Oscar Zeta Acosta (April 8, 1935-)
was a writer, lawyer, and political activist. He was born in El Paso,
Texas and was raised in California's San Joaquin Valley, near Modesto.
Because Acosta's father was drafted during
World War II, Oscar held much responsibility in
helping to take care of the family.
As an attorney his activities began in Oakland but it was in East Los
Angeles where he gained notoriety, prior to his mysterious disappearance
in Mexico in the Spring of 1974.
Acosta is most well known as the author of two of the most important
novels of the Chicano Protest Movement,
Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo (1972), and The Revolt of the
Cockroach People (1973). Both novels are highly acclaimed as major
contributions to the Chicano literary renaissance. They are
semiautobiographical and relate to Acosta's search for self-identity in
the midst of an Anglo society at a time of great social unrest within
the Chicano community.
Immediately following high school, at the age of seventeen, Acosta
enlisted in the Air Force and was honorably discharged after four years
of service. During a tour of service in Latin America, Acosta converted
to Protestantism and became a Baptist missionary in a leper colony in
Panama, although later, in
Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo, he rejected
Christianity. Following his discharge, Acosta worked his way through
Modesto Junior College, and attended San Francisco State University
where he took up creative writing. After his graduation he attended San
Francisco Law School at night and passed the State Bar exam in 1966.
Acosta was married twice--his first wife was Betty Daves during the
years 1956-1963. His second marriage was to Socorro Aguiniga from
1969-1971. As a lawyer, he first worked for the East Oakland Legal Aid
Society, an antipoverty agency. Later, he moved to East Los Angeles,
where he joined the Chicano Movement and generated controversy as an
activist attorney during the years 1968-1973, time periods marked by
social unrest and the tragic
Vietnam War. Acosta defended various
Chicano protest groups and activists such as the Saint Basil 21 and
Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez. As an attorney, Acosta figured prominently in
legal cases which addressed political, social, and educational
injustices against Chicanos. He frequently clashed with the judicial
system, winning ardent supporters as well as making political enemies.
He garnered respectable grass-roots support when he ran for Los Angeles
County Sheriff, winning well over one hundred thousand votes.
Acosta was last heard from in May, 1974, with a telephone call from
Mazatlan, Sinaloa, to his son Marco. The journalist and author
Hunter S. Thompson, who was
Acosta's close friend and confidante, speculated on Acosta's untimely
disappearance as either a political assassination or murder at the hands
of drug dealers. Acosta is presumed dead.
In Hunter S. Thompson's works, most
notably, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, a fictionalized version of
Acosta appears as "The Samoan".
Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo
This was Acosta's first novel and it focuses on his own self-discovery in a fictionalized manner. An autobiography, the plot presents an alienated lawyer of Mexican descent, who works in an Oakland antipoverty agency, without any sense of purpose or identity. This character survives on drugs, alcohol, and counseling sessions until he transforms into a Chicano activist. At the end of the work, the protagonist adds the middle name of 'Zeta,' a symbol which represents his Chicano and Mexican culture and roots. By traveling to his birthplace, the lost character discovers himself and learns lessons on the road as he reflects on his life.
The Revolt of the Cockroach People
This novel details the insurrection to the powerful institutions of religion, the courts, and schools. During the insurrections, demonstrations are held while buildings are bombed and people die. The protagonist, Buffalo Zeta Brown, represents the rioters who were indicted unjustly but attracted media to make Latinos aware of their social condition. Eventually, the pressures from the court, the community, and his life become too overwhelming, and Buffalo Zeta Brown loses his mind.