Arizona Copycats: Mexicans in the Photo

Mexicans in the PhotoBy now most of you are getting the message that there will be a photo exhibit at Chicana/o Studies at California State University at Northridge on Saturday, April 27, from 5 to 10 PM. – free of charge. I consider this to be an important event – not just because it brings alumni, students and community together — but because we are recovering lost memory and casting a bright light on how much we as a people have achieved in the past fifty years. We often lose sight off the fact that most of us are first generation college students – first in our families to go to college.

A lot of us will be passing on – we are getting up in age. A friend and a giant in the Chicana/o Movement – Sal Castro — just passed away. He was a year younger than I am, and I knew of him since high school when he haunted the Cathedral High basketball gym. As long as there is a historical memory, Sal Castro will be presente.

I consider my time at California State University Northridge very special. This is not because of the university; I still harbor resentment toward it and most white faculty members because they looked down upon and hampered the progress of Chicana/o-Latino students. What I value is that it brought a lot of you together and changed your lives, and that in turn, you made life better for those around you.

Every time I visit Ventura County I encounter someone who graduated from CSUN. The communities in that Valley have benefited materially from your presence. Increasingly those who followed you are going into fields other than Chicana/o Studies and into graduate studies – which is what we wanted and hope for.

building chicano studiesWhat makes your experience so special is that many of you made it despite the public schools. You are in the majority immigrants or children of immigrants. We as a people went from working class to university grads in one generation. Other immigrant groups took at least three generations to achieve this in mass numbers.

Moreover, conditions were different for them; they had a lot more opportunities.

For this progress to continue, it is going to take a community. Like the Texas Raza Unida Party used to say, “Una mano no se lava sola.” (One hand doesn’t wash itself!) A community comes about when you think of others; it matures when its members remember that they did not make it on their own –someone came before them.

Looking back I can remember that I had my doubts about many of my first students making it through college. One of them told me that he only intended to stay a year and then move on. He enrolled because of financial aid and to get away from his probation officer – he stayed and today he is a probation officer. Hopefully, he is extending a hand to others.

Our communities are still under siege. A war is raging in Arizona. The prison industry is still agitating, and the Tea Partiers and the Minutemen types are still terrorizing Mexicans.

The fight for education and the right to learn about Mexican American heritage has not let up in Tucson. And it shouldn’t because it is an important. We knew from the beginning that it was not just about Arizona or just about Tucson – it was about justice.

Everyone has to know that they are somebody – children cannot learn without respecting themselves. As three-year olds they already love to look at photo albums, and ask where am I?

Mexicans in the picture?

Mexicans in the picture?

The teaching of history is a pedagogical srategy, it is a healing process that tells people, “I am somebody, and I am here because of somebody.”

Arizona SB 1070 that profiles Mexican and Latin American undocumented workers has been copied in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah. It is spreading to other places. However, the people there benefit from the war in Arizona, and we all know that the assault on our history and education does not end in Arizona.

Returning to the basics – nothing happens by accident. We all learn from our experiences.

Because of Arizona, more people today know about the Koch brothers and ALEC — American Legislative Exchange Council – and their role in the war to privatize Arizona than they did three years ago. More of us know that the Tea Party and the Minutemen are not aberrations, and that they are not democratic or grassroots. They are products of the privatizers. They are the product of hate.

The minutemen’s assassination of nine-year old Brisenia Flores did not happen by accident in 2009. It was the inevitable result of a hate campaign.

The only thing that has prevented the prairie fire from spreading is the numbers that make up a Chicana/o-Latino community, and the fact that we fought back and will continue to fight.

An even bigger threat than Arizona is Texas. In 2007 Texas State Board of Education waged war on anyone who did not see God as they do. The standard was the creationist paradigm. Texas became associated with the ridiculous notion that the earth is 6,000 years old.

In 2012 members of the Texas Board set standards for public school textbooks that purged historical figures suspected of “subversive” religious views. The list included Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin and political figures such as Dolores Huerta.

Presently, Texas has gone one step further, and it has sponsored bills copying Arizona’s HB 2281. Senate Bill 1128 and HB 1938 are currently making their way through committees. The bills attack Mexican American and African American history in Texas public universities, eliminating their credits from counting toward college graduation.

joe kapp

Joe Kapp

It is getting its cue from Arizona Gov. Janet Brewer and the National Academy of Scholars, an organization supported by John Birch type foundations.

The advantage that the Tejanos have over Arizona is that they benefit from Arizona. Because of its size, it is also more difficult to buy the state.

Led by students and University of Texas historian Emilio Zamora who has rallied the Tejas Foco of the National Association for Chicana/o Studies, the Tejanos are fighting back and have begun a letter writing campaign. Texas also has a critical mass of elected officials who support the fight back effort.

What dismays me is that that despite gains made in the education of Mexican American children in the Lone State, they continue to lag behind white and Asian children. It does not have to be that way.

The preponderance of evidence for the past 70 plus years is that a major cause of functional illiteracy and dropping out of school is racism and the stereotyping of Mexicans. The evidence shows that a positive history plays an important role in combatting negative self-images.

Just today I read a report from social psychologists at Indiana University Bloomington that suggests that negative stereotypes have debilitating effects on women. According to University of Indiana social psychologist Katie Van Loo, these stereotypes hinder women’s learning of mathematics. “If you can make women feel powerful, then maybe you can protect them from the consequences of stereotype threat” that makes them conclude that “women can’t do math.”

The preponderance and a much larger body of research also show that people of color are harmed by negative stereotypes and negative self-images. Forty years ago, people of color were nowhere to be found in textbooks. Educators pointed out that the basic first grade reader Dick and Jane only had one creature of color — Spot, the dog.

Just seeing themselves in photos gives a child a sense of belonging to a family and community. When they don’t see themselves in history books, it as if they did not exist. The results are disaffection and alienation.

The greatness of Sal Castro is that he always communicated with students through history. Often when he would go off to speak he would call me as well as others and ask us if we knew of any Mexican historical figures in that region. Sometimes I would shake my head and say, “Sal, does it matter if we had Mexicans fighting in the Confederate Army?” For Sal it was important for us to be in the photo.

His hero was Joe Kapp —  the Cal Bears and Minnesota Vikings quarterback. He was bad (good), the best, according to Sal. Sal breathed and lived Chicano.

rodolfo acunaSal will always be presente for as long as we remember our history and remember that we are the people in the photo.

REMEMBER APRIL 27, CHICANA/O STUDIES @ JEROME RICHFIELD HALL, THE ENTIRE FIRST FLOOR, 5 PM-10 PM. Take back our history!

There will also be tables available for those who want to bring photos of their own to display their own pictures. It is a family gathering.

Rudy Acuña

Friday, 19 April 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on April 19, 2013
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About Rodolfo F. Acuña

Rodolfo F. Acuña is the founding Chairperson of the Chicana/o Studies Department at California State University, Northridge and author of Occupied America.