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Flower Children Chose Alternative Lifestyle
Article first published in Vol. 14, 1996.
By Rosemary Hoy and Dawne Noah
"Groovy, man." "Can you dig it?!" "Right on!"
These are just a few of the colorful phrases used by the residents of the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco in 1967, and later, by similar youths across the country, including those in El Paso.
By Tony Barron
These flamboyant youths would come to be known as "hippies." The word hippie is derived from the word "hipster," meaning one who is hip or keenly aware of the latest trends or developments. The term hippie evokes images of those long-haired, radical-looking young people who seemed to want a society based on freedom, love, peace, beauty and simplicity.
These young people smiled, danced got high on Mother Nature - and often drugs - and seemingly loved everyone, even though the larger society rejected them. W. J. Rorabaugh in his book Berkeley at War: The 1960s describes hippies wearing flowers in their hair dressing in second-hand clothes from thrift and army surplus stores. They wore ponchos, bell bottoms decorated with patches and embroidery, tie-dyed shirts, leather sandals, bright colors and intricate patterns.
Women wore men's clothes and "granny dresses" without bras because they felt they were too restricting. Around their necks both sexes hung amulets, bells, seeds and as Rorabaugh says, "trinkets to ward off evil and improve sexual performance." Many painted flowers, rainbows, peace signs and other designs on their faces and bare body parts.
The sixties brought a new awareness and acceptance of free love and equality for people of all sexual preferences. "If it feels good, do it" became part of the philosophy of the young. Hippies developed a very liberal viewpoint towards sex. They often accepted sex outside marriage and with more than one partner. By making love to each other, they felt they expressed their love for the larger world. Not everyone was eager to share in these public displays of affection, however.
Vicky Noah, herself a young adult in the '60s, remembers seeing such incidents. "We'd go for a ride in the country and they'd be having sex there next to the road in a field!" It seems many hippies had no shame and nothing embarrassed them.
Soon, nude beaches and communities were established. Hippies had no problem with nudity; in their eyes it was totally natural, and besides, they loved to get a reaction from the public.
One of their most prominent fashion symbols was long hair. It was a declaration of independence and rebellion, especially against the clean-shaven U.S. Army. Men and women wore their hair long and natural, and many men began to wear mustaches and full beards. Many hippies did not wear deodorant, cosmetics or perfume of any kind, preferring to keep the body natural.
Some hippies did not find money as necessary as the rest of the world. Many revived the barter system to obtain food and clothing or worked only when necessary. They would sleep on the streets and panhandle for spare change or turn old, vacant houses into "cash pads" where large groups of them would live. They shared everything they earned or acquired, often living in communes where the group's welfare became more important than individual acquisition of material goods.
Searching for a place in which they could feel free to express their political views and creative spirit, many found themselves in California or New York. Most gravitated to a desolate part of San Francisco known as the Haight-Ashbury district. This neighborhood, close to San Francisco State College, provided homes for many students.
"The Haight," as it was called, offered various recreational activities to aid in the process of self discovery: music, drugs, and "happenings," public gatherings of hippies. Like drugs, music was a huge influence, but in the hippie scene, the two would interweave.
The music of the mid 1960s, termed "psychedelic," was defined as that which expended awareness and consciousness. While listening to this music, some hippies smoked marijuana or took LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), a powerful drug that includes hallucinations.
Many hippies experimented with mind-altering drugs while attending "happenings" held in old San Francisco ballrooms. They crammed into these places, took LSD and danced to "acid rock" and strobe lights. Local bands such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane provided the entertainment that sometimes lasted for hours.
In her 1992 book entitled The 1960's Scrapbook, Angela Dodson says the music of the late '60s went against traditional values and expressed a more aggressive view of the world, dealing with issues young people were facing, but which the older generation considered taboo: sex, violence, death and drugs. Drugs claimed many '60s musicians, including Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.
Hippies believed in equality, peace and freedom. They often held demonstrations and marches in protest of government policies, particularly the draft and the Vietnam War. Many voiced their opposition to the Vietnam war by preaching "Make love not war" and burning their draft cards while shouting "Hell no, we don't go!"
The irony of the draft was that when young men turned 19, they were old enough to be shipped off and possibly die for their country but were not old enough to voice their opinion by voting. Many college students gradually began to view the war as a conspiracy against American youth. In 1966, draft boards were allowed to draft college students for receiving low grades.
Carlos Humphreys, El Paso native and member of the counterculture in the '60s, says, "Not only were you under pressure to get an 'A,' but getting that 'A' determined whether or not you were going to Vietnam. A close friend of mine went to Canada to avoid the draft and was later pardoned by Carter.
"We believed in humanistic views and were anti-establishment. The conservative population in the city was very non-accepting," Humphreys says.
Penny Hayes, native El Pasoan and admitted flower child says, "We were strong believers in peace. I remember going to Bassett Center with my friends and harassing the World War II veterans. We'd wear flowers and love beads and chant that peace was beautiful and undeclared war was illegal." The veterans, angry and disgusted, called her and her friends "un-American."
When they weren't trying to shock adults at the mall, Hayes' group was hanging out at the local head shop (a shop selling drug paraphernalia) called The Blue Turtle. On weekends, they listened to rock 'n' roll, took drugs, and discussed such topics as astrology, the environment, harmony and love.
In Lower Valley there were even "rural hippies" who grew their own marijuana in the middle of the cotton fields. This allowed them to get high in privacy, as well as time to run from the sheriff if they had to. Though El Paso's hippie population was tiny, it was active.
El Pasoan Rose Peinado believes the hippie movement was very small because El Paso was made up primarily of Mexican-American families who were religious and strict. Any kind of rebellion simply was not allowed. Those who did become hippies usually did so when they went away to college and were on their own, a fact many families kept quiet.
The 1960s were turbulent times filled with racial tensions, warfare and blatant political corruption. The hippie counterculture provided many young people a way to reject conformity and escape from what they considered the ills of our society and government.