The Thin Line
By
Rodolfo Acuña
(March 11, 2001)
As I get older, I am more aware of the thin line that separates the good from the bad, the colonized from the colonizer, the soldier from the murderer, the nationalist from the chauvinist, and the true believer from the racist. The thin line separates Ariel from Caliban, Bartolome de las Casas from Hernando Cortes, Lenin from Stalin, and Mandela from Adolf Hitler. In life we are always walking that thin line, whether attempting to discern Democrats from Republicans, businessmen from exploiters, love from hate, and/or idealism from egotism. Blurring the thin lines that separate life's driving lanes is easy. The headlights of opposing traffic often momentarily blind us. The passions of the times often have the same effect as the headlights, confusing the thin lines that separate nationalism from extremism. The glare of the headlights on our eyes cause a disorientation on the crowded freeway, much the same as they do in struggle.
Take the past mayoral race. In the passion of the fray, some crossed the line, and abused free speech and became demagogues. A very small but relevant number of supposedly Chicano Internet sites, none of them affiliated with the candidates crossed the thin line and engaged in making anti-Semitic statements. Because one of the candidates was Jewish, "some" Jews became "all" Jews, much in the same way that "some" Mexicans in the past became "all" Mexicans. According to this wrongheaded logic, Jewish money was driving his campaign. This criticism of the mayoral candidate went from the rational to the irrational, as Chicano Internet writers crossed the line from activist to racist.
They crossed the thin line between the rational and the irrational, and between legitimate criticism and stupidity. Stupid because there was a lot to criticize about the candidate who happened to be Jewish. He was and is a member of Los Angeles’ corporate elite that is engineering a corporate takeover of our city and schools. Further, his money and his connections are with non-Jewish capitalist like Richard Riordan. It is these connections and not his ethnic that distinguished his candidacy. Finally, stupid because many progressive Jews have been his harshest critics.
In spewing the chauvinist rhetoric, the self-described nationalist engaged in a very divisive and ugly polemic. In reading the barrage of email letters that cluttered my account, I had a difficult time distinguishing between them and the VCT (Voices of Citizens Together) and its anti-immigrant trash. I had a difficult time in distinguishing the Email from the Nazi literature of the 1930s.
The Irony is that in the past, some of these true believers have heroically struggled for justice for Chicanos and other oppressed people. However, in this instance, their rhetoric wallowed in the sewer and the true believers crossed the thin line and accused two noted Chicana leaders of being part of the "Jewish conspiracy" because they were married with Jewish males. In this instance, the thin line that separates the absurd from stupidity was crossed again and again, and the writer fell into the gutter.
The rush of the traffic and the headlights of the opposing traffic also caused one true believer to cross the thin line that separates the macho from the homophobe. In this instance, the true believer accused a national Chicano academic organization of being anti-God because it took a strong stance against homophobia. He then turned around and threatened a respected Latino community organization for sponsoring a forum on issues confronting gay and lesbian Latinos.
The irony is that this same person has historically condemned Spanish colonialism. So it seems odd that he is raising the moral authority of the colonial Church to support his biases. A further irony is that he has in the past courageously crusaded against racism toward undocumented immigrants, the racism of the border patrol, and the racism of police. In one full swoop, the colonized became the colonizer. The victim of racism became the racist. The tragedy is that it hurts the movement and human rights issues that he espouses. He has sold out his own people for the sake of feeding his ego, and he crossed the line that separates the altruist from the opportunist.
In talking about the thin line, I have intentionally avoided identifying by name those who have crossed over the thin line. There is a natural inclination to want to know names. However, in my experience, identifying true believers by name often energizes them. They feed off controversy, much the same as the serial rapist feeds off newspaper accounts of his inhumanity. The fact that they get into a debate with someone with some visibility somehow validates them.
Those who know me, or know my history, know that I am not afraid of controversy. However, I do not want in anyway to validate racism or homophobia because they are sicknesses. As a historian I realize the consequences of not distinguishing between "some" and "all." History also teaches me that being a Chicano or a Latino in the United States is difficult. I believe in the moral authority of our struggle. I also realize that I do not have to make others less to make myself somebody. My ego is not so fragile that I have to drag others down into the muck to climb up. I concede that being an activist is difficult. It is always dark and the opposing headlights often make it difficult to see the lines. Yet the failure to see the thin lines has led to unnecessary factionalism within our community.
The bottom line is that no one forces us to become activist. And, just because we are activist, does not entitle us to be irresponsible and use a movement for our own biases. This is especially true when the undocumented and the poor will suffer the consequences of our irresponsibility.

Rough Draft
Who speaks for the Latino student?
By
Rodolfo F. Acuña
(January 30, 2003)
It seems as if I am constantly harping on the theme of who is an organic spokesperson for the large Mexican/Latino communities of this region. What qualifies a person to speak for the disparate Latino communities? Is it based solely on the color of the self-appointed leader=s skin color, how well he or she speaks Spanish, and/or whether he or she eats menudo? Or, should it be based on some kind of history of service and vision that the person has for those communities? It is a question that we have not resolved.
This debate will take on a broader dimensions as the United States approaches a war with Iraq and then as it wars with other countries in the years to come. On my own campus of California State University at Northridge, students and faculty have been protesting President Jolene Koester's signing of an agreement with the ROTC, allowing it a physical presence on campus. Latino students were especially upset about the ROTC=s Hispanic Access Initiative that targets Latino students exclusively for recruitment. It is an initiative that Latino educators have criticized because this recruitment begins in the high schools and continues through the university level.
Supporters of the Initiative attempt to justify the Hispanic Access Initiative because former Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera sponsored it in an attempt to get more Latinos in the Army. Proponents of the initiative justify it because Caldera is a Latino. A former California Assemblyman, they point out, Caldera has received awards from numerous organizations including Ventura County' s League of United Latin American Citizens. Apparently, pronents believe that Caldera=s support for the ROTC trumps the voice of a bunch of students who have never been elected to political office and are not recognized by the media and the ruling institutions of this country.
Indeed, Caldera=s career reads like a Latino success story. Born in El Paso, Texas, Caldera, the eldest son of Mexican immigrants, was raised in Whittier, California and graduated from the US Military Academy. After a tour in the Military Police Corps, Caldera graduated with a J.D. from the Harvard Law School and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. He practiced law in Los Angeles, California at the prestigious firm of O'Melveny & Myers. In the early 1990s, with the support of many of the downtown=s elite, he was elected to three terms in the California State Assembly. In 1998, Clinton appointed Caldera Secretary of the Army where he pushed for recruiting more Latinos into the army.
I have always found Caldera to be articulate but also somewhat arrogant. Like many of my colleagues, I believe that the right to speak for a group comes about by working and bonding with the group. It comes the old fashion way, you work for it. It is not something that comes to you by the process of osmosis. So, when Caldera first ran for office, I questioned his credentials because he was running in a district that he knew little about and had previously shown little interest in.
After he was elected, his actions raised eye brows. He is notorious for sponsoring and pushing a bill requiring first‑time applicants for drivers’ licenses to prove they are U.S. citizens or legal residents. The bill was supported by the nativist Federation for American Immigration Reform. I agreed with Assemblywoman Martha Escutia, D‑Huntington Park, who argued that ''Voting for this bill is going to lead us down a slippery slope toward blatant discrimination.'' Yet Caldera defended the bill and argued that they patterned it on a New Jersey system that has been in effect for fifty years. Caldera showed that he had little understanding of the phenomenon or history by defending the bill: ''It will apply to everyone . . . so I don't believe it will result in discrimination . . . This measure will help enforce our immigration laws.''
Caldera carried this vision or lack of it to Washington where he preached that Latinos by not being recruited into the army were being locked out of the American Dream. One of his solutions for a decline in enlistments was to recruit undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Caldera stated that a group of recruiters in North Hollywood, Calif., had asked: "Why can't we take these students who aren't citizens but want to serve and help them become citizens?" On another occasion addressing the Latino Leadership Conference in Los Angeles U.S. Army Recruiting Command Caldera deplored that so many young people were missing the opportunity to gain from military service. He said that the services had to learn to recruit en español to fill their thinning ranks.
After leaving Washington, D.C. as secretary of the Army, Caldera returned to California where they appointed him vice-chancellor for Advancement of the California State University system where seventeen campuses are heavily Latino. Significantly, most of those appointed by Caldera to work for him are non-Latino. Moreover, it has to be pointed out that Caldera did not qualify for the job because of his long involvement with education or knowledge of it.
CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed correctly points out that the CSU system is heavily diverse and it will become a major battleground for the hearts and minds of Latino students. Surely, many of the CSU presidents will rely on the advice of Caldera as what to do about the aggressive recruitment of Latino students on the campuses. For them, Caldera is the legitimate voice of the Latino community, the fact that his vision is closely allied to their interests makes him even more compatible.
I have been in the CSU system as a student and a professor for more than forty-five years. I remember being the only student of Mexican extraction in my classes, and I remember San Fernando Valley State College (CSU Northridge), having less than a hundred Mexican Americans in 1969. Changes came about because of people with a vision for the community insisted that the Latinos be given equal opportunity to high education not the military. People like Caldera are the beneficiaries of these sacrifices. So, I believe it is reasonable that the CSU should listen to the people who have made the sacrifices, and I, for one, am offended that the US government is spending $8,000 to $11,000 to recruit a single student when the money would be better spent keeping them in college. More important, I am offended that CSU administrators dismiss voices such as mine.

From – The Los Angeles Herald Examiner (May 15, 1987)
Title – “Put Cinco de Mayo on the wagon”
Twenty years ago, Cinco de Mayo was an event largely unknown outside the schools and parks of the Mexican-American community. It is now a part of the culture of the Southwest. This month, both barrio and yuppie bars advertised Cinco de Mayo “Happy Hours,” and margaritas and beer flowed freely. In good old American fashion, the celebration has been packaged and marketed to the public. And therein lies a problem.
Latinos visiting Mexico during Cinco de Mayo week are shocked to discover that Mexicans hardly note the day. After all, Cinco de Mayo commemorates just one victory – though brilliantly orchestrated by Texas-born Gen. Ignacio Zaragosa – over the French. The battle itself had little effect on the course of Mexican history. Its importance is largely symbolic.
Mexicans in the United States have celebrated Cinco de Mayo since the late 19th century, when Mexican patriotic associations, mutual-aid societies and other organizations sponsored the festivities. More often than not the speakers came from the ranks of the local Mexican elite. A strong strain of nationalism dominated the proceedings. The virtues of Mexican culture were extolled.
After World War I, the focus of the celebrations gradually changed. With the growth of Mexican-American middle-class organizations, composed largely of second-generation Mexicans, assimilation into American society became a dominant theme at Cinco de Mayo events. Scholarships were awarded; beauty contests held. By World War II, this cycle was almost complete. The American flag was often seen flying alongside Mexico’s.
In the 1960s, a nationwide revival of Chicano nationalism again changed the emphasis at Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Chicano activists and their struggle for civil rights were praised. Cesar Chavez and his farm workers became heroes. In response to the demands of Chicano students, universities and colleges picked up the speaking tabs of such activists as Corky Gonzales and Jose Angel Gutierrez.
Shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, social activism declined, and, as a result, Cinco de Mayo again changed its colors. Enter the beer companies. Recognizing that Latinos comprised the biggest beer-drinking market in California, they developed a plan to expand their sales even more. According to Jim Hernandez, director of the California Hispanic Commission on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the brewers adopted what is now known as the “Budweiser strategy”: Make alcohol a staple of Latino social life.
“Historical” calendars, which depicted Mexican-American yuppies as the new Chicanos, were published and widely distributed by the brewers. Beer ads in the form of plaques, signs and placemats turned up in Mexican restaurants and bars. Fund-raising organizations received free beer; Latino conferences were underwritten by breweries. Menudo without beer became unthinkable.
The situation reached a new low two years ago when leading Mexican-American national organizations – the National Council of La Raza, the American G.I. Forum and later the League of United Latin American Citizens – signed an agreement with the Coors Brewing Company. In return for calling off a national boycott, Coors promised to give more than $350 million to Latino organizations and to the community. Coors suddenly had become a good corporate citizen.
But there was no guarantee that Latinos would ever see a cent of the pledged money. That Latinos would consume large quantities of Coors was a certainty. Critics of the agreement devised a new motto for the Chicano movement: “Drink a Coors for La Raza!”
Even more insidious than the Coors pact is the mindset of the middle-class organizations that signed on the dotted line. The leaders of La Raza, for example, no longer live next door to the poor who pick up the tab. By agreeing to take Coors’ word at face value, they unconsciously undermined the very values and institutions they pledged to preserve.
Alcoholism is a major problem in the Latino community. Pathetically outdated studies show that it is a greater health hazard there than in either the black or white communities. It destroys families, despoils the culture. The arrest rate for drunkenness is disproportionately high among Mexican-Americans. It is a myth that Mexicans are not drunks but just good drinkers.
To be sure, it would be difficult to tell Latinos not to drink free beer. It would be equally difficult to persuade under-funded grassroots organizations that it is not in their interest to accept help from the beer companies. They need the money to continue their work in the barrio. But the price is too high.
On the weekend before this month’s Cinco de Mayo festivities, Latinos could drive out to Lincoln Park and listen to Tierra, El Chicano and War, as well as other popular performers. They could forget about their personal problems, forget that Cinco de Mayo coincided with the start of the flawed Simpson-Rodino amnesty program. They only had to listen to a drop-in politico tell them how great it was. And there was no charge.
Occasionally, there was the faint cry of “Viva el Cinco de Mayo” and “Viva la Raza!” More often, it was Miller time. Next year, the Latino organizations and politicians who sponsor and participate in Cinco de Mayo events should look harder for other sources of funding. That would be a real victory to celebrate.

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (October 9, 1987)
Title – “Our ‘fantasy heritage’ gets royal touch”
Before and during King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia’s tour of Los Angeles last week, our elected officials displayed their usual ignorance of history. Mayor Tom Bradley’s office, for example, billed the royal visit as a tribute to the city’s Hispanic roots. When I asked Bea Lavery, a Bradley aide, what significance the trip held for Latinos, she replied, “That’s what the trip is all about.” After all, she said, “Felipe Neve discovered Los Angeles.”
Spanish consul general Pedro Temboury shared Lavery’s boosterism. Juan Carlos, he asserted, was visiting the lands Spain discovered and founded. Asked why Latinos should care, Temboury said that Spain feels part of “that gran familia hispana, with one language, one history and one mentality.”
Well, not all was blessed. During preparations for the royal visit, the mayor’s office caused a minor stir when it announced that a statue of Carlos III, who chartered Los Angeles in 1781, would be moved from MacArthur Park to the Plaza of El Pueblo Park. Richard Alatorre and Gloria Molina rightly opposed the move, but, in so doing, couldn’t get their history straight (they mistook Carlos for Fernando). In any event, the statue was moved, and the further Hispanization of El Pueblo Park was assured.
Putting Carlos III in the Plaza allowed the king and queen to pay homage to their Bourbon ancestry in what is considered the city’s roots. While there, they walked Olvera Street – a bit of “Old Spain” in Los Angeles. If they so desired, they could have eaten traditional “Spanish” food like tacos and tamales and listen to “Spanish” mariachi music. Once more, Los Angeles returned to the 1920s, when Mexican restaurants such as El Cholo labeled their food Spanish to attract white Angelenos.
In truth, the only stop-off with any historical relevance was the monarch’s visit to a Sephardic Temple, an acknowledgement of the injustice of Spain’s expulsion of the Jews in 1492. If this symbolic atonement had not appeared on the royal itinerary, I doubt L.A.’s Jewish community would have been so supportive of the visit.
I also wonder if the more progressive members of the Latino community would have been so eager to participate in the festivities had they known the history of the Spanish conquest. For the indigenous peoples of the Americas suffered greatly. Forced to work in mines and haciendas, their cities destroyed, the Mexican population shrank from 30 million to less than 2 million in the first 100 years of Spanish rule. As the numbers of Indians declined, and labor became scarcer, an increasing number of blacks were forcibly brought from Africa as slaves.
The historical fats are but a sampling of those concealed by the architects of a “fantasy heritage” for California. For the record, Felipe Neve did not discover Los Angeles. California’s indigenous people lived in the Los Angeles area for some 5,000 years before the city’s so-called founding. The 41 founders of the City of Los Angeles – people of Indian, black and Spanish blood – were part of the phenomenon that created modern Mexico – they were the poorest of the poor who had won their independence from Spain.
Furthermore, Mexican history did not begin in 1821. Regrettably, the king and queen’s visit reinforced that idea, which directly links California to Spain and excludes Mexico. As one L.A. Mexican consular official put it, “It is as if North Americans want to purge the word Mexican; as if Mexican history did not exist.”
Or as a Mexican official said: “North Americans want to rewrite history and separate Latin Americans from their indigenous past. Take, for instance, the North American’s use of the term Hispanic. Don’t they know that it comes from Hispania, the Roman word for Spain; Hispani means people from Spain.”
What is particularly irritating is that the Spaniards, while they are ready to atone for the expulsion of the Sephardic Jews, still do not understand how adversely their conquest and colonialization affected Mexicans of all racial backgrounds. Only last year, during a celebration of Columbus Day, Juan Carlos naively asserted that “We [Spain] opened the way for the most fertile social and cultural transformation in the history of mankind.” And while in the Bay Area last week, the king called the colonialization of California Spain’s greatest single achievement in history.
These statements, among others, reflect a Euro-American bias: Humankind is limited to Western Europe; civilization is limited to the borders of Europe; non-whites haven’t suffered holocausts.
Miguel Leon Portilla, the distinguished Mexican pre-Columbian scholar, tells an anecdote that underscores this European ignorance of the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas:
A Spanish conquistador sat reading a book when a Nahuatl-speaking Indian approached him. Looking at what he was reading the Indian asked, “You also have books?”
The Aztecs, Mayas and other Mexican and Central American civilizations had codices (books) long before the coming of the Spaniards. They discovered the concept of zero in 200 B.C., a thousand years before the Arabs gave the idea to the Europeans. Moreover, the indigenous peoples of California lived better before Spain, by force of arms, extended its empire to California.
In all probability, the Hispani of Los Angeles will vehemently deny this. Many U.S. Cubans insist on the purity of their Spanish blood, overlooking the fact that in the 30 years following Spain’s conquest of Cuba, more than a million Indians were wiped out. Some middle-class Mexican-Americans may fantasize that they are Spanish, and have a king and queen. As for me, I demand the same respect as shown by the Sephardic Jews. The role Europe played in the destruction, not the discovery, of the Americas should no more be forgotten than the 1492 expulsion of the Jews. To forget that is tantamount to denying the Holocaust.

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (October 9, 1987)
Title – “Our ‘fantasy heritage’ gets royal touch”
Before and during King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia’s tour of Los Angeles last week, our elected officials displayed their usual ignorance of history. Mayor Tom Bradley’s office, for example, billed the royal visit as a tribute to the city’s Hispanic roots. When I asked Bea Lavery, a Bradley aide, what significance the trip held for Latinos, she replied, “That’s what the trip is all about.” After all, she said, “Felipe Neve discovered Los Angeles.”
Spanish consul general Pedro Temboury shared Lavery’s boosterism. Juan Carlos, he asserted, was visiting the lands Spain discovered and founded. Asked why Latinos should care, Temboury said that Spain feels part of “that gran familia hispana, with one language, one history and one mentality.”
Well, not all was blessed. During preparations for the royal visit, the mayor’s office caused a minor stir when it announced that a statue of Carlos III, who chartered Los Angeles in 1781, would be moved from MacArthur Park to the Plaza of El Pueblo Park. Richard Alatorre and Gloria Molina rightly opposed the move, but, in so doing, couldn’t get their history straight (they mistook Carlos for Fernando). In any event, the statue was moved, and the further Hispanization of El Pueblo Park was assured.
Putting Carlos III in the Plaza allowed the king and queen to pay homage to their Bourbon ancestry in what is considered the city’s roots. While there, they walked Olvera Street – a bit of “Old Spain” in Los Angeles. If they so desired, they could have eaten traditional “Spanish” food like tacos and tamales and listen to “Spanish” mariachi music. Once more, Los Angeles returned to the 1920s, when Mexican restaurants such as El Cholo labeled their food Spanish to attract white Angelenos.
In truth, the only stop-off with any historical relevance was the monarch’s visit to a Sephardic Temple, an acknowledgement of the injustice of Spain’s expulsion of the Jews in 1492. If this symbolic atonement had not appeared on the royal itinerary, I doubt L.A.’s Jewish community would have been so supportive of the visit.
I also wonder if the more progressive members of the Latino community would have been so eager to participate in the festivities had they known the history of the Spanish conquest. For the indigenous peoples of the Americas suffered greatly. Forced to work in mines and haciendas, their cities destroyed, the Mexican population shrank from 30 million to less than 2 million in the first 100 years of Spanish rule. As the numbers of Indians declined, and labor became scarcer, an increasing number of blacks were forcibly brought from Africa as slaves.
The historical fats are but a sampling of those concealed by the architects of a “fantasy heritage” for California. For the record, Felipe Neve did not discover Los Angeles. California’s indigenous people lived in the Los Angeles area for some 5,000 years before the city’s so-called founding. The 41 founders of the City of Los Angeles – people of Indian, black and Spanish blood – were part of the phenomenon that created modern Mexico – they were the poorest of the poor who had won their independence from Spain.
Furthermore, Mexican history did not begin in 1821. Regrettably, the king and queen’s visit reinforced that idea, which directly links California to Spain and excludes Mexico. As one L.A. Mexican consular official put it, “It is as if North Americans want to purge the word Mexican; as if Mexican history did not exist.”
Or as a Mexican official said: “North Americans want to rewrite history and separate Latin Americans from their indigenous past. Take, for instance, the North American’s use of the term Hispanic. Don’t they know that it comes from Hispania, the Roman word for Spain; Hispani means people from Spain.”
What is particularly irritating is that the Spaniards, while they are ready to atone for the expulsion of the Sephardic Jews, still do not understand how adversely their conquest and colonialization affected Mexicans of all racial backgrounds. Only last year, during a celebration of Columbus Day, Juan Carlos naively asserted that “We [Spain] opened the way for the most fertile social and cultural transformation in the history of mankind.” And while in the Bay Area last week, the king called the colonialization of California Spain’s greatest single achievement in history.
These statements, among others, reflect a Euro-American bias: Humankind is limited to Western Europe; civilization is limited to the borders of Europe; non-whites haven’t suffered holocausts.
Miguel Leon Portilla, the distinguished Mexican pre-Columbian scholar, tells an anecdote that underscores this European ignorance of the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas:
A Spanish conquistador sat reading a book when a Nahuatl-speaking Indian approached him. Looking at what he was reading the Indian asked, “You also have books?”
The Aztecs, Mayas and other Mexican and Central American civilizations had codices (books) long before the coming of the Spaniards. They discovered the concept of zero in 200 B.C., a thousand years before the Arabs gave the idea to the Europeans. Moreover, the indigenous peoples of California lived better before Spain, by force of arms, extended its empire to California.
In all probability, the Hispani of Los Angeles will vehemently deny this. Many U.S. Cubans insist on the purity of their Spanish blood, overlooking the fact that in the 30 years following Spain’s conquest of Cuba, more than a million Indians were wiped out. Some middle-class Mexican-Americans may fantasize that they are Spanish, and have a king and queen. As for me, I demand the same respect as shown by the Sephardic Jews. The role Europe played in the destruction, not the discovery, of the Americas should no more be forgotten than the 1492 expulsion of the Jews. To forget that is tantamount to denying the Holocaust.

La Opinion 6 Agosto 2000
CONVENCION NACIONAL DEMOCRATA EN S ANGELES: La politica alternative y el cionalismo
No puedo compartir el optimismo de los veteranos de izquierda que piensan que Los Angeles se va a convertir en otro Seattle, o, cuando menos, en otro Washington D.C. Los Angeles es un tipo muy diferente de ciudad. Es una ciudad latina y no veo a muchos latinos en las convenciones alternativas
Rodolfo F. Acuña
He tratado de no pensar en la funcion de circo que está programada en el Centro Staples, en la Convencion Nacional del Partido Democrata y las protestas y convenciones alternativos programados a su alrededor. Me perturba sentir que tengo que excusarme por no asistir a las protestas. No es que no me hayan invitado una de las convenciones paralelas hasta me pidio ser su principal orador. En el fondo, me siento culpable, aunque sé que no tengo motivo para sentirme asi.
Me siento culpable, aunque como antguo catolico, siempre pensé que la confesión me absolvia.
Se preguntarán por que me estoy dando golpes de pecho diciendo mea culpa. Probablemente porque, despues de 42 altos como activista, quiero ofrecer mi apoyo emocional a las protestas, pero he llegado al punto en que creo que esa clase de protesta que se programa en el Staples Center es irracional; lo es porque le hace el ego a las mismas reglas contra las cuales protestamos. Como dije en otra ocasion: nos estamos haciendo menos.
Toda mi vida he tenido que escoger al menor de dos males: Humphrey contra Nixon, Carter contra Ford, Clinton contra Bush, Clinton contra Dole, y ahora Al Gore contra George W. Bush. En el ambito de gobierno estatal, seguirle el juego a esta irracionalidad engendro a Gray Davis, quien nos ha estado castigando desde que lo elegimos.
La irracionalidad del sistema politico y las respuestas a esta irracionalidad terminan por corroernos. La antigua mezcla de frustracion y safisfaccion que sentia al protestar contra el establishment ha dado paso al pesimismo. A veces me sorprende mi propia impaciencia asta con la Red Politica Independiente Progresiva (siglas en ingless IPPN), una alternativa de izquierda al duopolio de republicanos y democratas en esta nacion, o con los Verdes (Greens) del Partido Ecologista. Se que son diferentes a los democratas y republicanos, pero en la realidad su manera de comportarse es tan, bueno, tan blanca, tan de clase media, que siempre los he imaginado votando por los democratas en la penumbra del cubiculo electoral, donde nadie los puede ver.
No puedo echarle la culpa de mi estado emocional a la crisis de la mediana edad. Soy demasiado viejo para eso. Lo mais probable es que el racionalismo que me inculcaron los jesuitas ha minado tanto mi racionalidad politica como mi confianza social en la comunidad de izquierda. Esto ha precipitado la crisis y creado un dilema: ?continuar cumpliendo con una estrategia irracional, o decir lo que pienso y sufrir acusaciones de que soy irracional o aun peor, de que soy un revoltoso, que soy lo peor?
Me di cuenta que parte del problema es, precisamente, el hecho de que soy un colaboracionista.
Esta afirmacion se basa en la siguiente falacia: si participo en las alternatvas a un circo como el del Staples Center, contribuyo a cambiar la situacion politica. Esto es falso.
El comportamiento conformista tiene la apariencia de racionalidad, porque es la sociedad y no el individuo la que define que constituye una decision racional. La sociedad suele equiparar la emocion con la irracionalidad. Reduce la racionalidad a frio calculo. Por lo demas, la emocion se basa en la fe. Desde el tempo de Aristoteles, la emocion ha sido definida como una barrera, que dificulta la objetividad. Cuando me di cuenta de ello, me rebele contra el medio academico y, llegado este momento, me rebelo contra la izquierda.
El racionalismo en filosoffa es principalmente una teoria del conocimiento. A diferencia del empirismo, que sostene que todo conocimiento proviene de la percepcion, el racionalismo acepta que la parte mas importante de nuestro conocimiento proviene de nuestra percepcion intelectual. Siempre me han hecho sentir incomodo estas definiciones simplistas. Con el paso de los anos me he vuelto mas critico de la tradicion humanista, la cual parece entremezclar lo social, lo politico y lo filosofico. Me he vuelto mucho mas esceptico de la llamada politica alternativa.
Ya no me cuadra creer que esta politica alternative pueda cambiar algo. Siento el deber de cuestionar, filosoficamente, la premisa de la politica alternativa. Al mismo tiempo, siento un gran respeto por los jovenes manifestantes de Seattle. Sin embargo, tambien admire el idealismo de la juventud durante los anos 60, y esta gente finalmente maduro y sus intereses no siempre coincidieron con los de los pobres o los grupos minoritarios. Mi mundo intelectual esta estructurado de manera tal que concibo las metas generates de la sociedad como un conjunto en el que tambien cabe la resolucion de los problemas de los latinos, cosa que tengo en comun con los manifestantes de Seattle. Pero se que la mayoria de ellos se graduara de la universidad y dejara este episodio relegado a la nostalgia de su pasado.
No puedo compartir el optimismo de los veteranos de la izquierda que piensan que Los Angeles se va a convertir en otro Seattle, o, cuando menos, en otro Washington D.C. Los Angeles es un tipo muy diferente de ciudad. Es una ciudad latina y no veo a muchos latinos en las convenciones alternativas, exceptuando a un punado de politicos y dirigentes sindicales. Y en cuanto a la presencia de los afroamericanos, no se ven muchos en la Convencion.
El fin de semana pasado asisti a una conferencia cumbre de la frontera convocada por Armando Navarro en San Ysidro. Lo que se discutio alli demostro que, incluso entre aquellos sectores que en circunstancias normales saldrian a manifestar, existe una marcada renuencia a unirse a grupos dirigidos por blancos. En Seattle hubo poca necesidad de esas coaliciones. Los Angeles, sin embargo, es una ciudad latina.
En Seattle se sentia fuertemente la presencia de los sindicatos. Los Angeles, nuevamente, es diferente. El sector mas militante de la fuerza laboral, el mas proclive a manifestar, esta dirigido por latinos. Este liderazgo es de caracter territorial. Esta muy metido en la politica del Partido Democrata, a traves del caucus latino, que tendra representacion en el Staples Center. A diferencia de las convenciones alternatives, esta gente no va a estar a la sombra en el Staples, y consecuentemente su racionalidad esta ligada a los intereses y a la fe -no importa cuan infundada- en el Partido Democrata.
Por lo demas, los politcos latinos tienen interes en que los latinos no encabecen las manifestaciones. En 1994 cuando hubo una manifestacion masiva de 150 mil latinos y mexicoamericanos que marcharon por la avenida Brooklyn hasta el centro civico con banderitas mexicanas y carteles que denunciaban la Proposicion 187, muchos de estos politicos temieron una reaccion negativa del resto de la poblacion. Sintieron verdadero patnico cuando 30 mil estudiantes mexicanos y centroamericanos salieron de sus escuelas en protesta de la 187. Desde entonces, no hubo ninguna protesta latina de envergadura. Tampoco la habra esta vez, puesto que casi no han tratado de movilizar a los latinos de esta ciudad.
Otra diferencia entre las ciudades reside en el caracter de los disturbios suscitados por el incidente entre la policia y Rodney King a comienzos de los anos 90. Los Angeles es una ciudad diferente, marcada por la presencia de pandillas. Aunque podria pensar que estos pandilleros se preocuparan por la creciente represion contra toda la juventud, con la aprobacion de la Proposicion 21 y las ejecuciones de la seccional policial de Rampart, la mayor parte de los gangs han quedado aislados dentro de su territorio. Muchos pandilleros dejaron en claro, durante los disturbios por Rodney King, que no iban a permifir la entrada intrusos a sus barrios. Esto reduce mucho el area de las posibles manifestaciones.
No importa de que modo se vea, Los Angeles es diferente porque en realidad solo tiene un diario: el LA Times. Los otros periodicos funcionan a su sombra. En 1984, cuando una coalicion a la que yo pertenecia trato de organizer una marcha de protesta el dia de la apertura de la Olimpiada, practicamente nos borraron de los medios de comunicacion.
Aparte de todo lo anterior, la razon principal por la que no voy a estar presente en el Staples Center es mi experiencia con la Convencion Republicana de 1996 en San Diego. En esa ocasion, celebramos nuestras respectivas convenciones alternatives -chicanos, afroamedcanos, feministas, gays, radicales blancos, Verdes y otros- -juntos pero no revueltos. En el momento designado, marchamos unidos a una especie de corral, justo enfrente de la Convencion Republicana, donde por una hora se nos permitio, como si fueramos macacos, gritarles a los delegados republicanos a la distancia. Estabamos totalmente rodeados por una cerca y cadenas. Cuando se nos acabo el tiempo, nos marchamos de vuelta a nuestros respectivos sitios. Yo estaba en el grupo que gritaba lemas sobre el poder chicano. El unico grupo que no quiso unirse a nosotros fue La Union del Barrio, por todos criticado como irracional, pera la historia determinara que fue el grupo mas racional de los que alli estaban congregados.
Antaño crei en coaliciones y bregue porque funcionaran. Sin embargo, por mucho que lo deseemos, no todos se uniran a nosotros. Hay que preguntarse si la politica alternativa realmente representa una alternativa. En lo personal, espero que las manifestaciones de Los Angeles superen a las de Seattle pero, si recordamos todo lo antedicho, este deseo no puede dejar de ser parte de esa politica alternativa, que nos define como seres racionales.
Rodolfo F. Acuna es profesor de estudios Chicanos en la Universidad del Estado de California en Northridge.