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Chicana Chicano Public Scholar
Were the Sixties Really Better?
Rodolfo F. Acuña
After writing an appeal to the faculty urging them to attend a function, one of my colleagues brought to my attention that I was perpetuating the myth that the generation sixties scholars were so much more radical and focused than today’s Chicana/o studies professors. It was a message that I had not intended to convey since, the truth be told, conditions were much different then than now. In reality, the institutional gains made in Chicana/o studies were forged by a small number of students and professors.
As today, most professionals were caught up with their own lives and focused on surviving. Their families formed their priorities. For example, the
growth of Chicana/o studies department at San Fernando Valley State was driven by three professors.
The present generation of Chicana/o scholars are much better prepared than those of the sixties and seventies. In 1968 there were only about a hundred scholars of Mexican extraction in the United States with doctorates. Puerto Ricans were similarly underrepresented in academe.
At San Fernando Valley State College we had to improvise because we could not attract more than two or three people with doctorates in hand. It was a sellers’ market and most Chicanas and Chicanos chose research institutions where teaching loads and perks were significantly higher than at state colleges.
The lack of options made that generation of scholars by necessity more vulnerable to student pressure. Chicana/o studies gave most an opportunity to gain their degrees while working.
There were other generational differences. While many scholars today come to Chicana/o studies from prestigious doctoral programs, the distinguishing characteristic of yesteryears’ CHS scholars was that they went to parochial schools. Three-quarters of our professors at SFVSC were from Catholic schools.
But probably the most important difference between then and now is and was the generational experiences. Discrimination then was more marked than it is today. Higher education has shielded most of the present generation of scholars who often pass from K through 20 without fully experiencing the racist environment of the streets.
Like one of my students once said about students from his neighborhood, they were from the barrio not part of it.
Society has evolved and racism is today often disguised.
Today, many are from middle-class families and have had it better.
However, this is something that they should not apologize for. After all this was partially what we were fighting for in the sixties.
Apologizing for material goods is something that both generations of Chicana/o scholars have in common. In the sixties, we apologized for having a house or for what we wore. Ironically, we did not apologize for the quality of MJ that was smoked.
This hypocrisy was highlighted when I was working on the Campaign to Keep the GM Van Nuys Plant Open. I was at a meeting at the Machinist Union Hall in Burbank when my friend Eloy told me, “I want to show you something after the meeting.” Afterwards we went into the parking lot and he showed me his new Cadillac – a big white car with black leather upholstery. Ironically, I had just been apologizing for my Rockport shoes.
I thought to myself, “Why shouldn’t Eloy be proud of his car? He worked hard for it. The car did not detract from his labor activism.
With academics there is always the guilt for having made it. Perhaps instead what we should feel guilty about is if our teaching is marginal, we don’t publish, or fail to counsel students.
My message in the past three months has been that Arizona is going to save the Chicana/o and Latina/o soul. It is a reminder of where we have come from.
The present generation cannot go back to the past, but they can defend what we have today. As in the sixties, many of us are children of immigrants. The very proposal to deny citizenship to what the right call anchor babies, children of undocumented born in born in the United States, is insulting, it is abusive.
Not only does this generation have the opportunity to fight xenophobia but fight against frontal assault on their identity. Arizona’s HB 2281 outlaws ethnic studies but allows the study of the holocaust, black and Native American Studies. It singles out Mexicans and other Latinos.
As in the case of the Nazis, they single out and isolate groups so the others will think they are safe—for the moment.
Whether we like it or not the present generation of Chicana/o scholars will determine whether we win the battle against Caliban. It will determine whether we survive as an area of study.
For me, it boils down to amor propio, pride, self-respect. We have to fight.
I took Rudy's piece for it's worth, mainly a fine historical reference point. I mean the piece really captures the times, both the sixties and today. I don't even know if we can consider Chicano Studies professors of the sixties and early seventies "scholars" because they were just beginning to mine the field of Chicano history, art, and literature. Most Chicano professors back then were historians, language, and science teachers. I started teaching late, in the early 80s, and even then Chicano Studies was barely coming into its own. My field of expertise really was modern American literature and mostly Steinbeck (the closest to a Chicano writer in his day) and Hemingway's work. Of course, since there was no other Chicano to teach Chicano lit. here at Santa Monica College when I was hired, I got the nod. What did I know about Chicano literature? Other than reading "Chicano," "Macho," "Pocho," and Omar Salinas, I knew nothing. Not one book by a Chicano(a) author was ever assigned throughout my entire undergraduate and graduate studies. But I remember the early Chicano Studies teachers being really radical, very politically active, to the point of naïveté, just like Rudy writes. Today, those teaching Chicano/Latino studies actually received their degrees in the field, so they are "scholars" in the true sense of the word. And also since Chicano Studies is somewhat a part of the academy, in other words, it's accepted as a viable field of study (with some snide comments from the classicists), today's Chicano(a) scholars are more institutionalized than those in the past. In the 60s and early 70s, I can only guess how Chicano faculty was made to feel like outsiders, interlopers trying to lead an assault on the sacred walls of academia. I also suppose one must interpret what "radical" means today and what it meant in the 60s. I remember when I started as a student at Santa Monica College, right out of the Army. It was 1969, and I went my first MEChA meeting. The girls and guys in the club sure didn't seem like college students to me but like a bunch of kids off the streets, which many were, myself included. During the meeting, they were yelling and carrying on. I thought something really important was up. What was up was that they were going to protest the administration to get burritos into the vending machines. Back then, I didn't understand the symbolism of that one act, so I split and didn't return. After Vietnam and fighting so-called communists, I wasn't about to get my head busted over cold burritos. Now I realize that the fight that these early Chicano(a) students and faculty fought were heartfelt, politically, and personally dangerous to their educations and their goals. The draft and the Vietnam War also pushed students and teachers to become radical. Today, there is no draft, so "death" isn't imminent for students/scholars. But what we do have are other issues to contend with, such as immigration, the defense of ethnic studies in high schools, gangs, and drugs. Immigration and ethnic studies are issues that engender activism among Chicanos(as), gangs and drugs, not so much. We tend to romanticize gangs, yet, to me, this is the biggest threat to the Chicano(a) community. Many of our children are swallowed up each day by this disease. Here is where the activism must be directed, the radical acts of civil disobedience to stop gang violence, but I'm not very optimistic, since drugs bring in so much money to the gangs. It is no longer about barrio loyalty or family pride but about money-and a lot of it. I don't know, nor do I have the expertise, to really take a position on the myth of this radicalism between Chicano(a) faculty of the sixties and of today. In the sixties and early seventies, I was a Chicano veteran trying to come to terms with what I had experienced in the military. Coming to terms means engaging in my most base cravings of my being until reading and education saved me. I do know that my novels would not be written if it had not been for the Chicano(a) scholars who provided me with the information necessary to write my stories. Let the myth over which generation of Chicano(a) faculty is most radical die on the vine. It isn't worth the breath to fight it. Ni modo. Daniel Cano
i suspect the gap between yesterday and today is less a question of good better best than one of activist style. "from the barrio not of it" expresses that style gap, as if the former is legitimate, the latter falso. there's an intractable attitude among certain people--i see some of this in rudy saves' slant--that there's a "right way" to be chicana chicano.
i advised mecha at csula in the mid 70s. a cadre of students were hell-bent to change the world one demonstration at a time. others joined out of experimental attitudes, see what activism looked like my advice to all was to go a todo dar into the confrontations. but only for their first two years. when the student achieved junior and senior status they needed to focus on their studies, graduate, get married and or continue into grad school for that extra document, the credential, the next degree. this didn't mean giving up, but managing their time, provide leadership but let the young hold the reins. i hope i persuaded the upwardly mobile there's no guilt in "making it", instead, consider that one's responsibility to familia and raza.
the ones who bought my consejos graduated and found work. i hope satisfying careers. some may even have that ph.d. and work in c/s programs asking about radicality. the ones who resisted my advice and continued heavy duty organizing and recruitment did not graduate, continued living at the economic razor's edge, grateful for a meal and a few birongas when we'd meet by plan or accident. i hope they found happiness in their pursuit of what they saw as justice. their good hearts rarely understood the irony in their division of the world into movimiento/student tipos and what they termed "community people," usually the current girlfriend, often much younger and easily impressed by the activist chaqueta.
are today's professors activist? are today's activist professors better off than yesterday's activist professors? there's new blood among the former, it's still the same faces among the latter, only today they are 40 years older. if today's crop of professors doesn't recognize racism, it's not from lacking "the streets" but because the ever insidious enemy is more effective today. i second rudy's conclusion, the fight belongs to the new generation; it's their world. it may be they see that predecessor generation as mythic, maybe also irrelevant. and here lies the challenge to 60s gente: develop the elder role, let youth take the reins.
rudy calls his piece a rough draft. i'm looking forward to seeing a finished piece.
Centro de la Raza
Centro de la Raza, Seattle
The Word Chicana/o
Words have meanings, meanings that are supposed to be linked to reality. In creating a historical narrative the meanings should be clear and best describe the reality of the times. Meanings can be obscured for political purposes; we often call this doublespeak; we say one thing and mean another. The Chicana/o Public Scholar argues that the word Chicana/o best describes the area of studies called Chicana/o Studies and expresses the idealism that we as a community should be striving for. The Mexican American generation proactively fought for our civil rights demanding equality under the law as Americans. The Chicano Movement demanded equality as human beings and asserted the right to call themselves what they pleased. It was under the Chicano watch that entitlements were dramatically broadened and larger numbers of Mexican origin people entered colleges and universities. They demanded their rights and did not see education as a privilege.
Just calling yourself a Chicano or any other word is not enough. You can call yourself a Christian but that does not necessarily make you a good person. “Words have meanings, meanings are supposed to be linked to reality.” The word Chicano in Spanish is gender neutral. But, many Chicana/o scholars felt that words should be transformative. Sexism was a problem that was tearing the movement apart. Chicano Studies became Chicana/o Studies to denote the equality of the sexes and underscore that gender discrimination damages our humanity as much as racism does. The redefinition of the word led to an examination of homophobia. Thus, the meaning of the word Chicana/o expanded reality.
The 1970s and 1980s saw large numbers of Mexican and Latin American immigrants. We failed to link the meaning of the word Chicana/o to the reality of the immigrant population that now rivaled the second generation in numbers. The Mexican American and Chicano Generations had widened the entitlements of all immigrants. However, many of these immigrants held on to old definitions such as equating the word Chicano with chicanery or low class. Many continued to link their struggle for equality to their home countries rather than linking it to their new reality. At the same time, the arrival millions of Mexicans and Latin Americans dramatically expanded the “Latino market.” Government agencies and commercial enterprises looked upon the Mexican American and Latino as commodities and linked these new definitions to illusions.
In order to broaden the discourse, we are including articles by the martyred Ruben Salazar on “What is a Chicano?” written in the late 1960s and Los Angeles Times editor Frank Del Olmo written in the 1980s.
Frank Del Olmo
Frank del Olmo
The Chicana/o Public Scholar encourages discussion. We welcome your editorial suggestions because this is a volunteer exercise. We want your articles. The information is free. But if you feel compelled to help financially, send a donation to our scholarship fund at the address supplied in the “Contact Us” section.
Never Trust a Gringo
Rodofo F. Acuña
Dr. Julian Nava, who never complained about the system, once observed that a Mexican American would never be appointed to the presidency of a large metropolitan California State University with a large Mexican American or Latino population. Administrators and faculty members feared that a Mexican American president would build his own constituency. Witness Nava’s bid for the California State Los Angeles presidency and Tomás Arciniega’s 21-year stint as president of California State University Bakersfield. Arciniega was passed over in favor of a vice-president with much less experience than Arciniega when he applied for the Cal State Fullerton job. In Nava’s case, he had recently been an ambassador to Mexico, and he was promised support from the Chancellor as well as individual Trustees.
Fear of a large Mexican American population is just one explanation as to why Euro-Americans fear Mexicans and Latinos. When growing up in Los Angeles after World War II, anti-Semiticism was rampant and more than one Jewish friend warned me to “Never trust a goy.” (Never trust a non-Jew or white person). Jews were still ethnic then, and were not considered white. An oppressed people always display ethnic pride – it helps to survive. However, the case of Mexicans has always differed from other racial and ethnic minorities. They are not allowed the luxury of feeling pride. Euro-Americans – no matter how uneducated or pinche their existence – feel that it is their right to judge and tell Mexican Americans how to act.
This ranges from throwing tantrums over their displaying the Mexican flag at rallies, to complaining that their speaking Spanish is rude to labeling their presence at institutions of higher learning as affirmative action. I have been admonished by colleagues for warning “Never trust a gringo;” according to them, it is racist. Yet they use the term illegal alien with impunity. At California State University Northridge, a mere 4.9 percent of the faculty have Spanish surnames; over three-quarters of the departments don’t have a single Mexican American tenure track professor. When we approached the provost and the Department of Human Resources to verify these statistics, we were told that CSUN did not breakdown Hispanic groups by country of origin – it was guess work at best. Even the provost – a sympathetic soul -- tried to divert our probe which reached a dead end without institutional support. “Mexicans don’t count!”
Further there is no institutional loyalty. Because I am constantly questioning, the administration has made me pay the price. One year when I was up for merit pay increase – everyone thought I was a sure thing for the maximum increase of five steps. I had two books and five articles that year. As it came out, I received a one step increase. When I asked around I was told in confidence that the president had told the provost that she would never give me the maximum increase because she did not like me. The Chicano students had jammed her and that I stood by. That I had told her controlling students was not part of my job description. Instead she supported one of her lackeys for the five steps; he did not have the equivalent of a book review to his credit – but he knew how to kiss you know what.
The treatment of the department has been similar. CSUN is first in line to trumpet that it has the largest Chicana/o Studies department in the nation. It is a Spanish speaking Serving Institution which logo it attaches to every grant proposal. CSUN got over a million dollars for a library grant based on the size of its Chicano student population, the Chicana/o studies department, and the Chicano collections that it yet has to process. The institution ignores that it has curtailed the Educational Opportunities Program – splintering it in parts. It has systematically used Chicana/o Studies to subsidize the growth of other departments that are hurting for enrollment. It has cut the department’s prime time classes to give other departments a better chance to draw students. When Chicano Studies asked for support from the dean and the provost for development of online classes it was refused. When we laid out a plan to extend Chicano Studies classes to high school students, we were discouraged; our ideas were then given to engineering. Simply we wanted to offer via the internet college level course credit to Chicano high school students.
Without belaboring the theme and laying out documentation, I submit the following memo of March 18, 2009 to the provost:
Rudy Saves wrote:
I do not want to complain, whine, or for you to mention it to your publicity unit. However, in Mexican society -- in my generation of Mexican Americans -- words like honor and respect had meaning. I previously mentioned the slight over the Choice Award. I did not mind the slight but the slight of hand – I resent that functionaries with half my IQ would think that I would believe that it was unintentional and that they could get away with it.* Another incident happened a year ago when I was invited by the history department to be the Whitsett Scholar Lecturer. My first inclination was to turn down the invitation -- there is been bad blood between me and the history department since 1968 when it turned me down for a job. The then chair stated as reasons 1) I could not objectively teach Latin American history because my parents were Mexican, 2) that I would vote with the radical faction of history, and 3) that it already had a Mexican (Julian Nava) in the department. So be it, the next year I came in as a full professor with my own department. Over the years there were turf battles and affirmative action issues. Last year history proposed -- with Jorge acting as an intermediary -- if I would be willing to give the lecture. [They did not want to be turned down]. Jorge spoke to me and convinced me to say ok – the rationale was that there were younger historians who wanted relations and perhaps it was time that we let bygones be bygones. Moreover, we had a common cause with history in re: the move to blur the disciplines by Religious Studies, and Beth Say's inane proposal to label everything ”studies" so humanities could raid the social science's general education offerings. The event went off well. However, about two weeks later I noticed that there were other Whitsett Scholar lectures -- it seemed odd since to my knowledge this was not so in the past and this was not what the agreement had been. I brought it to Jorge's attention who spoke to his friends in Behavioral Science, they assured him that this was not the case. This week the issue was resurrected and the announcements came out for this year's honoree. My very good friend George Sanchez was chosen. (I won't be able to attend, it is my daughter's birthday). They listed the past honorees, I was not among them. So far the answer that we have gotten is that I was not "the" Whitsett Scholar but "a" Whitsett Scholar. Come on Harry, we are talking about an academic award -- not a blow job. My feeling is that you cannot expect more of gringos; Jorge feels as if he was lied to. The truth is that it is an issue of respect -- the institution
nos ven la cara de pendejo
(it sees in us the face of a fool (collectively). Again, this is not to complain, I have enough going with my new website, getting my history of Chicano studies ready and the rewrite of the seventh edition of
. I don't whine but I have never been anyone's punk.
*It is customary for professors who receive awards to be mentioned in the website newsletter. It amounts to kudos for the department. This past year I had a book and a three volume anthology published -- they were not mentioned. I also received the Outstanding Academic Title by CHOICE Magazine, /Corridors of Migration: The Odyssey of Mexican Laborers, 1600-1933, /2009/ /; the National Hispanic Institute, Lifetime Achievement Award, Austin, Texas , 2008; keynoted , Texas Foco, National Association for Chicana Chicano Studies, 2008; an award from the Community Coalition South Central Los Angeles , 9th Annual Gala Dinner, Activist-scholar award, 2008; The Labor/Community Strategy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, May 2007 (a major labor organization); the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG), Historian of the Lions Award at our 18th Anniversary Dinner in Los Angeles on Saturday, October 13, 2007. None of them were mentioned although the university was informed. At least three requests have come in to involve me in minor community events; however, they were dissuaded by the director of alumni affairs. The truth be told, the head of the alumni division has been confronted for calling me a communist in public.
My reaction to the slights is the same as the
misquote of Gold Hat in
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
(1948). "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!" I really don’t care if CSUN recognizes me. I don’t need its stinking badges! However, I know that this attitude only encourages society to dismiss Mexicans – they can get away with it because we are too polite to raise our voices. When I was teaching at San Fernando Junior High the teachers were told, “If a Jewish parent complains, take care of it right away. If a white parent complains, take care of it. Negro parents rarely complain, and don’t worry about Mexican parents, they never complain.” In order to break this culture of Mexicans don’t count, we have to fight back, raise our voices.
Like my mother used to say,
ni les pido agua
. However, this is wrong. I worked damn hard for a doctorate, working sixty hours a week and carrying a full load. They gave whites scholarships but dismissed Mexican American students. Yet I have contributed more than 99 percent of the professors at CSUN and demand to be treated with equal respect. We have to speak up! We must demand we be treated by the same standards as Jewish-Americans, Armenians, Italian-American and Irish-Americans. If they don’t want us to wave Mexican flags then abolish St. Patrick’s Day and Columbus Day marches. If they call us illegal, remind them that they stole half Mexico’s land and the lack of arable land and water are some of the reasons people come here. Remind them that Central Americans did not come here en masse until we blew up their countries. And remind Glenn Spencer of Citizens Together, the ranting David Horowitz, and Dick Cheney that their patriotism is predicated on other people losing their lives – they never went. Remind them that Mexico has drug cartels because the U.S. market for drugs. Remember treat others like they treat you.
Rodolfo F. Acuna, "
The Meaning of Occupation
," June 5, 2010
Exchange in Arizona
Generalizations and Hyperbole
May 14, 2010
Apr 1, 2009
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