Arizona on My Mind
external image rsn-I.jpgt seems as if the only thing that I can think of these days is Arizona. Events there threaten what the Mexican-American and Chicana/o generations fought so hard to achieve.
Certainly there are more Mexican-Americans in the colleges than in 1968; however, there are many more of us today and proportionately, there are less white students.
One problem that we failed to stem back then was the extraordinarily high dropout problem which today continues in excess of fifty percent. The gains that we made are under attack in Arizona, especially Mexican-American family views and the Chicana/o Civil Rights Legacy.
The first is the concept of the family. My maternal family has been in what is now Arizona for at least 300 years. The line didn't mean much to us, and family was family regardless of on what side of the line you lived. If someone needed help we never asked, "On what side of the border were you born?"
My vocation in life is to teach Chicana/o and Latina/o students. Chicano Studies has been part of this mission. Frankly, I cannot understand what Gov. Jan Brewer is saying when she says, "that public school students should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or classes of people."
I believe that Brewer is being mendacious and I would respect her more if she would say, "I want to get elected and I own this issue," or "I hate Mexicans." Even as a kid I hated hypocrisy.
Chicano Studies, or La Raza Studies as they are called in Tucson, were established precisely because the schools were and are failing. They evolved around identity which cried out to be repaired, that cried out to be respected.
A 1966 study titled "The Invisible Minority" by the National Education Association drove this point home - especially an essay by a 13-year-old Mexican student, who I assume came from Tucson, but could have been written by any Mexican-American at the time. It read:
Me
To begin with, I am a Mexican. That sentence has a scent of bitterness as it is written. I feel that if it weren't for my nationality I would accomplish more. My being a Mexican has brought about my lack of initiative. No matter what I attempt to do, my dark skin always makes me feel that I will fail. Another thing that "gripes" me is that I am such a coward. I absolutely will not fight for something even if I know I'm right. I do not have the vocabulary that it would take to express myself strongly enough.
Many people, including most of my teachers, have tried to tell me I'm a leader. Well, I know better! Just because I may get better grades than most of my fellow Mexicans doesn't mean a thing. I could no more get an original idea in my head than be President of the United States. I don't know how to think for myself.
I want to go to college, sure, but what do I want to be? Even worse, where do I want to go? These questions are only a few that trouble me? I'd like to prove to my parents that I can do something. Just because I don't have the gumption to go out and get a job doesn't mean that I can't become something they'll be proud of. But if I find that I can't bring myself to go to college, I'll get married and they'll still get rid of me.
After reading this, you'll probably be surprised. This is the way I feel about myself, and nobody can change me. Believe me many have tried and have failed. If God wants me to reach all my goals, I will. No teachers, parents or priest will change the course that my life is to follow. Don't try.
This essay got to me. I instantly understood that it was not a matter of just teaching children to speak English, but to value themselves. No one had the right to make this young girl ashamed of her color or her nationality. The schools had internalized the idiotic notion that Mexicans were lazy, that they spent their time lounging around cactus.
Common sense told me this wasn't true. Who were the majority of the people waking up at 3 in the morning to pick the crops? Intellectually, I knew this was not so. But I also know that this stereotype is perpetuated by American literature and popular culture, of which American teachers are a product.
Mexican-American students were not and are not cowards. Students of every color are cowed by professors using fancy words. Vocabulary is a product of schooling, and if the child does not develop a vocabulary it is a teacher failure, not a student failure. Why are 14-year-old preparatory students in Mexico so engaging while their cousins in the United States stutter in class?
Evidently, the young lady did not have confidence in her ability and believed that the only way she could be a success in her parents' eyes was to get married and cease to be a financial burden on them. She drowned in despair and believed that only God could help her.
Well, this wasn't and isn't fair!
Governor Brewer and that despicable Arizona Superintendent of Schools Tom Horne are bringing back a 1966 mindset that put the burden on the students. Ironically, the NEA 1966 study focused on Tucson and commended its efforts to do something about the dropout problem by initiating bilingual programs. However, these programs were dismantled by the Brewers and the Hornes in 2000.
Now the xenophobes are attacking La Raza Studies, using the same pretext as it did with bilingual education: That it divides students. Again, this is mendacious. Following the same logic, let's get rid of parochial schools, let's get rid of critical thinking, and let's substitute Brewer's and Horne's "Alice in Wonderland" vision of US history. The truth doesn't matter for them. It doesn't matter to them that children are ashamed of themselves and their parents.
For me, knowing ourselves and others is what Chicana/o Studies is all about. It is not about making Mexicans feel better than others, but making them feel equal, which evidently is what Brewer and Horne do not want.
Professor Julian Nava, the first Mexican-American to graduate with a doctorate in history from Harvard University, told me that when he was on the Los Angeles School Board he attended a statewide meeting of school board members. After an evening of conversation and drink, a school board member from a rural county turned to him and asked, "Dr. Nava, you don't really want to educate Mexicans, do you? Who will pick our crops?"
Evidently, Arizona politicos are thinking along the same line. Their problems will go away if students don't think for themselves and stay in their places. And don't ask them why Arizona ranks last in the nation in per-student expenditures in K-12.