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Sonny Montes and Mexican American Activism in Oregon

Glenn Anthony May

Publication Year: 2011

With Sonny Montes and Mexican American Activism in Oregon, Glenn Anthony May makes a major contribution to the literature on Oregon and Chicano history.

On one level a biography of Oregon’s leading Chicano activist, the book also tells the broader story of the state’s Mexican American community during the 1960s and 1970s, a story in which Sonny Montes, a former migrant farmworker from South Texas, played an important part.

Montes was the key figure in the birth of a Chicano movement in Oregon during the 1970s, a movement that coalesced around the struggle for survival of the Colegio Cesar Chavez, a small college in Mt. Angel, Oregon, with a largely Mexican American student body. Montes led the college community and its supporters in collective action—sit-ins, protest marches, rallies, prayer vigils. This campaign received wide media attention, making Sonny Montes a visible public figure.

By viewing Mexican American protest between 1965 and 1980 through the prism of social movement theory, May’s book deepens our understanding of the Chicano movement in Oregon and beyond. It also provides a much-needed account of the emergence of the state’s Mexican American community during that period.

Published by: Oregon State University Press


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p. viii

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pp. ix-x

During the eight years I have worked on this book, I have received much assistance from individuals and organizations. Research was funded, in part, by generous support from the University of Oregon in the form of a faculty summer research award and a research fellowship in the Oregon Humanities Center. I also acknowledge...

Abbreviations Used in the Text

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p. xi

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pp. 1-7

In the mid-1970s, after a decade of intense activity and considerable accomplishment, the Chicano movement, the Mexican American struggle for civil rights and social justice, appeared to be losing steam.1 Cesar Chavez’s well-known union, the United Farm Workers, was engaged in an endless, enervating battle with the Teamsters over the right...

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Prologue: From Weslaco to Cornelius

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pp. 8-21

In the late spring of 1966, twenty-two-year-old Sonny Montes was living in Reedley, California, with his wife, Librada, and young son, Armando.1 For the past two years, he had earned a living by assisting an elderly couple in running a thirty-five-acre farm that specialized in grape production. A formidable human presence— physically imposing at six feet tall...

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Contexts: The Upper Willamette Valley, Oregon, and America ca. 1965

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pp. 22-46

A fact that distinguishes the United States from most other modern world powers is that the bulk of its empire building has occurred internally, rather than externally. For much of its history, large sections of the South and the West have served as internal economic colonies of the United States, producing staple crops, tropical goods ...

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The Valley Migrant League

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pp. 47-75

Shortly after announcing his desire to “cure” and “prevent” poverty in America in his 1964 State of the Union Address, President Lyndon Johnson charged Sargent Shriver, the late President Kennedy’s brother-in-law and the director of the Peace Corps, with developing a national poverty program and fashioning a piece of legislation to ...

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The Revolution

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pp. 76-98

On April 7, 1967, the day Will Pape’s resignation went into effect, the VML board of directors began a search for a new executive director. Several internal candidates stepped forward, among them Bob Wynia, the assistant executive director who had been loyal to Pape up to the end and was also on close terms with the OEO program analyst assigned to monitor the...

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pp. 99-134

Sonny’s departure for California was a direct result of marital problems—which, in hindsight, he blames primarily on himself. immersed in and energized by work at the VML he considered important, he was neglecting his family life. On most days, Sonny left for work early in the morning and arrived home late at night, following ...

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From Mt. Angel College to Colegio Cesar Chavez

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pp. 135-163

Fifteen miles northeast of Salem, set amid rich farmland in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, and Mt. Adams, the municipality of Mt. Angel, Oregon, was, in many respects, the quintessential American small town, a real-world equivalent of Clark Kent’s Smallville, where family and church were the bedrock...

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The "Save Colegio Cesar Chavez" Campaign: A Local Manifestation of the Chicano Movement

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pp. 164-202

It would be difficult to make the case that Colegio Cesar Chavez played a significant role in the history of U.S. higher education. Its library was tiny, numbering perhaps 40,000 volumes. Its salaries were uncompetitive, and for a while nonexistent. Most of the time, its core faculty included no PhDs. Its student body was small and...

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Under Siege

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pp. 203-242

In September 1975, a few days before a new academic year was scheduled to begin at the Colegio, Sonny Montes, Jose Romero, and Jan Chavez met with Bob Pfohman, a reporter for the Capital Journal, on the college grounds. The grass on the lawns was freshly trimmed, a visual confirmation of the school’s ever so slightly improved financial prospects...

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The Colegio After Sonny, Sonny After the Colegio

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pp. 243-259

Having won major legal battles against the Northwest Association and HUD, the Colegio was no longer in immediate danger of closing. But winning battles, even big ones, should never be confused with winning a war. As a new academic year began for the Colegio in late September 1978, there still was no guarantee that the Colegio would remain long in...

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pp. 260-266

One topic of interest that surfaced in the researching of this book was the impact of external (i.e., non-Mexican American) stimuli on the birth of a Mexican American community in the Upper Willamette Valley. For several decades preceding the creation of the VML, a combination of push and pull factors—the rise of corporate farming and the creation of a labor surplus in the Southwest, the need for migrant labor in the Northwest—had...


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pp. 267-311

A Note about Sources

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pp. 312-314


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pp. 315-317

E-ISBN-13: 9780870716157
E-ISBN-10: 0870716158
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870716003
Print-ISBN-10: 087071600X

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: B&W photos, map
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 794698941
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Sonny Montes and Mexican American Activism in Oregon

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Colegio Cesar Chavez (Mount Angel, Or.).
  • Oregon -- Race relations.
  • Montes, Sonny, 1944-.
  • Mexican Americans -- Oregon -- Biography.
  • Political activists -- Oregon -- Biography.
  • Mexican Americans -- Oregon -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
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