Brown Berets Invade Avalon

On August 30, 1972, the Los Angeles Times headline read “Brown Berets Invade Santa Catalina Island.” The Brown Berets were a pro-Chicano group formed in the late 1960’s to address the issues of farm workers’ rights, educational reform, anti-war activities, police brutality and other problems confronting the Chicano community.

They arrived on the island via Catalina Cruises in full military uniforms.  The uniforms were copied after a combination of the Green Berets, the elite group of soldiers fighting in Vietnam, and the Black Panthers, only in brown.  Brown camouflage shirts and full pants were tucked into ankle high military boots and topped with a brown beret.  The twenty six member group (25 men, 1 woman) were not armed. 

Their contention for the “invasion” was that the Channel Islands had not been specifically mentioned in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago that ended the U.S. War on Mexico in 1848, and therefore, were still the property of Mexico.  The group planted a large Mexican flag on the point above the Chimes Tower and claimed the island in the name of Mexico.  A campground was set up on the same point where all twenty six members camped.  Much of Avalon felt they would leave after a few days.  

Most of their official activity involved interviews with various news agencies that had been sent to cover the “invasion.” Unofficially they gradually eased into island life:  going to the movies; shopping at Safeway; and attending services at the Catholic Church, always in uniform.  As they ran short of food supplies, a number of Avalon citizens began taking food up to the encampment.  The point is still referred to as Burrito Point by some locals.  A few members of the group, tired of the novelty and inconvenience, left the island.

After almost a month, the City of Avalon and many townspeople became tired of their presence, as their hillside encampment posed various health and safety issues. The City announced they would invoke a “no camping” stipulation to encourage their removal.  On September 23, the group was escorted off the island by Los Angeles County Sheriffs. What was mostly considered as a “stunt” did bring attention to the Brown Berets and their cause. However, their claim to Santa Catalina and the other Channel Islands, disappeared without a whisper.