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Brown Berets protest AquaFest

Chicano Park, 2101 Jesse E. Segovia St, Austin, TX 78702

Brown Berets Protest Aqua Fest Boat Races On Town Lake
Brown Berets Protest Aqua Fest Boat Races On Town Lake
PICA 29980, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.
Aqua Festival boat races protest
Aqua Festival boat races protest
PICA 29981, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

Founded in 1972, the Brown Berets Chapter of Austin focused on issues similar to the original chapter of Los Angeles that plagued the Chicano community. A quote from Gilberto Rivera, a prominent East Austin activist states, "the formation was due to a ‘call’ from the community & out of their own direct experiences of police violence which followed a persistent pattern in Austin & nearby communities". In addition, the Brown Berets "formulated the ‘Brown Beret Manifesto’ which sought short & long term goals on community matters like: police oppression, economics, immigration, education, housing, prison reform, medicine, communication (news/media channels)". 1

The Austin Brown Beret chapter was considered a grassroots organization with the intentions of protecting youth and the rights of citizens. During its active years it worked closely with other grassroots organizations and other local chapters when necessary. The chapter ultimately dissolved in 1983. Despite this, the legacy it left continued through the efforts of several other organizations such as PODER, CAMILA – Chicanos Against Military Intervention in Latin America, League of United Chicano Artists (LUChA), Youth Advocacy (formally known as CARNALES Inc.), and East Austin Economic Development Corporation.

Beginning in 1963, the Austin Aqua Festival began hosting boat drag racing on Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake) with festival goers occupying Festival Beach. However, the trash and noise produced by the attendees upset the inhabitants of the surrounding neighborhoods, which were predominantly Mexican-American. With their complaints being ignored by the city, protests were led and organized by the Brown Berets and their leader and Chicano political activist, Paul Hernandez. Other groups participated, including El Centro Chicano and the East Town Lake Citizens. The 1978 April protest resulted in charges of police brutality, but it was the last year the boat races were held. 2

An interview with East Austin resident, Pete Martinez, revealed that the boat races caused parking problems, issues with attendees stepping on residents' lawns, difficulty getting in and out of streets because of traffic, and noise pollution. Furthermore, Paul Hernandez explained that the underlying issues of the boat races were the degradation of property value and forcing out of people. He goes on to assert that these activities block neighborhood efforts of revitalization, and instead help developers in deteriorating the residential area to redevelop it as a commercial area. In these comments, Hernandez touches on the concept of "land grabbing" or gentrification, which has been and still is an issue that East Austin faces. 3

1. "Austin Brown Berets – Insights, Reflections and Discussion". René Rentería Photography Blog. 2013-04-09. Retrieved 2018-12-01. 2. Barnes, Michael (September 4, 2020). "Splash from the past: Who remembers Austin's Aqua Fest?". Austin American Statesman. Retrieved October 18, 2020. 3. "WATCH VIDEO: 'Boats in the Barrio' about Austin protests in the 1970s | Austin Found". Retrieved 2018-12-01. (

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