Anything But Mexican by Rodolfo Acuña emerges as a political work that frames a Chicana/o narrative space and historical memory to counter the New Right’s radical ideological assault on non-European ethnic communities, especially in Los Angeles. By focusing on the political dynamics of Los Angeles, Acuña seeks to shift the “global discourse about diversity and racism in relation to the growing presence of the Third World in one of the First World’s premiere cities” (XV).
In one of the few Chicana/o scholarly endeavors to directly confront a Eurocentric hegemonic discourse, Acuña situates Chicanas/os within the historical memory of Los Angeles. Acuña argues that without a sense of community consciousness, an ethnic group is vulnerable to domination and displacement because they are unable to define its historical legacy, and its permanence within society becomes fragile at best or worse it can suffer erasure from the historical record.
Acuña focuses on several themes in his micro-view of Chicanas/os in contemporary Los Angeles: identity, racism, history, politics, immigration, gender, education, and labor. In Acuña’s interpretation, the New Right’s attack on Chicanas/os and other ethnic minorities has nothing to do with the truth, rather it has everything to do with preserving the Euroangeleno sphere of political, social, and economic dominance (311). Thus, Acuña examines the cultural war that he contends is manifesting within academia and society.
It is imperative to understand the historical roots that drives racism in the United States. In the course of Anything But Mexican, Acuña charts the historical terrain to place in historical context the nativist sentiment that percolates relations between Euroamericans and Chicanas/os. Acuña, furthermore, exposes the machinations of well-financed and politically connected ultra-conservative think tanks that have manipulated national changing demographics as an assault against Euroamerican interests. As Acuña makes explicitly clear, the cultural war of position can be traced to the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement, but adds that scholarship and government policy are so intertwined that since the early 1900s legal framework has existed to propel the current anti-immigrant (re: Anti-Mexican) discourse.
The interconnectedness of the social structures embedded in race, class, and gender relations has seen an increase in the tensions and racial polarization of political dynamics in American society. Chicanas/os have been historically marginalized from fully participating in the American dream. As such, Acuña asserts that Chicanas/os have internalized the Anything But Mexican disposition that permeates itself into a false sense of consciousness and lack of a coherent unified Chicana/o response to the New Right’s attack on people of color.
While Acuña stresses the notion of the “pendejo” factor in contributing to the “colonized mentality” of Chicanas/os, he does not elaborate on probable solutions to end the oppressive conditions. Although education is seen as a stairway to the good life, is it really potentially possible to seek self-determination in the very system that Acuña bemoans as precipitating Third World circumstances for Chicanas/os? Acuña purposely evades the issue completely. Perhaps, it is not Acuña’s original intention to focus on practical solutions to counter the systemic racism inherent in the school system, but as a historian of Chicana/o Studies he should have established a foundational oppositional framework to question the Euroamerican narrative seeps into scholarship and public policy.
Chicanas are integral to the cultural survival of the Chicana/o community. It was a significant addition for a Chicana/o Studies historian of the stature of Rodolfo Acuña to have included the experience of Chicanas within the overall composition of his study. His integration of the Chicana experience, however, is limited and seems to be a mere afterthought. In the chapter Chicanas in Los Angeles, Acuña parallels the “Molina factor” for contributing to a unique Chicana political consciousness with a growing Chicana Power dynamic in mainstream society. In a similar manner to Chicano male officeholders, Acuña is acutely aware that Chicana/o representation in the political domain does not equate to Chicana/o Power. It can be argued that as more Chicanas/os have gained political acceptability in Lo Angeles, for instance, the socioeconomic profile of the Chicana/o community has worsened.
Anything But Mexican is an important study for it generates a unique Chicana/o intellectual space to initiate a direct challenge against racist paradigms that nurture Third World conditions in Chicana/o communities. It must be said, however, that further scholarly studies are needed to counter the misinformation coming from the corridors of academia. It is in this respect, then, that Chicana/o Studies may return to its roots of engaging in an oppositional narrative that structures its epistemology as a forceful critique of American hegemonic discourse through action. Acuña’s work is to be expanded for it prepares a framework for further analysis.
Of course, by its very existence, Chicana/o Studies is revolutionary and its discourse oppositional in nature, but what I am suggesting is that Chicana/o Studies begin to disengage itself from its quest to “professionalize” itself under the rubric of American academia and begin to ground its knowledge discourse to meet the needs of the community as envisioned by El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán and El Plan de Santa Barbara. It was after all, a community struggle that gave birth to Chicana/o Studies and not vice-versa. If the New Right’s paradigm of misinformation is not challenged outright, we will give rise to another generation of the Anything But Mexican mentality.
- by David Cid