SCOPE AND CONTENT
Language of Material:
Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Title: Centro de Accion Social Autonomo Papers
Identifier/Call Number: M0325
27.5 Linear Feet
Date (inclusive): 1963-1978
SCOPE AND CONTENT
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
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.
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
[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.
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.