According to David Sanchez PhD., who founded the Brown Berets, the La Piranha coffee house was the first Brown Beret headquarters. David is said, “That’s where the movement started”.
In 1966, The Los Angeles Mayor’s Advisory Youth Council had selected David and two others, Carlos Montes, and Ralph Ramirez to come up with a plan to ease the tension existing between the community and the police department.
In 1967, David Sánchez (age 17) wrote a grant proposal to the Southern California Council of Churches to seek the necessary funds to fund the founding of La Piranya coffee house.
Obviously, successful it became the meeting place for The Young Citizens for Community Action, (name changed to Young Chicanos for Community Action), later known as Brown Berets, and the United Mexican American Students (UMAS). They met here to plan for their actions, including the historical high school walkouts / blowouts.
The goal of La Piranha was to offer a place for teenagers to give them something to do other than to hang out on the street. The environment, at the time, was hostile toward the Mexican American community and the relationships between the community and the police was, to sugar coat it, bad.
Police brutality was a common concern for young Mexican Americans and to raise awareness of this fact, the students who met at La Piranha formed a picket link in front of the Sheriff’s office. Instead of working with the community, the Sheriff’s Department decided that the coffeehouse was a bad place for the students and began to harass the people who went to La Piranha and constant surveillance of their activates.
David Sanchez said, “I was jumped by the fuzz. They had me at the jail for some minor kid thing and I didn’t want to sign. One cop got me in a judo hold and another came up behind me from the back and knocked me flat. When I woke up they were booking me. I began to change my mind about things and began to see that something was wrong with America. Things were no longer Stars and Stripes.” Experiences like these incited The Young Citizens for Community Action to became openly militant. In the fall of 1967, they officially changed the name of their group to the Brown Berets.
The goal of the Brown Berets, according to Sanchez was, “To unite our people under the flag of independence. By independence we mean the right to self-determination, self-government, and freedom – our land was stolen from our forefathers.”
The La Piranha Coffee house building is still on the corner of Olympic and Goodrich. It’s now called Tomayo’s Restaurant.
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