadores (Center for Autonomous Social Action-General Brotherhood of Workers or simply, CASA) operated for ten years as a vocal and active political group within the Mexican American community. Though short-lived, the organization nonetheless occupied an influential position in a portion of that community, and, in many ways, reflected the growth and development of a distinct Mexican American political consciousness during the 1960s and 1970s. The organization's problems, ranging from internal factionalization and ideological dispute to external repression and financial difficulties, likewise mirrored the obstacles faced by many activist organizations of the era.
    Like other ethnic groups, Mexican Americans experienced a resurgence of cultural identity and political autonomy during the 1960s. Influenced by a renewed sense of their own history, turbulent events in the United States, and a powerful student movement in Mexico, Mexican Americans began to reassess their position in American society. Collectively concerned with their depressed status, they organized around such issues as land and labor reform, civil rights, education, and political participation. Together, the increasing political expression and ethnic pride of the Mexican American people helped constitute the "Chicano Movement."
    The founding of CASA took place in the midst of this movement. However, CASA differed from most other contemporary Chicano groups in that it was designed as a distinctively working-class organization aimed at providing aid to the Mexican workingman and woman in the United States. Specifically, CASA committed itself to assist the undocumented Mexican laborer. Coming at a time when concern for indocumentados was weak, CASA's commitment was its most distinguishing feature.
    In founding CASA in 1968, Bert Corona and Soledad "Chole" Alatorre utilized their experience as longtime organizers of Mexican American labor. Alatorre had been a union organizer for years, and Corona was affiliated with the International Longshoreman's and Warehouseman's Union as well as a founding member and former president of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA). These two individuals formed CASA (or CASA-MAPA as it was first known) as a local, urban mutual aid organization not unlike the traditional Mexican form of community welfare, the mutualists.
    Early Years
    CASA's early activities centered around a grass roots program of helping and educating the Mexican worker in the United States. By the early 1970s, independent affiliate CASA groups had been formed in other California cities, in Chicago, and throughout the Southwest. Decision-making and planning radiated down from the Political Commission, a national body of elected members, through the local committees to the largely volunteer rank and file members that constituted the nucleii.* Estimates of membership are difficult to make, but one scholar estimates that by 1972, over 2,000 volunteers made up the nationwide core membership of CASA. Case files indicate that the Los Angeles office assisted some 6,000 indocumentados from 1969 to 1973; such assistance ranged from providing legal aid and counseling to sponsoring social functions.1
    Beginning in 1973, the character and orientation of the organization underwent great change. CASA stepped out of the barrio to oppose proposed changes in federal immigration law and increased raids by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). These programmatic changes led, in turn, to a shift in CASA membership. The expansion of the CASA agenda away from localized, working-class roots into wider political
    * In July 1975, the National Coordinating Commission was added above the Political Commission to oversee national archives. confrontation attracted more ideologically radical members. Most new CASAmembers were associated with either the Los Angeles-based Casa Carnalismo (a militant group formed to fight drugs in the barrio) or the National Committee to Free Los Tres, a group formed in response to the arrest and conviction of three Casa Carnalismo members for the assault of a federal officer posing as a drug dealer in East Los Angeles.
    The inclusion of these new members, many of whom espoused some sort of Marxist-Leninist doctrine, produced division factions within CASA. The "old guard" leadership of Bert Corona and Chole Alatorre maintained that CASA's primary responsibility was to assist unorganized and undocumented workers. Those associated with Casa Carnalismo or the National Committee sought to "deemphasize the social-service aspect of the organization, hoping to transform CASA into a `revolutionary vanguard' dedicated to the `liberation of the Mexican people.'"2 This factionalization culminated in the resignation of both Corona and Alatorre in late 1974.
    A New CASA
    The new CASA leadership, composed of young, well-educated Chicanos, turned the organization in a decidedly Marxist-Leninist direction. As Carlos Vasquez, a member of the CASA Political Commission and Commissioner of Information and Propaganda, wrote in 1976: We have gone from a defensive organization to an offensive and potentially clandestine organization prepared for a protracted struggle.3
    As ideology shifted, CASA embraced a myriad of causes and issues. Members traveled to major socialist and radical conferences, study groups were formed to study revolutionary politics and tactics, and the group developed an effective voice in the newspaper Sin Fronteras. Originally the organ of the National Coalition for Fair Immigration Laws and Practices, Sin Fronteras was moved from the CASA office in San Antonio to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. There, true to its name ("Without Borders"), the newspaper emphasized the solidarity of the Mexican proletariat on either side of the border.
    CASA's ideological shifts were not without consequences. The energy of the organization was channeled in new directions. CASA spent time and money on campaigns fighting the deportation of Mexican attorney and activist José Jacques Medina, the University of California reverse discrimination (Bakke) decision, and new immigration restriction proposals. Membership and community support for the group fell as its local presence waned. Several local chapters withdrew from the national organization. The Federal Bureau of Investigation monitored the group quite closely, aided apparently by an internal informant.4
    By far the most serious problem stemming from CASA's ideological swing was the increasing factionalization it caused. Externally, CASA came under attack by other Chicano groups for its seeming lack of commitment to Chicano solidarity. Internally, the leadership divided over similar lines. Was the organization to be one primarily concerned with race or class? Was CASA to speak for the workingman and woman in an international context or only to the Mexican laborer? One side favored the former, only to be accused of a lack of devotion to Aztlan, the mythical Chicano homeland of the Southwest. One side favored the latter, only to be accused of chauvinism and racism.
    In the end, the fractures within the CASA leadership were enough to disintegrate the group. The membership was neither powerful nor numerous enough to reconstitute the organization following the resignation of the entire Political Commission in 1978.


    The CASA collection consists of correspondence, reports, minutes, agendas, notes, press releases, audiotapes, photographs and ephemera documenting the history of CASA, a grass roots social and legal services agency and Marxist-Leninist political organization.

    Preferred Citation:

    [Identification of item] Centro de Accion Social Autonomo Papers , M0325, Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.


    Gift of Bert Corona and Antonio Rodriguez, 1980.

    Publication Rights:

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.

    Access Restrictions:

    No restrictions.