21st Century Outlawing of Ethnic Studies: “For the sake of American Democracy”

The current assault on Ethnic Studies has been justified by its critics who point to much needed cutbacks in higher education. It sounds reasonable to the average U.S. citizen in light of today’s economic situation. After all, don’t Americans feel that a rationale for doing away with something so “undesirable” must be fair and just?  To grapple with such a notion from a historical perspective, arguments to ban on Ethnic Studies can be put in their proper context.  Historian Mae M. Ngai interrogates a period where modern twentieth century American identity became rigidly and narrowly defined by a racial prism dominated by whiteness. Her analysis helps us to understand the vitriolic racial politics particularly over immigration. Are notions of restriction and control of the national sovereignty more pervasive today than in the early 1920s? How do the galvanized politics by local school and state officials to successfully outlaw a Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in Arizona reflect the historical nationalist ideology debates over immigration persuasively argued by Ngai?

Today’s conservative political landscape in Arizona provides a twenty-first century  lens in which to critique similar notions raised by Ngai where the exclusion of the undesirable or inassimilable from American society persists.   Ethnic Studies exemplifies this idea through its analytical use of race as part of its subject matter.  The discipline embodies what white elitist reformers abhorred as they discriminately implemented early immigration laws that favored western European nationalists.  For instance, Ngai noted arguments over immigration policies which suggested that non-western migrants resist rather than embrace American values and are then deemed incapable of assimilating.  Cultural pluralist notions of American Identity that have been fostered through Ethnic Studies were rejected by early twentieth century nativist thinking.  Arizona’s elite are advancing immigration and nativist policies quite similar to many of earlier reformists mentioned in Ngai’s work.

One of the main criticisms by state officials of the Tucson Unified School Districts MAS program was that it was teaching subject matter to and for a particular ethnic group rather than to students as individuals. This notion can be traced to modern immigration debate stemming from the idealistic notions of equality as imagined through the concept of American democracy.  Maintaining that notion became more of a dilemma as the twentieth century progressed particularly in regards to periodic influxes of people from different parts of the world into the United States.  Policies and laws were implemented such as the 1924 Johnson Reed act which selectively and numerical established quotas which fostered the migration of western European countries over the undesirable eastern nations in the aftermath of WWI.

Justifying the machinations of this immigration policy was implicit in preserving a Nationalist identity where American citizenship is reserved for white people.   Arizona’s passing of laws in recent years to deal with “illegal” immigration, voter fraud, and banning ethnic studies is in keeping with similar ideological language which drove immigration reform of the 1920s.  Elitist reformers in those days like today’s Arizona state officials feared a non western foreign element that needed to be barred entering into the country let alone becoming a citizen.  Therefore the arguments favoring the national origins quota system was to keep out the subversive, undesirable, inassimilable migrants.  Similarly, the MAS program according to some of its critics teaches from a subversive point of view that portends to somehow “overthrow” the United States.

Ngai points out how 20th century mass immigration to the U.S. followed significant world changing events particularly World Wars I and II.  She also asserts that a more concerted effort to control and restrict migratory movement toward the U.S. became increasingly more pronounced in the National immigration policy. Asians, Filipinos, and Mexicans have a shared common ethnic American experience where restrictive laws impacted and determined their immigrant status.  Their immigration experience can be viewed as counter narratives to European ethnic migration stories.  In fact, this notion characterizes how Arizona as a border state with its laws has come to signify that long term shift from a country that once celebrated notion of Immigrant nation to a National Security State.

The national origin quota policies were historically designed to allow only a very select type of immigrant.  For instance a communist Chinese immigrant would be considered very undesirable.  Ngai points out how limited Third World entrance was very much outside the mainstream policy debates early on.  The open hostility toward Filipino’s in California in the early 20th century can be compared to Arizona’s ill-treatment of undocumented immigrant population as well as its stringent anti- illegal alien Laws. The legacy of those early reformist policies that constructed illegal alienism is being played out in its most extreme form through the controlled and restrictive nature of today’s Arizonian Mexican borderland.

In the early 1950s as the debate shifted, immigration from Mexico to the U.S began to be reframed using its inherent reformist argument against the unwanted Mexican immigrant.   Political speech advanced the notions that “undesirables” such as communists can freely enter from Mexico while “acceptable” European immigrants are limited.  Such arguments  gave the impression of unfairness and began to frame the “illegality”  of  Mexican migration which was later solidified by the passing of the Hart Celler Act of 1965. The Mexican border would be increasingly imagined as unsecure and threatening to American democracy.

In sum, even though the nationalist origin quota system had racially exclusive underpinnings it was after all the Law.  Fairness, the law, equality is and always has been very reasonable within the purview of American Democracy.   These conservative principles constitutionally speaking are essentially the core values advancing the notion that the essence of Ethnic Studies is unfair and un-American. It favors and teaches to a specific ethnic group and is subversive where as past immigration law was constructed to legally and fairly regulate and bar these undesirable un-American foreign elements. Such was the fear of Arizona’s former Superintendent of Instruction Tom Horne.  His rationale and logic is derived from those nationalist and nativist arguments in the modern Progressive Immigration reform explored in Ngai’s historical text.  In 2010 an Arizona state law was passed making teaching the subject in public schools unlawful just 20 days after a “controversial” anti-immigration bill was signed. It’s now the law therefore it is “fair” and “democratic” progressively speaking that is.

– by David Casillas

Posted in Arizona, Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Cultural Studies, Education, Identity, Racism, Resistance | Leave a comment

Jose Montoya Memorial Celebration on January 23, 2014

A Memorial Celebration

A Memorial Celebrati

Posted in Art, Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Community, Cultural Studies, Education, History, Identity, Palabra, Poetry, Prose, Resistance | Leave a comment

Is CSUN Racist?: Harry Hellenbrand In Denial

In a recent exchange with Provost Harry Hellenbrand, he made the most amazing statement: he was offended by my assertions that California State University Northridge is a racist institution. Like they say on Facebook, I almost lol (laughed out loud). In my fifty-five years plus as an educator I have heard similar denials from administrators and teachers who would say, “How can I be a racist, my best friend is a Mexican.”

As a result of the Archie Bunker years society rationalizes, “Well Archie was a racist but so are blacks and Chicanos,” as if that made it okay. Or, just that reverse racism made it okay.

Admittedly, racism is not as bad as it was forty years ago. Today professors do not tell you that now that they have a Mexican on staff that there will be flies in the cafeteria. However, over the years racist slogans have posted in the Chicana/o Studies area. During Greneda Invasion (1983), a Latina student told me to go back to Mexico, and then frat student knocked me on my arse. In 1993 there was the “Lupe Incident;” the ZBT was caught singing a drink song to a 13 year old dead Mexican girl who they were screwing. But these were excused as youthful indiscretions.

But, let’s focus on recent events. On December 3, 2013, The Sundial, the CSUN student newspaper reported “African-American enrollment drops to… 5.9 percent of the entire student population.” The percentage of Black residents in LA City is over 8 percent. Ideally, in order to keep pace, the enrollment should be about 10 to 12 percent since the African American enrollment in the Los Angeles Unified School District is just over 10 percent.

Who is to blame? One answer is that CSUN does not recruit in areas with African Americans.

In 2012, out of 34,000 students 8,100 were Mexican Americans and 4,651 other Latino. This looks great if you compare it to Black student enrollment; however, should the oppressed be models on how well another group is doing?

CSUN’s service area has a huge pool of Mexican American students. CSU Fullerton with  36,402 students had 9,608 Mexican Americans and 2,955 Latinos. The LAUSD, second only to New York. is 75 percent Latino — 80 percent are of Mexican origin.

Institutional racism determines student retention. I went to the CSU System web site; 16 percent plus tenure track faculty members were Latinos. At CSUN 4.7 percent of the faculty is black and 12.5 percent Asian. I have just spent an hour searching the CSUN Web page and found little on faculty diversity.

In this search I felt like I was looking for the Scarlet Pimpernel.  The last time we got raw data was some forty plus years ago, CSUN claimed that over 10 percent were Latino. When they gave us the data we found that that any faculty member whose name ended in a vowel was listed. We lol when we saw the name of Warren Furomoto, Japanese American, his name ended in vowel. Consequently, we want to see the names; if CSUN has nothing to hide, it will comply.

From my experience there are sincere faculty members who want to change the institution. But, for the most part they resist change, resist affirmative action, and are insulted when you talk about closing the gap between the race and ethnicity of the students and the faculty. The retort is that they want to hire qualified faculty members.

Attitude is something that is hard to quantify. However, through experience I know that students of color get the least support from the mathematics and economics departments. Biology does a solid of mentoring Latino students.

Take the case of the former chair of the Economics Department Shirley V. Svorny. In an Op-Ed the Los Angeles Times titled, “Make College Cost More” (November 22, 2010), Svorny argued: “Artificially low fees attract some students to higher education who simply aren’t suited to the academic rigors of a university.”

A CSUN student responded: “The professor is implicitly saying that poor students are not smart. That is the most ridiculous argument for raising student fees.”

Studies such as The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (1994) by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray has great appeal. Basically it argues that IQ differences are genetic. Society can put all of the money it wants into educating African Americans and Latinos but genetically they are just not equal to the rigors of education.

The Pioneer Fund with ties to far right wing funders seeded Murray’s early research Murray’s “research”. Ishmael Reed wrote in Counterpunch, “Using Murray’s ‘theories’ which were embraced by the New Aryans at Commentary, the New Republic and the New York Times Book Review, black kids are uneducable.” S waste money on educating them?

CSUN Mathematics professor David Klein whose only redeeming quality is his support of Palestinians liberation comes to a similar conclusion as Svorny in an Orange County Register Op-Ed piece titled “Racial politics compound problems left behind by embrace of education fads.” (April, 4, 2004).

Math is the least Latino/African American friendly department at CSUN. All students come with math deficiencies. However, at teaching institution such as CSUN, our mission is to take students and work with them. Klein goes out of his way to go after Pan African Studies who called the Math Dept elitist. He claimed that Chicana/o Studies argued “that the math department has developed a culture that rejects students who are not math majors,” and that “the reaction of the math department is surprising since we believed that the university had progressed in the past 30 and some years.”

Klein argued that CSUN policies were driven by a “cycle of remediation.” He adds that “Ethnic studies departments, corporate foundations and at least one Cal State University campus have found common cause in supporting educational programs that ultimately deprive California’s future elementary school teachers of basic arithmetic skills. These misguided agendas should be confronted directly by the public and by its elected representatives.” Klein ignores that before these programs were in existence many schools did not have a single Mexican origin or African American teacher.

Whether it is Svorny on the far right or the ideologically eclectic Klein, the outcome is the same. They are not aberrations and represent the common sense of California State University at Northridge.

If this were a perfect world, the university would correct these imperfections. However, administrators such as Provost Harry Hellenbrand who are basically decent human beings tacitly support the Svornys, Kleins, and the Deans Stella Z Theodoulous. This is racist.

Students are at a disadvantage. Most business at the campuses is conducted when students and faculty are on holidays. Progressive struggles must be intense to succeed. In order to flush out the imperfections the heat has to go way up. It is analogous to a sweat bath or a sauna.  Most people do not get to that point; they cannot stand the heat. Even so the sweat does flush out some imperfections.

On the negative side it shows that people like Harry are intent on defending the system and let the Stellas lie and lie. If they admitted she was lying would mean that they would have to do something about it. It is analogous to being cheated on. If you acknowledge it, you would have to do something about it.

Administrators have learned that they can always divide and conquer. My friend and colleague Ramón Muñiz has a designed a T-shirt that says, “No estoy Muerto de Hambre, Tengo Dignidad!”

– by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted in Blacks, Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, CSUN, Education, History, Identity, Racism, Resistance | Leave a comment

The Great American Chastity Belt: The Obsession to Control Our Minds

The chastity belt is symbolic of how society controls minorities and the poor; it extends to higher education where the chastity belt controls the memory of students.  It is a metaphor for society’s obsession to control everything from the vagina to our minds.

I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the history of chastity belts. Some say that they were first mentioned in 16th Century Renaissance poetry. Others claim that they came about during the Crusades of the 12th Century when the crusaders wanted to protect “their” vaginas. The literature concedes that the earliest contraptions cannot be found in museums, not appearing until the 19th century. http://www.slideshare.net/Johnshorty/the-history-of-the-chastity-belt

Apologists claim that they were not for women; only to keep kids from masturbating (today chastity belts for dogs). They say that “uninterrupted long-term wear caused genitourinary infection, abrasive wounds, sepsis and eventual death.”

From my viewpoint, the state through structural controls has put a chastity belt on our minds that through uninterrupted wearing has caused long term damage. This metaphor could easily be extended to higher education.

The obsession to control has damaged our ability to distinguish reality. It is clear that the purpose of structural control is to keep women and men faithful to the accepted historical narratives, and make inequality sound reasonable or at least the norm.

Structural controls are nothing new. The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of controlling the narrative. From the beginning of the colonization of Mexico, the Spaniards changed Indian societies to make them more malleable and profitable. While they allowed many Indian villages to survive, they changed them structurally.

In order to control the Indians, colonial authorities grouped native communities into municipios, townships. The largest town of the municipio was the cabecera, or the seat of the municipal government. This strengthened colonial control of the native villages.

The purpose was to isolate natives in order for them to identify with the local village rather than forming class or ethnic identities. This division made it difficult for the different communities to unite against Spanish rule, destroying intercommunity regional networks and the pre-invasion world system. It concentrated power in the hands of Indian caciques, chiefs, who ran the local system, and were loyal to the Spaniards.

All official government business was conducted in Spanish. If a native or a casta, of mixed race spoke Spanish, he or she was considered superior to those who did not. The Christian God supplanted the indigenous gods with the Spanish friars racializing the natives classifying them as incapable of governing themselves.

The rule was the more Spanish you looked, the more rights you had.

Before the Conquest, women generally married at about 20 years of age.  After the Conquest, females married as young 12 or 14. A 20-year-old male who married to a 14-year-old girl held much more power than he would if both were 20 years old.

Colonization led to the breakdown of the traditional indigenous family framework, which was based on an extended family rather than a highly patriarchal nuclear family that the Spaniards favored. The purpose was so that “the Indians would be easier to supervise and control if divided into small nuclear households.”

Within the structures of society there is always the obsession to control; the locking of a chastity belt over our minds.

Things we take for granted such as architecture, according to Dolores Hayden, define roles. That is why feminists have demanded a new architecture to redefine our roles. Nineteenth century feminists wanted apartment houses without kitchens with communal meals prepared and delivered to the individual apartments; they wanted communal day care within the living complexes.

In the early 1950s, housing developers, architects, and real estate agents came up with the ideal chastity belt, the single-family suburban home.

They modified the house making the cooking quarters the command post connecting the kitchen to the living and dining rooms. It connected the wife to the entire house, making her the caretaker.

In the San Fernando Valley, the houses all looked alike. The front lawns were green, the greener the better. In times of drought many would spray paint their lawns green.

The house was encased by a brick cement block wall, resembling the chastity belt, preventing the next door neighbor from taking a peak.

This was in contrast to the older homes in the barrios that had a large porch looking out onto the neighborhood. If there was a fence it was a chain link Sears model. The lawns were not green, and if the owner or renter wanted he/she put his/her car in the middle of the lawn, and look out on the street with an ¿y que? look.

The ideal society for the new corporate man was the Stepford wife.  The name is taken from the movie The Stepford Wives, a 1972 satire, where the corporation creates submissive housewives in an idyllic Connecticut neighborhood by making them robots. Always recently showered, they never had a headache at night, and they always said yes.

The principle is the same as the chastity belt to isolate women and to control them.

The industrial strategy was to create a society of frozen dinners made on an assembly line. Women would be used as producers, and probably would be occupationally segregated.

Whether as in the case of the crusaders or the conquistadores the goal was to totally control labor and all resources for profit.

Today, we have entered a post-industrial period where the design of the chastity belt has changed. The current phase is rapidly taking racism and class exploitation to a higher state.

The goal of the current privatization is total control of society by the superrich. The strategy is to transfer all public property into the hands of the one percent. In the United States it is personified by the Koch Brothers who were well on their way to controlling the State of Arizona.

Their objective was to “reform” the tax structure so not to pay any taxes – or any of the costs of social production.

An example was California Governor Ronald Reagan’s dismantling of the state’s mental health system in the late 1960s.  Another was Reagan’s attempt to  raise the fees at the University of California system. He publicly stated that if students had to work more and pay for their education that they would be too tired to carry a picket sign.

Evidently Reagan’s plan was successful. State university students who were paying $50 a semester in 1969 are now paying over $3200, which is 70 to 80 percent the cost of instruction. Throughout the United States students have become Stepford students.

Mexico is going through a similar process; as we speak its educational system is being privatized. Thus far it there is the illusion that students have prevented privatization and the raising of tuition. However, the bureaucracy of UNAM (la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) is slowly eating away at the notion of a free and Open University.

The World Bank is the prime mover of privatization in Mexico. It is tightening the chastity belt. Ambitious managers at UNAM want outside funding that to them means prestige. They suffer from an inferiority complex that drives them to adopt neo-liberal fads. Thus far they have been unable to tax students; however, this is changing. A chastity belt is being fitted that is made in the USA. Neo-liberal educators are waiting for their Stepford students.

– by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Cultural Studies, Education, Gender Studies, History, Identity, Racism, Resistance | Leave a comment

Never Trust a Gringo Who Calls you Amigo: De-constructing Harry

As administrators go Provost Harry Hellenbrand (Harry.Hellenbrand@csun.edu) is not a bad guy. He seduces you because he is intelligent and is outwardly liberal. Harry understands the social issues, although, when it comes to the university, he seems to think that the rule apply to other institutions. Recently, we had a meeting about how California State University is ripping off students in general and poor students in particular. If we would have been talking about it in the abstract, we probably would have been agreement. However, it involved CSUN and you could see Harry’s mind churning trying to rationalize or explain the university’s position . To us in Chicana/o Studies, it was a no brainer. CSUN was charging students monthly $800 a bed, four beds to a unit, i.e., $3200 an apartment. Most units don’t have a kitchen so they have to buy a meal pass for about $3500. Locally, two bedroom apartments run between $1800 to $2100.

Now the university is going to build an additional 400 units, and who is going pay? Well, this kind of money comes out of student fees. CSUN cannot tax the faculty because we are protected by the contract. My friend Harry who bleeds for the oppressed, cannot seem to grasp the contradiction. The reasoning is “well the students were receiving Pell grants.” Considering that many students are working full time, and many are contributing to the support of parents and siblings this pretty bad. The only thing that I can think is that Harry might not want to fill up the dorms with minorities, but with rich Mexican students from UNAM.

We have been waiting for three months to hear what CSUN’s resolution will be. I got tired of holding my breath since I know that university administrators like to play games. They are of the mentality that if they wait long enough the controversy will go away, especially with the Stepford students and professors that society has nurtured. Anyway, we are headed into the Christmas break, a time when everyone is gone and the administration can do what it damn pleases. It is no accident that the UNAM deal came to the surface in the summer. Convenient since the Harrys of this world can claim that they followed procedures,

What strikes me is the utter disregard for students! The utter disregard for the students’ welfare! In this context it is easy to understand why the enrollment of African American students has fallen to 5 percent. Harry blames impactation: “Major impaction means that the number of applications from fully eligible students to a designated major on a CSU campus during the initial filing period far exceeds the number of spaces available in that major.” However, it is convenient for Harry and his gaggle of administrators to explain their lack of moral commitment.

After a month of haggling over the CSUN-UNAM arrangement, and his frustration over our ability to find Harry’s pea under the shell, Harry responded:

i agree, you did not start the mess, not even close. i’ve acknowledged

that a number of times; administratively, we screwed up because the

process historically has been poor. but over the past few weeks the

dept’s concerns have been taken seriously and have change the proposal

in a number of ways. no one in the dept seems to acknowledge that.

probably the proposal returns to the council of deans in early jan,

after all the changes have been included, resulting from the recent

“consultation.” y’all will have ample opportunity to comment on what

still is at issue.

Aside from the distortion of truth what does the memo mean? Well, in fact Harry has never acknowledged the administration screwed up. I could at the statement “we screwed up because the process historically has been poor.” I could cry but it hurts too much to cry. That we have been taken seriously? Like my Chicana/o students from East LA say, “I don’t think so!” I also cannot see the changes since I have never seen the original paperwork if in fact it existed. Harry and CHS also have a different interpretation of what consultation means.

Consultation involves listening which Harry has never done. His Kapo the Dean of Social and Behavioral Studies does not know what the word means.

But just getting to the guts of it. What does Harry’s agreement mean. It reminds me of the husband who is caught philandering. “Well, Honey I am sorry! Made a mistake. By the way do you know where my little black phonebook is?”

– by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, CSUN, Education, History, Identity, MEChA, Racism, Resistance | Leave a comment

¡Tierra y Libertad! Articles 27 and 28 of the Mexican Constitution: Does History Matter?

El grito ¡Tierra y Libertad! (Land and liberty), attributed to Emiliano Zapata, was in reality popularized  by Ricardo Flores Magón whose prints are all over Zapata’s Plan de Ayala. Flores Magón wrote an article titled, “Tierra y libertad”. Otilio Montaño Sánchez, a local school teacher, introduced Zapata to the works of Peter Kropotkin and Flores Magón.

Land has always been part of the Mexican’s soul, going back to our indigenous times.

Today land is a metaphor for other rights such as education. It represents our struggle for a better and just life.

Recently this struggle became very real.  UNAM struck a deal with California State University Northridge to establish a Center for Mexican and Latin American Studies, which intentionally avoided consultation with the Chicana/o Studies. The surreptitious deal raised questions of what role Chicana/o and Latino scholars should play in Mexico and other Latin American countries?

The obvious questions were why had UNAM picked CSUN? How would the deal affect students and workers on both sides of the border? Would it further the privatization of education on both sides of the border?

Some form or another of privatization has plagued the poor since the colonial era. Roughly it is the act of transferring public resources to private ownership. Privatization in recent years impinged on other rights such as free access to education.

During the Spanish Conquest, the conquerors transferred communal Indian villages to private individuals. The crown gave conquistadores franchises called encomiendas, a grant of land and natives.

Indian labor was also privatized. The repartimiento, a forced labor system, also permitted other assessments on indigenous people, later evolving into peonage.

Further north, the Spaniards set up missions near indigenous rancherias. In theory mission lands belonged to the Indians–administered by friars until the natives became gente de razon. The loss of land meant the loss of liberty as outsiders encroached on Indian lands and water.

The Indians were conquered because in places like Chihuahua the scarcity of water limited the size of their groups to 20 to 30 persons. In most cases resistance depended on the size of group. For example, the great Yaqui River Valley allowed Yaqui rancherias to grow into thousands. The Yaqui rebelled in the late 17th century, a perpetual rebellion that lasted to the late 1920s.

In the early18th century the Spanish Bourbons privatized the missions and expelled the Jesuits. This increased the vulnerability of the Indian lands.

The Liberal Party was a product of this Enlightenment of the 18th century. After Mexican Independence (1821) Liberals championed the privatization of the ejidos owned by public institutions such as the Catholic Church and the Indian villages. (An ejido is communal land used for agriculture; community members individually farm specific parcels).

During the Age of Reform (1854-1876) Liberals triumphed over Conservative landed interests, and intensified the assault on land and water. The encroachments were the cause of Indian wars, epitomized by the Yaqui Rebellions that were renewed in the 1870s — led by the great Yaqui leader Cajeme.

Privatization was the hallmark of the Porfiriato (1876-1911) when Mexico’s land and resources were sold to foreign capitalists who built 15,000 miles of railroad track; in return they took Mexico’s land and water rights.

The Porfiriato also accelerated the transfer of ejidos to private hands, i.e., the 1883 land law. By 1888 land companies owned more than 27.5 million hectares of rural land, and six years later, land companies controlled one-fifth of Mexico’s total territory, and by 1910 almost every village had lost its ejidos. A few hundred wealthy families owned 54.3 million hectares of Mexico’s most productive land, more than half of all rural workers worked on haciendas.

Under Porfirio Díaz, the rich became super rich. Foreigners received favorable assessments of land and mines, and jefe politicos protected the foreigners’ land and mining interests.

No hay mal que dure cien años, ni cuerpo que los resista” (There is no wrong that lasts 100 years, or body that can withstand it). The first miners’ strike occurred in Pinos Altos, in the Municipio de Ocampo, Chihuahua on January 21, 1883. The British Mining Company of Pinos Altos demanded that miners spend half their wages at the company store whereupon workers rebelled. The township president with twenty-five armed men arrested the strike leaders and executed five of them. In all the government executed 23 workers. This was three years before the Haymarket Square Riot.

At Tomochic, Chihuahua, on October 20, 1892 1,200 federal troops surrounded the village and opened fire on children, women, and men – young and old. They killed every man and boy over the age of thirteen, and burned the pueblo to the ground. Only 13 women and 71 children survived.

Labor unrest intensified; in 1906 Copper Miners’ strike erupted at Cananea, Sonora. The next year Rio Blanco textile strike in the Veracruz/Puebla area saw federal troops massacre 200 workers.

The Mexican Revolution (1910-1921) was costly. Out of a population of 15 million, Mexico lost 2 million people — half were killed and the other half migrated al norte.

Mexicans hoped to regain their liberties, and protect their rights through the Mexican Constitution of 1917. It was the first Constitution in the world that protected social rights. Article 3 forbids censorship of prohibited books, and guarantees free, mandatory, and lay education. Article 27 vests the nation in the direct ownership of all natural resources, i.e., all minerals and water. Only Mexicans have the right to own land, water, and minerals or to acquire concessions for their exploitation.  Article 28 prohibits monopolies of any kind. Article 123 empowers the labor sector.

Relevant to this discussion are Articles 3, 27 and 28.

Today neo-cientificos (technocrats) are attacking these articles under attack under the guise of reform. Mexico’s political parties are supporting a measure that allows the government to grant licenses and share oil profits with multinational corporations such as Exxon and Chevron. These so-called reforms would roll back President Lazaro Cardenas historic nationalization of the oil industry in 1938.

In addition, the reforms would denationalize the state owned electrical industries, and give tax breaks to investors.

In 1982 there were 1,155 state enterprises. They included huge conglomerates such as Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the Federal Commission of Electricity (CFE), Ferronales (railroads) and Sicartsa (steel).

In all the government operated mining firms, two airlines, eighteen banks, hotels, even jewelry stores and a bicycle factory. The state development bank, Nafinsa, funded the state-run system. Privatization has meant the transfer of the ownership of these enterprises to private individuals creating a new class of billionaires thus widening the economic and social gap between Mexicans; 42 percent of Mexicans live below the national poverty line.

Mexico’s Billionaires:

Carlos Slim – US$ 74 billion – Telmex, INBURSA, América Móvil, CompUSA, WorldCom and Telcel.

Ricardo Salinas Pliego – US$ 17.4 billion – TV Azteca, Iusacell, Unefon.

Alberto Baillères – US$ 16.5 billion – Peñoles.

Germán Larrea Mota-Velasco – US$ 14.2 billion – Grupo Mexico

Jerónimo Arango – US$ 4 billion – Founder of Aurrerá (currently part of Wal-Mart Mexico)

Emilio Azcárraga Jean – US$ 2 billion – Televisa, Univision, Club América, Necaxa, Club San Luis

Roberto González Barrera – US$ 1.9 billion – Maseca, Banorte

Carlos Hank Rhon – US$ 1.4 billion – Bank

Roberto Hernandez Ramirez – US$ 1.3 billion – Banco Nacional de México (Banamex)

Alfredo Harp Helú – US$ 1 billion – Banamex, Red Devils Baseball Team

Joaquín Guzmán Loera – US$ 1 billion – Sinaloa Cartel

Source: Wikipedia

In 1994 the U.S., Canada and Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), setting up a trade bloc. This accelerated the creation of Mexican billionaires, and it uprooted millions of small farmers. As a consequence, the United States is the world’s top producer of corn, 40 percent; Mexico, the birth place of corn, grows about 3 percent. Unable to compete, many small farmers and their families have been uprooted.

Violations of Article 3 have led to student and teacher strikes. From March 11, 1999 to February 6, 2000 students struck UNAM. Administrators wanted to raise tuition to $75 per semester.  The university students felt that tuition hikes violated the right a free education, and threatened their social mobility. They saw this as a step toward privatizing UNAM.

In June the students won a partial victory and the tuition proposal was revoked. But the strikers wanted systemic changes, and violent clashes broke out in February 2000. A force 1,000-2,500 Federal Police stormed the UNAM campus and arrested 632 to 745 students. The student battle cry was “UNAM is not for sale!”

Students marched with the Mexican Electricians’ Union (SME) opposing Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo’s proposal to privatize the electrical industry. Along the parade route, large student contingents chanted “University … Electricity!”. They were supported by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the Union of UNAM Workers (STUNAM) chanting, “¡Estudiante, escucha, tus papás están en la lucha!” (“Student, listen, your parents are in struggle!”).  They demanded transparency and consultation in matters affecting them.

The protracted strike rekindled political unrest on UNAM campuses creating a sense of community and a sense of history. It put students on the front line against privatization. In September 2013, over 60,000 crowded downtown’s Avenida Juárez to listen to Andrés Manuel López Obrador condemn the PEMEX high jacking – they were students and teachers for whom history matters.

When Chicana/o studies found out about the clandestine deal between UNAM and the CSUN administration, for them history mattered. The issues were a lack of transparency, a lack of consultation, privatization and a lack of faculty diversity.

The Fall 2013 tuition for undergraduates was $3,260.00. Students paid between 70 and 80 percent of the costs of instruction as the result of the state shifting the cost of education from rich taxpayers to working class students. As in Mexico, social mobility depends on a higher education.

CSUN already has a privatized college: the Tseng College where students can get a graduate degree if they pay around $1000 a unit. Because of these reasons and others Chicana/o Studies opposes the deal.  “The Right to an Education is Not for Sale!”

– by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, CSUN, Cultural Studies, Education, History, Identity, Mexico, Political Science, Racism, Resistance, Sin Fronteras | Leave a comment

Blame the Greek!: Criticism An Abandoned Process

The art of criticism is yet another casualty of television, the internet and individualism. I come from a generation that pre-dated the TV dinners of the 1960s. As a child, I remember my family sitting down at a prescribed time and eating together. At my home, dinner was from 6-8 PM or at the hour my father arrived. During dinner, the telephone was off limits.

We could not leave the table without permission; voices were regularly raised. We criticized each other, often not too gently. We often did not like the criticism but we knew that the person making it loved us, and he or she wanted us to improve – that was a given.

Today’s generation is not as disposed to heated conversations, and often students and colleagues are devastated by the slightest criticism. They cannot distinguish between personal attacks, and when a criticism is meant to improve or to better the outcome.

It starts from the top. Criticize Barack Obama, and you don’t like him. Criticize George W. Bush, and you hate him.

Most of us have never met them or broken bread with them so how can we dislike or hate them? We dislike or even hate bigotry or capitalism, but we should know who or what we are criticizing.

They objective of criticism should be to improve something. That is the only way that changes and transformations take place.

Formal and informal criticisms have been the centerpiece of every advanced society. We know more about the western world not because it was the epitome of learning but because of our Eurocentric educational system. History tells us that Europe imperialism in its drive to control and exploit other people often erased the history of superior civilizations.

Witness the Spaniards’ destruction of the Mesoamerican codices, and the suppression of Indian voices in the name of their god. The English similarly destroyed or coopted indigenous memory.

The truth be told, Western Thought is really Mediterranean – not Western European.

Everything seems to begin and end with the Greeks and to a lesser extent the Romans, i.e., language, philosophy, and history. That’s why some say, “Blame it on the Greeks!”

(Our guilt ridden society seems to always want to blame somebody or something else for its failures. Blame the alcohol, the times, women, immigrants or the devil).

However, history shows that the Greeks were not that bad, and if there are flaws in their thought system it can be attributed to distorted translations.

Take that guy Socrates (469–399 B.C.E.) who produced a well-reasoned way to answer a question. His question-and-answer mode of probing has influenced methods of learning from modern law school training to critical thinking. Some call it logic.

Socrates did not form theories; he listened to others. Socrates did not publish anything, but he influenced the field of western philosophy. He kind of reminds me of my family conversations that taught you ethics — something that politicians, university administrators and professors should learn about.

It is from the Greeks that the West got the word criticism.  According to Wikipedia, “The word critic comes from Greek κριτικός (kritikós), ‘able to discern’, which is a Greek derivation from the word κριτής (krités), meaning a person who offers reasoned judgment or analysis, value judgment, interpretation, or observation.” (How the meaning of words have changed).

So called scholars and religious sages have made careers out of deconstructing and regurgitating the Greeks, only to produce corrupted translations. Their compromised method – scholasticism — held sway over much of Europe for centuries. Criticism was temporarily brought back to earth by Dialectics and Materialism.

The old guy Socrates had discovered that through discussion and reasoning you can root out imperfections. Basically, we have to know how something is imperfect before we can change it.

Like other critics Socrates was tried for his subversion. He was charged with corrupting youth and “impious” acts. It seems as if he failed to acknowledge the accepted gods, a familiar charge against those who challenge the existing order.

Based on my own experience, the 70s and 80s were periods that produced the greatest intellectual growth in Chicana/o studies. Marxist study groups were a pain in the ass; they became religious and wanted to party build. However, these groups made significant contributions to questions of gender and class inequalities. Aside from their discipline and newspapers I was impressed by the rigor of some of the groups that engaged in spirited group and self-criticism.

The failure of Chicana/o studies to grow is in large part the failure to criticize.  This is lamentable because the areas of criticism are well established in academe. Evaluations are traditionally based on Community service, University service, Publications and Teaching. For the first five years of the San Fernando Valley State CHS, we engaged in this kind of criticism but it gave way to friendships.

There is no similar base criteria to evaluate (criticize) Latino elected officials. However, I would start with a list of questions such as

  • How much outside money is she/he receiving?
  • How much do they get from corporations?
  • Do they have storefront centers to listen to their constituents problems?
  • Do they take public stands on questions such as police brutality and education?
  • Do they have community forums to discuss these issues?
  • Do they participate in the life of their districts?
  • Where do they stand on privatization?
  • What is their voting record on progressive issues?
  • What is their stance on immigration?
  • Do they show up and champion to these issues?

Through discussion, questioning and answering, this list can be expanded. Using logic we should grade the politicos, and issue periodic Report Cards. The same should be done with President Barack Obama and the gaggle of Democratic Party elected officials.

Do we live in a democracy?  The United States’ health system ranks 39th and spends more on per capita than other nations. This is the result of subsidizing insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.

Millions are without health coverage. It ranked 7th in wages in 2010, and it was 12th in college affordability and losing ground. The United States along with three small third world nations is the only nation not mandating paid leave for mothers of new born infants. It is the only advanced country not requiring paid vacations for its workers. It is the only nation that does not mandate paid medical leave.

It spends more on war weapons, five times as much as China its closest competitor.  It incarcerates more of its citizens than any nation. Has more guns per capita, and leads the world in infant mortality. Finally, it leads the world in income inequality.

Yet there are those that say that it is the land of opportunity.

Socrates would have a field day asking, why and how? Is the culprit American individualism? Most European societies have free universal health care for their citizens. Many provide free higher education, and it is only those who follow the American model that are falling behind.

Like my family, the progressive nations are Communitarian societies that emphasize the importance of community and caring.  Its citizens realize that the function of political life is to analyze and evaluate political institutions, and care about the well-being of their fellow citizens. (To promote the general welfare in other words). And they realize that they have to restrict the powers of government and the greed of corporations.

So don’t blame it on the Greek for the growing inquality. Let’s blame ourselves for not caring, not acting like a family and not criticizing.

(Beware of making a weak person a martyr, criticism can do that!)

– by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Education, History, Identity, Resistance | Leave a comment

Los Muertos de Hambre: The War on Chicana/o Studies Unmasking the Illusion of Inclusion

Muertos de hambre is a derogatory phrase often used by Mexicans to refer to people who are predators, i.e., human vultures, vendidos. They are so starved for attention or recognition that they pounce on scraps of garbage discarded by their colonial masters.

The history of Chicana/o Studies is replete with examples of myths such as that they are failing because of a lack of enrollment. The truth is that they fail because they are denied a place on the Monopoly Board (General Education, electives and the like) that runs the university and rewards departments.

The CSUN Chicana/o Studies Department has a unique problem, it has been too successful. It offers 175 plus sections per semester, and campus wide departments are salivating at the prospect of picking off pieces of the program. The sad thing is that without the Mexican student population the university would be half its size.

The university is a plantation that is run by white overseers that are getting increasingly defensive about their illegitimacy. Take the College of Social and Behavioral Science. Like most colleges, it has avoided diversifying its faculty. Although there are approximately 12,000 Latinos on campus, out of 11 tenure track professors, Anthropology has 0 Mexican Americans; Geography (12-0); History (19-0); Pan African Studies (13-1); Political Science (17-2); Psychology (29-1); Social Work (16-0); Sociology 23-1); and Urban Studies & Planning (7-0).

Chicana/o Studies has challenged this inequity. It has confronted that there are few courses on the Mexican experience. In 1969, San Fernando State offered one course on Mexico that was taught by Dr. Julian Nava.

The professors, the overseers of the plantation, are nervous because the City of Los Angeles has changed, and over 50 percent are Latinos, 80 percent of whom are of Mexican extraction.

The white colonists are getting increasingly defensive about their privilege. Recently one of the departments discussed its hiring priorities. A Mexican American professor raised the racial disparity between the number of Mexican American students and its faculty. This evoked angry responses.

Faculty members said they were uncomfortable talking about race; that the department should not hire “unqualified” applicants; that they do not see color; that race has no bearing. Studies show that the race and class backgrounds of the professors determine the questions that students ask and research outcome.

Mexicans north from Mexico have always been under the illusion that the Mexican government and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) care about them and would protect their interests. They naively believed that they were part of the Mexican family.

This illusion was recently shattered by UNAM’s lack of respect for Mexican Americans at CSUN. It entered into an agreement to house a research center there. The project was clandestine.  Over the past year, David Maciel who has abandoned more programs than any academician I know started to bring in speakers from UNAM. Recently dismissed from UCLA, it was his way to wangle a part time position.

Maciel and the CSUN administration slapped CHS in the face, and did not inform it about the center until it was a done deal. The slight was outrageous. Chicana/o Studies has 90 percent of the Mexicanists and Latin Americanists on campus. For over 40 years, it has had premier cultural groups, and championed Mexican immigrants with or without papers.

A meeting was held on November 12th involving UNAM’s criollo elite administrators and the CSUN faculty. Basically, they told us that we could join or not join –take it or leave it. They avoided the question as to why they showed disrespect for Mexicans on campus. Their attitude was one of porque nos da la chingada gana. Clearly it is a matter of class, they consider the Mexican population of 36 million as pochos, and prefer catering to gringos. They avoid contact with Mexicans who are not of their social class.

As for the white faculty present, it was pathetic. Not one has been involved with Mexican immigrants. One said that he was interested in Mexico because his wife had taken a class at UNAM. A Central American professor whose specialty is literature (a post-modernist) said she was a Mexicanist because Central Americans passed through Mexico en route to the U.S.

It is evident that these muertos de hambre saw only the color green. Frantz Fanon makes it clear that colonization is possible only with the complicity of members of the colonized.

In this case, it was two Central American Studies professors — Douglas Carranza and Beatriz Cortez who are angry because I mentioned the role students and professors in the founding of CAS.

However, the colonizers and their collaborators have an obsession to rewrite history and mask their privilege. For the record, the CAS founders included Alberto García, a half dozen Central American women students, and Roberto Lovato who along with CAUSA and Dr. Carlos Cordova of San Francisco State developed the curriculum.

Additionally, Lovato and the students pressed the California legislature for funding to establish a Central American Studies Center. Cortez and Carranza came in well after the fact. Again part of being collaborators is the rewriting of history, and to create a counter narrative to establish legitimacy.

Los muertos de hambre are delusional, and somehow they have come to believe that CHS is taking courses from them. They also want to divert attention away from the fact that after a dozen years it still has only two professors, having bullied every Central American candidate out of the department.

These muertos de hambre have invented their own reality, wanting to erase the fact that CHS gave them four positions to start CAS.

We are also at odds with the Provost who says that we are obstructionists for not joining the process, which invitation came only after it was a done deal. His attitude is much that of the UNAM representatives.

If you allow someone to take your dignity from you, you are reduced to a serf. Thus, you cannot allow the colonizers to distort reality and erase you. As for the collaborators they must change history so as not to be seen as collaborators and opportunists.

As our Latino student population mushrooms, the resistance to Mexican American hires will increase. Life for los muertos de hambre will become more profitable as white professors will enter into alliances with them to limit the number of minority faculty. The subversion of Chicana/o Studies will be possible only with the support of collaborators.

I have always respected and considered Central Americans to be family. However, I realize like Mexicans they also have muertos de hambre among them.

As political people we must respect the tensions within our countries of origin, i.e., teacher strikes, Zapatista-like movements, Mexico’s violation of Article 27 of the Constitution, and the giving away of Mexico’s land and resources.

What hurts is that my illusions of jointly building a unity of progressives of the two Middle Americas have been shattered, although hope remains.

The fact is the Mexican government and UNAM have never had an interest in our community. They have not cared about Mexican immigrants whose rights Chicana/o organizations championed.

Los muertos de hambre only see us as a piggy bank. Even with the bad economy we send $22 billion annually to the homeland.

Dr, Ernesto Galarza in Spiders in the House and Workers in the Field (1970) wrote that it was in error to assume Mexicans did not organize – they did but they were subverted by the spiders in the house and los  muertos de hambre.

Addendum: The College of Humanities is held up as the ideal in affirmative action by the administration. These stats are for tenure track appointments.

Asian American Studies Department,          7 fulltime        0   Mexican Americans

Chicana/o Studies Department                     23                    21 Mexican Americans

English Department                                       35                    3   Mexican Americans

Gender and Women’s Studies Department 6                      1   Mexican Americans (Joint)

Linguistics Department                                 3                     0   Mexican Americans

Modern and Classical Languages and

Literatures Department (Spanish Section)  11                    1   Mexican American

Philosophy Department                                 12                    0   Mexican Americans

Religious Studies Department                      9                      0   Mexican Americans

by Rodolfo F. Acuña


Cultural Sovereignty 

Posted in Central American Studies, Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, CSUN, Cultural Studies, Education, History, Identity, Mexico, Racism, Resistance, Sin Fronteras | Leave a comment

Justice for Carlos Oliva!

Justice for Carlos Oliva!

Justice for Carlos Oliva!



















23 year old Carlos Oliva was killed by L.A. Sheriffs while unarmed Sept. 10th.  Carlos was a college student doing nothing wrong.

The Sheriff’s Department and L.A. County are refusing to release the autopsy to the family!  The Oliva family will hold a demonstration today at 10am at the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station, 5019 E. Third St. East Los Angeles, CA 90022, to demand the release of the autopsy results, and Justice for Carlos Oliva!  Basta Ya!  Community Control Over the Sheriffs and Police!

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Education, Identity, Racism, Resistance | Leave a comment

MEChA de CSULA Presents The Harvest (11/13/13)

The Harvest (La Cosecha)

The Harvest (La Cosecha)












MEChA de CSULA invites you to a screening of The Harvest (La Cosecha) on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 6pm in the U-SU Theatre. The film will follow with a Q&A panel discussion with undocumented students will share their stories of struggles and agency.

At a time when Chicanas/os-Mexicanas/os and Central Americans continue to be targeted by racist and sexist raids and deportations by the US Government, students and their families demand an end to raids, deportations, and In(Secure) Communities that divide families. FULL LEGALIZATION FOR OUR PEOPLE.

What: The Harvest

When: November 13, 2013 at 6pm

Where U-SU Theatre at California State University, Los Angeles (5151 State University 90032)



cultural sovereignty 


Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Community, Cultural Studies, Documentary, Education, Film, History, Immigration, La Frontera, MEChA, Resistance, Sin Fronteras | Leave a comment

El Día de Los Muertos And Halloween Quo Vadis?

Mexicans, more than most races, seem preoccupied with death.  Since colonial times Mexican laborers have continuously been uprooted, travelling thousands of miles from the interior of Mexico forging an El Camino Real to to mining camps and plantations in northern Mexico. They arrived in places like Zacatecas where they fanned out, forging spider web corridors in form of roads.

These workers felt vulnerable. They missed home, and most knew that they would never see their homes or families again.

La Cancion Mixteca written in 1912 in Mexico City by José López Alavez, a Oaxacan composer, speaks to feelings of homesickness for Oaxaca. The song was later taken north to places such as Chicago where it became a favorite of Mexican migrants in the United States.

How far I am from the land where I was born!

Immense nostalgia invades my thoughts;

And seeing myself so lonely and sad like a leaf in the wind,

I want to cry, I want to die from this feeling.

Oh Land of the Sun! I yearn to see you!


¡Qué lejos estoy del suelo donde he nacido!

inmensa nostalgia invade mi pensamiento;

y al verme tan solo y triste cual hoja al viento,

quisiera llorar, quisiera morir de sentimiento.

¡Oh Tierra del Sol! Suspiro por verte

ahora que lejos yo vivo sin luz, sin amor;

y al verme tan solo y triste cual hoja al viento,

quisiera llorar, quisiera morir de sentimiento

In studying the history of Arizona miners I found it was common among these laborers to form mutualistas (Mutual Aid societies). Mineros wanted to care for their families in case they died before seeing the land of the sun. It was an insurance collective that would bury the member on a plot of land, and mark the grave with a cross.

Travelling around the Southwest today, you see crosses on the side of roads with flowers and photos of young children and adults who were killed by a motorist. Often their families don’t have the funds to bury them. The practice of building makeshift altars is also spreading to urban spaces where it is being adopted by other ethnic and racial groups.

I often think of death not because I believe in an afterlife but because I want to remember and to be remembered much like I remember my parents and my grandparents.  My own personal belief about death is expressed in George Carlin’s routine on death. Carlin says when you are dead, you are dead, you are not departed, you are not resting, you are dead. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PiZSFIVFiU. There is no heaven, there is no hell, you have not lost your love ones, and they are dead.

The truth be told, your love ones will live for as long as you remember them.  On the 31st of October the yearly festivities begin for Americans with a round of commemorative days of All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, and the Day of the Dead. Mexicans and Latinos will memorialize their dead on these days differently than their neighbors.

As a kid these religious days meant that we got a religious holiday. At least for me, the days had very little meaning. Halloween fell on the 31st of October, a day that we went trick or treating, accumulating mounds of candy that surely contributed to our tooth decays and diabetes.

Every year Halloween seems to have less and less meaning for most Americans; its only function is to feed their superstitions and multiply candy and costume sales.

On this day, death is portrayed by witches, black cats, and omens, with young and old alike going to haunted houses. Americans enjoy being scared. It epitomizes a fear of death – a sort of Friday the 13thhttp://www.halloweenhistory.org/  http://www.livescience.com/40596-history-of-halloween.html

On Halloween death is often portrayed as black. There seems to be no rhyme or reason other than to have fun.  Mexicans and other Latinos join in on the fun; they get free candy and get to dress up like Casper the friendly ghost. Some white Americans try to be funny and dress like Mexicans.

The closest thing to a Mexican version of Halloween is the horror story about El Cucuy that is told children to keep them in line.  It is the Mexican version of the boogeyman that is in search of victims. Significantly, the Cucuy is a Spanish invention, originating in Portugal and Galicia and transported to the Americas.

El Día de los Muertos is more profound. In places like Los Angeles, San Antonio and Chicago, it is a day of remembrance. As the Mexican population increases, it is spreading and infiltrating the popular culture.  Unlike Halloween, it has little to do with “me.”

During El Día de los Muertos we design altars and adorn them with pictures of loved ones, their favorite foods, and other items. Their favorite music is played.

The Day resembles Sunday at a cemetery where entire Mexican families show up and visit their dead, clean the gravestones of their parents and loved ones, and visit them. They may be dead but they are remembered.

I don’t want to go into a historical narrative about El Día de los Muertos, only that it is millenniums old. With Mexicans, it is rooted in their indigenous past, and it was later appropriated by Spanish Catholicism.

The celebration goes beyond trick or treating, scaring the hell out of someone or the cruel incidents of killing a black cat. As Carlin said, when you are dead, you are dead.

The truth be told, I am writing a book about these themes. If I ever finish it, I will call it “My Journey out of Purgatory.” Although the Catholic Church no longer believes in purgatory, it is my most vivid memory of my childhood – the thought of burning for eternity because you were not remembered and prayed; it scared me.

Today I write books and articles because I want to be remembered. I don’t want to die without leaving my footprints, giving testimony to my existence and reminding people that I was here.

As I have stated, I am not religious but that does not mean that I do not remember. When I went to Nogales, I visited my maternal grandparents’ grave. I was overcome by nostalgia. I remembered getting shoved out of the first grade in public school and being put into a mentally retarded class.

My parents pulled me out of public school and sent me to live with my grandparents who would walk me to a Catholic School three miles from the house. My mother was legally blind and sick – but I could not understand why I was sent away from home through no fault of my own – I felt that I was bad because I could not speak English.

My grandparents made me feel at home and wanted unlike my uncle who was just plain mean. I also remember him because I do not want to be like him. I know that they are dead, but I also know that they will live for as long as I remember them –for a moment in seeing the grave I forgot, and was overcome with grief.

What my greatest fear is that El Día de los Muertos is growing so popular at least in the Southwest and other places where Mexicans live that it will be commoditized. This Friday and into the weekend there will be numerous festivities at colleges, schools and public places such as Olvera Street. http://vimeo.com/58809527. El Día goes beyond the land of the sun and nostalgia; people are seeking to profit from it; something that will make it meaningless.

Touring the various altars I will remember colleagues such as Roberto Sifuentes, Shirlene Soto, and Lorenzo Flores as well as students such as Teri Orozco, Martin Cano and Mario Muñiz who are alive because we remember them.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCQnUuq-TEEhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_the_Dead

Will El Día de los Muertos become another Halloween or another Cinco de Mayo where people celebrate it without really remembering? The American capitalist culture is rapidly coopting lo mexicano. Will it suffer the fate of the Cinco de Mayo that has become one big happy hour with local strip joints selling Cinco de Mayo margaritas?

El Día los Muertos belongs to us and our memories, let’s see how long it takes for it to be franchised by Disney.

– by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Cultural Studies, Education, History, Identity, Mexica, Mexico, Resistance | Leave a comment

Obsidian Blades: Decolonizing Poetry for the Liberation of Indigenous Women in Occupied Amerikkka

Obsidian Blades: Decolonizing Poetry for the Liberation of Indigenous Women in Occupied Amerikkka

Obsidian Blades: Decolonizing Poetry for the Liberation of Indigenous Women in Occupied Amerikkka

This is a compilation of poems that I have written over the last decade. As a teenager I was given the honor to become part of the Mexica Movement and to begin my decolonization process. With each lesson learned and book read, I began to see myself as an Indigenous woman. No longer did I wish for an identity of false pride or self-hate. I began to know who I was and I began to understand the system of white supremacy. I offer you these poems with love and a hope that you too will understand this hidden history. These are my poetic expressions of the decolonization process of an Indigenous woman who represents Native American, Mexican, Central American, and South American experience as Indigenous people under European occupation. I am a Nican Tlaca woman. These poems are my obsidian blades meant to rip through and destroy the matrix of white supremacy racism. I want to help denounce the colonialist crimes against our people for the last 521 years. We are not hispanic or latinos. We are neither a new race or a cosmic race. We are an ancient people trapped in the colonialist paradigm of power and justice. I will not allow myself to be used for colonial agendas. This is a glimpse into the mind of someone who is seeking to decolonize herself while at the same time using all of the tools to destroy white supremacy and to help liberate our people. Colonialism has never ended on this continent. We are the survivors of the world’s largest genocide yet we have no clue. Poetry has allowed me to express centuries of injustice and it has become my war cry for decolonization.We must wake up from this matrix of white supremacy and begin to cleanse ourselves from the claws of Euro-centric ideologies.
I welcome you into my ongoing journey of decolonization.


– by Citlalli Citlalmina Anahuac

Posted in Biography, Boyle Heights, Chicana/o, Chicana/o Literature, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Community, Education, Gender Studies, Identity, Mexica, Palabra, Poetry, Prose, Resistance | Leave a comment

Identity Crisis: An Arrested Development

The debate as to what to name Chicana/o Studies will have future repercussions. The proposals are not new; they are not innovative; and they are symptomatic of the historical struggle of Mexican origin people in the United States to identify themselves.

The problem is that the group has grown so large and the stakes so high that the consequences will hurt everyone. Unfortunately, the level of the discourse lacks logic, and it prolongs a resolution to the identity crisis of Mexican Americans.

Admittedly, Latinos have a lot in common, but we also have a lot of differences, e.g., in social class, population size, where we live, and our history to name a few dissimilarities. These differences strew the landscape with landmines especially for those who already believe that all Latinas/os look alike. It makes it easier for them to lump us into one generic brand.

The constant name changes are wrongheaded and ahistorical. Identity takes a long time to form, e.g., it took Mexico over two hundred years to get over their regional differences and become Mexicans. If you would have asked my mother what she was, she would have answered, “Sonorense,” my father would have said “tapatio.”

Today, the children of immigrants usually identify with their parents’ country of origin. Some, depending on where they live, will say Hispanic or Latino, despite the fact that there is no such thing as a Hispanic or Latino nationality.

The result is an arrested development that carries over into the popular media where it is not uncommon to see an Argentinian playing a Mexican on the screen with an Argentinian accent. To movie directors, all Latinos look and sound alike.

Chicana/o Studies is supposed to be staffed by intellectuals, and you would think that they would bring about a resolution. However, I have been disappointed by the inconsistencies in their epistemological stances. Instead, they follow the latest fad or what is convenient for them. The result is that they confuse students and the public, thus creating an identity crisis that arrests the development of the disparate Latino sub-groups.

Some self-described sages, a minority I hope, even want to change the names of the few Chicana/o Studies departments that have survived the wars in academe to Chicana/o-Latino or vice versa. The pretexts are: it is a progressive move; it promotes unity; and it is strategically the right move — it makes us Number 1.

Even on my own campus where Chicana/o Studies offers over 172 sections per semester, a minority of Chicana/faculty members want to change the department’s name. They believe this change will enable them to teach courses on Latin America and thus increase their individual prestige.

Having worked in academe for nearly fifty years, this is a naïve! In the past, we tried to establish an interdisciplinary program but we were torpedoed by the Spanish Department. In academe, you don’t just wish changes. They are the result of political confrontation and negotiation.

It is beyond me how some Chicana/o Studies faculty members can be so naïve. Do they think that the history, political science or Spanish departments will roll over and concede CHS the right to teach classes that they think belong to them? Do they think that these departments are so stupid that they will stand by and let us to take student enrollment away from them?

What is to be gained by creating a pseudo identity?

You would think that Chicana/o professors would have developed a sense of what a discipline is. Chicana/o studies were developed as pedagogy; their mission is to motivate and teach students’ skills. CHS were not created to give employment opportunities for Chicana/o professors or to create a safe haven for them to be tenured.

The reality is that most Latino programs are clustered east of Chicago whereas most programs west of the Windy City are called Chicana/o Studies. As of late, however, there has been a breakdown, and CHS programs out west have begun to change their names to a hybrid Latino-Chicana/o studies model.

Tellingly, although the Mexican origin population is rapidly spreading east of Chicago, there is no reciprocal trend to change the names of programs to include Chicana/o or Mexican American.

What is the message for Mexican Americans?

As a kid, many of my acquaintances preferred calling themselves Latin American. Unlike hot jalapeños Latino did not offend the sensitive taste buds of gringos.

What it boils down to is opportunism and an arrested development. These frequent changes have led to a collective identity crisis as well as short circuiting the community’s historical memory.

The best data on Mexican Americans and Latinos comes from the Pew Research Center. It informs us that 71 percent of all Latinos live in 100 counties. Half (52 percent) of these counties are in three states—California, Texas and Florida. Along with Arizona, New Mexico, New York, New Jersey and Illinois they house three-quarters of the nation’s Latino population.

Los Angeles County alone has 4.9 million Latinos or 9 percent of the Latino population nationally. In LA-Long Beach Mexican Americans make up 78 percent of the Latino population followed by Salvadorans who are 8 percent. In NY-Northeastern NJ Mexicans are only 12 percent, the rest are Latin Americans. Understandably, in NY-New Jersey there is no movement to change to Latino-Mexican American studies whereas in LA many programs have changed the name of Chicana/o Studies.

The Mexican share of the Latino population in California is 83 percent; Texas 88 percent; Illinois 80 percent; Arizona 91 percent; Colorado 78 percent; Georgia 61 percent; and in racially confused New Mexico, Mexicans are 63 percent of Latinos.

In metropolitan areas like Los Angeles Mexicans are 78 percent of Latinos; Houston 78 percent; Riverside 88 percent; Chicago 79 percent; Dallas 85 percent; Phoenix 91 percent; San Francisco 70 percent; San Antonio 90 percent. Eight of the ten largest Latino cities are overwhelmingly of Mexican origin.

For me, it does not take an advanced degree in mathematics to figure out what the name of the programs should be in the eight states. Still there are Chicana/o geniuses that want to change the name of the programs.

At California State Northridge the solution appeared simple in the 1990s. It made sense to support Central American students and create a Central American program. They make up 12/14 percent of LA’s Latino population, and changing the name to Chicana/o –Latino would not have solved anything.

What purpose would it have served if 98 percent of the courses and faculty remained Mexican? Central Americans wanted ownership of a new program catering specifically to their needs and their identity.

This schizophrenic behavior of the name changers has worsened the existing identity crisis; it has resulted in an erasure of history. You can bet that there will political fallout in the future. Words and history have meanings.

For example, Steve Montenegro, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio did not just happen.

Arizona state representative Steve Montenegro is from a reactionary Salvadoran family. Since his election in 2008, he has supported the racist SB 1070. Montenegro, supported by the Tea Party, is not vetted by the Mexican community that comprises over 90 percent of Phoenix’s Latino population.

In Texas Cuban-American Senator Ted Cruz got enough Mexican American votes to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Both Montenegro and Cruz are anti-immigrant. They see immigration as a Mexican issue.

Cuban-American Marco Rubio also advertises that he is a “Hispanic”. He has been active on immigration, but he is pushing a reactionary bill and like his other musketeers is a Tea Party darling.

Ernesto Galarza used to say that a people without a historical memory are easier manipulated, and they lose the ability to defend their communities. The only power poor people have to check the universities and elected officials is the power of numbers.

History gives order and purpose to our lives” Identity whether it is working class or communal clarifies that purpose. Inchoate changes in identity are infantile and are not helping rather they are arresting our development.

– by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, CSUN, Cultural Studies, Education, History, Identity, Racism, Resistance | Leave a comment

The Devil Made Me Do It: American Exceptionalism Revisited

After my blog on American Exceptionalism, I was interviewed by RT News (Russia Talks) — an international multilingual television network funded by the Russian government. Its TV programming appears in more than a hundred nations, and the news coverage is quite good. I often find items on Latinos not covered by popular American outlets.

However, I was also disappointed; it was obvious that the interviewers knew little about the historical context of American exceptionalism – a phenomenon that is very familiar to U.S. minorities who know it as racism, nativism, Manifest Destiny and Eurocentricism.

To be fair the interviewers only had ten minutes.  A serious discussion would have included Europe and Russia. While I agreed with Vladimir Putin’s criticism of Barack Obama’s misuse of the phrase American exceptionalism, I disagree on many of his policies.

Germane to what is American exceptionalism is a definition of history. My generation of historians vigorously debated whether history was part of the humanities or social sciences. At first, I had no preference; however, I was quickly put off by how many American historians played with the truth and cherry picked documents to validate their story.

A good example of this cherry picking is Texas historian Walter Prescott Webb, a past president of the American Historical Association, who wrote in The Texas Rangers,

Without disparagement it may be said that there is a cruel streak in the Mexican nature, or so the history of Texas would lead one to believe. This cruelty may be a heritage from the Spanish of the Inquisition; it may, and doubtless should, be attributed partly to the Indian blood.

Another example is Frederick Jackson Turner who in 1893 wrote in “The Frontier Thesis” that American democracy was formed by the American Frontier.  “The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward explain American development.” Turner disregarded the genocide of the Indians, and how Americans got the “free land”.

American exceptionalism is rooted in Western Thought. Read: Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. The Disuniting of America (1992) that deals with the fight for the primacy of teaching Western Civilization in our schools. Indeed, at the university level scholars debate whether World History should be substituted for Western Civilization as requirement knowledge.

American exceptionalism is rooted in the Old Testament’s belief in  predestination — a notion that was tempered by that New Testament and the principle of a free will. However, the preaching of John Calvin brought back the idea of a chosen people of God, which in turn the Puritans took to the colonies.

The term Manifest Destiny was promoted by John O’Sullivan in 1839, and it became a justification for the invasion of Mexico in 1846, and American imperialism following 1898.

I was spared this Eurocentricism of historians because for most of my career I was not housed in history departments — the citadels of American conservatism. The struggle to establish Chicana/o Studies confirmed the need for history to be part of the social sciences; the need for a scientific method to break Disney’s sway over U.S. history.

Even so, I was not entirely shielded. When I was recommended for an appointment in Chicana/o Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara, I was forced to successfully sue for discrimination.  A campus wide personnel committee composed of white full professors, epitomized American exceptionalism.

This impartial committee was dominated by a CIA agent, a linguist named Wallace Chafe who denied that Norm Chomsky was a linguist; a historian Robert Kelley who called me a liar because I wrote in Occupied America that the United States invaded Mexico; and, another historian Jeffrey Burton Russell, the chair of the committee who thought I was the devil.

Russell authored five volumes titled The Devil (1977), Satan (1981), Lucifer (1984), Mephistopheles (1986) and The Prince of Darkness (1988). The books are interesting, even enjoyable (they make me laugh) but they are not history. Large portions are based on faith. They lack the rigor of Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels, and Russell’s books qualify more as literature than history. As one critic put it, Russell’s writings had the depth of a movie trailer.

Leonard Minsky, a former English professor at Simon Fraser University, and adviser on my case, after reading Russell’s deposition remarked, “he has demonized you. He thinks you are the devil.” Indeed, during his deposition Russell testified that I was a Marxist because I used words like “hegemony.”

Russell is not the American exception. Witness Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In an interview Scalia volunteered, “I even believe in the Devil…Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that…If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.”

Even so Scalia has the reputation of being a legal scholar. However, a close examination reveals that he does not know the difference between right and wrong. When told that million-dollar checks were flowing to congressional campaigns, Scalia responded, “I don’t think $3.5 million is a heck of a lot of money …billions are spent on national campaigns”. Maybe not, Scalia is a regular recipient of corporate honorariums, something that violates the Court’s code of ethics.

Scalia narrowness is the result of epistemological flaws. By his own admission he avoids the Washington Post and New York Times because they are “so shrilly, shrilly liberal,” he gets his news primarily from conservative talk radio.

Both Russell and Scalia are Catholics — Russell is a convert. They ignore that the Church’s views on the devil are evolving just as its views on matters such as divorce.  Moreover, not all Christian sects have the same take. Anglicans, for example, question the literal existence of the devil, and depictions such as the Satan having horns and a goat’s hindquarters and a tail are inventions of the imagination. Bottom-line is that much of the popular lore on the devil is not biblical.

My fear is that the discussion about the devil is purposely diverting attention away from needed Church reforms. Disturbingly Pope Francis has referenced the devil and spiritual warfare.  As the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he said “At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts. Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan.”

Dating back to 1811, liberalism has been depicted as the anti-Christ, representing demonic forces devised to destroy the Church. In the 19th century, the devil was blamed for the separation of Church and State, and more recently the devil has been blamed for the pedophile scandals, gay marriage and other reforms.

It seems to me that in order to solve society’s problems, we have to go beyond Flip Wilson’s line that “The Devil Made Me Do It.” Belief does not make us exceptional, our good works do, and there can be no dialogue as long as we think we are exceptional and consider those who do not agree with us to be part of an Evil Empire or agents of the devil.

– by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Cultural Studies, Education, History, Identity, Racism, Resistance | Leave a comment

Lessons from the Working Class: “When the Moment Comes”

“The consciousness of a worker is not a curve that rises and falls with wages and prices; it is the accumulation of a lifetime of experience and socialization, inherited traditions, struggles successful and defeated . . . It is this weighty baggage that goes into the making of a worker’s consciousness and provides the basis for his behavior when conditions ripen . . . and the moment comes.”– E. P. Thompson

In talking about the working class as of late I feel like Solomon “Sol” Roth in the futuristic movie, Soylent Green (1973): “There was a world, once, you punk.” Det. Thorn: “Yes, so you keep telling me.” Sol: “I was there. I can prove it.” Det. Thorn: “I know, I know. When you were young, people were better.” Sol: “Aw, nuts. People were always rotten. But the world ‘was’ beautiful.”

History is about feelings, and in order to understand it, you have to understand people. British historian E.P. Thompson had a love affair with the working class (not classes); he believed it was the motivating force behind most economic and social progress. Thompson could have easily been Sol except for the fact that his love affair was with the English working class.

In my case, I try not to romanticize the working class; at the same time, I consider many workers my teachers. I was very fortunate in the 1980s to have been part of the Keep GM Van Nuys Open campaign.

I will never forget an auto worker who told me that the thing that he would miss most if the plant shutdown was the feeling that he got after his shift was done and thousands of workers would pour into the parking lot. He felt overwhelmed, he was powerful, and he had a union.

During the GM struggle, I attended many meetings where I mostly listened. At one meeting at the International Association of Machinists Union Hall in Burbank, I sat next to my friend, Eloy Salazar, who was a member of the Machinists. He was proud of his hall and how Mexican Americans had played a leading role in the union. After the meeting he asked me, “Rudy, you got a minute?
I want to show you something.”

We went out into the lot where his new car was parked. It was a Cadillac, which he pointed out was an American made car, white with white leather seats. It kind of took me aback because in my world of so-called “cultural” workers there would have been instant criticism such “bourgie”. I reflected how Eloy who had worked hard as a machinist was proud of the product of his labor, and how in contrast I was apologetic for my Ray-Ban sunglasses. My world was one of theory; Eloy’s was one of the praxis.

My research put me into contact with labor leaders. Exploring the Great San Joaquin Valley Cotton Strike of 1933, the name that kept popping up was that of Pat Chambers, the lead organizer for the strike. Pat had done oral interviews for the Bancroft Library, but if he was alive I wanted to see him.  It was forty years after the fact so I sent out numerous emails.

One day he showed up at the Cal State Northridge campus and asked for me. When I heard he was there I was excited. Pat was a short man, 5” 6”, rotund and balding. He apologized for taking so long but he had to check me out, and it was important to him that I was an activist. In the next several years he would just show up, and was clearly emotional to see so many Chicanas/os in college.

Chambers was a pseudonym; he was a communist who at the time were hounded. Pat did not like the party leadership, saying that they caused too many problems and cost resources to hide them. It was clear that he was not an ideologue; he got into the party because he admired the Wobblies.

The strike involved 18,000 cotton pickers and their families; 80 percent were Mexicans.  It was a violent strike that saw three Mexican workers assassinated on picket lines at Pixley and Arvin. He described the Mexican women as the warriors who picketed and kept worker camps such as the one at Corcoran operating. The growers in collusion with the American Farm Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce kept the sheriffs and the elected officials pro-grower. To break the strike county and state officials denied workers relief and pressured the women to go back to work. Growers purposely starved at least nine infants to death.

There were few organizers other than Chambers and 4’ 8” Caroline Decker who was in her late teens or early 20s. Caroline was from a middle-class Jewish family; she dropped out of school to help organize oppressed workers. She was a communist because she was anti-fascist, and the Party was the only organization doing something about it, according to her. Years later when interviewing strikers, they would ask about Caroline Decker.

The strike drew celebrities such as Ella Winters and Langston Hughes. John Steinbeck interviewed Chambers and others about the bitter Taugus Ranch and the Cotton strike. Steinbeck modeled the protagonist after Pat.

Yet although the overwhelming majority of the strikers were Mexican and a minority black, Steinbeck decided much as in The Grapes of Wrath to whiten the characters and make them White Oklahomans because he did not believe that his readers would be sympathetic to Mexicans or blacks.

In 1934-5, the growers and their minions finally broke the union. Chambers and Decker among others were charged and tried for Criminal Syndicalism: “Any doctrine or precept advocating, teaching, or aiding and abetting the commission of crime, sabotage or unlawful acts of force and violence or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing a change in industrial ownership or control, or effecting any political change.”

Chambers and Decker along with other union organizers were convicted. Chambers spent two years in San Quentin, and Decker two at Tehachapi Women’s Prison before the convictions were reversed on appeal.

After this point Chambers dropped out of the Party and he went to work as a laborer. His last years were in the Local 51, San Pedro, California, of the International Pile Drivers Union.

Pat thought he had been forgotten. He was excited about the gains made by the farmworkers under César Chávez. In summer 1971, as Marc Grossman, a Chávez aide, tells it, Chambers went to the UFW’s headquarters just outside Delano. Chávez’s secretary informed Chávez that “an old guy” was in the lobby, asking to speak to someone about times past, Chávez answered, “I’m busy, have him talk to one of the organizers.”

About three hours later the secretary said the old man hadn’t left. “What’s his name?” Chávez asked. “Pat Chambers.” Chávez’s face lit up. Chambers, Chavez, and the UFW driver spent the rest of the afternoon driving around Delano.

Chambers had avoided visiting Delano during the five-year grape strike out of fear Chávez would be redbaited because of CAWIU’s Communist ties.

The Moment had arrived for workers in the 1930s. This was especially true of Mexican women who produced outstanding leaders such as Emma Tenayuca who I met at an activist reunion in San Antonio in 1989. At the age of 16, she began organizing workers. Emma was the lead organizer in the San Antonio Pecan Shellers’ Strike.  Jailed and hounded, “when conditions ripen . . . and the moment” came she rose to the occasion, and we learned from her “struggles successful and defeated . . .” form our consciousness.

– by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Cultural Studies, Education, History, Identity, Labor Studies, Racism, Resistance | Leave a comment

Al Rato Vato

Al Rato Vato
(Para Jose Montoya)

Al Rato Vato, Aye Te Wacho, Aye Te Veo, en el campo, y en el barrio, en la pinta y en la escuela, sembrando tu poesía, todavía, de la lucha y alegría, de Pais pintado en lodo, tu que vistes asi al cielo, eso es y siempre ha sido, la canción de tu camino, es divino tu destino, siempre fue y siempre ha sido…. Aye Te Wacho.
You, formed in between the furrows of your verse, they so sweet and raw and beautiful, they too live so true and real, on the paper of the mind, in the chapters of our hearts from where the truth starts and departs.
Tu, who flew, with a black eagle against a red cyclorama, on a trapo, in the wind, with your Canto entre la Huelga, entre classrooms de estudiantes cual abristes su camino, con tus pasos caminados, enterados, rompiendo todo lo que tenían que desacer,
abriendo surcos, para revivir otra vez, to live again. Aye Te Veo.

Fijate, al Vato Loco, con-“Tando”-su-pañuelo, de Pachuco, esta- Liza la Camisa, planchados-Pantalones y sus Calcos bien shine-ados, encantados y organizados, vigilante poema de symbolos weaving words with wind, they’re flying, as far as the eye can see, as near as the ear can hear, as long, as the road is long. Al rato..

From the yellow shores of Korea, to the brown pista of some pueblito, el Gran Sol illuminando la carreta de las vidas, revividas, de quien fue y siempre ha sido
de tu ritmo y tu canción,
que hiciste Maestro, gracias, con todita tu passion. Aye Te Wacho.

Aye Te Veo, entre un Ghuamucil, o Angelino, es Norteno, o Sureno, NM, es de campo o cuidad, es igual como oímos, cuando te vimos….
alli leyendo, escribiendo, drawing the strumming of the Lira, singing
your gilded song in poetic meter, entre millas y millares, por kilometros pesados
everyday, until forever, now and then, until forever, es decir, al fin del tiempo, hasta la Mistierosa
Al rato Vato, Aye Te Wacho, Aye Te Veo, cruzando ese, Humoso, Viejo y Hermoso,

Jaime Gomez Montoya 10-5-13

Posted in Chicana/o Literature, Palabra, Poetry, Prose | Leave a comment

El Día La Raza: What happened to the Indigenous Race?

Cristobal Colón cartoon by Sergio Hernández

Cristobal Colón cartoon by Sergio Hernández

When César Chávez was asked what he thought about the term la raza, he answered the question with a question, asking, what was wrong with the indigenous race?

The word raza was popularized by José Vasconselos who in 1925 wrote an essay titled “La Raza Cósmica” (The Cosmic Race). Vasconcelos was an intellectual and intellectuals at the time took it to mean that Latin American was comprised of races from all over the world, and that the mixture had produced a new people who would transcend the “old world”.

But, as in the case of all words, meanings are distorted when they are not defined or put into context. In the case of la raza, it was given a bad name by some Latin Americans and Spaniards who wanted to play down the animosity of many Latin Americans toward Spain and the conquest. These leaders took to celebrating Columbus Day, October 12, as the day of the “discovery” of the Americas and the mixing of the races that included Spaniards.

Without any context, El Día de la Raza validates and accepts the argument that the indigenous peoples were fortunate to have been “discovered”, and receiving the blessing of Jesus Christ. Moreover, they argued the Indian benefitted from Spanish culture.  But, history is about the truth, and the celebration of a manufactured holiday doesn’t make it so.

It is offensive to mark Columbus Day as a federal holiday. It is also offensive when classroom teachers try to impress their students with stories of the Nina, Pinta and the Santa María.

Some cities will even hold Columbus Day parades with Italians, Jews and Spaniards fighting for a piece of Columbus. For some of us, it is as offensive as celebrating Hitler’s birthday, which as far as I know, no sane group in the United States wants to claim.

Debunking the Columbus Myth is difficult because it has become legend, and it is part of our shared memory. Moreover, people want to believe it. They want the holiday, and the manufactured truth that makes Columbus an American hero. It is part of a Eurocentric worldview that reinforces feelings of American and European exceptionalism.

The truth be told, Columbus was not a great man. In his early career, he was conversant with the African slave trade of the Mediterranean and Atlantic Islands off the shores of Spain and North Africa that made huge profits. Columbus took these memories and their lessons with him to the Caribbean.

His voyages were for profit ventures; by contract he was entitled to 10 percent of the profits. Upon first encountering the indigenous peoples, Columbus wrote in his journal on October 12, 1492: “They should be good servants …. I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses.” When he arrived in Spain, the natives were paraded through the streets of Barcelona and Seville.

On his second voyage, Columbus sent back Indians to be sold as slaves. In 1493 Columbus wrote to the Spanish Crowns: “”their Highnesses may see that I shall give them as much gold as they need …. and slaves as many as they shall order to be shipped.” Indeed, hundreds of Indians were shipped during Columbus’ voyages, and in 1505 Columbus’ son Diego became an African slave trader.

Quoting from Whitney DeWitt, “The Indians that were not exported were put into slavery on the island. There was literally no way to escape some form of enslavement. Columbus would let the settlers of his establishment choose whomever they wanted for their own. One account claims that each settler had slaves to work for them, dogs to hunt for them, and beautiful women to warm their beds. This degradation of an entire group of people seemed not to bother Columbus or the Spaniards in any way. They appeared to consider it their right as superiors.”

The devastation was horrific. In 1492, the population on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) was estimated at above 3 million. Within 20 years it was reduced to only 60,000, and within 50 years, not a single original native inhabitant was left.

This opened the door for the African slave trade. The great majority of African slaves went to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and Brazil. It is estimated that 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World, with about 10.7 million surviving the voyages. About 600,000 slaves were imported into the U.S., and at least 200,000 African slaves were imported to Mexico, which is significant considering that by the 17th century, the population of New Spain  once 25/28 million, dropped to less than a million natives, and no more than 250,000 Spaniards migrated to what is now Mexico during the entire colonial period.

African slaves did not compromise the major source of forced labor in New Spain; the Indians were also made slaves and performed most of the forced labor in the fields, mines and other projects.

Columbus set in place a system based on race that was expanded in New Spain (Mexico), perpetuating a caste system based on color. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYyc6Po1XhI . The rule of thumb was the more Spanish blood or the more Spanish a person looked the more privileges he or she had.

The truth be told, Mexicans are still suffering the devastation and the racism caused by Columbus. The legacy of Columbus’ “discovery” can today be seen in the streets of Mexico City where little children sell gum for handouts, and poverty is almost solely represented by los de abajo of the castas.

Anyone who has any sense of justice or history knows that the ancestors of these children built great civilizations with cities larger than those of contemporary Europe. They had books that the sons of Columbus destroyed; they had an advanced mathematical system, calendars, architecture, agriculture, and a defined cosmology. They were destroyed by the children of Columbus, who reduced the natives to selling gum.

Celebrating El Día de la Raza is not an innocuous act. Holidays are important in forming approved memories. Identity is formed by culture that in turn shapes our behavior, beliefs and cultural narratives. Holidays are part of our memory and form our narratives.  Popular events such as holidays are sanctioned by society, and they act as a form of social control that help maintain a social order and a popular consensus. It is in this context that terms such as el día de la raza are important because they avoid the need for providing a historical context, and thus absolve the Europeans for their sins.

I have been criticized for referring to what happened to the indigenous peoples as genocide. Critics say that I am engaging in hyperbole. Many repeat the cliché that after all it happened in the past. It the process it short circuits our long-term memory.

The reality is that Columbus Day denies and minimizes the brutality of the Spanish Conquest, and the violent deaths of tens of millions of natives throughout the Americas. Some experts estimate that there were 100 million Indians in the Americas; this number fell to about 10 million. It denies the brutality and inhumanity of the African slave trade.

The acceptance of Columbus Day elevates Columbus to a position of honor. And that is offensive. Whether we like it or not el día de la raza imputes meanings, and gives credibility to the myth that Columbus discovered the Americas when the reality is as Jalil Sued-Badillo says, “Christopher Columbus has the distinction of being the first to introduce that new order to America.”

I am not a proponent of collective guilt. But, at the same time, it is important to answer César’s question, what was wrong with the indigenous race?

– by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Cultural Studies, Education, History, Identity, Immigration, Political Science, Racism, Resistance | Leave a comment

Aztlán Reads Response to the Astro-Turf Group known as Latino Rebels

Aztlán Reads was founded in 2011 with the idea of creating a unique Xicana/o-Mexicana/o cultural literary and political space for people using social media.

From its inception, Aztlán Reads has been a counter-hegemonic voice designed to counteract claims by Euroamericans, Hispanics and Latinos that Xicanas/os-Mexicanas/os are a relic of the past.

As Xicanas/os-Mexicanas/os, we assert our right to self-determination and oppose any efforts to silence our voices, as well as those that attempt to erase our history.

Earlier this afternoon, on the historic 45th Anniversary of the Tlaltelolco Massacre, we received a comment to one of our posts on Aztlán Reads: “Setting the Record Straight: How Julio Varela of Latino Rebels Uses Marketing Gimmicks to Exploit the Mexican Community” from none other than Julio Varela of Latino Rebels fame.

In condescending colonial language he stated the following:

“Quien quiere mentir, engaña y el que quiere engañar, miente.” Mateo Alemán

Gracias por compartir mentiras y por su deseo de engañar. Los que quieren engañar con intentos de destrozar seguirán siendo mediocres. Le invito a seguir siendo mediocres. La verdad es que no importa. Pueden seguir el intento de engañar porque revela su carácter como unos falsos. Que vivan los falsos. El odio, basado en mentiras, nunca gana.

Not once did, Julio Varela refute any of the claims made by the Think Mexican blog. As usual, Julio Varela resorted to his old tactics when confronted about his business agenda and sidesteps what is obvious: Julio is a businessman with a strong acumen for marketing who is merely seeking to build his personal coffers by tapping into what supposedly is a $1 trillion market in the so-called “Latino” community of which Mexicans are the largest of the group.  His business model is based on exploiting the Mexican culture.

Furthermore, Julio is not, has never been nor should he ever be mistaken for a community activist fighting for self-determination. Julio has worked for Corporate AmeriKKKa that has not benefitted the community at all.

It has already been noted several times how Julio Varela steals articles by copying and pasting from other sites. By far, Latino Rebels is the Latino Huffington Post.

As has been documented several times before on other sites, including the article in question in Aztlán Reads, Julio Varela and the astro-turf pan-Latino “organization” of Latino Rebels is pure and simple a marketing gimmick that falls under the auspices of another astro-turf social media “organization” known as Latinos in the Social Media (LATISM).

Julio Varela, Latino Rebels, LATISM and other Hispanic/Latino social media sites are a marketing ploy created by several Euroamerican and Hispanic Entrepreneurs, such as William Shepherd and Jack Yan of the Multicultural Branding Consultancy (MBC) and Charlie García, a marketer and businessman who brings to the Latino Rebels a political ideology “formed at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the mid-West” and “in the jungles of Central America teaching counter guerilla warfare to militaries trying to shake off communist insurgencies in the 1980s.”

Anyone with a sense of history will know that the Euroamerican imperialist military has been used on Indigenous lands since 1492 through active genocidal campaigns and for the Latino Rebels to openly market their ideology as based on Euroamerican military strategies is a blatant insult to the Xicana/o-Mexicana/o community as well as a continuation of 517 years of genocide.

More to the point, Julio Varela uses his influence to distort the history of Xicanas/os-Mexicanas/os, co-opts ideas and stories from others then use them as his own all while pacifying Raza in the social media by promoting assimilation and integration.

Aztlán Reads will not allow itself to be called a FALSO or MEDIOCRE by a Hispanic marketing group. If anyone is a FALSO, a MEDIOCRE and a VENDIDO it is the Latino Rebels, Julio Varela, and the entire astro-turf group of LATISM.


Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Cultural Studies, Education, History, Identity, Resistance | Leave a comment

Twin Tragedies in AZ: Hispanic Heritage Month, Banned Books

Twin Tragedies in AZ: Hispanic Heritage Month, Banned Books




It’s Octember! Or is it Septober? It’s the time of the year when the weather starts getting cooler, politic shenanigans get ignored and eyes begin to glaze over from lethal injections of sports, beer and chicken wings.


Septober is also the pseudo-month that we deal in tragedies of two kinds: “Hispanic Heritage” and banned books. Interestingly enough, both tragedies cross paths in Tucson, AZ, ground zero for censorship in the 21st century.

The ballad of Tucson is a long and sad corrido. It will make you laugh and it will also make you cry. If all the world is a stage then Tucson definitely has its players; many of them clowns but most of them sad, voiceless puppets manipulated by a system hell-bent on pushing an agenda of whitewashed ambivalence.

And of course there are cameos from clowns and heroes alike from all over the place who have thrown their hats into the ring.

A long, long time ago, in an Internet far, far away, I had the idea to publish a book of Chicana/o authors because such a thing did not exist. It was the kind of book that I always searched for as a kid but could never find. I came up with this idea after being disappointed by Penguin’s 20th Century Anthology of Poetry.

But it wasn’t until Chicana/o books were officially banned in Tucson and after discussing things with friend and colleague, Luis Alberto Urrea, that I decided to run with the idea of a publishing a book as a challenge to the system. That idea became Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Xican@ Literature.

Urrea actually came up with the title when he said, “We ought to make a book and say, “Ban this, motherfuckers!”


My original goal was to inspire people to go around the system rather than through it because as history proves time and again, the system does not work.

My goal is still the same. So is the system.

When my colleagues and I spoke about ¡Ban This! in Tucson, C-SPAN covered it and broadcast thepanel live on TV. I thought to myself: Wow! Things might actually change!


But that doesn’t mean I gave up. So here we are again. It’s Hispanic Heritage Month and also Banned Books Month (week? year? Hello?). And where are we as far as progress in Tucson goes (or anywhere for that matter)? Well, we’re actually worse off than before, if you can believe that. But you would never know it by listening to the national media or literary mainstream.

I have been highly critical of both because they remain largely ignorant when it comes to Chicana/o authors, as does the public at large. Chicana/os make up the largest portion of Latinos in the U.S. yet no one knows anything about us – how’s that for irony?

If you mention Captain Underpants, the most highly challenged book for this year’s Banned Books Week, people instantly know what you’re talking about and either shake their heads in disgust or express outrage. And rightly so.

But if you mention Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, most people’s eyes will glaze over again with fantasy football statistics. And this is where we’re at in 2013 with regards to both Hispanic heritage and banned books – the mainstream is clueless about both.

But so what?

The truth of the matter is, we don’t need the mainstream. The mainstream needs us.

If you don’t believe me just look at the boatloads of cash they are spending to market to us everywhere you look. They might dress it up, repackage it and shrink-wrap it in the glossy, shiny stink of “Hispanic” but all they care about is your dollars.

I am inspired by the educators, students and everyday people who are in fact, going around the system and NOT pushing a personal agenda or waiting for Hell to freeze over.You have students studying Chicana/o studies independently of the school system in Tucson now and getting college credit for it. That’s amazing and a big middle finger to the system.

But as Dolores Huerta so eloquently reminded everyone about yesterday, we still have a long way to go!

“There are still a lot of (white) people in this country who have learned nothing about diversity and inclusion,” the activist said.

In the midst of Hispanic Heritage Month (which started September and runs through October 15), Huerta said that in many schools, no Hispanic textbooks are allowed.”

So stop with the celebrations, put the Velveeta cheese down, shut off the TV and ask yourself: what can I do to help..?

Maybe you don’t care. But maybe you do! And if you do there are always things you can do to help out. Demand change. Be the change. Go around the system!

It’s 2013 and books are still banned in AmeriKKKa, many of them by Chicana/o authors. If that doesn’t bother than you should check your pulse or possibly move to North Dakota.

Banned Books Month is about more than the mainstream would lead you to believe. And Hispanic Heritage Month, while a complete farce, could be so much more than beer ads and White mariachis at halftime.

But the decision to act or ignore remains with you – it always has been and always will be.

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Cultural Studies, Education, History, Identity, Racism, Resistance | Leave a comment

Déjà Vu: Why Mexicans can’t Win the Attack on Semillas Charter School

Counted along with other Latinos of Mexican-origin people make up the largest minority in the United States. In East Los Angeles, the overwhelming population is of Mexican extraction. Why then is it that we can’t win?

After all aren’t we the largest minority in the U.S.? Don’t we keep on hearing that the Sleeping Giant is awake? Yet, since its founding over fifty years ago Mexican Americans have been fighting to get a Mexican American appointed as president of CSULA. The closest we have gotten is the just appointed president who is Italian-American, and whose name ends in a vowel.

Evidence that this is all an illusion is the battle to get the charter of The Semillas Community Schools renewed. Originally it was chartered by the LA Unified School District – 75 percent of the district’s students are Latina/o, but only one of seven members of its board of education is so-called Latino.

The LAUSD dropped Semillas’ Charter largely on the recommendation of Superintendent John Deasy who has very little professional background when it comes to Latino students. This is the same Deasy who refused to help the late Sal Castro when he appealed for district support to take students to Camp Hess Kramer. Sal pled with him showing data that the volunteer program was highly successful in motivating mostly LAUSD students to go to college. Deasy, you have to understand, is a privatizer who is well connected to other privatizers in the city.

This is not the first time that a highly successful program has been dismantled. Take the Mexican American Studies K-12 program in the Tucson Unified School District. It had put a big dent into the dropout epidemic, and Mexican American students were motivated to go to college. It was maligned, called un-American and racist by the racists.

Semillas is an experimental program in one of the poorest of the poorest areas of Los Angeles. Like the Tucson program it has cultural programs, and students have to learn English, Spanish, Nahuatl and Mandarin. Students even visited China. However, the school was not run by a corporation privatizers and thus suspect.

I have been through this “Anything But Mexican” scenario hundreds of times. Once more it is déjà vu! I remember when Dr. Ernesto Galarza in the 1970s became an ardent advocate for bilingual education and in the process ruffled a lot feathers. Galarza was defunded, maligned and attacked by the bilingual establishment. He was literally driven out of the field, which I consider one of the worse moments in Mexican American history. It was disgraceful because even friends of Galarza ran for cover. Many believed that their own funds would be in danger –truly a profile in courage.

Now, Semillas is fighting for its life. It is appealing to the Los Angeles County Office of Education where two of its five board members are Mexican American. Things don’t look good. Semillas has presented documentation – proof – that it is in compliance and successful.

As in the cases of Galarza, Sal and Tucson friends have run for cover in the face of slander, defamation, lies and pressure. It is time for us to have some amor propio and fightback!

Email the Los Angeles County Board and tell them you stand with Semillas and quality education for Mexican Americans/Latinos. We should not be the anything but people.

– by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted in Chicana/o, Chicana/o Movement, Chicana/o Studies, Community, Education, History, Identity, Racism, Resistance | Leave a comment