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’60s Activist/Hippie Mark Valencia MAG
What was your family like? Did they think differently from you?
I grew up in a mostly white town but my family was pretty liberal, especially about racial matters. My brother was best friends with a black boy down the street. When someone decided to put a burning cross in their front yard, my family, especially my mom, took it upon themselves to support this family and take care of them despite the prejudice aimed at them.
Did you always accept and practice “hippie”ideals and philosophies?
When I went to college I was a hard-nosed redneck and thought guys with long hair who opposed the war were a bunch of cowards. Then one challenged me to read some material by Bernard Fall, a photographer killed in Vietnam, which changed me completely. I concluded that the government was lying, that the war was wrong, and I didn’t want any part of it. And that’s what triggered my rejection of current norms and standards of society. I figured if the government could lie about this, they could lie about other things.
Where did you attend college? How did it influence your ideologies?
First in Massachusetts but then I transferred to New Mexico because I was majoring in geology and New Mexico seemed perfect. It was different since the people were incredibly conservative. I became alienated from that society. As a result I really began to question a lot of values I had been raised with and assumed to be true.
There is a philosopher who said “Nothing is true until you experience it. ” This period in my life was dominated by this type of thinking and also tempered with a certain survival instinct. Then I moved out of the fraternity and began my “hippie era. ”
Did you have any further education? Did your opinions become stronger during this period of intellectual growth or did they change?
I went to graduate school at the University of Texas in Austin to receive a Master’s in petroleum geology. Texas was a different world, too. It really strengthened my conviction that something was wrong with the government and society in general. I mean, at the University of Texas there were 30, 000 students, but only six were black. The fact was that it was 1968 and the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. Texas was really my time of radicalization and hippieization.
Despite the obvious opposition you faced because of your opinions, what were some of the effects of vocalizing your ideas?
Well, Texas was an extremely hostile environment. I had people come to my laboratory and say “I understand you’re a Yankee, do you really think blacks are equal to whites?” People who had a problem with you wouldn’t talk to you rationally or fight, they would go home and get their pistol to deal with you.
So Texas was a prejudiced, harsh area at that time?
Extremely. It was so repressive; they even fired a professor because he publicly opposed the war in Vietnam. I was so happy to leave. I moved to California and after crossing the border into New Mexico, I got out of my car and kissed the ground.
Where did you go from there?
After driving to California I went to Hawaii in 1969. It turned out I arrived during the belly of the beast, so to speak. There were huge war-supporting establishments and the university had ROTC training on campus preparing young men to go off and die. But the month I arrived there was a huge outbreak of protest; the student population was beginning to speak out.
Was there much support for the war in Hawaii, at least in the academic world? Were there many protests? Rallies of support?
Yes, both. During the time I was in Hawaii, the islands were amain spot of R&R for many soldiers. I remember a group of 30soldiers who went to the Church of the Crossroads and asked for asylum so they wouldn’t have to return to Vietnam and be forced to kill. Many of us supported these men and requested the church help them. We camped out there to keep these men from going back.
One day when I wasn’t there, military police stormed the church and arrested them. They could have been sentenced to 25 years of hard labor but in the end, because the tide was changing, they were released with a medical discharge.
Formal protests happened around the university, too. One huge protest was organized by Oliver Lee, the president of Students for a Democratic Society, and people chained themselves to one of the halls. These protests culminated with the firing of the university president for unlawful dismissal of a protesting professor.
Did you go to Vietnam? If not, were you ever close to going?
I didn’t go but I did come close. I received my 1A, the notification that told me I could be drafted. I burnt it. It said that I could file an appeal, so I did. I had to appear in Boston, though, so I drove my piece of junk car from Texas to Boston for the appeal before the draft board. Well, the board happened to be one crusty old lady. I told her, “I oppose the war. I think it is morally wrong and I refuse to go. ”
She replied, “You know what, I don’t agree with this stupid war and I think you would do better to help the country by getting your graduate degree. Here’s your student deferment. ” I was stunned and grateful, except when I realized that some other poor guy off the street would have to go in my place. It was crazy. Most people were talking about Canada, but I was talking about Cuba. I didn’tend up going but I knew fellow graduate students who were drafted right out of school and sent to the front lines. By the time I graduated the draft was over.
What did you do after college?
I specialized in Asian foreign relations and after graduate school I was so disgusted that Richard Nixon was elected and the war was continuing that I exiled myself and went to Malaysia. I worked for the United Nations Development Program. I met my wife there and we returned to Hawaii. Once you live in Hawaii, you never forget about it and have to come back. I worked for the East-West Center until my retirement last year.
What were the sentiments of American youth and citizens at that time?
It was like the world was on fire. Everywhere seemed anti-war, anti-American, kind of like today. The government was lying, and everything was a mess. During this time I figured out what the hippie culture was all about - trying to find out for yourself which of the truisms were true. Seeing all the changes that the war brought and what it was doing, I vowed never to work for the government.
Besides the protest in Hawaii, did you take part in demonstrations?
I became active in Texas. I taught in a small town that was all black during the Civil Rights Movement. That made a lot of people angry.
I remember there was a gas station near the university whose owner would not give gas to blacks. A few guys and I got our cars and brought a black guy with us and waited to get gas. The man wouldn’t serve us so we got a picnic lunch and music and sat there all day. When he continued to refuse, we came back the next day until he started losing so much business that he caved. I also participated in a march with 100 of us and 200 screaming white racists, throwing stones and spitting.
Who were your role models?
I admired Ramsey Clark, who was the attorney general at this time and resigned in disgust over Vietnam. Also, the Barringer brothers and Dave Dillinger, who all put their lives on the line for the war. Definitely Martin Luther King. Also Stockley Carmichael who was in between King and the Black Panthers, not as all-loving as King but not as drastic as the Black Panthers.
Did you adopt any characteristic“hippie” attributes?
In Texas I had a beard six or seven inches below my chin and hair down to my shoulders. I did some of the things that were quintessentially “hippie” but this was a time of great intellectual smorgasbords and experiencing the world was just part of it.
What kind of car did you have?
I had a VW bug and spray painted each panel a different color. I had that car forever. I drove it from Texas to California and then shipped it to Hawaii where I had it for many more years until the engine fell out.
What books were you a fan of?
In the commune I was part of, we read Marx and thought that while the solution didn’t work, the idea was great. Another favorite was Voltaire, the French philosopher. He was a real gadfly on society and criticized each and every thing of his day. He even took on the Catholic Church. Also The Diary of Che Guevara and, of course, Mao’s Little Red Book.
What music did you listen to?
I was a folk music fan: Pete Seeger, Kingston Trio, Phil Oakes, Ramblin’Jack Elliot, mostly protest music, definitely Bob Dylan. We also listened to a lot of acid rock like Led Zeppelin, Vanilla Fudge, Purple Haze and Richie Havens. We listened to The Beatles, of course, particularly their spacey renditions. I think I was one of the first to get “The White Album. ”
We also liked a lot of underground films by people like Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan. Things about the Vietnam war that the government didn’t want you to see. It was a whole counter culture.
Have you read Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience?
Of course. Thoreau was my hero, and Civil Disobedience was mandatory reading for all us New England kids. I really took what he said to heart, that there were certain things about freedom and that no one can force me to do anything. I can do whatever I want as long as I am willing to accept the consequences. I guess the anarchist part really appealed to me.