Symbols of Resistance: An Intern at the Freedom Archives Highlights Her Experiences

By Ariana Varela, Freedom Archives

The Freedom Archives contains over 12,000 hours of audio and videotapes, as well as thousands of paper materials, which date from the late-1960s to the mid-90s and chronicle the progressive history of the Bay Area, the United States, and international movements for justice. The archives contain in-depth oral interviews; reports on social and cultural topics; voices of organizers, activists and political prisoners; and pamphlets, journals and other materials from radical political organizations and social movements. These materials represent a commitment to anti-imperialism, human rights, and highlighting marginalized voices and organizations normally unheard or distorted in establishment media.

One of the most important aspects of the Freedom Archives is their work with young people. I started as an intern with the Freedom Archives in 2014. I first learned about the archive while looking for primary sources about women in the Black Panther Party for one of my research papers at the University of San Francisco. Since completing my initial internship, I have continued working with the archives. What makes their internship program unique is that it offers high school and college students opportunities to work directly with archival materials, create their own productions, and contribute to the archives with critical thinking and writing.

Working at the Freedom Archives helped me develop my sense of identity and connection to my ancestral origins. As a Chicana, one of my first projects was learning about the experiences of Californians of Mexican Descent. Engaging with these interesting oral histories helped provide me the language to understand and talk about my own experiences. The archive also furthered my college education by providing me with alternate sources that featured people of color sharing their voices and documenting their own experiences in relation to standardized historical narratives. Working with various archival materials and creating their catalog records in the archives searchable database reinforced my understanding of the history and helped me develop the confidence in my skills that I continue to carry with me.  The Freedom Archives also gave me a network of like-minded individuals who I could turn to for support and who taught me the importance of engaging within your community.

 Program from 2014 Symbols of Resistance Event. Photo Credit: Brenda Montano.

Program from 2014 Symbols of Resistance Event. Photo Credit: Brenda Montano.

Another major component of the Freedom Archives is their production of original documentaries and educational media for use within schools and as tools for community building. Their most recent film entitled “Symbols of Resistance,” illuminates the untold stories of the Chican@ Movement with a focus on Colorado and Northern New Mexico. This film engages the importance of student activism; the effect of police repression and how issues of identity, land, and community still resonate in the Chican@ struggles of today. The in-depth examination of this historical moment arose from a major 40th anniversary program in Denver in 2014 to honor the martyrs of the 1970s, including six student activists who were killed in two car bombings in Boulder (los seis de Boulder). The commitment to recognizing the lesser known stories of the martyrs of the Chicano Movement unveils an important component of the Chican@ struggle that is often not well understood—that the movement was not limited to organizing agricultural workers.

By bringing attention to the efforts of student activists on the campus of UC Boulder; political and material linkages between liberation movements and the importance of youth as the catalyst for social change, we will be able not only to feature lesser known dimensions of history but also draw more robust connections to the contemporary political moment.  Through interviews with those who were there and helped shaped the movement and rare historical footage, “Symbols of Resistance” offers a window into a dynamic moment in history and movement building.  

 Symbols of Resistance Poster. Design: Jesus Barraza - Dignidad Rebelde.

Symbols of Resistance Poster. Design: Jesus Barraza - Dignidad Rebelde.

The San Francisco premier for “Symbols of Resistance” will take place on Saturday, August 12th, 2017 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.


Ariana Varela is a recent graduate from the University of San Francisco where she received her bachelor’s in History. She has worked with the Freedom Archives for three years.