I Can’t Stand Radical Chicanoism

I can’t stand radical, and even most forms of moderate, Chicanoism. A case in point is Marcos Aguilar, most known for assisting in occupying (and laying to waste) the Faculty Center at UCLA in 1993 that resulted in the creation of the Chicano Studies major dept.

Aguilar is back in the spotlight, as founder and principal of La Academia Semillas del Pueblo, a charter school in El Sereno. Recently, he gave an interview in which he states:

TCLA: Finally, what do you see as the legacy of the Brown decision?

MA: If Brown was just about letting Black people into a White school, well we don’t care about that anymore. We don’t necessarily want to go to White schools. What we want to do is teach ourselves, teach our children the way we have of teaching. We don’t want to drink from a White water fountain, we have our own wells and our natural reservoirs and our way of collecting rain in our aqueducts. We don’t need a White water fountain. So the whole issue of segregation and the whole issue of the Civil Rights Movement is all within the box of White culture and White supremacy. We should not still be fighting for what they have. We are not interested in what they have because we have so much more and because the world is so much larger. And ultimately the White way, the American way, the neo liberal, capitalist way of life will eventually lead to our own destruction. And so it isn’t about an argument of joining neo liberalism, it’s about us being able, as human beings, to surpass the barrier.

So please, dear readers, know that most Mexican-Americans don’t believe in any of this crap, we are smart enough to see it for the bullshit that it is. These are only the views of a small fringe of radicals, people who took their Chicano Studies major much too seriously, and who are mad at the fact that a Chicano Studies degree (rightly!) gets you no more than a job at Mc Donalds flipping cheeseburgers.

34 Responses to “I Can’t Stand Radical Chicanoism”


  • HP…

    Why dont you put the whole interview versus just that little paragraph.You did exactly what Drudge did and put 1 paragraph of what he said and it takes what he said out of context. Look at it on the bright side, at least in that school he 1) got more than a Mcdonalds job with his degree, 2)he is providing CHOICE to some families….
    Just to be clear, I dont completely agree with rigid forms of chicano nationalism..if it is fair to characterize that way…but i give that brother credit for providing alternatives….versus just vocalizing them…

    G

  • Actually, if you see the full interview here, you will see that my quote is his concluding remarks – it is the last question Maribel Santiago asked him. So it was her, not I, that left the interview with those final words.

    But if you think I am misrepresenting his views, quote parts of the interview that you think shed a brighter light….Here is a link to the full interview (also linked, now, above).

    And about the school, if you read the finer details – how he is teaching the students – it is not clear that the school is going to be a success. Personally, I think schools that intentionally segregate and drift towards ‘self-esteem’ education (and if he is imparting his ‘radical chicanoism’, it would further compound the problem), are doing more harm than good. There are many good charter schools in the LA area with a proven track record of succeeding, this school has currently not reached that level.

    In other words, as far as these childrens success goes, it might have just been better for them had he did nothing than do this.

  • HP, you still bring up an excellent point. Que onda with radical and even moderate Chicanoism? Where does it go too far where we alienate ourselves from the rest of society and instead of avansando y progresando with the rest of society, we ostracize ourselves to the point our kids can’t compete…this is something that has always worried me about our gente.

    It has nothing to do with whether or not we want to assimilate, but whether we want to continute educating our gente so that they can (and I know we will) surpass our anglo-americans in education, wealth, etc. Separation bad, integration good.

  • Exactly! Great points Cezar…I would also like to add that radical any-sub-group, whether it is Chicanoism, Black pantherism, white nationalism, or whatever, is especially dangerous in a diverse ethnic environment like the United States.

    The ‘American experiment’, as it is sometimes called, of accepting various ethnic and religious groups of different backgrounds is a very dangerous experiment, one that has not been able to be replicated around the world with as much success as it has here in the United States (not saying the United States is perfect at it, only that it is better at it than the rest of the world). It is not uncommon, for example, to see Jewish and Muslim, Black and White, Catholic and Protestant, working all side by side in the same company…living in the same neighborhoods, and having kids all go to the same school – peacefully.

    Yet the world and history is replete with these and other ethnic, racial, and religious groups hating and killing each other. The United States, being the country that is most under the spotlight, must continue to succeed in this American experiment.

    There are some things I like about Chicano Studies and ethnic majors. I agree that the typical history books leave out some important contributions made by minority groups, and educating students about those contributions is a good thing. I also agree that the history of oppression, in whatever form it may have been conducted, needs to be remembered and learned from. I also agree that learning about Latin America is a good thing, etc…But once you go past that and drift into separatism (among other things), ethnic majors start to become a negative experience, not a positive one.

    Nationalism is alot like a Pit Bull or a Doberman Pinscher. You don’t need to train those dogs to be protectors – you don’t need to feed them chili, or refuse to allow strangers to pet them or anything else like that. They already are, by nature, very protective dogs and will continue to protect you even if you introduce them to every stranger that passes by, or feed them normal dog food. The only thing that feeding them chili, refusing to allow them to meet strangers, and so forth, will do is – in addition to being protective – make them very violent dogs.

    In the same way, human beings are by nature mini nationalists. In other words, we naturally all take pride in who we are, in our cultural upbringing, in our ancestors, etc …but provoking too much nationalism, either by separatism or too much of an emphasis on nationality by us vs. them, will only cause us to be separatist nationalists in a country that needs the very opposite.

    Just look at the Balkans, the Turks in Germany (the Jews in WWII), the African Muslims in France, the French in Canada, or even in our own backyard – the Mexicans and the Blacks in Los Angeles, to see what too much nationalism can do to a people.

  • For years, my only beef against radical chicanismo was that many fly young chicanas dissed me in college and I always felt that it was because, as a biliterate Mexican-American, I wasn’t “chicano” enough. Your post has opened my eyes to more legitimate reasons to hate on Chicanos. Thanks, HP!

  • No problem, El Profe, I do what I can. :-)

    For further reading, I’d thought I’d link to a great article on this subject by Thomas Sowell, it is titled, The Brotherhood of Men, and can be found here. It can also be found on the right hand side of my blog under the category of “Articles”. Enjoy!

  • Eich Pizzle,

    You and I once had a similar discussion in the Gaslamp. As I recall, you were downing a Coors, and I had a Corona or two but I digress. I think we concluded that your experience in L.A., (a plural society), formed you with one mindset, and my experience in Northern Cali, (a white dominated society) formed me differently.

    I don’t know Marcos, but I do know that he was my comrade back in the Ethnic Studies struggles of the early nineties. At Cal (and apparently at UCLA), the administration tried to evicerate the studies of ethic people. Professor were (and continue to be) denied tenure. To make it in Ethnic Studies, a professor basically had to fictitiously be a member of a “traditional” department (sociology, anthropology, education)even though they taught all of their classes in E.S.. If it wasn’t for the mass walkouts and takeovers of 1994, Ethnic studies would have ceased to exist as an independent discipline at Cal.

    I was a great fry cook at Burger King and am a halfway decent attorney. I am proud of my jobs and careers. But the single thing I have done that I am the most proud of is my work saving Ethnic Studies in the early 90’s. Aguiar and I used “radical” rhetoric because it works. We told people that we will no longer take scraps then the whole turkey looks mighty tasty. By any means neccesary, homes!

    Oh…. and for the record, I graduated with an Ethnic Studies degree in 1994, which got me admited to a top 10% law school, which got me a prestegious appointment as a federal public defender, which helped me open my law practice, which helped me get THIS. So No my vato, I aint working for Happy Meals with my ES degree.

  • Me, drinking Coors?!?!? WTF. Ni lo mande Dios! You are mistaken my friend, I was drinking Bud lights, which is my drink of choice. Coronas give me hangovers, Bud lights never do.

    With that out of the way, I’d like to just say that I personally am against a Chicano Studies dept. In other words, had I been at UCLA back then, I would have probably hunger striked to NOT have a Chicano Studies major, and would have been on the side of the opposition. While Chicano Studies departments provide some benefits, they cause much more harm, IMHO, and are really only good for providing professors jobs who otherwise would not have had any, all at the tax payers expense. They give students a backwards view of reality and encourage ethnic separatism, all in all, doing it under the banner of ‘Chicano Studies’.

    This disagreement we have here is really much deeper than Chicano Studies itself. There are really two mutually exclusive philosophies at play here. The question: What is the best method to integrate minorities, to run a country with citizens of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, is answered in two – mutually exclusive – ways.

    On the one hand, you have a philosophy that encourages separatism, that looks at the citizenry based on ethnicity and past injustices, and breaks them down accordingly. Than, on the other hand, you have a philosophy that encourages race neutral policies, inclusion rather than exclusion interaction, and an overall ‘Brotherhood Of Men’ philosophy. Personally, I subscribe to the latter.

    Which is one of the reasons why I disagree with a Chicano Studies dept, race based affirmative action, and even ethnically separate graduation ceremonies, which is becoming more and more common at Universities nowadays. It is a difference in fundamental philosophy more than it is a difference in the specifics, but a philosophy that I try to follow through and through and encourage others to do as well. Whether this is because of my particular upbringing or not, I don’t know, but it is a philosophy that I believe down to my core is a superior one than the alternative one.

  • “Just look at the Balkans, the Turks in Germany (the Jews in WWII), the African Muslims in France, the French in Canada, or even in our own backyard – the Mexicans and the Blacks in Los Angeles, to see what too much nationalism can do to a people.”

    HP…Do the minuteman and their activities qualify as displaying forms of nationalism as well? And are they also racing upwards to Canada to prevent security breaches from that border?

    An in terms of your comments about self segregation —if we look around Los Angeles Unified are already—with the exception of a few schools are highly segregated. And we look close at the school level, many schools are also segregated from with in, in which a select group of people form particulair ethnic background receive “preference” to the most enriching curriculum that the school can offer.

  • I am by no means saying that Chicanoism is the only cause of unhealthy nationalism, certainly there are many other groups involved as well.

    As far as the LA Unified School District goes, I am well aware of the segregation involved there, but the difference is that when we see the segregation involved in the LA Unified school district we see it as a failure that needs fixing, not something that we want to encourage in other school models as well.

  • I don’t have the time nor energy to read all of what was written, besides Nebur already made some excellent points. I will say that you should have done a little more research. Marcos Aguilar and several other hunger strikers (including a woman who was a mayor of a city, part of the CA state Assembly and ran for Senate, Cindy Montañez) did not strike to get a Chicana/o Studies major. The program existed, but it was not a department. Marcos had the support of many community members and the hunger strike was the last ditch effort not to dissolve a program that was an outgrowth of the civil rights movement (more history, here).

    In many ways, I’m grateful for the work that Marcos, Cindy and their fellow hunger strikers did. Their sacrifice ensured that Chicana/o Studies at UCLA would not be dissolved nor underfunded. Say what you want about the discipline, but everyone I know who has graduated with a BA in Chicana/o Studies is either in graduate school, professional school or working in some sort of “helping profession” (including teaching).

  • You are right, it was for the creation of the Chicano Studies dept not the major, I will correct that above.

    I did know that though, and if you had read the comments you would have seen that I used the two interchangably. After all, Chicano Studies major, Chicano Studies dept, it’s the same difference when your discussing whether Chicano Studies itself, is a valuable major to have at a University.

    Oh and as for Chicano Studies major, it’s not really fair for you or Nebur to say that it was Chicano Studies that got you or your friends into graduate school, after all, most graduate programs, especially law, accept a bachelors degree in anything to get into the program. You could have gotten a bachelors degree in Philosophy or Basket Weaving for that matter, instead of a BA in Chicano Studies, with the difference that, IMHO, those other Bachelors degrees would have been worth much more of your money. :-)

  • Actually, no it is not the same difference. A department at a university gets a lot more resources than something that is simply a program pulled together with professors who have appointments in different departments. An interdepartmental program (IDP, what Chicana/o Studies was before the hunger strikes) does not have full time faculty which means less courses can be offered and less students can take those courses.

    Nebur and I both took a significant number of Chicana/o Studies and ethnic studies courses. We’re not saying that this is what got us into graduate school, but the type of critical thinking and intensive writing encouraged in these courses is definitely useful when it comes to preparing for graduate and/or professional school. Also, all the people I know in graduate and professional school are doing work which is an outgrowth of the types of issues and courses we studied and took as undergraduates. My friend who just graduated law school and plans to be an immigration attorney had a little boost because of the course she took on Latinos and the Law which would probably not be offered by anybody else except Chicana/o Studies.

    Oh yeah, and I didn’t even pay for my BA…

  • I didn’t just say they were the same difference, I said they were the same difference “when your discussing whether Chicano Studies itself, is a valuable major to have at a University”, subtle yet very important distinction.

    As far as Chicano Studies itself, granted, there are some majors that can benefit from what Chicano Studies offers, which is why I mentioned above some of the benefits I see with Chicano Studies classes (even devoted a whole paragraph to it ;) ), but by and large, you can get most of those benefits (with the exception of immigration issues) from other majors and without many of the negatives, of which, separatism is one of them.

    …and as for your tuition, you may have not paid for it, but the tax payers sure did.

  • Separatism does not come from Chicana/o Studies.

  • Separatism comes, almost by definition, from ‘Chicano’ Studies…

  • a little off topic but i want to throw my two cents into the mix.from my own experience out on the other side of the country i was pretty starved for any history that i could identify with. in college i settled for a couple of classes titled latinos in the u.s. because that was all that was offered. had there been a chicano studies option at my school i’m sure i would have jumped at the opportunity–i think the closest school to offer it was in wisconsin. there were only a few others taking the same major as me at the time and most of the time i was the only latina in my classes. i participated in the small latino group we had because it was a way to meet and connect with other latinos. but the one thing that did cause major tensions within our own student group were the differences between the more radical students and the less radical students. i will say that it was because of some student activism that some noise was made to fill the often vacant chair of the director of latino affairs, we created our own events because we did not always feel included in other school events–and creating those opportunities for ourselves were some very empowering experiences. but i don’t think we were practicing separatism. its not something i would advocate either. it not how the real world functions. but i do think that sometimes its important to take some time and get together with people we feel a like-minded connection to–thay may be by way of race, religion or political views. but i also think that its important to realize that seperating ourselves or purposely segregating the schools our children attend is a great injustice to them–its setting them up for a huge culture shock when they get to the real world and see that things work a lot differently. there has to be a better way to educate kids, find a balance in education that would address the cultural needs of all students. one thing i think worked at my old high school was that it did not allow students to have students groups split by ethnic makeup. there was one cultural group and students from all types of backgrounds belonged to it and we were able to learn and celebrate each others culture together. maybe i’m just being a bit naive and idealistic….my bottom line is that there should be a balance, i doubt solutions can be found in any type of extreme thinking.

  • You moderates you, you take the fun out of everything. :-)

    j/k, I like what you wrote, thanks for chiming in!

  • i could not get into a top 10% law school with a degree in basket weaving. I also would have had a hard time gettting into law school with a cookie-cutter major, such as political science, where I would have been one of thousands in the major. In ES, I was able to work hands on with solid intelectuals who included 1) a nationally recogized poet (June Jordan), 2)The preeminent name in the sociology of sports, who was on President Carter’s commissions and has won superbowl rings in his role as coach for the SF Fortyniners(Harry Edwards), Angela Davis, Barbara Christian, Ward Churchill, Ronald Takaki, etcetera, all of whom watered and fed my mind.

    Through ethnic studies, I also got the opportunity to author a textbook that is still, (10 years later) being used on college campuses, and I was able to co-author a play that was presented to the Congressional Black Caucus.

    Not Basket weaving or mickey-deezing. Solid political science and humanities. That’s what i learned, vato!

  • Yeah well, I still think basket weaving would have been better for you, you know, helped teach you to work more with your hands and all…

    You know I’m just giving you a hard time, I think we have both made our points on this…I’ll let you have the last word, my liberal, ethnic studies, successful lawyer friend. :-)

  • I’m with The Profe…for some reason, I’ve never been “Mexican” enough to be part of a specific crowd. I’ve never wanted to be exclusively “Mexican” or but I never wanted to be exclusively “coconut-guero-guanabe” either. I’ve been successful at straddling two distinct lines.

    Las lineas of the mainstream American society, and coming down and spending time with la gente. I didn’t realize this until recently, that I can do both. That I can raise my children learning that they can do the same, excelling at what they are gifted at sin tener que sentir que merecen or tienen que ser de un solo lugar.

    Where does “separatism” come from? Where does the mentality of we HATE anglos and all things white. I see it and experience all the time when I’m around my own gente at public functions for our raza. I go to them because I”m proud of who I am and I want to contribute, pero when someone puts down another race or culture, como “ojala que la tierra se trage al esos gringos.”

    [I heard that kind of talk and behavior at a major Latina writer’s forum recently]

    Que dice de nuestra gente? What does it say about what we know about each other…outside of obvious downright hatred?

    I don’t know how to react, I understand mainstream anglo society has so much to catch up to in regards to understanding Latino culture and it’s prevelance in the States now, pero why not educate and be a social and political example of who and what we are sticking our guns and proving to people that we are not just “illegal” or wetbacks, but hard working people with dreams and aspirations…Yo pienso separatism or being too “militant”, derogatory, and racisict, will never get us ANY WHERE.

  • you know cez i can sort of relate to where you are coming from. because i liked to read and spoke ‘proper’ i was accused of acting white when i was a kid. recently i was accused of being republican (lol) for trying to remain objective or ‘moderate’ on some hot button issues. its really irritating when anyone tries to place a measure on my authenticity according to my way of being or my belief system. militant anything is like walking around with blinders on. and no dejes que te digan que you are not mesican enough. all them pictures of you clearly show the nopal on your forehead. :)

  • THANK YOU CHANCLITA!

    Because I’m proud of that big nopal on my forehead. Ayi esta and it’s staying there. Pero, when someone tries to put a label such as “republican” or “moderate” or “conservative” (sorry HP) or even *gasp* “hipster” on you because of your simple beliefs and thoughts…it’s, it’s, ludicrous!

    Let’s be who we are and represent by the accomplishments we do in our lives.

    Ay un dia de estos I’ll be walking happily walking into your bookstore, ojala that i’ll have a book (i’ve written) en mano. :D

  • THANK YOU CHANCLITA!

    Because I’m proud of that big nopal on my forehead. Ayi esta and it’s staying there. Pero, when someone tries to put a label such as “republican” or “moderate” or “conservative” (sorry HP) or even *gasp* “hipster” on you because of your simple beliefs and thoughts…it’s, it’s, ludicrous!

    Let’s be who we are and represent by the accomplishments we do in our lives.

    Ay un dia de estos I’ll be walking happily walking into your bookstore, ojala that i’ll have a book (i’ve written) en mano. :D

  • You could say that again Cez!

    Btw, I will be visiting that very famous bookstore of Chancla’s in a couple weeks, so I will let her know what area of her store she should keep reserved for your upcoming book (hopefully a large area… ;-) ).

    Thanks for chiming in you two!!!

  • In general, Mexican-Americans/Chicanos have no need for a Chicano Studies Department. What tangible good did the majority Chicanos get from the efforts of young adults starving themselves? However, a tiny minority of Chicanos stand to gain much if the majority of Chicanos support chauvinistic endeavors of a few. It’s really no wonder why Chicano Ph.D.holders and candidates support Chicano Studies Departments within a system many of them claim to be “institutionally racist.”

    However, does their economic interest outweigh the likelihood of ethnic tensions arising from such demonstrations? Will the bulk of Chicanos be better off?

    Chicano Studies Department? We don’t need no stinkin’ Chicano Studies Department!

  • I’m gonna be nitpicky again. The hunger strikes did not lead directly to the creation of a Chicana/o Studies department. The actual department came more than 10 years later.

  • “The hunger strikes did not lead directly to the creation of a Chicana/o Studies department.”

    -cindylu

    I know; thank the Mexica (Aztec, for those not in the know) Gods the strong-arm tactics didn’t work! J/K

    I never wrote that “The hunger strikes did not lead directly to the creation of a Chicana/o Studies department.” I guess you just like to “nitpick.” ;)

  • You know cindylu, I was searching one of Nubur’s “excellent points,” but couldn’t find any, save for “Aguiar and I used ‘radical’ rhetoric because it works. We told people that we will no longer take scraps then the whole turkey looks mighty tasty. By any means neccesary, homes!” But do you really consider strong-arming people by use of ethnic politics as a good tactic?

    It seems that use of ethnic politics is good for a few (e.g. ethnic study professors), but bad for “minorities” in general.

  • Talk about getting in on the conversation late, but I’ve been meaning to comment for a while and this Op-Ed reminded me.

    I think two things need to be separated here and, so far, they haven’t been. There is ethnic nationalism and then there are ethnic studies departments. In my opinion, the first is very bad and the second is incredibly useful and necessary in dealing with what are too often overly simplistic attitutes towards the social construct that is race.

    The other day, for example, a very good (but not so bright) friend of mine said something along the lines of this: “seriously, I’ve read scientific studies that say that the Mexican race and homosexuality are mutually exclusive.”

    The “Mexican race”!! So impoverished was his understanding of race and racialization (not to mention biology) that I could only chuckle in response.

    Ethnic studies departments including Chicano Studies, Asian American Studies, African American Studies, Native American Studies, and the others have made huge strides in giving American society a more sophisticated perspective of what race is and what it is not. Any doubters would be well served by skimming through this history of ethnic studies.

    With all that said, I do agree with two of HP’s main points (if indeed he has any at all). First of all, I’ve never understood why ethnic studies classes are always filled with minority students. Why does a minority need to learn about all the racist government policy since the United States’ inception? If there’s anyone who already knows that injustice, it should be them. It would make more sense to me if ethnic studies classes were filled with young, privileged, white students while minority freshmen headed straight for the science and engineering buildings. Instead, when a white student signs up for an ethnic studies class, (s)he is usually treated as as “I wanna be brown and down” poser filled with white guilt rather than someone sincerely interested in a history left out of high school text books.

    Meanwhile, those minority ethnic studies majors usually defend their choice by saying “I want to do something that helps my people” only to get stuck in the insulated ivory tower. (I’m not trying to hate)

    As far as La Academia Semillas del Pueblo goes, why restrain indigenous American (ie. “The Americas”) history to a single charter school instead of pushing for its inclusion in the greater public school curricula? I feel bad for the students of that school. Even though they might have a better understanding of indigenous and Chicano history, they’re going to miss out on a lot because of their segregation from the rest of society.

  • Great comments Oso, I agree with a lot of what you say, particularly paragraphs seven and eight. ;-)

    Thanks for chiming in!

    Oh yeah, and about that friend of yours, his comment sounds so ‘out there’ that clearly, he must have been joking, come on now, how could you even take a comment like that seriously.

  • Article for Chicano-fearing conspiring minds

    Raza isn’t racist
    The Latino student club MEChA is more about culture and education than reconquista.
    By Gustavo Arellano, GUSTAVO ARELLANO is a staff writer with OC Weekly, where he writes the “¡Ask a Mexican!” column. A portion of this essay originally appeared in the Weekly.
    June 15, 2006

    THE REVOLUTION always finishes the same way: Someone claps. Then someone else. Someone else. Others join. More. Faster. More. Everyone in unison. Rhythmic. Louder. Faster. Finally, someone shrieks, “¡Qué viva la raza!” (Long live the Mexican race!). “¡Qué viva!” (May it live!), everyone screamed in response. And then we go off to continue the reconquista.

    The above scene ends just about every meeting of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán), the high school and college club for Mexican American students that scares the bejesus out of everyone else. Frankly, I don’t blame everyone else.

    Starting with the name (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán, “Aztlán” referring to the mythical Aztec homeland that prophecy held was north of Mexico and would be repopulated by descendants of the People of the Sun), continuing with slogans like Entre la raza todo; fuera de la raza, nada (Within the race, everything; outside of it, nothing) and concluding with that tribalistic clapping circle, the average MEChA meeting might look to outsiders like a gathering of brown-skinned brownshirts.

    That’s at least how anti-MEChA alarmists see it. For them, MEChA is what the Communist Party was for McCarthyites — a boogeyman of an organization you can use to spook citizens away from the aspirations and causes of its ex-members. The casualties include Antonio Villaraigosa in his first mayoral race, Cruz Bustamante in his unsuccessful 2003 gubernatorial run and Gil Cedillo every time he tries to get the Legislature to approve driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

    Now KABC-AM (790) is playing the MEChA card against the Academia Semillas del Pueblo, a charter school in Lincoln Heights. Because the MEChA chapter of Pasadena City College supports the school, goes KABC’s reasoning, Academia Semillas del Pueblo is obviously a racist school teaching kiddies to reconquer the Southwest, one Nahuatl lesson at a time.

    It doesn’t help MEChA’s case that Semillas del Pueblo Principal Marcos Aguilar, a former UCLA Mechista, once dismissed the importance of Brown vs. the Board of Education during an interview, adding that “the white way, the American way, the neoliberal, capitalist way of life will eventually lead to our own destruction.” Or that members of Pasadena City College’s MEChA chapter recently destroyed an entire run of the campus newspaper because they considered the paper’s coverage of one MEChA event inadequate.

    But, as in Islam, a few indige-nazis are stains sullying a noble organization. I should know. I am a Mechista.

    As both a member of the invading army and a proud son of Mexican-hating Orange County, I can testify that, without a doubt, MEChA is harmless.

    Sure, the organization’s founding documents, the Plan de Santa Barbara and the Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, call for a Chicano homeland. But few members take these hilariously dated relics of the 1960s seriously, if they even bother to read them. Little of the modern-day MEChA remains separatist, other than the occasional Che-spouting junior and a few cute mestizas with Aztec names like Citlali who sport Frida ponytails, black-frame glasses and Chuck Taylor high-tops.

    MEChA’s primary objectives are not secessionist but educational (get as many Latino high schoolers into the universities as possible and help them stay there) and cultural. For many Mexican American students, MEChA is their family by proxy, a support network for those of us who were the first in our families to graduate from high school, let alone college.

    The open-borders philosophy expressed by many Mechistas isn’t born from an irredentist ideology but from their experience of having relatives divided by borders. All that raza clatter isn’t racism, it’s the traditional way immigrants climb the success ladder — through solidarity and education. The loaded term itself is better understood as representing the immediate community, not as a proclamation of Mexican superiority to all other races.

    Look, I get the widespread skepticism about MEChA’s intentions. I myself was apprehensive about joining the club when I attended conservative Chapman University in Orange. I had heard whispers about the obsession with protests, the vitriolic speeches bashing everyone who wasn’t brown, the infamous MEChA clap.

    But then I actually attended a meeting. I encountered some extremist rhetoric — but it was aimed at increasing Latino enrollment on our minority-deficient campus and mentoring at-risk high school students. And it wasn’t just Latinos involved in this radical clique. We had African Americans, Asians, gabachos … even a Kazakh student named Amir who proudly wore his MEChA shirt complete with the organizational logo: an eagle gripping a stick of dynamite and looming over a banner that reads “La Unión Hace la Fuerza” (Strength Through Unity). We cared about bettering the world, and MEChA allowed us to do something about it.

    We protested Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when he appeared on campus; we supported striking janitors and held events for all the major Mexican holidays. But mostly we spent our free time recruiting high school students to Chapman and holding educational carnivals for elementary niños y niñas.

    Chapman administrators loved our dedication, holding us up as models of what others could aspire to. My fellow Mechistas went on to work for nonprofit organizations, consulted for the Democratic Party, became bankers and psychologists, made it in Hollywood, interned at the Cato Institute — and this Mechista went on to graduate summa cum laude from UCLA and work for a free newspaper. Not a single Mechista in our group dropped out.

    Years later, I proudly call myself a Mechista. To be a Mechista is to care for those who face the same struggles you once did, to preach the gospel of education to immigrants so they can prosper and assimilate. To be a Mechista is to be American — an American with sore hands from so much clapping, that is.

  • There are a few things I found interesting, and I wanted to respond to some of them.

    Here goes…

    Unlike many people indoctrinated with capitalistic ideals, I do not necessarily view the pursuit of “higher-education” as a vocational endeavor. Indeed, I find the pay off of education to be its intrinsic value. That is, for me, the real prize is expanding my base of knowledge and not necessarily the material wealth I may acquire as a result of that knowledge. Consequently, I whole heartedly disagree with Alfonso’s assertion that earning a degree in Chicano Studies “gets you no more than a job at Mc Donalds flipping cheeseburgers.” On the contrary, the knowledge acquired in the acquisition of a Chicano Studies degree will undoubtedly secure for its owner much more than a job in any vocation. That is, the intangible wealth in knowledge is often the real crackerjack.

    I do agree that ethnic nationalism, or ethnic-chauvinism (a term I think is more fitting), is a socially debilitating enterprise, which is likely to only arouse counter ethnic chauvinism. Such a volatile situation, as history teaches, can lead to racial strife and the “balkanization” of a region. In this vein I do agree that a Chicano Studies curriculum, which includes the rhetoric that Chicanos are residing within “Occupied America,” as Chicano Studies Professor Rudolpho Acuña would have us believe, has the potential to create an atmosphere of separatism among at least some of its students.

    Is it reasonable to question whether or not an insulated college curriculum that teaches this type of rhetoric, either in entirety or in part, as a social axiom that is to be unchallenged rather than a social hypothesis to be objectively studied beneficial to society in general and Chicanos in particular? In my opinion, it is not only reasonable to question and discuss this question it is also the scholarly and responsible thing to do.

    As far as pushing for a statewide amendment in the teaching standards to include a curriculum of pre-Columbian history that is on par with the one that La Academia Semillas del Pueblo has most likely implemented- that seems a bit unrealistic. Teachers are already unable to cover the history standards that are currently mandated, which makes it unlikely that, even if the standards were amended, that the indigenous curriculum would be covered in many history classes. So, it is understandable as to why Mr. Aguilar has sought public funding and accreditation for a curriculum that is more to his and the school’s consumers (parents and students) liking.

    Now oso, your implied assertion that by virtue of their ethnicity, so-called minority students “should know” already be well versed in the historical laws and social occurrences that were racist and immoral is a bit surprising. It is unclear if you are being flippant or if you have some good reason to conclude that minority freshmen ( freshperson?) would have some reason to know of these historical injustices.

    Furthermore, the link you provided, which was supposed to have shown how ethnic studies has furthered our understanding of race by providing “a more sophisticated perspective of what race is and what it is not,” was nothing more than an chronology of events “leading to the establishment of the [Ethnic Studies] department in Fall 1969 to Fall 1996.” Nowhere did I find the mentioning of race much less what constitutes race. So, I have to ask, how have ethnic studies enriched our understanding of race?

    I would argue that many within ethnic studies have worked to retard our knowledge of race. In fact, the soft censorship from the Left has done a masterful job of stirring up racial hysteria at the mere thought of researching population/race differences. Jared Diamond, author of “Guns, Germs, and Steele” notes, “Even today, few scientists dare to study racial origins, lest they be branded racist just for being interested in the subject.”

    When you have scholars like Henry Luis Gates Jr. saying race is a “misnomer” and “proving” his point by rhetorically asking “who has seen a black, or red person, a white, yellow or brown person,” and asserting that, “These terms are arbitrary constructs, not reports of reality.” It’s easy to see why some geneticists opt to tread carefully in the racial charged waters of public funding. Perhaps, Mr. Gates would like to tell us which anthropologist, geneticist, and/or biologist have argued the existence of “black, red, white, yellow, or brown” races. In the public arena, where the attention span is short, vitriolic rhetoric tends to trump scholarly measured words.

    As to your “not so bright” friend and his “impoverished” understanding of the “social construct that is race”: it would seem that understanding of many on this subject are lacking in knowledge. Indeed, to suggest that “race” is merely a social construct belies the fact that there are biological differences within human populations (races). For example, we know that Asians and Sub-Saharan Africans differ in some respects genetically, and that some these differences manifest into observable physical differences (e.g. hair texture & skin color).

    Jon Entine (Author of “Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It”), in his essay entitled “The Straw Man of ‘Race’” (2001), quoted Ranajit Chakraborty, a population geneticist at the University of Texas Science Center in Houston, as saying: “The classification of human ethnic or racial groups remains a vital, important feature in understanding the nature of human evolution.” However, Entine notes that, “The precise number and grouping of races will always be somewhat arbitrary, as race is in part a social construct. Typology, the typing of humans into categories, is akin to wrestling an octopus into a shoe box: no matter how hard you fight with it, you still have something dangling out somewhere.” However imperfect racial categories are it is clear that, as Mr. Entine writes, “that some population groups do resemble ethnic or racial groups,” and that race is more than a social construct.

  • Okay, I am back from Chicago.

    Thanks for chiming in Observer, just want to make one minor point: I am not – although I can see how I gave that impression – one who believes that a college education is only good if it brings in income. Certainly that is not the case, and as one who has contemplated getting a degree in Philosophy, I am well aware of educations value in itself, outside of its monetary value.

    Thanks for clearing that up!

Leave a Reply