Hon. Cruz Reynoso
June 8 2000 Forum
The Making of the Political Pocho
Dr. Rodolfo F. Acuña

A by-product of affirmative action programs such as EOP (Educational Opportunities Program) and the creation of Chicano studies in the 1960s was the dramatic expansion of a Chicano middle- class. EOP, for example, expanded base of Mexican American students in our colleges throughout the United States. Unlikely places like San Fernando Valley State College (California State University at Northridge) in 1969 had about 100 Mexican American students. This number has jumped to about 9,000 Latino students by the 1990s.

Theoretically, the new Chicano Studies programs were supposed to politicize students, and help bond them to the community. Indeed, thousands of Chicano students graduated from such programs in the past thirty years, dramatically widening the Chicano/Latino middle class in the Los Angeles area. While at the university, many of these graduates were student activists, participating in MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlan).

Activists at the time hoped that exposure to Chicano Studies would politically educate professionals who would work in the community, offering leadership and helping nurture a political culture. But, unfortunately, human nature does not work that way. As in the case of students throughout the world, most former student activists settled back, formed families, and reaped the harvest of the entitlements of the middle-class.

It cannot, however, be concluded that the Chicano/Latino middle-class does not care about educational and social issues affecting the barrio. It is just that they become less aware of injustices because they are often spatially separated from the barrio. The opportunity for political discourse also diminishes over times, and Chicano professionals become increasingly dependent on what they read in the papers or hear on the news about politics. The lack of exposure to ideas outside the popular paradigm as well as social issues thwarts their political development, and, consequently, they remain political pochos.

I make the analogy of the pocho because many of us when entered the public schools spoke fluent Spanish. In fact, it was our only language. Because of the lack of maintenance of Spanish our development in the language remained at a primary school level. It did not advance to reading Spanish language literature. English often became our primary language. Meanwhile, we were not able to take Spanish classes until high school when we repeated like parrots, "?HOLA PACO, QUE TAL? ?COMO ESTAS?

Many former Chicano activists through a lack of political maintenance have become political pochos. They learned the basics of Chicano studies, its language, but have not advanced beyond a cultural level. They identify with the culture, but not the political dimensions of culture. Over time, they begin to think about the barrio as a justification for their entitlements. Notions such as the transformation of the barrio become alien to their political vocabulary.

This lack of a political development was painfully evident in the Ramparts Police scandal. It in many ways represented the most blatant violation of civil rights in the City of the Angel's history. Yet, the response of Chicano/Latino elected officials and our middle-class leaders was deafening. It was as if we had no political leaders.

Perhaps it is not fair to draw comparisons. However, we recall the reactions of African American politicos and leaders during the Rodney King upheaval, of those of New York Puerto Rican elected officials to the situation on Vieques Island where three Puerto Rican U.S. Representatives were arrested in acts of civil disobedience.

Is it too much to expect the same level of commitment from Chicano elected officials? After all they are the beneficiaries of the dramatic growth of not only a Mexican but Central American population.

Is it too much to expect some sense of outrage from the Chicano middle class? It was surprising that the large Chicano middle class did not react to the Ramparts scandal. After all they are the recipient of the sacrifices and the common historical memories of the 1960s. It seems as if they did not understand the significance of civil rights, or how important it is to protect them.

Indeed, the protection of civil rights has been a centerpiece of the struggle of Jewish-Americans, African-Americans and Mexican American organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American G.I. Forum. Why then the silence? And, what is the political price?

To put it more succinctly, what is the duty of the Chicano middle class to the barrios in matters concerning civil rights? Have we grown too complacent? Have we come to believe that equality and justice can be gotten solely through the election of Mexican American elected officials? Or, even more sarcastically, is our contribution to the barrio measured by our individual success? Or, should the question be, do we have any duty to others once we make it?

The lack of response by the Chicano middle-class has consequences. It delivers the message to the public at large and to all elected officials as well that we don't care.

In order to explore these questions, on June 8th , from 6-8 p.m. at the Wilshire United Methodist Church, 4350 Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles, the For Chicana/Chicano Studies Foundation will host a forum on "Has the Chicano/Latino Middle Class Abandoned Civil Rights Issues?" Former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso will be the keynote speaker. The public is invited; admission is free. We will discuss, What are civil rights? Does it matter where we live? Or is it as Martin Luther King put it, "Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere."

The purpose of the forum is not to yell or point fingers. Neither is it to complain. The purpose is to maintain and add to the language of transformation.