How Democrats Have Abandoned Their Core

pilatesThe fitness exercise pilates, from my limited understanding of the exercise method, works on the principle of developing “a strong core or center (tones abdominals while strengthening the back), and improving coordination and balance.” The principle fascinates me because it can be applied to almost any endeavor.

For example, when San Jose State Chicano professors approached me in 1969 with a plan to start a Mexican American Studies program at the Master of Arts level, I responded that I did not believe that a MAS graduate program could grow without a solid undergraduate degree. My thinking was that “a strong core or center” had to be developed to allow for the coordination and balance of a large program.

The core’s abdominal muscles are the masses of students. The only programs that are subsidized in the higher education are those blessed by the institution. Logical persuasion would not develop a discipline or method to educate neglected sectors of society. You needed bodies to build the core.

I have applied this principle to politics. Unless you have bundles of money such as the case of Republicans and you can buy elections, Mexican Americans and Latinos are not going to bring about changes in the political arena. A strong core is essential for coordination and balance to leverage this outcome.

The building of the political core does not depend as much on individual political activism as it does on the core, which is not built by electing Latino elected officials. You can have progressive representatives such as Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva but his power, although concentrated at the core, can easily be isolated by the system.

rep raul grijalva

Rep. Raul Grijalva

In many ways Grijalva is an aberration, elected in an island of Mexican American and white liberal constituents. Even so he has problems raising political capital and he has organized successful re-election campaigns despite the Democratic National Committee, whose main purpose is keeping control of the White House.

I learned this lesson in 1996. Two years before the presidential election, we organized a highly successful anti-187, the anti-immigrant proposition, march. This was the first time that over a hundred thousand Latinos took the streets of Los Angeles. It gave us a feeling of power and many activists wanted to replicate it in 1996 in opposition to Proposition 227, the anti-affirmative action ballot measure.

Word came down that what was important was to get Bill Clinton re-elected to the White House. The California Democratic Party then proceeded to dry up funds for the march, badly dividing community activists and Latino politicos.

We never recovered and it carried over to 1998 in the fight against 227, the proposition to eliminate bilingual education. The gigantic marches were not revived until the second half of the next decade when the core was re-energized by youth and immigrants who had been politicized by 187 and by sporadic school walkouts throughout the L.A. basin. Youth could not be channeled like community organizations and labor that looked to Latino politicos for leadership and funds.

Thus, the core never developed muscle or balance and it remained dependent of the political establishment and the media.

Based on my experience, I have found the core in Arizona worse off than California. The state has been kidnapped by the Republican Party, with the Democratic Party leaders concentrating on keeping the White House. The rationale is “things could really get bad if Romney gets in the White House,” which is true unless you figure that things are already bad and the White House is not doing anything about it.

The Arizona experience is a valuable case study. It explains why in Mississippi — where the black population numbers over a million and makes up 37 percent of the state — has only one black congressman out of four.

If the Democratic National Committee would have channeled funds into Mississippi and other Southern state with sizeable black populations undoubtedly the core would be stronger.

In Arizona where almost a third of the state is Latino, only two of eight congressmen are Mexican American. The Tucson Unified School District is upwards of 60 percent Latino but has two of five board members (really one) who are Latino.

You would think that there would be concern on the part National Democratic Party and that it would spearhead a restructuring of the Arizona Democratic Party to reflect its presumed progressive agenda versus that of Tea Party Republicans.

But it ain’t so. The strategy of the DNC has been to support Blue Dog Democrats who have sold out on the issues of the economy, immigration, and the struggle to save Mexican American Studies in Tucson. In the process, racism has become constitutional in Arizona.

The wrongheaded strategy of the past is repeated. Everything is justified if Barack Obama is re-elected. It doesn’t matter that he has been mute on the Minutemen assassination of nine-year-old Bresenia Flores and that his Justice Department has been mute about enforcing the U.S. Constitution vis-à-vis enforcement of desegregation orders. This, according to the DNC strategy, will be rectified by making the Arizona Democratic Party more conservative and even vote with Republicans.

According to this wrongheaded strategy, it will make Obama look more palatable to right wingers.

Consequently, the Democratic Party core in Arizona is so flabby that it stands for nothing. The failure to develop the political core of the Arizona Mexican American is glaring.

Wenona Baldenegro

Wenona Baldenegro

Presently, a well-qualified and intelligent candidate is running for Arizona’s First Congressional District. Wenona Baldenegro is a Harvard-trained attorney. A Navajo with strong ties to the Native American and Mexican American communities, she represents the best in those groups. Instead of supporting Wenona, the national party is supporting a reactionary Blue Dog Democrat with Tea Party ties and is actively working to sabotage her candidacy by pressuring donors not to fund her campaign.

Another example of the weakening of the core is the federal courts appointment of special master Willis D. Hawley to oversee the controversy over HB 2281 and the elimination of the highly successful Mexican American Studies Program. Without a core Mexican Americans have been unable to check the coopting of Hawley who knows absolutely nothing about the education of Mexican American children.

I make this criticism only after of months of patient waiting. I did not want my biases toward multi-culturists to in anyway affect the outcome. Blame my Catholic school training and its belief in redemption.

However, my fifty years in academe have hardened my opinion toward multiculturalists who range from friendly touchy feely people to arrogant academics.

Some are good scholars. They want a better society. But, many think that they know more about what is good for minorities than minorities themselves.

I have had to fight them in committees because they failed to see the necessity for Chicanos to determine their own pedagogies. Consequently, they have undermined Chicana/o and African American Studies programs because they see no need for them to build their cores.

If you want a Chicano, African American, or an Asian American center, their solution is, let’s save money and throw you all into a multi-cultural center.

Self-determination is not a nationalist demand; it is the aspiration of every living person. Communities should determine their futures and the role of political parties is not to manipulate them but to strengthen them.

Perhaps if our political cores were stronger, the Democratic Party would not sell us out as in Arizona and other states.

With this said, like in the days of the Romans, we don’t have to worry. Our cores will get fat and flabby as we get free bread and circuses during Cinco de Mayo. People will celebrate it without knowing its historical message which was that Mexico was not open to foreign colonialism and that the separation of church and state was the law of the land.

Rudy Acuña

Rudy Acuña

B[p/dc]ut, this is too much exercise. Too much to think about. Let’s bring on the beer; enjoy the jarabe tapatio; and let the mariachis blare. Enjoy the smiling politicos and the Obamas talk about how Americans are exceptional.

Rodolfo F. Acuña

Posted: Friday, 4 May 2012


  1. JoeWeinstein says

    Better late than never the discovery that in effect there is no national-interest national Democratic party, just an ingroup politicians’ benevolence movement.  And so of course,  their focus is on re-electing each other and Obama (because in 2012 – unlike in 1968 or 1980 – not one of them has the balls to offer themselves as alternative presidential candidates) – and not on supporting policies – Democratic core policies or any other policies. 

    I continue to disagree with Prof. Acuña on one particular.  Namely, in my view a segregated program whose participants are determined on the basis of ethnic identification (whether made by students themselves or imposed by authorities) does NOT belong in public high schools.  Having such a program is NOT to be confused with either of two commendable and necessary elements of curriculum:  (1) Due regard and study of our Mexican cultural heritage in the public elementary and high school curricula for ALL students; and (2) Mexican and Mexican-American studies offerings, as a part of a full spectrum of ethnic and heritage and cultural studies, in our institutions of higher education. 

  2. Anitaccs says

    Well, well, so the Mexican Americans & Latinos have finally found out that the Democatic Party has just been using them all along…I could have told them this 40 years ago. Wake up guys and quit drinking the beer and the margaritas (but you can inviting me to your party if you are serving margaritas)…and concentrate on educating our children and teach them to do good works and to become wealthy. Because money is the only thing that counts when it comes to elections in this country. You can still be a good individual and be wealthy.  That is something we need to teach our children and grandchildren. For too long  we have been told that wealthy people are mean and evil. Where did we get that from?

  3. Richard A. Packard says

    Many cudos to Professor Acuna for articulating the interest and issues affecting the Mexican American community and the political dynamics thats working against that interest. Although I have to agree with Mr. Lamb’s statement below, “Latino issues and centrism is not the core of the Democratic Party.” In recent years the Democratic Party and its leadership have focused alot of attention on “undocumented immigrants-rights” to the detriment of American working-class and their need for job security/creation, eliminating corporate-greed, fighting the ill-effects of free-trade agreements which undermines American jobs, affordable health-care, quality result-oriented education and public worker’s salary and pension-reform. These are the bread-and-butter issues that reflect a “balanced” political party and its core. Unfortunately, the Democratic Party like the Republican Party has taken on a myopic approach to “securing” its political support by special-interest for their leadership rather than “the people” who they’re suppose to represent. I too, disagree with the notion of “multi-culturalism” because it blurrs the uniqueness of individual ethnic groups, however, I believe that we all must learn to live with one another and assimilate into the unique “American culture” that DOES make us exceptional to other countries. Lastly, I agree with Professor Acuna regarding “self-determination”, IT IS “the aspiration of every living person” however, it should be a aspiration that brings something positive to the American experience as well as to yourself and your family. Each group (ethnic) has something unique to bring to the ‘political-table’, we have to forge alliances and understandings that will contribute to the “quality-of-life” we all desire for our families and communities, thus, this will reinvigorate “the core” we all want to be a part of.

  4. Steve Lamb says

    I’m sorry, but Latino issues and centrism are NOT the core of the Democratic Party. Focusing on those instead of labor issues and healthcare/employment and protection from corporate greed for ALL Americans is how the Democratic party has lost its core and its core of hard working support. This Latino focus, a focus that seems diametrically opposed to the needs and interests of much of the party base, a party that sympathizes endlessly with poor immigrant Latinos and has nothing but contempt for American born working class people, is why it’s so freaking hard to get any working class voters excited about spending labor and money to get anyone from the Democratic Party elected.

  5. freedomsummer says

    In response to Exodus2221’s comment:  Maricopa County is the problem.  We need to build the core of this party by supporting candidates like Wenona, who are rallying Native Americans, Latinos, progressives, women, and young people in a way that has never been seen, in Arizona.  She’s a Harvard-educated attorney who would be the first Native American woman to ever be elected to Congress, and the first Native American from Arizona to serve in Congress!

    We certainly should not be supporting her primary opponent, who is in bed with ALEC, the coal industry, the private-prison industry, and the payday-loan industry.  Shame on the national party and any so-called Democrat who would support that type of candidate.  Wenona is a once-in-a-lifetime candidate, and she is the exact type of candidate that we should be building our core around.

  6. Exodus2221 says

    I do quite a lot of work for the Maricopa County Democratic party.  The place where we need to build the core right now are on keeping Russel Pearce out of office, and eliminating Joe Arpaio and Jan Brewer from political power.  The campaign that is getting the volunteers and organized most excited is the sheriff’s race.  Contact the county party to volunteer and help us make a statement that the politics of division do not work in Arizona!

  7. Linda Doran says

    OK, let me try again here. Apparently, my first post was withheld for review by a moderator because it contained a link to a Web site, making my second post confusing.

    Dr. Acuña, that is a powerful article. Though I am an economically challenged graduate student at the moment (at CSUN, as it turns out), I will make a small contribution to Baldenegro’s campaign. I know what she is experiencing, having experienced similar strong-arm tactics by Democratic Party operatives in a City Council election in Albuquerque. The white male they supported is a progressive who doesn’t make much noise, but he is at least a progressive. My concern is that women are underrepresented.

    Thanks, everyone, for reading.

  8. Linda Doran says

    I guess I should add that the candidate the Democratic Party supported is a progressive (just to be fair).


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