Author: Emma Lodes
Picture two iconic images of Los Angeles. One of gritty Chicano rights activism and the fight for immigrant rights, and the other of Hollywood glitz, ritzy red carpet gowns and glamorous movie stars. Last week, filmmaker and Occidental alumni Jesus Treviño ’68 brought those two images together in an inspirational narrative of his life work, demonstrating how social conscience and the entertainment industry can coalesce in Los Angeles.
The Cultural Studies Program (CSP) brought Jesus Treviño to Occidental to give students his perspective of this year’s CSP theme of social justice. Treviño is most famous for directing mainstream prime time television shows: Bones, Star Trek, Criminal Minds, The O.C., and ER, winning numerous national and international awards. But Treviño came to campus to talk about the work closest to his heart: social justice and Chicano activism.
Treviño told the story of his rise from activist filmmaking to directing primetime TV shows. His successful career in film began in the late 1960’s as a student activist at Occidental and rose out of his desire to document the Mexican-American civil rights struggle. Treviño played a major role in bringing the under-exposed Latino struggle to the media spotlight, later producing groundbreaking films on Chicano history and culture, including “Yo Soy Chicano!” and “American Tropical.”
Treviño’s story began with a discussion of his own personal issues with cultural identity as a Mexican-American college student, surrounded by negative Latino-American stereotypes and skewed media portrayal. “Deep down inside I had a deep sense of inferiority. I hated myself for being Mexican,” Treviño said. “When it came to Mexicans, all I saw around me were the janitors, gardeners, dishwashers and gang members. On television we were nonexistent.”
Treviño’s perception of his own culture flipped in 1968 when high school students in East L.A. instigated the Chicano rights movement through school walk-outs. “For me it was a wake-up call. Something was happening in my community and I wanted to hear about it. For the first time I heard articulate, passionate Mexican Americans talking about equality and dignity,” Treviño said. “It didn’t take long for me to become very involved in what would become the Chicano civil rights movement. “
As the movement gathered momentum, Treviño took on the role of documenting it, screening his films at community centers to organize activists. “I resolved then that I would use film and television in the struggle for social justice,” Treviño said. He filmed some of the first victories of the Chicano rights movement, now coveted historical footage.
Treviño worked his way up from making the first Latino documentaries to writing and directing the first Latino dramas. He directed “Resurrection Boulevard,” the first drama in English that depicted the workings of a Mexican-American family on public television. “Resurrection Boulevard” was monumental in its popularity: “The response was overwhelming. We had people throughout the U.S. glued to it. We used it as an opportunity to make advances for Latinos in motion picture films,” Treviño said.
During the second half of Treviño’s talk, he showed a montage of clips that told the story of the evolution of Latino-American involvement in film, starting with early footage of the Chicano civil rights movement, and then sampling his documentaries, films, and shows, including “Resurrection Boulevard” and a film depicting the Mexican perspective of the Alamo.
Today, Treviño has come full circle, turning away from Hollywood and revisiting his roots in social activism. His focus is his website, Latinopia.com– a venue for the discovery and discussion of Latino art, film, food, history, literature, music and theater. Treviño prefers his social activism to directing major Hollywood shows. “I had my Hollywood fling,” Treviño said. He posts several films a week on the website, and feels that the website is important for Latin-American youth. Despite his successful struggle to penetrate Hollywood, Treviño has come to the conclusion that Latino-Americans can make themselves heard on their own. “I’m setting an example to Latino-American youth that Hollywood isn’t everything,” Treviño said.
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