Armando Navarro was born to Mexican parents in Artesia, California on October 31, 1941. Forty days after his birth, Navarro and his parents moved to a barrio in Rancho Cucamonga, California, where the father was employed as a campesino, or field worker. Armando later earned an AA degree in political science from Chaffey Community College in 1968, a BA in political science from Claremont McKenna College in 1970, and a Ph.D. in political science from UC Riverside in 1974.
In a 1989 Oral History interview, Navarro indicated that his “very progressive” uncle, Miguel Gutiérrez – whom he described as “a leftist” who was “affiliated with the Communist Party” — had been a major source of personal and political influence on him during his youth.
In the same interview, Navarro stated that his own political views had shifted dramatically leftward during the late 1960s because of the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, “the questioning of American values,” and “the questioning of American institutions by the antiwar movement and the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society].” While serving in the military during that turbulent time, Navarro had asked himself, “Why am I so ready and willing to fight and die for my country when, my God, our people are dying here in the streets?” He officially left the armed forces in 1968.
On other occasions, Navarro also cited the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro as a source of inspirati on to him. And in 2000, he wrote: “I was influenced greatly by such theorists as Saul Alinsky, Che Guevara, and Lenin.”
In 1969, Navarro served as an “organizer” for what he characterized as a “peaceful revolution” that successfully unseated key members of the “Anglo establishment” in Rancho Cucamonga’s school board – a development which Navarro described as the “first political takeover of a school district in California.” One of those removed from office was the district’s superintendent, who, as Navarro stated disdainfully, supported “fiscal conservatism” and “didn’t believe in federal programs.” Said Navarro in the aforementioned 1989 Oral History interview:
“[W]e used him [the superintendent] as a way to further unify and consolidate the so-called peaceful revolution. We needed a scapegoat. So we made him one. And we got press, front-page coverage after front-page coverage. I mean, public meetings. I mean, talk about a ‘people’s tribunal,’ it was done: three hundred people at a meeting, four hundred people. I would bring in the Brown Berets—intimidation, power—and the papers would pick it up.
“We were now accelerating our organizing and strategies, using things that were being done in the black community and so forth, and we were applying it to our local situation in Cucamonga. So from there, we created bilingual/ bicultural education—one of the first bilingual/ bicultural education programs in 1969. Bicultural—not just bilingual, bicultural. We hired a Chicano superintendent, Chicano principals. September 16 [Mexican Independence Day] was declared a legal holiday.”
By 1970, Navarro had read what he described as “a lot of stuff on revolutionary movements, [and] guerilla tactics.” “My sense in organizing,” he later explained, “was that guerrillas have to create a sanctuary for themselves … they have to create safe areas.” Added Navarro:
“And the idea was, if we can now begin to move to economically empower ourselves, create—and it was almost the notion of Brown Capitalism—have the money circulate among ourselves. . . . And we came up with the [principle] that, ‘Do business with Latinos or Mexicanos or Chicanos. Circulate. If you buy insurance, buy insurance from a Chicano. If you buy gas, if there’s a Chicano that has a gasoline station’—and there was one there in Cucamonga—‘buy it from a Chicano.’”
After learning about the work of La Raza Unida Party founder Jose Angel Gutierrez, Navarro in 1971 strove to promote the party’s agendas and mobilize its base in Southern California. He later recounted how he had successfully harnessed the power of school “walkouts” to help bring about such changes as: “the hiring of Chicano personnel — teachers, superintendent, there was an assistant superintendent hired right away — cultural centers, student cultural centers, tutorial services …, the whole bit.”
In the early 1970s as well, Navarro exploited the beating of a local Chicano to politically energize Mexican Americans, as he recalled in the aforementioned 1989 interview:
“We used an incident where a Chicano was beaten up by three football players at Upland High School. We turned that incident around. The guy was beat up like a pulp. I mean, his face was just, I mean, swollen; he looked like a freak. So I brought the parents in and said, ‘Look at your boy.’ And I just rubbed the sore of discontent, that anger, and said, ‘We have to do something about it, because what happened to your boy is a reflection of what’s happening to kids all over the school district. If they’re not physically abused, they’re being educationally and mentally abused by the fact that this school district is not providing quality education, equitable education,’ and so forth.
“Before we knew it, we had the auditoriums full for these meetings, five hundred, seven hundred. I mean, the Mexican flag was flying high. We brought in the Brown Berets, and by God, there was a flagpole; we put up the Mexican flag. Fear became a weapon we would orchestrate precision formation. We’d come into a meeting, I would be there, and then, boom!, the Brown Berets would come in in a marching formation. And the Anglo school board members would be terrified, man, [and they] said, ‘What in the world is coming in?’ They would see these guys, very disciplined, berets, field jackets, the whole bit, around the building like that, standing at attention. All right?”
In an effort to gain greater influence in Southern California during the 1970s, Navarro employed what he called a “Mao [Zedong] technique: organize the countryside before you go into the major cities.” This meant gaining political victories and support in rural areas like San Bernardino County before making inroads in Los Angeles.
Also in the 1970s, Navarro focused much of his time and energy on “stopping some of the atrocities and some of the injustices of the border patrol.” As he told an interviewer in 1989:
“In 1977, for example, in the city of Ontario, as they [border patrol personnel] were conducting their raids, they attempted to go into church property. They went into the church in pursuit of the undocumented. We set up a community network watch that. . . . For weeks, we followed the efforts of the border patrol in the city of Ontario. At the right time, we struck, because they had struck. They made the mistake of conducting a raid right by the church on a Sunday morning, and we were there. I was there. We took them on using civil disobedience. I mean, the traditional way to go without bad-mouthing any group is to have a press conference. We feel powerful when we denounce the system through press conferences, no?
“We took them on in the streets. What started as a threat [to] me by the border patrol and the Ontario police department ended up in us confronting them on a one-to-one with the people that we had. The numbers increased. Ten, then twenty became two hundred people out in the street. They were leaving the parish. The priest was next to me. The border patrol saw a community coming together there on the streets and the alley confronting the six, eight units of a border patrol and X number of black-and-white units [patrol cars]. They pulled back. They just got out of the barrio.”
In his 1989 Oral History interview, Navarro recalled how, in 1977, he had been able to “successfully organize gangs” in Southern California that “traditionally … had been enemies, archenemies,” and get them “working together.”
In his 1989 interview as well, Navarro reflected upon how he had protested in 1979 against the Catholic Church’s failure “to promote Latinos to become bishops.” As a result of those protest-related activities, said Navarro, he had been able to meet with prominent church leaders in Latin America who supported Liberation Theology, including the openly socialist Bishop Hélder Câmara (the “red pope”). “Religion has become a business,” Navarro stated, “and the Catholic Church is not excluded.”
Also in his 1989 Oral History interview, Navarro reflected upon having met, in the early 1980s, with then-California State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, to discuss Brown’s recent assertion that “Mexicans are nice people, but they don’t vote.” According to Navarro, Brown had told him, “Don’t expect much of anything, because you [Mexican] people don’t vote,” prompting Navarro to reply: “I want to thank you for that statement, because you’ve just given me a cause that I am going to use to organize on this issue. Nothing else in this meeting produced a statement that I can use so effectively.”
In 1983, Navarro became the head of the newly created Institute for Social Justice.
When asked in 1989 about the “tension” that seemed to exist between the American “political system” and the “possibility for equity,” Navarro said he believed “there’s always a clash.”
In 1991, Navarro, as a leader of the so-called Coalition for Fair Representation, exhorted members of California’s Senate Elections & Reapportionment Committee to approve his proposal for the creation of a new Latino-majority State Assembly district that would occupy a 100+ mile swath, from north to south, through the hearts of Riverside and Imperial counties. As the Los Angeles Times reported on August 22, 1991: “Navarro … argued that by linking the Latino populations of the Riverside and Imperial midlands, his plan would create a logical community of interest while empowering Latinos with the political clout to which they are entitled.”
In 1992, Navarro was hired to teach in UC Riverside’s Ethnic Studies Department, where he eventually became chairman.
Navarro also taught variously, on a part-time basis, at such schools as California State University at San Bernardino, California State University at Northridge, and the Claremont Colleges.
Navarro’s areas of teaching specialization included: Mexicano/Latino Politics, Chicano History, Chicano/Latino Contemporary Issues, Social Movements, Immigration Crisis, U.S. Politics, Global Capitalism, and the U.S. Economic Crisis.
In 2002, Navarro became a member of the State Central Committee for the Party of Democratic Revolution, a socialist political party in Mexico.
Claiming that Mexicans “were victims of an imperialism by which Mexico lost half of its territory,” Navarro predicted that the rapid growth of America’s Latino population would inevitably result in “a transfer of power,” “control,” and “influence” that “has the potential of ‘tipping the balance’ of U.S. elections, especially the presidential elections,” in favor of the Democratic Party. Navarro himself was a registered Democrat.
To facilitate the growth of America’s Latino population, Navarro opposed policies that would have enhanced the country’s ability to secure its borders against illegal migration. Thus did he denounce Proposition 187—a 1994 ballot initiative that sought to bar all public agencies in California from providing social services to illegal immigrants—as “a declaration of war against the Latino/Chicano community of this country.”
“The forces of evil, the forces of [Republican House Speaker Newt] Gingrich, the forces of [Republican Governor of California] Pete Wilson, this nativist mindset that is unleashing forces against us are doing it because of what I said yesterday, and understand this: It isn’t just because immigration crises are cyclical because of the economic crisis, it is because there is a political, economic, social and especially demographic transformation that is taking place — for those of you who were not here yesterday — and I want to remind you what that means.
“When you look at the demographic studies when you listened to Dr. Bautista yesterday, we [Latinos] are clearly going to be the majority in the Southwest in the next fifty – sixty years and especially here in California, by the year 2015 we’re going to be more than fifty percent of the population.
“Ladies and gentlemen, what this means is a transfer of power, it means control, it means who’s going to influence. And it is the young people, the people who are now moving to develop an agenda for the twenty-first century. They are really going to be in a position to really make the promise of what the Chicano movement was all about in terms of self-determination, in terms of empowerment, and even in the terms of the idea of an Aztlan!”
In the 1990s as well, Navarro stated: “These are the critical years for us as a Latino community. We’re in a state of transition. And that transformation is called ‘the browning of America’. Latinos are now becoming the majority. Because I know that time and history is on the side of the Chicano/Latino community. It is changing in the future and in the present the balance of power of this nation. It’s a game – it’s a game of power – who controls it. You [MEChA students] are like the generals that command armies. We’re in a state of war.”
A longtime supporter of Fidel Castro’s Communist Cuba, Navarro strongly opposed any restrictions on trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba. “We have relations with Vietnam,” he said in June 1999. “We have relations with North Korea. We have relations with Communist China. Where is the fairness in continuing to turn our backs on Cuba? We are concerned about bringing an end to the Cold War, for the benefit of both this country and Cuba.” That same year, Navarro organized “Encuento con Cuba,” a delegation of Chicano/Latino academics, professionals, and civic leaders who traveled from the U.S. to Cuba for the purpose of forging a new diplomatic and economic relationship with that country. Meanwhile, Navarro’s office at UC Riverside was adorned with such items as: (a) a photograph of Navarro himself with Castro; (b) a drawing of the Castro regime’s chief executioner, Che Guevara; and (c) a photo of Castro ally Daniel Ortega, a Marxist-Leninist who in 2007 began his long tenure as the president of Nicaragua.
In early 2001, Navarro—in an effort “to demonstrate … solidarity with the indigenous people of Mexico” — led a national delegation of Chicanos and Mexicans in a march into Mexico City alongside the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional, a militant group of Mexican guerrillas seeking to establish a socialist system.
In October 2002, Navarro spoke out against the impending U.S. war with Iraq and organized a demonstration in front of Democratic Representative Joe Baca’s district office in San Bernardino, California, exhorting Baca to vote against America’s use of military force. Navarro charged that the Bush administration “seeks war at the expense of peace” — mainly for the ultimate purpose of gaining control over Iraq’s oil reserves.
Navarro believed that existing demographic and social trends could lead not only to Latino political dominance within the U.S., but perhaps even to secession. In 2002 he said: “If in 50 years most of our people are subordinated, powerless, exploited and impoverished, then I will say to you that there are all kinds of possibilities for movements to develop like the ones that we’ve witnessed in the last few years all over the world, from Yugoslavia to Chechnya. A secessionist movement is not something that you can put away and say it is never going to happen in the United States. Time and history change.”
In the mid-2000s, Navarro fought against a San Bernardino, California city initiative that would have made it illegal to hire illegal immigrants or to rent homes to them. “It is a provision that is developed with a specific purpose of almost creating not a genocide in the physical sense, but a removal of the immigrant community from San Bernardino,” he said.
In 2005, Navarro joined forces with such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union, La Raza Unida, and the Salvadoran street gang MS-13 in condemning the Minuteman Project (MP), a volunteer, grassroots effort by private U.S. citizens seeking to restrict the influx of illegal immigrants across the Arizona-Mexico border. Notwithstanding MP’s strict adherence to principles of nonviolence, Navarro depicted the group (and others like it) as “terrorist armed militias” operating “against our immigrant people.”
Navarro relished “the possibility that Mexico recovers the lost territories, or that a new Republic of Aztlan”—the mythical Aztec homeland that supposedly existed in Mexico and what is currently the Southwestern United States prior to the Spanish conquest of 1519—“is established.” “Aztlan is a state of mind for some people, Navarro told an interviewer in 2006. “It’s a point in history. For some it’s a political place. For some it’s a separate nation. It represents land lost. You are sitting in a city, Riverside, that used to be in Mexico. That gives us a sense of entitlement. This was our land.”
The foregoing quotes by Navarro demonstrate the veracity of a July 21, 2005 report by Newsmax.com which stated: “Professor Navarro has devoted his life to promoting the Mexican conquest of our seven southwestern states. He calls for this ‘conquest’ to be carried out by force if necessary.”
During at least the years 2001 to 2009, Navarro was the coordinator of the National Alliance for Human Rights, a California-based organization that favored open borders and ever-expanding rights for illegal aliens.
Advocating tactics of confrontational activism vis-a-vis migrant rights, Navarro said in 2007: “Strategically, the tactical option of once again taking to the streets with the same or greater fury and passion that drove our great mobilizations of 2006 must be concomitantly developed.”
In his 2008 book, The Immigration Crisis: Nativism, Armed Vigilantism, and the Rise of a Countervailing Movement, Navarro argued that historically, America’s great economic expansion had resulted chiefly from the exploitation of slave and immigrant labor—most recently, the labor of Mexicans and Latin Americans.
In 2017, Navarro helped organize a conference designed to help Mexicans residing in the U.S. to carry out a “Strategic Response to Trump’s Presidential Policies” – particularly with regard to the issue of immigration.
Navarro published a total of seven books during the course of his life: Mexican American Youth Organization: Avant-Garde of the Chicano Movement in Texas (1995); The Cristal Experiment: A Chicano Struggle for Community Control (1998); La Raza Unida Party: A Chicano Challenge to the U.S. Two-Party Dictatorship (2000); Mexicano Political Experience in Occupied Aztlán: Struggles and Change (2005); The Immigration Crisis: Nativism, Armed Vigilantism and the Rise of a Countervailing Movement (2008); Global Capitalist Crisis and the Second Great Depression: Egalitarian Systemic Models for Change (2012); and Mexicano and Latino Politics and the Quest for Self Determination: What Needs to be Done (2015), He also completed an eighth, though unpublished, book prior to his death.
Navarro died of a heart attack on March 25, 2022, at the age of 80.