Monte Perez LA Mission CollegeThis is probably the most difficult story that I have written. Like many people of my generation, I got involved in the Mexican American Movement because of the dropout problem, and because few Mexican origin students were enrolling in higher education.
I first met you when you were a student leader at Los Angeles State College, our alma mater. A Garfield High graduate, you went from college student to the Educational Opportunities Program director.
We all took pride in your success as you earned your PhD, becoming an administrator and then the president of a couple of community colleges. Many of us were delighted when you were appointed president of Los Angeles Mission College, especially knowing the history of that institution. The NE Valley under the leadership of the late Guadalupe Ramírez, Irene Tovar, and others fought for a campus. It was no small feat because the Board of Trustees was frankly not enthusiastic about it.
We pinned our hopes on you, a known and respected quantity in our community.
Lately a number of people have approached me as the result of Mission not granting theatre instructor Guillermo Aviles Rodriguez tenure. They asked me to get involved, but I said no and urged them to talk to you, remembering you as a student.
“He is family, he will listen,” I told them.
Moreover, I rarely get involved in tenure disputes when they involve warring Chicanas/os. Faculty members have rights and they are usually supported by unions. In the case of Mission College, I had and have my doubts, not about you, but of the faculty who over the years has opposed change — beginning with attacks on Andres Torres and then opposing the approval of a Chicana/o Studies Department. Lastly, there has been very little support from the central administration.
My only advice to Guillermo’s supporters was to talk to you, and advise him to get a good attorney. From my point of view, he has a damn good case, especially since he did not have a single Latino on his peer review panel and some of the reviewers have a history of anti-Mexican bias.
I don’t blame you for the mess at Mission College or for the weak leadership of the Board of Trustees; I blame me and the Latino community because we have never run a serious candidate, allowing the board to become a stepping stone. Before he got sick, I had a long talk with Sal Castro about his running for the board.
However, the case of Ann Marie Catano, a spokesperson for the Student Empowerment group at L. A. Mission, moved me. Her suspension from school pushed me over the line. I attribute the success of the Cal State Northridge Chicana/o Studies department to student activism. Indeed, it launched your career and that of many others. It seems to me a contradiction to remain silent while a student is suspended for the semester from attending Mission and any of the eight community colleges for speaking out in defense of her principles. (I am envious; I wish that I had a hundred Ann Marie Catanos.)
According to sources that I respect, she and other students have been at the forefront of a committee supporting Guillermo Aviles Rodriguez. They have held rallies much the same as rallies were held at LA State to hire you as the EOP director, and rallies were held on my behalf at the University of California Santa Barbara.
From what I hear — tell me if it ain’t so — several protests have been held under the watchful eye of the Sheriff’s Department, which students claim has harassed them. They were told that if they put a toe outside of the “Free Speech area” they would be arrested. As a consequence, Ann Marie Catano has been suspended, and her kids removed from the campus day care by five Sheriff’s deputies. She just received a signed letter from you telling her that she is banned from attending Mission and any other of the Community Colleges, which has squashed her acceptance plans to attend UC Berkeley, where she was accepted pending her completion of the Spring semester.
I find this excessive. Chicana/o students who were arrested at San Fernando Valley State College on January 9, 1969 paid a fine and the administration did not press internal punishments. The suspension at this critical juncture in her life is punitive. I have been arrested seven times for civil disobedience and for as bad as our Trustees are, I have never been punished. President James Cleary reminded them and Chancellor W. Anne Reynolds that there was academic freedom.
My advice to her supporters was to contact the National Lawyers Guild. Just a couple of years ago they handled the case of students who were arrested off campus protesting the raising of tuition. The case was handled by Cynthia Anderson and Mike Lee, who have also handled numerous immigration cases.
Yes, you can intimidate students. Many are immigrants and afraid to get kicked out. However, this incident is awakening the lambs. L.A. Mission College is not a private college. There are lot of problems that you have inherited, for example, that it has a dismal 6.8 percent transfer rate and the possibility of non-accreditation hovers over it. The Guillermo Aviles- Rodriguez and Catano cases are just the tip of the iceberg.
Instructors at Mission College are going to have to wake up to the fact that over fifty percent of the City is Latino. It is supposed to be an institution of higher learning that should be beyond thought control.
Sheriff Deputies are going to have to be reined in. A newspaper account says that on the first morning of Welcome Week, a Sheriff’s deputy approached students, telling them to make sure that if they were discussing the Aviles-Rodriguez matter that they better have both feet on the grass that marked the free speech area and not the concrete. If this is true, that is punk. Also that deputies like in the movie “Salt of the Earth” rest their hands on top of their guns and scowl. If that would happen on my campus we would have them for breakfast.
I owe everything that I am to students and the community. Have we learned nothing from the sixties when report after report concluded that these alleged type of tactics disaffected and produced militancy rather than promoting collegiality. I highly recommend that your V.P. of Student Services, Joe Ramírez, read these reports and study the history of the sixties. “Freedom of Speech Areas” are only symbolic of free speech; students are not cattle to be penned up.
Although given the history of Mission College, I would not be as certain as you are about the peer group process in the case of Aviles-Rodriguez. The fact that not one Latino sat on the committee gives me pause.
With this said, my only axe is the treatment of Ann Marie Catano who for all intents and purposes has been given a death sentence. A mother of two kids, she will not be able to transfer to Berkeley. That is not right. It is not what both of us have worked for.
Monte, I hope it ain’t so!
Rodolfo F. Acuña
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