“Silence of the Lambs” is from the Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel that was made into a movie three years later starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. It is about the imprisoned cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter.
I suspect the title was first used by shepherds referring to the lambs being herded to slaughter. It is commonly used today to refer to masses of people going quietly to their deaths. Like lambs they react with a deafening silence. Similarly it refers to deer or a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights — so frightened or surprised that it cannot move or think.
I apply it to today’s Hispanics and progressives. My point of comparison is the 1960s when people expressed moral outrage toward injustice, which emotion seems to have been spent. Like lambs, our silence is today deafening.
We appear to be paralyzed by illusions. Witness how most sit dazed as tuition is raised beyond the average student’s means. How baby boomer professors are immobilized by their privilege –- lost in memories of the past.
Meanwhile, higher education the main vehicle for social mobility is being privatized and sequestered. Half of Mexican Americans have no hope of going to college while reforms such as ethnic studies programs meet the fate of the lambs.
The privatization of Cal State Northridge moves like a slow cancer. Most faculty and students are immobilized and think that conditions will improve. They delude themselves that the headlights will dim or go away.
The CSUN-UNAM (The National Autonomous University of Mexico) deal is a case in point. Despite the protests of Chicana/o Studies and students most remain like the lambs—silently waiting for the slaughter.
During the sixties many would have been moved by the murmurs of the lambs. Today they listen to CSUN President Dianne Harrison announce that she loves the rich Mexican and Latin American heritage and CSUN’s reputation for ethnic diversity. The lambs ignore that she has signed a deal with UNAM not once talking to Chicana/o studies.
Harrison knows the Mexican Americans’ objections but does not give a damn. She doesn’t respect us. The silencing of the lambs accelerates the privatization of the state universities who ignore that tuition has increased to $3200 a semester; and dorms like flophouses rent beds at $800 and charge over $3,000 for a meal ticket.
Most non-skilled jobs have been outsourced, and jobs throughout the university have been lost to labor contractors. We have a two tier system where you can buy a graduate degree from Tseng College for $1,000 a unit.
We grin as Harrison says that she is doing it so students can learn more about Mexico. We forget she has done nothing to support Chicana/o studies — the only department at CSUN that has a critical number of courses on Mexico. If she loves Mexicans so much, why does she not talk to members of that department?
Harrison has repeatedly lied. Her provost has told us that it was not about Mexicans, it is about Latin America. Apparently the 35 million people of Mexican descent in this country don’t count.
This is not only a slight to Mexican Americans. Working class students are also part of the flock. Harrison has ignored claims that her deal will affect all students and parents. As I have mentioned, the campus has lost thousands of jobs to outsourcing, tuition has zoomed from $50 per semester to $3200 and is still rising.
At a meeting, I raised the question of the rising tuition and how students pay for the cost of instruction and construction of stadiums and other facilities. Harrison replied that students could afford it, they had Pell grants.I care deeply about studying about Mexico, we all care, which is why we founded Chicana/o studies and have unsuccessfully pressured CSUN to offer courses on Mexico. We care about the privatization of Mexico and what the War on Drugs is dong to it.
I am more disappointed at the silence of Latino politicos past and present. Tony Villaraigosa was once a friend, but once he became mayor he acted as if he did not know us, frequently visiting the campus without once visiting the Chicana/o students. He knew students were at odds with the former president over rising tuition and ROTC, but he could not pass up the photo-ops.
Harrison knows some people will be lulled by the glitter of the UNAM agreement. The truth be told, many Hispanics are satisfied with someone whispering “amigo.” She is relying on the public being silenced by her perfidy. Second rate institutions and their leaders have no pride, and the lambs are trapped by the headlights.
I am doing exploratory research on the topic of Chicana/o politicians and their role in the silencing of the lambs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the more Latinos and Latino elected officials we have, the more deafening is their silence on issues such as police brutality and access to higher education.
In 1946 we did not have one elected Latino official. However, the lambs murmured when in July, a sheriff’s deputy in Monterey Park, California, shot Eugene Montenegro, 13, in the back. Allegedly the 5’3” Montenegro was seen coming out of a window and did not stop when the deputy ordered him to. Eugene was an honor student at St. Alphonse parochial school.
In September 1947 Bruno Cano, a member of the United Furniture Workers of America Local 576, was brutally beaten by the police in East Los Angeles. Cano attempted to stop police from assaulting three Mexican youths at a tavern. Officer William Keyes had earlier shot two Mexicans in the back. In March 1948, Keyes and his partner E. R. Sánchez shot down 17-year-old Agustin Salcido. When the inquest exonerated him, the Los Angeles CIO Council and community organizations held a “people’s trial” attended by nearly 600 Mexicans.
Between 1947 and 1956, the L.A. Community Service Organization conducted 35 investigations of police misconduct.
On January 27, 1960, L.A. Police Chief William Parker before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission testified: “Some of these people [Mexicans] were here before we were but some are not far removed from the wild tribes of the district of the inner mountains of Mexico.” Police Commissioner R. J. Carreón Jr. supported Parker. Councilman Edward R. Roybal demanded an apology and/or Parker’s resignation. The press and the city council accused Roybal of demagoguery.
Throughout the 1960s the Mexican community protested injustice. In September 1966, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in cooperation with the CSO, opened a center in East Los Angeles. From September 1966 to July 1968, the ACLU investigated 205 police abuse cases — 152 were filed by Chicanas/os.
Ruben Salazar was assassinated on August 29, 1970 along with three other protestors. It was one of the last times that we heard the rustling of the flock.
By the year 2000 Latinos had grown to 1,719,073 – 46.5 percent of L.A., up from 10 percent in 1960. We had un chingo of Latino elected officials. But when the Rampart Division police scandal broke, and it was discovered that police had assassinated and framed Latino gang members — Latino elected officials and National Latino organizations were silent.
So do numbers empower the lambs or contribute to their silencing? If elected officials truly had the interest of the people in mind, you would expect them to ask, why the universities are being privatized? Why tuition is at the danger level? And why only 5 to 6 percent of the professors are Mexican American? Isn’t it logical to ask, will their children be able to afford a higher education?
Rodolfo F. Acuña
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