By Rodolfo F. Acuña
A friend made a comment on my latest piece on Sisyphus where he raises a fair question: “Con mucho respecto pero, what the hell is so virtuous about pushing Chicana/o Studies to the top of that damn Capitalist hill? I expected never to make their grade—defined by their stupid, racist, exploitive notion of who we are. Why not stop trying to make horizontal democracy out of vertical Capitalistism?”
My response is similar to when I was asked in the 1980s, “Why are you supporting so and so Chicano candidate for City Council, he is no better than the gringo?”
I responded that may be true but all I knew is that before we were represented on the Los Angeles Board of Education, we had considerably fewer Chicano teachers, principals and administrators. Granted the system was still racist but at least we had more visibility so the staff had to think twice before implementing racist policies.
As for the election of a Chicano city councilman, my concerns were similar. At the time a minority of the municipal workforce was Mexican, although we comprised over 30 percent of LA. We lacked representation even among the custodians, the groundskeepers and the clerical staff – let alone managerial positions.
All that mattered to me was that these were steady jobs where workers earned more than the minimum wage and had health insurance and other material benefits that I enjoyed.
That meant that their children were protected by health insurance and lived in decent homes. That job meant the difference between their kids going to college or prison.
History shows that the advances that African Americans made in great part were the result of civil service employment, which is being dismantled as I write.
I do have any illusions about the system, you cannot make it horizontal but that is no reason that we should not educate as many students as possible. The lack of an education increases the prospect of students going to college or finding gainful employment – of leading fuller lives or entering the underclass.
Mexican American Studies is a metaphor for education. In Arizona, for example, it is clear that the educational system is set up for failure. I have no illusions that MAS will make the system horizontal – I am not delusional. But I do believe that just like getting more city jobs improves the prospects of more people leading productive lives, MAS (Mexican American Studies) motivates students to learn and think critically.
Quite frankly, if someone would sign a contract that would guarantee all Latino children would read at a 12th grade level and think critically on condition that MAS were eliminated, I would think about it. Nevertheless, I would want an iron clad contract that if the politicos did not live up to their bargain, their properties and those of their family would be confiscated.
It is not the objective of CHS, at least not by my definition, to make students super-Mexicans.
It reminds me of an incident at an immigration forum during the early 1980s. One of the Chicano activists got up and indignantly called out the moderators demanding that the proceedings be in Spanish.
Naturally everyone was put on the defensive until an organizer, I believe with the United Electrical Workers, one of the more progressive unions in LA, said that his members did not speak English but that they wanted the proceedings in English because the union did not want to make the workers dependent on organizers to for their information. They had to live in an English speaking environment. He called for a simultaneous translation, which has become more or less the norm.
Given the vertical nature of our system of government, reading and writing are important and thinking critically is even more vital.
The fight over Mexican American Studies is over issues such as censorship, the singling out of a particular group for disparate treatment (which is unconstitutional), the right to implement programs that motivate students and teach them to think critically, and finally, to respect one’s own culture but also the cultures of others.
In pushing Sisyphus’ rock up the hill, it is important not to think solely about macro solutions but also to think about solutions at the micro level.
Please click on to the links and support Sisyphus (“The Myth of Sisyphus.” The guy who was condemned for eternity to roll a rock up a hill. Every time he felt that he was making progress, the giant rock rolled back to where he started. http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/06/21/sisyphus-chicano-style/)
Sean Arce and José González Under Attack: