January 30, 2009

Commentary:

The Addiction to Encounter Groups

The Way of the Minority

By Rodolfo F. Acuña

Today, U.S. Latinos are the second largest Spanish-speaking nation in the world; Mexican Americans alone are the fifth largest Spanish speaking nation in the world behind Mexico and three other Latin American countries. There are more Mexican Americans than there are Spaniards.

Still Mexican Americans or Chicanos, as I like to call us, act like a minority. We don’t like something and we form an encounter group to talk about our grievances. We like to vent. We act like good professionals separating our grievances from action. Hence our grievances go around in a circle.

Recently our graduate students in Chicana/o studies demanded courses on anarchism from the department. The response of the faculty members was that it was not within the purview of our area of studies. If we taught anarchism then wasn’t it fair and logical that we should teach the various strains of Marxism?

My reaction was that if graduate students wanted to study anarchism then they should join an anarchist study group and learn not only theory but how to take back political space.

You don’t learn that from a book. Over the years I have found that the best theorists are those activists who have gone through the various left leaning groups. They certainly grasp the National Question more profoundly than the arm chaired theorists.

What is perplexing with Chicana groups is the continuing habit of forming encounter groups. On the campuses at least they are the majority of Chicanos and Latinos. To some degree they have taken over groups such as MEChA. You would think that they would act like the majority and take over every Latino group on campus and then form a concilio de mujeres to change the university culture by pressing a progressive agenda.

We have a department of about twenty-six faculty members; sixty percent are women. But in reality, the culture of the department has changed very little. It is not a case of the males exerting power but the lack of coordination of the Chicana professors.

The male professors are in no way unified. Like professors in general they have no concept of political space. They are two days a week professors who generally teach in the afternoon hours. Consequently very few have built student constituencies. One of the very few exceptions is Rosa Furumoto who has worked closely with students to form an anti-war front and are in the vanguard of opposition to the war.

Chicana faculty members have a golden opportunity to take control or at least be a major influence. But before this can happen they have to take political space by being recognized as leaders by the students. This cannot happen if they are not known by the students. Being a faculty member is different than being there.

Everyone wants late afternoon classes and a two day a week schedule. But you cannot politicize students from afar.

On countless occasions I have suggested to female faculty members that they collect a $100 a semester from each Chicana/o studies faculty member and use the seed money to start a Chicana Center to work with students terrorized by boy friends or their families. This would go beyond encounter groups. They would empower the young ladies through example.

Encounter groups have their place. They often get people to open up.

However, like theory they have limitations. Sensitivity, awareness and ideology have to lead to change.

So getting back to the theme of this essay; we should stop acting like minorities. We are in a majority in many places in this country and we should seize power to change things not to act powerless. You have to stand for something. But even more as long as they keep us in encounter groups, the more they control us.

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